On World Photography Day…

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… this pic became a symbol of war’s brutality                     

By Shailaja Paramathma

Images are not just a graphic representation of facts but also reveal the horrors of war. And the most recent one of Omran Daqneesh, a five-year-old Syrian boy, has shown the horror of the war in Syria, gripping everyone who saw it.

Dazed and bloodied, Daqneesh is seen sitting in an ambulance after being rescued from a building hit in an airstrike. The haunting image has been broadcast around the world and shared heavily on social media. “That little boy has never had a day in his life where there hasn’t been war, death, destruction, poverty in his own country,” State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters during his daily press briefing. Syrians are using his picture to provoke a response from the rest of the world towards this war that has been going on for five years.

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Cartoonist Khalid Albaih’s sketch on the website Cartoonmovement.com compares the situation of those staying back in Syria to that of Daqneesh and those who have left to Alan Kurdi (earlier spelt by media as Aylan), the three-year-old boy whose lifeless body washed on the shores of Turkey in September 2015 and caused distress across the globe. Kurdi’s family was attempting to cross over to a Greek island, along with a group of refugees on a small boat when it capsized. The heart-wrenching picture of his tiny body lying face down on the beach became a symbol of the world’s indifference to Syrian refugees and led to international outrage.

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And who can forget the picture of a naked and terrified girl, Kim Phuc, now 53, running for her life as her village in Vietnam got Naplam-bombed by the US in 1968. Americans questioned their government in when news of the brutalities of the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam came to light and this picture spoke volumes of the anguish and terror of these attacks which saw more than 500 civilians being killed by American troops.

Then there was a 1916 picture of a soldier from the First World War whose toothy grin and eerie eyes make him look like he was possessed. Pushed beyond the limits of human endurance, soldiers suffered from shell shock and were often put on trail and even executed.

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In India too, there have been horrifying pictures from places which have been strife-prone and riot-hit. The most recent one was the pellet-ridden face of Insha Malik, a 14-year-old girl from Shopian in South Kashmir, with cotton gauge covering her now visionless eyes. Though this was shared, it did not give way to national indignation. Instead of questioning the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in “disturbed areas”, Indians on social media were asking what a young girl was doing outside during a tense situation.

However, the picture of a terrified Qutubuddin Ansari during the Gujarat riots in 2002 pleading for mercy became an iconic picture of a state crumbling in the face of Hindu-Muslim carnage and has stayed with readers.

And therein lies the story behind the picture. Gripping, intense and very sad.