Pyres burning nonstop, patients outside hospitals gasping for breath, people queuing up for oxygen, overwhelmed healthcare workers – these will be the lasting images of India’s COVID crisis.
The ‘foreign media’ was blamed for the so-called biased reporting, for repeatedly putting out this imagery while talking about the pandemic in India.
But if one crawls through social media, it becomes obvious that it’s not the media, but Indians themselves, who have put out some of the most painful photos and videos to show the real extent of the pandemic.
From an overworked doctor breaking down to a doctor talking about not getting a bed for himself. A COVID volunteer not being able to hold his emotions after seeing the situation on the ground to the last messages of those who couldn’t make it.
It is ordinary Indians, and not journalists, who have put the ‘truth’ out there.
Shruti Chaturvedi, a Goa-based entrepreneur who has been working as a volunteer for the Goa COVID Care initiative, highlighted the oxygen crisis in the government-run Goa Medical College and Hospital.
She used her Twitter handle to raise alarm and shared videos from the ward to show oxygen machines fluctuating. Her relentless SOS messages and videos served as proof for authorities to act. The mainstream media also eventually picked up the issue.
‘‘I asked the doctors to send me videos of the ward because earlier authorities denied addressing the issue. The videos served as proof and action was taken.’’Shruti Chaturvedi, Goa-based Entrepreneur & COVID volunteer
Manish Jangra, a resident doctor at Delhi's RML hospital, uploaded a video of himself in an oxygen mask. He spoke about how he is a doctor at the hospital and has not been able to secure a bed for himself. His video brought attention to the lack of beds at hospitals and the prevalent 'VIP culture.'
“I was frustrated to see the people suffering. Everyone around me was crying and so helpless. I wanted to highlight that if a doctor has to go through this, what the poor must be going through.’’Manish Jangra, Doctor, Delhi
Ankit Sharma is a student in Delhi. He highlighted the plight of the crematorium workers. He showed how they are overworked, have no protective gear and aren’t considered frontline workers still.
‘‘I made the video with crematorium workers because they are easily ignored by society. They told me that they want to get vaccinated but they don’t have time to book a slot and get it done. With difficulty, they take out time to eat. Government should ensure they are vaccinated.’’Akshit Sharma, Student, Delhi
Does Bringing Attention To the Crisis Defame India?
The Lancet's recent report criticising the Modi government for mismanaging India's COVID-19 crisis was slammed by many BJP leaders. It was called 'imbalanced', 'politically motivated' and 'misguided.'
While the Indian High Commission wrote a letter to The Australian regarding a scathing article titled ‘‘Modi leads India out of lockdown… and into a viral apocalypse.’’ The letter described the article as ‘‘completely malicious, baseless and slanderous.’’ In addition to this, a rejoinder was also issued.
Both these articles mentioned how Indians were forced to turn to social media for medical help, while the government was not prepared to deal with the surge in COVID cases.
The Lancet had also observed that the government was “more intent on removing criticism on Twitter than trying to control the pandemic.”
There is also an ongoing narrative on social media where those who try to bring attention to the dire conditions of India's healthcare system, criticise the government for its mishandling of the crisis or try to hold them accountable for the lack of oxygen, beds and medical aid, are said to be 'defaming India.'
‘‘We must always ask questions and hold the authorities accountable. The mainstream media should highlight the issues of people, especially the poor, and should not be silent.’’Manish Jangra, Doctor, Delhi
‘‘Those nationalists who worry about India’s ‘image’ should know that patriotism is not about image building or PR. It’s about helping those who are suffering. Solve the problems in the country, don’t cover up.’’Shruti Chaturvedi, Goa-based Entrepreneur & Covid care volunteer
‘‘I was asked by my friends to not share images that reflect India in a bad light. All these people who choose to be ignorant today, will they be silent when this will happen to them?’’ asks Akshit Sharma, a student from Delhi.