“Please help bring my son’s body back.” My childhood memories are replete with phone calls that my father received with pleas from relatives and friends who lost family members in natural and man-made disasters in foreign lands. I remember him pleading and cajoling his friends and colleagues in the army, Air India, Prime Minister’s office, anybody who could help bring back a survivor or his/her body. It was traumatic for him when he couldn’t succeed. And we shared his sense of pain and sometimes joy when he could reunite family members.

India’s National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) personnel look for survivors in the debris of Saturday’s earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal. Pic/PTI
India’s National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) personnel look for survivors in the debris of Saturday’s earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal. Pic/PTI

Those were difficult decades when India did not have the resources to rescue people in large numbers. It was not till 1990 that India mounted the largest ever rescue operation in history, which lasted for 59 days during the Gulf War. Air India evacuated over 111,000 people from Amman to Mumbai, even as the beleaguered VP Singh government faced criticism from the opposition. Some sections of the media even ridiculed External Affairs Minister IK Gujral for his warm handshake cum semi-hug with Saddam Hussain, not comprehending that the Ministry of External Affairs would have kissed him on the cheek if need be, just to allow the evacuation process to go smoothly.

When one is evacuating, helping, saving lives then the propriety of it all is not important. Ask anybody who has worked to save lives during earthquakes, landslides, floods, cyclones, fires and other such disasters.

It is almost sickening to read tweets and hear comments on TV by ‘experts’ who say that the media is going overboard on praising the work of our men and women in uniform and civilians....that it is “self-aggrandizement”. Really folks? Have you lived through the period when one had to plead for help and there was nobody to help you, because ‘orders’ had to come from the top? When bringing back a body meant that one had to pay for the ‘cargo’ by the kilo? And mostly people did not have the money to pay, nor were there organisations that would offer to pay. When there were no coffins to bring back the remains. We have all that now. And we can bring back our living and our dead.

And I, sure as hell, am proud and grateful to those who are helping. No shame and embarrassment in saying thank you and well done, India and well done, Indians, for not hesitating even for an hour in moving immediately to help our neighbour. Not waiting to assess damage. Not waiting for a request of help. Knowing what needs to be done as a humanitarian measure.

A word also for the chief ministers of the states where the earthquake has hit. Resources are in short supply in these states but they have not waited for central assistance to come. Doctors and relief supplies have been sent. As we saw recently in Orissa during Cyclone Phailin or during the Uttarakhand landslides or in the Yemen rescue operation, people work non-stop without fear or favour.

And if the media praises these people is it “self-aggrandizement”? A ‘shabash’ for the leadership and the men and women on the ground is “going back on the Indian heritage of self-less service”? How, may I ask, is saying ‘thank you’ against Indian culture? These keepers of Indian morality remind us that we never expressed gratitude to previous prime ministers and chief ministers and foreign ministers. Well, we did wrong then.

We have every reason to be proud that we did not wait to be asked. Do you not realise how demeaning it is for a country to ask for help?

These ‘keepers of media morality’ would turn up their noses at media covering a gurudwara preparing poori-alu packets for Nepal. Of course they miss the point that once it appears on TV it could inspire temples, churches, mosques and hotels to make similar contribution.

Dare I bring in the USA into the picture? Their movie stars visit their troops fighting in foreign soil and the media eulogize the work done by their troops in peacekeeping efforts. Dare we in the Indian media do that? We would be called ‘namo-bhakts’ or ‘presstitutes’ by one or the other camp.

I for one join the chorus in saying thank you to all those who are helping in relief and rescue operations in Nepal and North Indian cities, towns and villages. You make us proud my countrymen and women.

Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on Twitter @smitaprakash