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Monday, August 15, 2005

Sunday Bloody Sunday

In the wake of 9/11, US newspapers were privy to many distressing photographs that depicted the victims of the attack on the Twin Towers. With commendable restraint, the New York Times, and other papers, refrained from publishing any that may cause further distress and outrage.

No such qualms affected the esteemed editors of some of our mainstream dailies after the bloody attack by a deranged youth on two women at Mumbai's Gateway of India on Saturday. The Times of India, the Mumbai Mirror and the Indian Express, for example, prominently displayed photographs of the attacker in the act of slashing his victims, followed by the body of one of the girls, as well as a bystander with bloodied clothes helping the other.

The Times of India loftily informed its readers that though "the pictures above are graphic, TOI has refrained from using shots that were far more bloody." Thanks a heap.

Not only is this offensive, there are other disturbing issues, too. For example, every report clearly mentions that those attacked were "Manipuri girls", "girls from Manipur", and so on. Why? One doesn't see the same attention to ethnicity when it comes to people mentioned in other news reports, so why should the people of Manipur be singled out in this manner?

Also: quite clearly, the horrifying act was in progress when the photographs were being taken. So, instead of attempting to call for help or intervene, the photographers were shooting rolls to deliver to their newsrooms. Callousness doesn't even begin to cover it.

Unrelated to the coverage of the incident is the fact that, amongst the crowd of bystanders shown in the photographs, only two tried to help the victims. The rest were watching the spectacle open-mouthed. Doesn't speak very highly of the "spirit of Mumbai" that one has been hearing so much of these days.

(By the way, the phenomenon of "witness behaviour" has been studied in detail by psychiatrists Darley and Latane, particularly in the context of the 1964 murder of a woman in Queens, New York, when 38 witnesses saw the scene and offered no assistance. It's been discussed in Lauren Slater's Opening Skinner's Box, among other books.)

What's particularly sad is that one of the girls, according to the Mumbai Mirror, screamed, "We are not foreigners. We are Manipuri. Please help us."

Happy Independence Day.

11 Comments:

  • I been wondering about the Manipuri tag myself. I can't imagine the papers saying Two Gujarati girls, or Two Maharastrian girls.

    About the witness thing... may I suggest that most people probably didn't even realise what was happening? I wondered what I'd have done if I were there and figured that it would probably take me much longer than a split second to realise that someone was actually being killed right in front of me.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:35 AM  

  • thanks for this post. you've said many things that i was troubled about.

    By Blogger uma, at 12:23 PM  

  • When it comes to gore, the Indian media seems to show a lot less restraint (than outlets in the West). We got ourselves couple of Indian TV channels in the US, and we had to turn the TV off when eating dinner - every news broadcast had something about someone getting murdered, and the camera would zoom in on blood, body parts and crying relatives. Newsmagazines don't think twice about carrying pictures of people axed to death on their covers - guess this incident is a particularly egregious example of an existing malaise.

    By Anonymous Karthik, at 1:05 PM  

  • disgusting. the fact that this can happen in one of the 'safest' places in India is disturbing. shame on all those papers and tv channels that showed the pictures

    By Blogger The ramblings of a shoe fiend, at 3:59 PM  

  • Disgusting. But before you let the foreign media off the hook, remember that they don't indulge in disaster pornography only if the victims happen to belong to the Western world(for the most part). Anytime they have covered any disaster in the third world(I am thinking of the tsunami and civil wars in Africa specifically), they aren't much better than apna media.

    By Blogger Veena, at 5:47 PM  

  • There seems to be a fine line between depicting reality and feeding perversion as far as the media goes. And this post is bang on.

    By Blogger Parii, at 9:49 AM  

  • bang on, Prufrock, what were the photographers doing clicking away while the women were screaming for help - and what were the newspapers thinking of putting these pics up right on the front page?

    not only that, but the papers have given out the full home address of the girl as well as the room number she was in at Bombay hospital. WHY? so some deranged person can seek her out and attack her again?

    and the irony is that the ToI as a newspaper has a policy of never giving out telephone numbers for anything - if you see their announcements about say events in Mumbai, you will not see a telephone number next to it...

    By Anonymous Charu, at 9:58 AM  

  • nice piece...
    but veena is right -
    in the west it ain't just the media...
    i read an article on gaurdian which spoke of brit guy taking pictures using his camera phone of the london bombings (apparently he was on one of the trains) "for his blog!!!"

    By Blogger ///slash\\\, at 12:57 AM  

  • Hi Prufrock,

    Papers like TOI do the great city of Bombay a disservice. They must be thinking... 'well, the manipuris live far, far away in some part of the north-east, so lets just splash the front pages because the north easterners wont see it anyway, and we'll get increased sales because anyone walking past a newspaper mart will be shocked into buying our paper.'

    By Blogger Alaphia, at 5:21 PM  

  • The photographers are just people like us. We, the urban Indians have become extremely insensitive.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:44 AM  

  • Thank you for reading, and for your comments. Now that the incident and its repercussions have been pushed to the inside pages of the papers, one pessimistically wonders whether perceptions and sensitivities have changed, or will.

    By Blogger PrufrockTwo, at 8:18 AM  

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