Desperate Times Evoke Great Feats of Humanity

Social media channels relief efforts for the victims of Chennai Floods

Meenu Kumaraguru

Staff Writer

    Beginning November 8, 2015, incessant rains in Tamil Nadu, especially in the capital city of Chennai, have deteriorated most of the state to ruins. Less than a month later, Chennai has been declared a disaster area. Over two hundred lives have been lost, and many are currently stranded, deprived of food, fresh water, electricity, and sufficient medical care.

    In their hour of tragedy, citizens have come out in large numbers to help the people in need by opening the doors of their homes, malls, and offices to strangers and offering them food, shelter and even phone recharges. However, despite the havoc in South India, the Indian national media failed to adequately take action.

    The people in Tamil Nadu are outraged and furious over the Indian media, largely based in Delhi and Mumbai, for their apparent callousness and lack of concern towards the tragedy of fellow Indians.

   The Chennai International Airport was temporarily shut down, and operating emergency planes through an army base. Hospitals, schools, and businesses are flooded and water is neck-deep in low-lying parts of Chennai, to the extent that the Army, Navy, and Air Force’s assistance is being sought to rescue the marooned people and deal with the unprecedented natural disaster. A major city with more than 5 million people is swamped in historic floods, India’s national media gave the Chennai floods much less importance than it clearly deserves.

    Since India’s national media disregarded the matter, world media failed to provide recognition as well. While India is extremely diverse, it’s mainstream media is not. Journalists in Indian national media originate mostly from Delhi and Mumbai, and have very similar social backgrounds. Many cannot always relate to the brilliant kaleidoscope of India, therefore failing to cover diverse issues in the less-recognized parts of the country.

    Indian national news channels dedicate so much airtime to natural disasters in neighboring countries, namely Nepal, yet fail to give attention to the plight of their fellow countrymen and women in South India.

    In the case of the Chennai floods, the internet and social media prevailed as life-saving tools. Information crisscrossed the city of Chennai at record speed. While the Indian media was too preoccupied with an intolerance debate and news on actor Aamir Khan’s intentions to leave the country, the people of Chennai offered an amazing show of solidarity and decided to aid each other.

    Facebook was full of posts of people offering to help house the stranded; while anonymity is much sought-after nowadays, these good samaritans were willing to put up their addresses in cyberspace to provide shelter for hundreds before the water levels receded.

    Twitter served as a powerful medium and trends like #ICanAccommodate, #ICUNeeds (for medical emergencies) and #ChennaiRainsHelp gave concrete information to people about which area they could expect help from, along with hashtags like #VolunteerForChennai to urge others to help.

   Information also filtered in about helplines, boats and the movements of the Army.

In times of such natural calamities, the Indian defence services are extremely helpful, and people shared information on where all defence rescue personnel were posted, so that help could be sought where they were active.

    The internet was flooded with photos that spoke volumes of the resilience of a battered city. One touching and poignant picture showed a woman in a raincoat walking in a flooded road with nothing but a milk can in her hands. The caption read that she had delivered milk even in such conditions and had been doing so for 25 years.

    It is disappointing to know that the majority of what makes headlines in India pertains to the Bollywood industry, political parties like Congress and BJP, and the middle class. National news media definitely has the capability to create a certain political and social accountability to the public.

    They have the ability to create more transparency, build knowledge, and disseminate it fast and effectively. Denying much needed space and attention to mass issues like the devastating floods in Chennai does a disservice to both the general public and state government’s interests.

    If the media truly considers all Indian citizens as equal, it should include affairs pertaining to all parts of the country in “national” news coverage.

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