The ‘new’ era of memorial politics, mass communication, (mis/)- information : The COVID Memorial Project


Ankit Kumar 

It goes without saying that COVID-19 was a devastating experience for us as a nation. The loss of our loved ones cannot be expressed in mere words. However, public mourning goes a long way in memorialising the ones we lost, and it shows how greatly we valued them. The National Covid Memorial was launched as a website by Covid Care Network, an NGO, in January this year, meant as “a space for the thousands of Indians whom we lost to Covid fury.”[1] At first glance, the website seems fitting for a memorial, but looked at closely, it is fraught with a number of lacunae, many of them trivializing the departed.


Myriad questions come to my mind as I log on to the website of National Covid Memorial. Why are all the entries in the English language only if it was supposed to be a mass initiative as N. Ram, a member of its Advisory panel, touted it to be? [2]Although he stressed the importance of inclusivity in the memorial, it remains to be seen how many among the destitute will really be able to voice their grief onto the portal. Further, the dead members of the Queer community are blatantly being marginalized. They are out of the picture since only the male/female binary is given as options in the ‘gender’ category. 


If there are options to upload pictures and death certificates, why are the obituaries displayed in the same handwriting? Why this foisted uniformity? Wouldn’t a handwritten obituary give the memorial a more personal touch? Why is there a random gothic-inspired photograph of a graveyard in the backdrop? Does it ring true to our places of burial/cremation? What is the need for the instrumental music in the background? Will all communities of India find their culture of mourning represented in the same tune? Is it at all necessary or is it just a template ready to be used anywhere and everywhere? Are there screening in the obituaries submitted? If yes, does an occasional outburst against the government’s inadequate response to Covid-19 get suppressed by the editor’s pen?  


All these questions point to the same direction- apathy of our elected representatives and our collective failure to appropriately mourn the Covid dead. Why hasn’t the government come up with a portal or a physical memorial for the 

Covid dead? Why haven’t our leaders accepted their shortcomings in responding to the pandemic, rather than glorifying vaccination statistics? [3] Surely, it has set its priorities right. With events such as the inauguration of the New Parliamentary building[4] and the Ram Mandir at Ayodhya,[5] our leaders would hardly find time for more trivial issues like public health. 


Evidently, all tragedies are not created equal. While tributes are paid annually at the Amar Jawan Jyoti [6] and national disasters such as 26/11 [7] find their dead mourned in every corner of the media and public discourse (since these fit perfectly under the grand narrative of ‘national security’), the lives lost as a result of the catastrophe that hit us the hardest and for the longest period of time is yet to find their place in the collective memory of our nation. 

Until then, we can be either be complacent and swayed by the establishment’s rhetoric and adjust to the “new normal”, or, we can question this new normal and the apathy of the authorities, go beyond mere tokenism in the form of website development and form filling, and look for more comprehensive and humane ways to mourn for the Covid dead. It’s high time we made a choice. 



Works Cited :

  2. “He appealed to the media, NGOs and activists to play a lead role in taking the initiative to the masses” 
  5. (Modi at Ayodhya) 


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