Why are we indifferent to the Ukraine war?

India’s decision to abstain has been prompted by several considerations and we need not judge it. But it is shocking that our campuses are bereft of genuine sentiment against the war.

Published: 26th March 2022 12:23 AM  |   Last Updated: 26th March 2022 12:23 AM   |  A+A-

Firefighters try to extinguish a fire amid the destruction caused after shelling of a shopping center, in Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, March 21, 2022(Photo | AP)

Firefighters try to extinguish a fire amid the destruction caused after shelling of a shopping center, in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Photo | AP)

The Russian aggression in Ukraine and the human tragedy unfolding in the war zone are no longer front-page or prime-time ‘stories’ for most sections of Indian media. It is a war in which our country has considerable stakes. Even before its economic and diplomatic consequences are fully gauged, India has to tackle complex geopolitical issues and tricky diplomatic riddles. It is creditable that around 22,000 Indian students have been evacuated from Ukraine by the Indian government. Whether the intervention was timely or the conduct of the Indian Embassy in Ukraine was laudable are, at the moment, issues of secondary importance. That several thousand Indian citizens have returned safely from a war-ravaged country is no doubt a commendable achievement. With the safe return of Indian students, we seem to have lost interest in the war, its human tragedy and moral perfidy.

While (the unimaginatively named) ‘Operation Ganga’ was in progress, newspapers and electronic media were rife with sentimental stories of anxious parents and the eventual happy reunion with their children. The plight of Indian students spending tense hours in dormitories with limited facilities and poor quality food and such facts are known to us in micro details, thanks to a probing media. The still-raging war in Ukraine and the scale of misery, displacement, death of civilians and children, massive migration to neighbouring countries, blatant violation of human rights, the effete role of the United Nations, and the dubious stands of countries professing friendship and empathy with Ukraine have all receded to the inner pages of newspapers. Capturing the joyful moments of family reunion no doubt is a feel-good human story and the hardships endured by our young people in a war zone deserve to be portrayed. But is this war important for us only because it involved the safety of Indian students? The suffering of the people of Ukraine and the sheer belligerence of Russia have been mostly ignored.

Sections of Indian media that regularly get news, photos and videos from the conflict zones in Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen and elsewhere by arrangements with international news agencies seem to have suddenly mellowed, balanced and ‘correct’. They do carry news on the war but make sure not to take sides. The coverage is at best lukewarm. We are used to a different style of war reporting. Indian media has always taken a categorical stand against aggression anywhere. Is there an invisible ‘muting factor’ at work? Perhaps not. One of the probable reasons for this feigned disinterest could be the misplaced notion of political correctness. As India abstained in the UN from a resolution condemning the aggression, sections of the media might be feeling that highlighting the scale of human misery, death and desperation among the people of Ukraine could be seen as not in conformity with the government’s stand in the UN. They are poignantly aware that one tell-tale photo can change society’s perception of the war. India’s decision to abstain has been prompted by several considerations and we need not judge it or quarrel with it. Does it imply that there is an unwritten injunction for the media and society against a contrary stand? There cannot be a compulsion, direct or oblique, to share identical views with the government on an issue pertaining to the aggression of a country against its neighbour. Of course it would be a different story had India been a party to the conflict. The media has an inalienable right and duty to inform citizens what exactly is happening in Ukraine? That could mostly be inconvenient to the government. But making governments comfortable is no task assigned to the media.

Media reflects the abiding mood of society. And the society seems to be distinctly indifferent. The war in Ukraine has ceased to be a major topic of discussion in social circles, social media, among professionals, within the family and in the public domain. Conditioned by the multiple possibilities of the addictive social media, news on the war and the stories of human misery do not elicit the usual and expected response from the youth (In fact, they couldn’t care less). The campuses are shockingly bereft of any genuine sentiment against the war. For the youth as well as a large section of society, a moral indignation toward an aggression of the strong against the weak is no longer a natural reaction. We are not sure whether we should be with David or Goliath.

Essentially the citizen is slowly becoming more self-absorbed. The tragedy in another country does not bother us as it used to on earlier occasions. The technology-induced self-indulgent ethos currently in vogue obliterates moral deprivations and unethical behaviour, whether among individuals, leaders or nations. Unless corrected, this inward spiral could soon eat into the very vitals of our democratic habits and scotch citizens’ right to ask questions. When a society gets addicted to silence and non-questioning, the rulers eschew the democratic obligation to answer. The youth, public intellectuals, academics, political and religious leaders have all become meek. They pretend to be oblivious to an unfair war and its human and moral dimensions. This has actually brought out the cracks in our democracy that discounts dissent, disagreement and difference. In short, this unhappy social conduct portends an emerging ethos of our democracy that encourages us neither to ask questions nor seek answers.

K Jayakumar

Former Kerala chief secretary & ex-VC of Thunchath Ezhuthachan Malayalam University



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  • Satheesan

    We have to come with AATO to counter NATO (AATO - Afro Asia Treaty Organization . All countries from Asia and Africa should come come together )
    10 months ago reply
  • coimbatore v vedavyasan

    media is dancing to the tune of the Govt... The other side children are killed by Russians in thousands /minute..... we are abstaining.... Keep on preaching vasudeva kutumbukam . All humbug by the Federal Govt
    10 months ago reply
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