A society of morbid voyeurs

Tushar Gandhi

July 13, 2023

With the advent and reach of social media, video streaming and apps with live streaming features, we see a flood of videos of all kinds. This seems to have turned a vast majority of Indians into morbid voyeurs.

Heinous videos are posted on streaming platforms like YouTube, Facebook Live and Instagram Stories. The tragedy is that this horrifying genre garners a huge number of eyeballs.

Videos of heinous crimes, in which human beings are brutally tortured and murdered on camera, are as casually circulated as videos of parties and social functions. There used to be a genre of porn, ‘snuff videos’, that featured women getting murdered. They had a viewership but even many porn addicts drew a line at this.

In 2012, the Nirbhaya rape, brutalisation and murder rocked the nation. There was outrage but also a clamour for explicit videos. Even when documentaries and serials were made about the tragedy, many were disappointed that the crime wasn’t explicitly depicted.

When an eight-year-old nomad girl in Kathua, Jammu, was abducted, held captive in a temple by a priest and accomplices that included policemen, gangraped and eventually murdered in January 2018, people were frantically searching for videos of the crime. What a demonic obsession!

The rape and murder of a 19-year-old Dalit girl in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh, by four upper caste men once shamed the nation but once again there was a clamour for videos of the crime.

Atrocities against Dalits have been normalised and hardly anyone bats an eyelid when they occur. A nine-year-old Dalit, Inder Meghwal, was brutally beaten by his upper caste teacher, Chail Singh, in a village in Rajasthan just because Inder drank from a water pot reserved for the teacher. It did not create sufficient outrage but, if there was a video of Inder being brutalised, it would have garnered millions of eyeballs.

There have been many lynchings of Muslims, a trend that has gained momentum since 2014 when the National Democratic Alliance came to power. A government led and dominated by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has given official patronage to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s agenda of unleashing hate to fracture society along religious and caste lines. Scores of Muslims have been lynched on the suspicion of transporting cows for slaughter, possessing and consuming beef and even for having the temerity to try to earn a livelihood in predominantly Hindu localities. Almost all these lynchings were filmed and the videos posted on social media. All of them trended and garnered a phenomenal number of views. The number of people who watched these videos is large and a majority of them watched with glee. A small minority was horrified and even fewer expressed revulsion.

A decade ago, a video was posted on social media of Dalit men being forced to pour human excreta and urine on their heads. People looked on and filmed the act, and millions watched the video repeatedly online. It was passed off as tradition and hence supposedly acceptable!

There were also videos of Dalits made to roll over and clean up plates with their bodies after upper caste members had enjoyed a community feast. These videos were from Karnataka, then ruled by the BJP.

Attacks on Christians congregating for prayers, of churches being vandalised and desecrated, clergymen beaten up and all of it filmed and exhibited have become normal. More people have been watching the arson, riots and killings in Manipur as entertainment rather than horrifying news. These trends should worry our collective conscience.

A few days ago, a horrible video emerged from Madhya Pradesh and immediately became viral. It showed a BJP functionary urinating on a tribal. The video soon trended. Millions watched it and millions more spent hours searching for more explicit videos. I was shocked. I tweeted: “One man thought it was alright to pee on another, another man thought it was okay to film the act and post it on social media, and an entire nation thought it was essential to watch the heinous video.” Not many among those who watched the video thought it was outrageous. Many thought it was essential to see the video before expressing their outrage. This, to me, is a symptom of a terminally ill society.

Why do we need to watch atrocities being committed to be moved before we are outraged? Why isn’t just hearing or reading about these horrible acts enough to horrify us? Why have a huge majority of us become such morbid voyeurs? Why has our collective compassion died? We need to question ourselves, find answers and detox to humanise ourselves. And we need to do it quickly.

Humanity does not die by the actions of a few brutes or a few demonic acts. Humanity dies because of the collective demise of compassion and absence of revulsion of the vast majority and by the normalisation of savagery. This is the worrying malice I see in India today – a malice that will turn us all into murderous demons, not because each one of us will kill or act brutally but because most of us will remain unmoved by such acts. We will watch the videos, a few of us will outrage on social media and we will move on, waiting for a new video. And our inaction will embolden the brutes to commit more atrocities.

It’s a different matter that our prime minister, who loudly talks about the ‘compassion’ and ‘unity’ of India’s democracy when abroad, has not made a single statement about the savagery in India. He remained silent after Kathua, Hathras, the lynchings of Muslims, and the killings of and brutal atrocities committed against other minorities and Dalits, including children and women. By his silence, he supports the campaign of hate. It benefits his party and him, but we as a people have watched these videos unmoved, many amongst us with glee, many others unconcerned. Alas!


Tushar Gandhi, great grandson of the Mahatma, is an activist, author and president of the Mahatma Gandhi Foundation. Reach him here: gandhitushar.a@gmail.com.