Masks off Western media

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The Western Media found an ideal stick to bash India as the Covid situation apparently started spiraling out of control. The oxygen crisis and Remdesivir shortage fuelled by social media anguish came in handy to camouflage a patently politically motivated campaign that was meant to show India in poor light. Gajanan Khergamker describes how even respected journals like Lancet became a cog in this wheel.

When the second wave of Covid-19 hit India, the popular notion was that India was caught completely off guard. For one, the number of cases that were being registered as Covid positive was phenomenal and unheard till date. India looked like it was staring down the barrel of a gun and with no respite in sight; the going seemed bleak for the World’s largest democracy.

There were a series of problems that seemed to plague India and in insurmountable ways, going by Western media. For one, there was an acute dearth of oxygen that led to a surge of deaths. That no country in the world either produces or provides for oxygen through cylinders and ready-to-use for medical treatment in hospitals for its entire population was lost in the process.

The issue of shortage was spurred by a phenomenal surge in a ‘need for oxygen’ in India. Oxygen was not mandatory for one and all contracting Covid-19 and that the need must have been expressly prescribed by a medical facility and/or treating doctor or institution. But, in reality, things were different; just like the shortage in Remdesivir, the ‘miracle’ drug, prescribed officially for only hospital use and in severe cases of Covid-19.

Twitter was abuzz with users making heartfelt requests for hospital beds, oxygen cylinders and Remdesivir shots and broadcast them through celebrities and media. Most national media and the Western media operating entirely on the social media platforms, saw the flurry as a ‘real issue’ of shortage and mismanagement across India and went on to amplify it without any sense of responsibility or accountability.

In India, across States, rules to prescribe the need for oxygen cylinders and vital drugs were made and arbitrary use of the same banned by law, even made punishable. But, in States run by Opposition governments, the polity keen on castigating the Centre continued to play politics and raise alarm on make-believe situations that appeared to be going out of control.

Why, with the vaccine situation too, across Twitter ran claims of States prevented in the first lap when the Centre was procuring and delivering the vaccines were keen on procuring vaccines themselves and continued to flay the ‘Centre’s policy’ of keeping control to itself.

Those on Twitter and Social Media, celebrities – Indian and Western – ran vitriolic campaigns against the Indian government spoke at length about the failing ‘federal’ structure of Indian state and how the Centre had garnered all the power and was restricting control entirely to itself.

And then, when there was an acute shortage of vaccines owing to the inability of states to procure the vaccines by manufacturers directly, despite their tall claims and promises, the Western media swiftly did a turnabout and blamed the Indian government for the low figures of vaccination and its slow process that raised the risk for citizens to contract Covid.

While a record number of deaths occurred across the world to Covid and developed nations struggled with their thousand-odd deaths each day, the Western media was sensitive and played down the situation. Now, when India faced the music and the death toll rose in the world’s largest democracy owing to the sheer dint of numbers, even Indian journalists photographed the dead, burials and sold them for a fortune to the Western media.

Sensitivity and accountability were given the convenient go-by as India-bashing was the name of the game. Why, even the virus strain was named after India, till the government flayed the move and rebuked all those who did so.

When it came to attributing the control of the first wave to effective control by the Indian government, the Western media was swift to quote ‘studies’ that ran down the administrative control and political will to give credit instead to the BCG vaccine that most Indians had taken soon after birth, to an innate immunity possessed owing to the ‘travails of living in a not-so-clean India’ and genetic proclivities.

India’s Swachata Abhiyaan, launched a few years ago, had helped India avert an overwhelming disaster was simply not written about. Not by most sections of the Indian media and not at all by the Western media.

Among Western media was the report by United Kingdom’s ‘The Lancet’ that spoke volumes about the bias that Western media harboured towards India in particular and Asia in general. Lancet, deviating from its core expertise of medical reportage and research, blamed the entire Covid situation on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration. The Lancet, known to exceed its jurisdiction and supposed ‘core expertise’, has opined on a wide range of issues and political leaders in the past too.

The Lancet rebuked the Modi government for its tackling of the Covid-19 crisis maintaining it has given the impression of being more occupied with “removing criticism on Twitter than trying to control the pandemic”.

While pointing out the shortcomings of the government’s response, The Lancet suggested a two-pronged strategy to control the outbreak. “The impression from the government was that India had beaten Covid-19 after several months of low case counts, despite repeated warnings of the dangers of a second wave and the emergence of new strains. Modelling suggested falsely that India had reached herd immunity, encouraging complacency and insufficient preparation, but a serosurvey by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in January suggested that only 21% of the population had antibodies against SARS-CoV-2,” read the editorial.

It criticized the government’s decision – despite repeated warnings – to allow religious and political congregations. These events are “conspicuous for their lack of COVID-19 mitigation measures”.

Lancet’s views on India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi didn’t come as a surprise. It was only in keeping with its hardened vitriolic stand against India that the British medical journal The Lancet is facing backlash for its editorial on Kashmir, where it described India’s move on the Valley as ‘controversial’ and raised concerns about ‘health, security and freedom of people in the region’.

“Prime Minister Narendra Modi vows that his decision to revoke autonomy will bring prosperity to Kashmir. But first, the people of Kashmir need healing from the deep wounds of this decades-old conflict, not subjugation to further violence and alienation,” said The Lancet in an editorial, drawing sharp criticism on social media. In its editorial titled “Fear and uncertainty around Kashmir’s future” Lancet said the “protracted exposure” to violence has led to a formidable “mental health crisis” in Kashmir.

The journal even went on to state a study by Médecins Sans Frontières, in two rural districts affected by conflict which found that nearly half of Kashmiris “rarely felt safe” and of those who had lost a family member to violence, one in five had witnessed the “death firsthand”.

“Therefore, it is unsurprising that people in the region have increased anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder,” it read.

Lancet’s blinkered approach towards the Indian government and its tackling of the Covid crisis was, and predictably too, quoted extensively and amplified through Western media mostly and certain sections of the Indian media again quoting Western media.

Why Lancet’s publication on the use and efficacy of Hydroxychloroquine in Covid treatment and mitigating fatalities followed by a retraction of the same report soon after, exposed its fickle stand on key issues.

The present-day health situation in India, the surge in qxygen production, the Centre’s announcement of taking over the procurement and delivery of Covid vaccines for all above 18 years of age from 21 June 2021 and the drastic fall in number of cases following the meteoric rise of cases and deaths in the second wave, are predictably ignored by the Western media.

Of course, there’ll be some catastrophe in the future to write about and amplify. Till then, India will work its way to health and better times and the Western media will talk about Elephants in the streets, the Great Indian Rope Trick and the ‘Issues faced by Minorities’ in India.


Gajanan Khergamker

Gajanan Khergamker is an independent Editor, Solicitor and Film-maker. He is the founder of the International Think Tank DraftCraft.

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