May 14, 2021
On April 29, author Mira Jacob suggested a yoga pose on Twitter: “Place your hands on your keyboard and go to giveindia.org and fucking help.” Jacob’s tweet, which soon went viral, was pointing to the severity of the COVID crisis in India as cases and deaths soared and the urgent need to contribute to relief measures. Since March, the country of 1.3 billion has been witnessing a brutal second wave — its healthcare system is stretched to its limits, and the death toll has crossed 250,000, which most estimate is an undercount.
Weeks after this latest surge started, social media timelines are still filled with donation pleas and frantic requests for oxygen cylinders and hospital beds. In posting that message, Jacob was attempting to spotlight the hypocrisy of Americans, a demographic that “ransacks a culture for parts,” Jacob told me, and beseeching them to give. “I did it to call out the kind of Western spirituality that will go on and on about its expanded consciousness while casually ignoring the entire nation of people — who gave them yoga! — dying in hordes,” Jacob told The Juggernaut, reflecting on her tweet.
The calls for donations from others in the South Asian diaspora began to echo Jacob’s sentiment. Raising awareness is certainly a good thing. Yet, the rhetoric of these donation calls — guilting Americans about their roles in co-opting Indian culture — has also opened up a debate on the thorny nature of caring and activism on the internet.
Author Diksha Basu and writer Iva Dixit tweeted about “not understanding the impulse and reasoning” behind such tweets. Ria Mazumdar, a 24-year-old Bengali American who raised over $90,600 for Oxygen for India, an Indian non-profit organization, would have framed these calls to action differently: “While fundraising, I think it's really important not to shame or guilt people into acting.”