- Writing on a massive
brick-red wall at the
Covid Memorial Ground
in Washington DC,
THIS figure shows the number of people who succumbed to COVID-19 only in the United States of America during the pandemic so far. This number, of course, is bound to keep changing as the US reports more COVID-19 deaths. This writing on the wall -- literal and proverbial -- tells a story which needs to be recalled in a comparative Indian context.
Indian journalists (who are in the US now for the coverage of Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi’s visit to New York for the United Nations General Assembly - UNGA - meet and Washington DC to meet President Mr. Joe Biden) have given an extensive reportage of this Covid Memorial Ground in the American capital where as many as 6,18,510 tiny white flags mark remembrance of those many person who lost lives due to the coronavirus pandemic. That coverage raises many issues that need to be considered back home in India.
Let us bring to fore in our memory the filthy publicity some American newspapers had given to pictures of burning funeral pyres in India as a shocking representative picture of what was happening in India on the COVID-19 front. The people who supplied those pictures were very much some Indian people in media and politics. And many major American newspapers found a sadistic pleasure in publishing those in big sizes on their front pages. The effort was obvious -- to paint a gory picture of India’s massive failure on the COVID-19 front. It is believed widely in India that those pictures fetched big prices in the US media market. Reports also have us believe that American media worked hard to acquire such pictures to adorn their front pages and prime-time shows.
That was all very dirty and very deliberate. For, it was part of a negative political narrative some elements were building up to sully the image of India in general and Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi in particular. The narrative sought to exploit the general ignorance in the West about the widespread Indian custom of burning the dead bodies. A particular lobby sought to create an impression that India was reporting deaths in such massive numbers that the dead had to be cremated in public places.
The media from America and other countries felt happy to compromise their so-called freedom and fell prey most willingly to the dirty, anti-India political propagandism. A major section of the world media, thus, threw out of the window the basic principle of truth that has guided the journalistic discourse for ages in all communities. It was not without reason that a scholar in western media studies, himself a European, had chosen to describe the sense of so-called freedom of the famous British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) as something it “seldom” availed. That skeptical observation proved itself to be very correct at least in this case.
The time when the pictures of burning funeral pyres were published or flashed in the western media (and also in some Australian outlets) matched the time when a dirty anti-India “tool-kit” promoted by some anti-Modi political lobbies also got exposed. It was, no doubt, a classic example of shameless journalism of falsehood.
But these same newspapers had no moral courage -- or morality -- also to tell the world that India had done remarkably well in its handling of the COVID crisis while the United States, in comparison, had reported nearly 7,00,000 (seven lakh) deaths (despite far better medical and financial resources to deal with the crisis). The so-called “free” world media did not feel morally compelled to bring to fore how successful India was in its management of the coronavirus crisis -- on all parameters.
Most unfortunately, the negative coverage was actually fuelled by some Indian political vested interests who tried to pick up every possible opportunity to defile the image of India and its Government in the eyes of the world. They went overboard in painting a deliberately dirty and totally false picture of India’s handling of the COVID crisis on the international canvas. It was most shocking that some Indian vested interests would want to sully the country‘s image internationally when the facts were altogether different and positive and refreshing for Indian people and their Government.
The attempt here is not to make a political point. The attempt, on the contrary, is to bring to fore the falsehood indulged in by world media. The posse of Indian journalists now visiting the US for the coverage of the Prime Minister’s visit, thus, has done a smart job in exposing the reality. Standing against the background of the sea of tiny white flags marking the COVID deaths, these journalists are highlighting how the US could not cope with the pandemic challenge, and how, in comparison, India has done much better because the Government resorted to some stern measures with courage and conviction. Some of them are directly attacking the American media for its double-standards, while some are restrained in their expression. Never mind that, it cannot be denied that all of them have brought for their respective audiences a true picture of America’s comparative failure in handling the COVID crisis as against the Indian reality.
The effort here is not to avoid grieving the COVID deaths in the country. Every single death is painful in every which the way. But it is essential for us to understand the dark truth of COVID deaths in America that the thousands and thousands of tiny white flags bring to fore. The effort is also to remind ourselves that as a nation, India coped very well -- much better than others did -- with the terrible once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.