This is about respecting the dead.
This is also about disrespecting a man who died.
On Wednesday afternoon, during a live broadcast to the nation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi with folded hands, Union ministers and chief ministers with heads bowed, observed a two-minutes silence in memory of the Indian soldiers who died fighting Chinese troops in the Galwan Valley. News channels rolled out the photographs of those killed on a side panel.
On Sunday, news channels had shared footage of a bed with disheveled linen and a single green cloth hanging limply above (Aaj Tak); this was succeeded by a photograph of actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s lifeless body, face up (News Nation).
On Tuesday and Wednesday, news channels remembered the “bravehearts’’ from Galwan with visits to their homes where they paid homage alongside bereaved family members.
On Sunday and Monday, news channels like Aaj Tak, ABP News, Zee News and India TV some of the most-watched Hindi news channels) badgered Rajput’s relatives for reactions to his death, gleefully recording his father’s grief, pestering tearful relatives by wielding the microphone in their faces like an ultimatum. At one point, an India TV reporter admitted she was reluctant to ask them questions but she had to – it was her professional duty.
These are the same channels that have not asked the government even one question about the face-off with China, which has now been underway for over a month.
Over the next few days, as the coffins carrying the dead soldiers return to their families, we will watch them receive full military honours as a mark of respect.
Perhaps then we might also spare a thought for Sushant Singh Rajput: the last glimpse we had of him was of his body wrapped in a white cloth inside an ambulance leaving Mumbai’s Cooper Hospital for the crematorium, the cameraman striving for a close-up (India TV).
News channels have echoed the PM’s words that the troops did not die in vain — they have draped their memory in the Indian flag and vowed for “badla’’ (Zee News), a stern response (Aaj Tak) to teach a “lesson’’ (News 18 India) to the “cowardly’’ (Times Now), “khooni Cheen’’ for its “betrayal’’ (CNN News 18). Republic promised to show them the door — “Get out China’’, while Zee News and India TV reminded them “yeh 1962 ki India nahin, yeh 2020 ki India hai’’. ABP sang out “Humse jo takrayega, choor choor ho jayega’’.
As for Bollywood’s onscreen Dhoni, channels mourned his “hit wicket’’ (Aaj Tak) for two entire days by stripping him of all privacy and dignity as they hungrily searched for an answer to the questions “Akhir kyon?’’ (India TV), “Wajah kya?’’ (ABP), “Kya dard?’’ (Aaj Tak).
Interestingly, they asked a similar question of China – why had it gone back on agreements and refused to step back in Galwan? For answers, they turned to top strategic experts and respected former senior Army officers who have provided sober analysis.
But in the case of Rajput, they were the experts, permitting themselves the luxury of idle speculation, which ranged from his possible financial difficulties (Republic ), “pyar ki khichdi’’ (News India), to clinical depression (Aaj Tak and Zee News claimed that according to ‘sources’ he had stopped taking his medication) or “bullying’’ by a B-town clique (Times Now) led by a “kingpin producer” (Republic) and a “celebrity’’ conspiracy, as alleged by Dabangg director Abhinav Kashyap (India Today).
News channels and their anchors provided little or no evidence for any of these possibilities — barring Kashyap’s note and a video by actor Kangana Ranaut. All Hindi news channels have done is speculate, and repeatedly run clips from Dhoni and Chhichhore — both films starring Rajput — to encapsulate the “challenges’’ he did or did not overcome.
They had no clue why the successful actor had died by suicide — which they readily admitted by repeatedly asking the question “Kyon?“. But that didn’t stop them from indulging in suspicion-filled monologues and debates across Hindi and English news channels— from ABP, Aaj Tak, India TV and Zee News to Times Now, India Today, Republic TV.
In contrast, since Tuesday afternoon, news channels have reported government-sourced information about the India-China standoff, and presented a wide range of complicated looking maps of mountainous terrain where the clashes between Indian and Chinese forces took place.
On Wednesday, India Today’s Rahul Kanwal presented more evidence: “high resolution’’ satellite photographs of the area on which he identified little black spots and white slabs as China’s strong presence in the Galwan Valley. Times Now, CNN News 18 soon followed suit.
What a difference between the two cases. Banner headlines from ABP News capture the stark difference in coverage of the two incidents — for China it’s “Desh ki pukar, badla lo sarkar” ; for Rajput it read, “Kya wajah? Poora desh janna chahta hai’’.
Military experts and retired officers counseled restraint in India’s response to the Galwan clashes. Aaj Tak anchor Sweta Singh said she appreciated that both countries were treading a “thin line’’ — “this is not Pakistan, this is China,’’ she added wisely, suggesting sensitivity was required in handling the situation.
In their coverage so far, news channels have, by and large, respected facts or government sources on the Galwan crisis, and have also been respectful of the dead soldiers. But nothing could be more insensitive or disrespectful than their coverage of “chhote shahar ka” Sushant Singh Rajput. How many times did they use that condescending description?
On Sunday, India TV referred to Rajput’s love of astronomy, the stars and planets and then kindly added that he had now joined them.
As Times Now said of the Chinese assault of Indian soldiers: “unpardonable’’.
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