Journalism from most major national media houses in India is pitiful, to say the least, with the painstaking bias of some outlets for the establishment and its corporate Hindutva path totally visible. The immorality of Godi Media is something that has been talked about, but the work of local media outlets in the state of Gujarat could be one of the signs of an alternative to propagandist media: local and independent media.
Dear #Gujarat govt:Pl tell us why people are cremating their loved ones in open grounds in #Gujarat. This video is from #Surat and ppl are compelled to do the last rites in open ground coz of huge waiting list at crematoriums. #coronavirus #Covid19SecondWave #GujaratModel? pic.twitter.com/n4JukArD5R
— Deepal.Trivedi (@DeepalTrevedie) April 12, 2021
Media in Gujarat has been on the front foot against the Gujarat government’s attempts to fudge the COVID-19 numbers in the state. On April 13, the government said that the city of Jamnagar had seen 0 (zero) Covid deaths, however, local media reported a minimum of 54 COVID deaths.
They got these accurate numbers by camping outside cremation grounds all night, covering the grounds, and counting the bodies disposed of via the COVID protocol (which differs from your usual cremation). Journalism in India has been reduced to loud islamophobic men shouting about half-baked conspiracies against the government, and seeing such honest journalism is a surprising change.
A similar report in Ahmedabad by Gujarati outlet ‘Sandesh’ refuted the government’s claims that only 20 people had died on April 12th, with its reporters counting at least 63 dead from COVID in just one hospital.
The Gujarat government’s attempts to hide deaths are not just limited to these two cities, as the city of Surat, where some crematoriums have seen the metal in their furnaces melt from the continuous smoke of burning bodies. Crematoriums are running out of wood for pyres and are forced to use petrol or Kerosene to burn the bodies instead of ghee. The Surat Municipal Board has had to re-open 3 closed crematoriums without furnaces and multiple bodies have been seen to be cremated together, to shorten the waiting period, which can go up to 8-10 hours.
The Gujarat government claimed that Surat had only seen 22 deaths on April 12th and 13th.
With our social media feeds filled with pleas for remdesivir, plasma, hospital beds, and ventilators, arguments can be made that this is just more negative news. However, the fact remains that reporting government fudging is necessary, especially when it is playing with the lives and safety of people, and treating the dead as a number that can be misrepresented.
#Thread on "Don't spread negativity"
Since the pandemic began, a lot of citizens raised their voices online to try and hold our governments and media accountable to doing better by us in this time of crises.
Here's what we were countered with online:
— Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoon) April 16, 2021
The government trying to impose a false sense of safety will only be detrimental, both in the short and long run, as people will naturally take fewer precautions if they feel that there is nothing to worry about in their area. This would lead to more people getting infected, and more death. This is the reason government numbers in the pandemic need to be accurate.
However, governments in BJP-ruled states have repeatedly tried to fudge the numbers, with a similar situation brewing in Uttar Pradesh. A crematorium had walls put up around it so that reporters could not count the deaths in Lucknow or make videos. The BJP, in its hastiness, to take pot-shots at governments in Maharashtra, Delhi, and West Bengal is playing with their own constituent’s lives and the fate of the country.
Perhaps, more couldn’t be expected from a government that is prioritizing the Kumbh Mela and state elections during a pandemic.
The other reason this true reportage remains vital is the reason journalism has been vital in democracy for decades. To bring light to issues and failures of the government and to put pressure on the government to respond and remedy the situation. According to a report by The Scroll, the Shifa Hospital ran out of oxygen for Covid-19 patients, and only got more oxygen after the media reported on it.
Gujarati newspaper Divya Bhaskar demanded accountability from state BJP Unit CR Patil by publishing his number and urging readers to call and ask how he got 5,000 doses of Remdesivir in Surat during a country-wide shortage.
A government that is not prioritizing its people, be it the centre or the state governments, should be questioned and held accountable. The BJP government has completely mismanaged the second wave of the pandemic, but Godi media has brought no attention to the government’s shortcomings and the severity of the position.
The response of local media in Gujarat, and several other states shows that the consumer of news has an alternative beyond the biased. Local and independent media outlets like Sandesh in Gujarat, and examples like PARI (People’s Archive Of Rural India) for national news, show that maybe, journalism is not yet destroyed in our country.