One photograph that we saw splashed all over social media, Twitter, Facebook or even family groups on WhatsApp, was one that had an aerial view of a burning ghat in India by Reuters. Some shared it with ire, talking about the insensitivity of the journalist who clicked the photo, some to spread propaganda and a vast majority out of fear.
Sharing this picture on Twitter, Danish Siddiqui, the Pulitzer prize-winning chief photographer of Reuters in India, had written, “As India posted world record of COVID cases funeral pyres of people, who died due to the coronavirus disease were pictured at a crematorium ground in New Delhi, April 22, 2021”.
As India posted world record of COVID cases funeral pyres of people, who died due to the coronavirus disease were pictured at a crematorium ground in New Delhi, April 22, 2021. @Reuters #CovidIndia pic.twitter.com/bm5Qx5SEOm— Danish Siddiqui (@dansiddiqui) April 22, 2021
Where there is death, there are going to be funeral pyres. But what really irked people about this photograph? The insensitivity of journalists clicking pictures while several were making their last journey was not lost on anyone. Dignity in death is certainly far more a precious right of any human being than the right to report. While COVID-19 is a crisis that must be reported, journalists who turn themselves into vultures and their profession into that of voyeurism often draw the criticism of their readers.
People all over the world died, and are still dying in large numbers since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020. But the vulturism and morbid obsession over their funeral pyres is somehow seen only in India, for white publications that could not really care to accord dignity to Indians, especially, to Hindus.
This picture was shared by Danish multiple times of Twitter. Thanking people for the compliments.
It is our DUTY to document what is happening around us, he said. Nothing ‘heroic’ about it.
Thanks for your kind words. I don't think there is anything HEROIC about it. As journalists, this is what we signed up for. It's our DUTY to document what is happening around us. https://t.co/zuNkyK8Mt4— Danish Siddiqui (@dansiddiqui) April 26, 2021
On April 15th, Danish posted more pictures of the deluge. Thousands of deaths. Many out of breath.
Everyone needs to realise that India’s healthcare system is under tremendous pressure. We were never fully prepared for this pandemic. Situation could have been a little bit better if we had made public healthcare as a priority over the last few decades. pic.twitter.com/kk7Y9XSUDh— Danish Siddiqui (@dansiddiqui) April 15, 2021
While many complimented Danish for his heroism, Reuters milked the images of Hindus being cremated to the hilt. Current on their home page, there are several articles that talk about the COVID-19 deluge in India, several with pictures of the burning pyres.
And another, nestled in an article slideshow.
6 articles and 7 pictures in a span of two days, splashed across their current homepage. This morbid obsession that Reuters seems to harbour of watching Hindus burn is not related to telling people about the COVID-19 deluge, as one would expect Reuters to say. To write about the COVID-19 deluge and tell people just how alarming the situation is, one does not need to splash images of burning Hindus on their front page, all over their website and in multiple articles published. One needs to only talk about the truth, the cold, hard numbers, even those of death.
But Reuters would rather splash images of crematoriums, denying Hindus dignity in death. And why not? After all, the photographer for Reuters is an Indian and Indian vultures are feasting on the dead as well.
One recalls how Barkha Dutt has parked herself in front of crematoriums and often, reports from inside them. After reporting from inside the crematorium a few days ago, Barkha Dutt was parked outside it yet again yesterday. Proudly patting herself on the back and calling this the ideal way to report a humanitarian crisis.
Delhi tonight. The loneliness of the COVID Cremation ground. And if you start tabulating those dying at hospitals en masse amid oxygen shortages … 25 Jaipur Golden, 25 Ganga Ram.. 22 Nashik… anyone counting our dead ? pic.twitter.com/M1piN6FzEe— barkha dutt (@BDUTT) April 24, 2021
Frankly, the crisis is truly unfolding in government officers of the chief minister who could not care less. Of babus who did nothing knowing that the second wave was afoot. The news is how hospitals are ill-equipped to handle a calamity this size. The news is asking why private hospitals did not ramp up their oxygen supply or why state governments did not set up the oxygen generation plants they were allocated money for. The real story is how people are scrambling for beds and the fear-mongering in the media that is backing up our healthcare system. Those who don’t need hospitalisation or oxygen support are desperately running for it as well, because of the feeding frenzy in the media, leaving little space for those who need it. Those who are ending up in the crematoriums.
But those stories are not as enticing as showing pictures of them burning Hindus. Tragedy porn sells and Reuters is perhaps ensuring that they simply not let a tragedy go to waste.
The sheer lack of empathy is clear not only from how they splashed images of burning pyres across their home page but also from what they chose to cover and what they did not.
Reuters diligently covered the Kumbh Mela amidst the rising COVID-19 pandemic.
But even as the pandemic rages on and Reuters writes stories on pictures of Hindus’ funeral pyres, and their chief photographer in India talks about the Kumbh Mela amidst the rising number of COVID-19 cases, for some extremely odd reason, Danish has not managed to click even one picture of the farmers protest that is raging on till date. Or if he has, the editors at Reuters think it is a story unworthy of being covered by Reuters. They believe that the unmasked protestors who could just as easily become superspreaders have a right to protest amidst a growing pandemic because propaganda must always reign supreme.
Even as the Delhi government imposed lockdown till May 3rd, a piece of news reported by Reuters, none of their reporters has managed to reach the Delhi and Haryana borders where the farmer’s protest is still raging on unabated. None of them has managed to click pictures of the ambulances and other supplies that are sporadically finding it difficult to cross borders due to the raging protest and the borders that are still blocked.
Reuters has still not managed to report how Yogendra Yadav claimed that the government is trying to use the pandemic as an excuse to end the farmers’ protests. They have not managed to report how amidst the growing pandemic and with India looking at 3 lakh cases per day, the so-called farmers have yet against declared that they will march from Punjab to Delhi.
In a span of a week, this is how Reuters covered PM Modi, religious rallies and the farmers protest.
On the 16th of April, Reuters wrote about India battling record COVID surge as rallies and HINDU festivals drew huge crowds.
On April 20th, Reuters wrote about Prime Minister Modi being “scorned” over “reckless rallies, religious gatherings”.
But guess what they wrote on the 15th of April, just one day before they scorned Hindus festivals? Indian farmers vowing to carry on protest despite “concerns” about Coronavirus. Notice the difference in tone?
And only weeks ago, in the run up to the brutal COVID second wave, Reuters had reported how poor farmers are vowing to garner more support because PM Modi can be ‘scorned’ for religious gatherings, but out of control, violent protestors must carry on.
Punjab has seen over 74 deaths and 7,000 cases in the last 24 hours. Delhi has seen thousands of new cases and an acute oxygen shortage with the Chief Minister being rapped by the Delhi High Court.
This is the graph that shows the number of new cases in Delhi.
Of course, none of this really matters to Reuters. The pandemic, the suffering, the death, none of it really does. What matters is that India is suffering and that gives it an excuse to humiliate us even further.
We all remember those headlines wondering how India has managed to tame COVID-19 surge after the first wave. We all remember how western media almost denied India’s success and almost prayed for more deaths so they could watch us burn. Now that they have the opportunity, what would be better than images of Indians.. nay.. Hindus actually, literally burning?