Pulitzer Prize And The Western Gaze

Pulitzer Prize And The Western Gaze

by Aaina - Wednesday, May 11, 2022 05:07 PM IST
Pulitzer Prize And The Western GazeThe Pulitzer Prize medal.
  • It would be a travesty if India and Indians continue to look towards the West to garner a pat on the back or derive recognition for its achievements.

It is 2022. Humanity has faced several challenges — from famines to wars, from economic crashes to global pandemics. We have crossed eras of colonialism, two world wars followed by a cold war. We are now moving towards a more multi-lateral and multi-faceted world.

Despite the ebbs and flows in the recent history of humanity and new global realities, what hasn’t really changed is the Western gaze. The gaze defines what would be considered civilised and uncivilised, who is worthy of being saved and who is to be left to fate.

It is the perception that decides who would be ‘the subject’ to be studied, analysed and in the process, dehumanised. The ‘subject’ exists to be stared at and to feed the imaginations of the developed world. West looks at its ‘subject’ as someone they are not or they would never be, for they belong to a higher race, a more evolved state of being.

The hold on the popular narrative by the developed world continues to feed this Western gaze. The Pulitzer Prize is another instrument that is reflective of this phenomenon. Indian photojournalists Adnan Abidi, Sanna Irshad Mattoo, Amit Dave and the late Danish Siddiqui of Reuters have been honoured with the Pulitzer for capturing “images of COVID’s toll in India that balanced intimacy and devastation, while offering viewers a heightened sense of place.”

The last few words, “offering viewers a heightened sense of place” depict the importance the location of the images holds in establishing the extent of the devastation in viewers’ perception. In a global pandemic, hardly any nation was spared. Almost everyone saw death in close quarters. There was a universal refrain of death and destruction as the two defining features of Covid-19 around the world. The death toll was much higher in the transatlantic region, which comprised of north and south Americas and Europe. It was lower in Asia and Africa.

Facts notwithstanding, India was covered as the epicentre of the pandemic. The images of burning pyres, grieving families and suffering patients were plastered on the front pages of global dailies. It is to be noted that these images were taken without seeking due permission from those being captured. It would be hard to imagine that such disregard meted out to the privacy of an individual and society was practised in the Western nations. But, in India, all decencies and ethics were done away with.

Even as the Western nations faltered under Covid’s onslaught, their news media distracted them with the photos, emerging all the way from India, of people dying and bodies burning. In the case of images, facts become secondary. The image presented with a caption itself becomes the story. Therefore, even as the photos of India coping with the pandemic circulated, nobody stopped to ask about the actual figures or attempted to put things in perspective.

In fact, there are several commentators and media persons who thrive on painting doomsday scenarios in India to feed the stereotypes more palatable to a global audience. For them, it is an easy path toward attaining worldwide recognition, international awards, and invites to conferences. These commentators are the modern-day sepoys of the English-speaking sahibs. These sahibs wouldn’t demand the right to privacy for the families of the deceased to grieve, as they would for someone closer to home. They couldn’t care less for the context or lived realities of the people because they do not resemble them.

One should not be fooled by the discourse of anti-racism that emanates from the Western media. It is nothing but a smokescreen to hide power-wielding in a narrative war. But, if one really wishes to examine their racist streak, look at the way Western commentators gasped at Ukrainians being forced to flee in the wake of the Russian attack.

A foreign correspondent of CBS News, Charlie D’Agata exclaimed, "This isn't Iraq or Afghanistan...This is a relatively civilized, relatively European city". There were many Western thinkers who were not against the war but were against the War that was inflicted on people who looked like them and lived like them. In Afghanistan, the Western apathy and ignorance were on full display as they abandoned the people under a Taliban takeover and left the country overnight, as it no longer served their interests.

It would be a travesty if India and Indians continue to look towards the West to garner a pat on the back or derive recognition for its achievements. India, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has emerged as a confident nation. It is a nation that managed to pull itself out of the Covid crisis with the help of its manufacturing base, digital infrastructure, and vaccine independence. India of today does not require certificates from the West, a fact that the Modi government has made amply clear by forsaking being dictated by the West and looking toward its own interest.

A recalibration of the approach, on India’s part, would not come easy. But it would not come at all if we do not thwart the attempts of the West to colour our worldview as per their whims.

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