Recently, however, I started looking at the international coverage of India’s Covid crisis more carefully. The number of images of burning bodies quickly started to feel excessive. There are far fewer images of living, breathing citizens such as doctors, scientists, public health experts, or pharmaceutical company executives working to combat Covid. Similarly absent were images of civil society actors like the women’s self-help groups that are the focus of my own research.
In light of this colonial baggage, it should not surprise anyone that images of funeral pyres anger a lot of Indians. What may have gone unnoticed, however, is the manner in which these inadvertent media flubs are now routinely weaponized by political actors in India.
Such stories, hardly congenial to the worldview of the nationalist government, should be brought to the attention of Westerners sipping their “chai tea” and stretching in their yoga classes. Indians welcome accurate, critical reportage from abroad. They would appreciate being depicted as complex, thoughtful and diverse agents enduring a crisis with both science and tradition. Funeral pyres are just one small image in a vibrant kaleidoscope.