Sridevi Or The Children of Syria: Whose Life Is More ‘Grievable’?

The recent phenomenon of having news stories tucked away in the corner while flooding the entire news space with the stories of ‘grievable’ lives raises an important question: is it the intention to keep certain news unseen and unheard, or is it about protecting the truth?

While Judith Butler understands presupposition of a ‘grievable life’ to be one ‘that will have been lived’, an ungrieved life is sustained by no regard and testimony. To make it simple, Butler analyses the graphic representation used by the media in the post 9/11 scenario. Creating public consent regarding grievability by offering powerful representation of iconic images of those who died, the media almost made the lost lives of non-US nationals and illegal workers less grievable, if not ungrievable at all.

A lot happened in the last week – the Priya Prakash episode, the kissing controversy regarding singer Papon, Avani Chaturvedi becoming the first Indian woman to fly a fighter jet solo, a tribal man named Madhu being killed in Kerala for stealing rice and groceries worth ₹200, a speeding car killing nine children in Bihar, and of course, the death of the luminous superstar Sridevi.

In a bid to stand out in the race of TRP, the Indian media picked up the story of Sridevi at the very moment when the word ‘accidental drowning’ made its appearance, keeping aside ‘cardiac arrest’. The bathtub journalism reached a new level when a bathroom, bathtub and a glass of wine were set up to try and recreate the event – but which in reality took the whole event to the level of soap opera .

What was missing was the death of many innocent children by gas attacks in Syria. Barkha Dutt went on to say, “News anchors usually far too supine to interrogate the powerful contorted their bulletins by discussing, in all seriousness, whether a trained dancer could lose her balance in the bathtub.”

Instead of terming this as ‘death of news (#newskimaut)’, some questions need to be asked: whose lives are considered valuable, whose lives are mourned and whose lives are considered ungrievable? Is the ‘forwarded as received’ the new truth in the Indian media landscape or has determining public grieving become the new job description for Indian media? Is there a need to understand more about modes of dealing with death? Or, should we understand precariousness as coextensive with birth, depending upon whose life it is?

Will it be an exaggeration to say that the ‘affect of regulation’ is deployed as the truth when the ‘regulation of affect’ is maintained as a process secret enough to bestow upon the public with differential distribution of grieving?