The death of the significant

Mahesh Murthy: If you wondered what actual Facebook update sent two girls to jail this morning, based on a complaint by Shiv Sena pramukh of Palghar, Bhushan Sankhe claiming “religious hurt” – and what then supposedly justified his Shiv Sena goons to go over and ransack one girl’s uncle’s clinic without being arrested – it was this:

In all our countries we have things called ‘shok dibosh‘ (days of mourning), imposed upon us. We mourn by state dispensation for some leader or other, regardless of the lives they led. While calling them shahid‘s merely because they were killed might be a bit extreme, one could perhaps sympathise with the fact that they died in the course (if not call) of their duty. Ordinary people die in the hundreds in launch disasters every year. Slums catch fire mysteriously before developers move in on city land. Road disasters every day leave us unmoved, until the death of someone close, or prominent, moves us to anger. Garment workers working in death traps die when their prisons cave in or catch fire. We have our moments of rage, a temporary outburst, but there is no systemic change, for these moments are not remembered. The death of the insignificant, remains insignificant. But a politician or a wealthy person dying, even a natural death, raises the person to sainthood. Suddenly we forget who they were while they lived. Eulogies are written for the shomajshebi (philanthropist), who is said to have left behind an adoring public. We are required to weep.
I have no wish to be insensitive to the pain of their dear ones. Praying for a departed soul, however one might choose to pray, is a response I have no problems with. But the forced collective self?flagellation?that is imposed on us, because a person of influence ceases to be, merely for having outlived ones life, leaves me befuddled. And when questions being raised upon their role while living becomes punishable by law, that law, like any unjust law, must be challenged.

Author: Shahidul Alam

Time Magazine Person of the Year 2018. A photographer, writer, curator and activist, Shahidul Alam obtained a PhD in chemistry before switching to photography. His seminal work “The Struggle for Democracy” contributed to the removal of General Ershad. Former president of the Bangladesh Photographic Society, Alam set up the Drik agency, Chobi Mela festival and Pathshala, South Asian Media Institute, considered one of the finest schools of photography in the world. Shown in MOMA New York, Centre Georges Pompidou, Royal Albert Hall and Tate Modern, Alam has been guest curator of Whitechapel Gallery, Winterthur Gallery and Musee de Quai Branly. His awards include Mother Jones, Shilpakala Award and Lifetime Achievement Award at the Dali International Festival of Photography. Speaker at Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, Oxford and Cambridge universities, TEDx, POPTech and National Geographic, Alam chaired the international jury of the prestigious World Press Photo contest. Honorary Fellow of Royal Photographic Society, Alam is visiting professor of Sunderland University in UK and advisory board member of National Geographic Society. John Morris, the former picture editor of Life Magazine describes his book “My journey as a witness”, (listed in “Best Photo Books of 2011” by American Photo), as “The most important book ever written by a photographer.”

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