Sharing a sensitive photo is NOT always wrong. What’s wrong is when a politician – in power – shares it for no other reason but to target voices against the Govt.

A tragedy occurred yesterday morning (01 Jul – Wed) in Kashmir. Militants fired at security personnel from a mosque. Not only did a CRPF jawaan die, but also a civilian – who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. His 3 year old grandchild was with him when he died. The child survived. Someone with a camera captured several images of the incident. Some images are disturbing. You can read the whole news here (this particular article has done the courtesy of blurring out some of the more sensitive portions of some of the images). // update – there is a more extensive article now by Huffpost

If you are a Kashmiri and you just know a civilian got killed by a bullet – you are more than likely to assume that Indian soldiers were behind it (you have heard so many stories / known personally about army brutality that “facts” don’t matter – instincts do; also who has the ‘fact’s anyway?). If you see the below video where the deceased’s family is interviewed, that’s what they claim – soldiers killed the guy!

Most of us will never know the reality. But that is not the point here. The images that surfaced are of a tragedy. No civilian should die in a fight that is not theirs. No child should ever get traumatized like this. And that’s the first thing that most of us (liberal or conservative) would think of.

Now let’s look at what Sambit Patra tried to do with the image. I don’t want to share that particular tweet of his, because it’s disgusting. The best I can do is draw it and share below.

Sambit Patra’s tweet may or may not be problematic owing to the sensitive nature of the image itself – but IT DEFINITELY IS PROBLEMATIC because of what he intended to do with the photograph(s).

Journalists and activist use sensitive images ALL the time (not just that of children next to dead bodies but dead bodies of children themselves or of people dying). That’s just a fact. There are many debates and discussions and pros and cons and ethical protocols and questions around which image to use, which not to and on and on, but net-net, sensitive images are both created and used.

What matters more is – what is the intent behind publishing it / sharing it?

Is the intent to record visual history? Fine, wait for some time and when the subject is no more “news” go ahead and show the pictures in museums and publish them in books.

Is the intent to highlight a tragedy? Is it bringing to forefront a struggle of a section of society? Fine, go ahead – use the image.

Even the example that Sambit Patra himself offers, where sensitive images were used – literally meet the above requirement.

By the way, I tried to find if any sensitive photograph of Vemula was even used by anyone to dalit-shame the Government – could not find a SINGLE one! Chances are, Sambit Patra is just lying on that one. Even if they had been – it would have been about emphasizing the struggles of being a dalit in India.

Coming to the other two examples that he offers:

  • Floyd – the video of him dying helped in reviving BLM by once again highlighting the struggles of being a Black in America
  • The dead Syrian child – Aylan Kurdi’s image – helped bring to forefront the struggles of escaping one’s war raged country

Sambit Patra knowingly breaks the moral / ethical code of conduct – that’s what petty politicians do. His intention of using a sensitive photograph has nothing to do with caring about the tragedy. HIS INTENTION IS TO ATTACK.

Treat all subjects of news coverage with respect and dignity, showing particular compassion to victims of crime or tragedy

Radio-Television National Directors Association (RTNDA) – (source)

When New York Times showed the below picture of a starving child from Yemen for example, the Editor explained why they chose to publish the photograph.

‘This is our job as journalists: to bear witness, to give voice to those who are otherwise abandoned, victimized and forgotten,’ it read. Source.

Sensitive photographs are used to bring struggles of a section of society to forefront often when THAT’S THE ONLY WAY JOURNALISTS AND ACTIVISTS CAN MAKE THE REST OF THE WORLD ‘SEE’ THE PROBLEM / CARE ABOUT THE PROBLEM.


So where is the moral justification for someone like Sambit Patra to use an image of a tragedy to do what he did?

He is clearly not concerned about the guy who just died. He doesn’t acknowledge the trauma of the 3 year old child. He doesn’t express his grief (if he has any). He simply uses his words to target Pulitzer prize winning journalists and anyone who questions him / the Govt!

Just read the above tweet. He neither denies nor accepts that his tweet is heartless (because he knows it is). He neither denies nor accepts that his tweet is hateful (because he knows it is – that’s what he is trying to do in the first place).

His response doesn’t even address his own action. His response is making an allegation on the person who asks him the question – a textbook example of “ad hominem fallacy” – something that unfortunately every politician is guilty of.

Sambit Patra uses Ad Hominem Fallacy (like many other politicians who can’t defend their actions)

The ad hominem is a fallacy of relevance where someone rejects or criticizes another person’s view on the basis of personal characteristics, background, physical appearance, or other features irrelevant to the argument at issue.

Just go back and read his replies to Vishal Dadlani (music composer / singer) and Sagarika Ghose (journalist / author).

Dear Sambit Patra, Vishal Dadlani does NOT matter to citizens of India as much as you do – or any politician in power – even if Vishal is a Jihad lover or a Pak lover! He is not a politician – in power, YOU are! Question to you – Sambit Patra – is of relevance right now. Question to Vishal Dadlani is not!!

It does not matter to the citizens of India whether Sagarika Ghose is heartless and endorses Jihad or endorses terrorism or not! She is a journalist / author. She is not a politician in power. You – Sambit Patra – are. And you know it. You know what are you doing. I can only pray to God, that such ad hominem strategies stop working for you some day!

“It takes heart to stand against Pak sponsored terrorism” – you say.

There are two things wrong with the above statement.

1 – When did you take a stand against Pak sponsord terrorism? You shared a sensitive photo, and just used it to make fun of Pulitzer Prize winning journalists!

2 – What the fuck does it even mean when you say “it takes heart to stand against Pak sponsored terrorism”? They are the Indian security forces standing against Pak sponsored terrorism, not some weak section of a society!! It takes heart to stand for the weak. It takes heart to stand for the oppressed. But, no it doesn’t take any heart to stand against Pak sponsored terrorism! It takes strategy and policies and muscle-power. The government already has it. And that the government should!


I thought about why you did this; why you do what you do; what you want to achieve. And the following seem to be the plausible answers:

  • if you / someone from the Govt. didn’t hijack the story, the same photographs would have been used (and rightly so) to claim something like “civilians / innocent are losing lives in crossfire between security forces and militants – this must end” – then the onus would be on Govt. to do something about it
  • it is also possible that the same photographs could have been used to claim “Indian soldiers kill another civilian” – no fact required – a photo like this would have triggered them – this wouldn’t have been right (but then no ethical journalist would claim so anyway) // Pakistani journalists are obviously as good at peddling hate as Sambit Patra
  • such stunts that divert the debate from “tragedy” to “us Vs. them” get rewarded in BJP – so it serves your career path

Can’t wait for assholes like you Sambit Patra to just rot and fade away. The longer a mentality like yours exists, the longer you continue to speak, spread hatred and misguide everyone, the more we as citizens suffer.


Below are some of the advice from the Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics (guess how many of them Sambit Patra cared to adhere to when he decided to hijack this story)

  • Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects.
  • Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief.
  • Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy.
  • Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.

Here’s a super useful link if you want to read more about ethics in photojournalism.

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