Selective sensitivity and cool quotient of crises


By Ajeet Bharti

Do you remember that Syrian toddler who was washed ashore? Yes, the kid in red shirt, tiny shoes, face down in sands of time (pun intended)… must have wrenched your heart. It is also likely that you remember the Charlie Hebdo killings. How about Boko Haram? You must have read or heard it somewhere, may be, in your Facebook news feed.

If you are on social media, chances are you have (at least once) thought to change your profile picture to ‘black dot’ or a ‘candle burning with a dark background’ to ‘show solidarity’.

We, as humans, feel for fellow beings. That’s what makes us humane. However, what appals one is, the show of solidarity for a cause is often detached from its purpose. The show of solidarity, on social media, is limited to hashtags. It is more about ‘he/she has a black dot in profile, I must have it too’. This ‘solidarity show’, many times, is often a result of ignorance or of hot trends.

In Hindi there is a term for it: bhed chaal (herd mentality). Being sensitive has become a cosmetic phenomenon rather than the true meaning of the word. Often done in peer pressure, because everyone is doing it, people just do it anyway. When asked about the details, they draw a blank.

In India, more people have died of cold in the winters than the deaths as a result of Boko Haram or ISIS attacks. Assam, in the North East, faces flood every single year. People get displaced, they die in the flood and after it, but somehow there are no black dots in our profile pictures.

Unless it is trending, no one, neither the mainstream Indian media nor people, cares. Our sensitivity looks for cool quotient of the news. Would sharing the image of a Syrian kid, face down in sands, be good enough for a projection of my sensitive self? People in Assam, Vidarbha, Andhra are dying in hundreds due to unnatural reasons, I haven’t seen a black dot for it.

It takes an article with lot of adjectives cramped in phrases like, ‘humanitarian crisis’, ‘death of humanity’, ‘humanity cries’, ‘humanity died, again’ to make us realise, we need to react to it. The reaction is, again, limited to a symbolism.

It is rare to see a debate or discussion on such crises on Facebook. Apart from monosyllabic ‘oh’ and ‘ah’, other emotional expressions are rare.

The thing is: our insensitivity becomes apparent when we show selective sympathy. There is no wrong in having a black dot for a Syrian toddler or Charlie Hebdo. There is nothing wrong in walking with candles in hand for Nirbhaya. There is nothing wrong in protesting on roads against miscarriage of justice.

The larger issue is when some Nido Taniyam is killed, when a Loitham Richard is killed, when your countrymen from North East are driven away and you are not aware of it.

It is convenient for us to say that people from North East don’t feel like being Indians without even having interacted with one of them. When your mainstream media, your Facebook, and your Twitter feed is limited to a hashtag trend, your outlook towards your own brethren would have to be limited.

How many times we make an effort to even click an article that speaks about the ‘farmer suicides’, ‘violence in North East’, ‘youth killed in Kashmir’, ‘three dead due to cold’, ‘several die due to heatwave’, ‘protests in Manipur turns violent‘ and the likes?

Maybe, it is not cool enough to be shared. Maybe, the tribals from Nagaland (which is not in Europe, as some of you might assume) aren’t cool enough to inform yourself about the same. Maybe, the whole idea of unity in diversity is dying a slow death due to sectarian beliefs and our discriminatory attitude.

It is not just us but, even in the contentlessness of 24×7 media, mainstream media doesn’t care about it. At times, an IPL match becomes more important than national policy on education.

The brutality of the fact is, we are ok with it. Apart from a limited number of groups, most of us don’t know or, even when we do, we don’t feel compelled to complain or have an opinion.

Compassion shouldn’t depend on how a news piece is being covered. With news media getting monopolised by likes of Rupert Murdoch and Vineet Jain’s Times Group, we can make use of social media which is truly democratic.

People would have to realise the power of free information flow on social media and how it can bring about a change in our world (and others’). Cosmetic, cool, black dot sensitivity hasn’t done any good to anyone. It is the thought process that needs to be changed.

Thinking is getting scarce and Hamletian ‘to click or not to click’ is taking over sensible thoughts. Before you click, and change your profile picture, try to know about the situation bereft of adjectives that (apparently) concerns humanity. Before you tap on ‘share’, try to write a paragraph about why that issue needs attention.

Being sensitive is not a choice, it just comes to us unless we have conditioned ourselves to quantify the intangible.