It is a tragedy, stupid

We cannot be crying ourselves hoarse on every tragedy around the world, but Nepal April 25 is no joke


Shishir Tripathi | April 27, 2015

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American humorist Erma Louise Bombeck once noted that there is a “thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humour and hurt”. So true, and wise of her. I wish the same wisdom had punctuated the sensibilities of a host of people who rushed to comment on the tragedy that visited Nepal on April 25.

From political leaders to business entities to common people, all played insensitive fools by making stupid comments on the tragedy that devastated the neighbouring country. While social media helped families and friends of those affected by the earthquake connect with them, it also played a spoilt brat, showing little restraint in its reactions.

It started with Lenskart, an eyewear ecommerce website, launching a promo which clearly reflected its lack of sight, in seeing a tragedy of this scale. Soon after the tremors on Saturday, it issued a promotional campaign that said, “Shake it off like this Earthquake: Get any Vincent Chase Sunglasses up to Rs 3,000 for FLAT Rs 500, by sending invites to 50 friends @”.

Later, Lenskart accepted its mistake and apologized for “referring to the earthquake in poor taste”.

Another Indian online shopping site, American Swan, sent out an SMS promotion for an “earth-shattering offer” on its line of clothing and fashion accessories.

The most audible voice of the BJP on news debates also made a joke of himself by cracking an insensitive joke on the tragedy. Sambit Patra tweeted: “I was watching the Ashutosh episode on Aajtak... suddenly everything started shaking... it took some time to realize that it was #earthquake.”

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi who has been the butt of many jokes in the last few years was not spared on Saturday too. Under normal circumstances people relish these jokes but when a tragedy was used to do so, it definitely was in bad taste. A random tweet said, “Aftermath of RahulGandhi's visit to Rudraprayag, Earthquake hits North India & Nepal.” Another said, “Pappu goes to Kedarnath.. Earthquake in Nepal and N. India...”

Whether the joke was appropriated by BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj and Sadhvi Prachi or it was the other way round, we might not know. According to the Times of India, Maharaj said, “Rahul Gandhi eats beef, and goes to the holy shrine without purifying himself. The earthquake was bound to happen".

Another tweet took a jibe at prime minister Narendra Modi: “Kya Dharti Ma Modi ke Land Acquisition Bill ke khilaaf aawaz utha rahi hai?”

And then there were some outrightly politically juvenile tweets coated with stupid humour. “Jahan Modi k kadam padey wahan barbadi”, said one of the tweets. Another said, “If people had voted for Congress in 2014... This earthquake would have never happened...”

Adding to the insensitivity was lack of ethics by many news channels as they pulled videos of other countries from social media and used them in their coverage of the earthquake of Nepal. A video footage from  the Middle East was used by several Indian TV channels in their reports on Nepal even though it prominently featured signboards in Arabic and people could be heard speaking in Arabic.

A prominent English news channel, in an attempt to portray the gravity of the earthquake, used a video showing an earlier earthquake in the Philippines.

Then there were “experts” on news channels telling the exact time and place of the next tremors, creating more panic than informing people, which they should have been doing instead.

No, I am not one of those “getting-hurt-on-everything” Indian or a media-bashing fanatic, but certainly humour in tragedy could only be about laughing at one’s own miseries, to find some solace. Under no circumstances can it be a topic of senseless humour, devoid of basic sensitivity.



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