It is hard to argue against death. It's even harder to argue against someone who uses death to push a point. Still harder to try to reason with someone who declares every death to be a proof of human cruelty, especially cruelty of those who stand to lose heavily by it.
It must require a singularly heartless man to use death of an infant to paint himself as a modern-day Antony -- a feat no smaller than a government depriving a child of her right to life.
There is nothing more inhuman than using a dead body to parade your art - in politics as much as in any other profession, journalism not excluded.
That unfortunately is the helpless feeling I am left with after reading the letter that provides dark adornment to Hindustan Times' front page of February 7. (When was it last that a principle correspondent substituted subjective letters for objective reporting?) How cruel, crass and insensitive must one look even trying to suggest that the piece itself is a resounding specimen of emotional exploitation of a grave human tragedy. To call it conscientious blackmail would amount to inviting charges of indulging in the most inhuman craft of government PR.
But let's look at what it is.
An infant of 14 months has died because her mother could not afford a quilt - horrifying enough. If the mother were neither too poor to buy a quilt but was prevented from bringing one nor too helpless to move away from cold but was stopped from doing that even - this would be brutality of the most horrendous kind.
Did humanity fall low?
Did humanity indeed fall that that low in Bathinda that night? Did someone advise the mother to put the life of the child above other things? Many media persons were present there. Did someone try to help and was stopped from doing so?
It was up to the reporter-turned-letter-writer to tell us the details and shame the system further. Did someone stop him from this? Or is it just that this would deprive him of the more tempting option: the grandstand.
No government in the world can give jobs to all its eligible citizens. Equally, no eligible people in jobs - not even the letter writer's father - would give up their jobs because there are not enough jobs to accommodate all the other equally qualified but jobless youth. Most emphatically, no government has the right to stop anyone from agitating peacefully and highlighting their problems -as these agitators were and are. That is the crux of civilization.
If the tragic lady who lost her child in the most painful manner was stopped, then the government of the day has only one job left: to fix responsibility, make an example out of it.
But is it just a small detail that the death of the child still does not relate to the other issue of availability of jobs and selection procedures? Is there a need to focus on the specifics of the core issue in relative local, national and global terms.
But this involves hard work. And hard work is neither glamorous nor theatrical.
Worse still, that would have robbed one of an opportunity of a lifetime for grandstand on page one of the country's premier daily. Opportunities like these cannot be missed -- even if they come at the cost of cold-blooded abuse of child's death.
Grandstanding or real concern
For effect, the letter must be addressed not to a faceless official in-charge of the place where the tragedy occurred and to challenge him to disclose if he had been prevented by the political bosses from helping the hapless mother. That would be a poor district level news-item.
The letter must be addressed to the chief minister whose version has not even been taken on the issue. If you don't paint the CM himself as the killer, what good is the news as front-page copy? "To highlight the issue, up the ante". If someone were to question the news story as playing politic over dead bodies of children, he must be ready to be dubbed insensitive and heartless himself. Of course one must not even suggest that playing journalism with death is as sinful as playing politics with it. But, can I resist the thought that the thorn of ambition in politics pricks as hard as in any other profession, and makes innocents bleed just as much.
Shameful for all
A child has left us in circumstances that must shame us all. There were people present there who didn't help. Some of them can wash their hands saying they were under pressure 'from someone' - more pressure than this child or other agitators were under? Did someone advise the mother to put the life the child above other things? May be , some journalists also knew of the situation before tragedy stuck. They will all be absolved of any share in accountability.
"After all, it was not our duty." In a few days, everyone - even the newspaper - will forget the child as a 'good story'.
That a mother has lost a child will remain nothing more than a stick to beat each other with. But anyone trying to argue about this being as much a collective social guilt as an official one must appear heartless and insensitive.
(The writer is advisor, national affairs and media, to Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal)