NEW DELHI: A group of Indian journalists are documenting the everyday information of their dead compatriots in the wake of a devastating second wave of COVID-19 in the subcontinent earlier this year.
The online memorial project, “Wall of Grief,” aims to show the reality of the situation, which saw hundreds of thousands of Indians killed, according to official data. However, some suspect that the true number could be much higher.
Wall of Grief was launched in late August by The Reporters’ Collective, which says its aim is to “visualize the scale” of casualties amid the pandemic.
The project is supported by independent news agency 101Reporters and the Delhi-based National Foundation for India, an independent grant organization for public welfare and social transformation.
It functions as a database and a public depository containing the name, age, gender, occupation, and place of, and date of death, of each COVID-19 victim.
“We want to document all the deaths that have gone unacknowledged and unaccounted for,” one of the project’s coordinators, Tapasya, told Arab News on Friday.
The idea emerged when the collective went to work on a story about underreported COVID-19 deaths in the western Indian state of Gujarat. When reporters analyzed excess deaths data from a few dozen municipalities that covered only 6 percent of the state’s population, the number of deaths was about 16,000, compared with the 10,000 that the government had cited as Gujarat’s total coronavirus death toll.
“The data from Gujarat was quite shocking for me,” Tapasya said. “The projection of Gujarat itself after extrapolating the data is 218,000 — far higher that what the government claims.”
According to official figures, the pandemic has claimed more than 440,000 lives in India, most of them during the deadly second wave between March and June this year.
While their own count is still ongoing, the TRC have so far recorded death statistics in 13 of India’s 28 states.
“If from only one state you have almost half of the national figure of 440,000, then the overall result is going to be very shocking,” Tapasya warned.
Their expectations are supported by a study released earlier this week by the University of Michigan, the Indian Statistical Institute in Kolkata and Delhi School of Economics, which projected the country’s actual death toll to be between four and 11 times higher than official number.
Led by epidemiologist Bhramar Mukherjee, the study warned that India could have lost up to 4.9 million people to the disease.
Despite requests by Arab News, Indian Health Ministry officials and representatives of the government-run Indian Council for Medical Research declined to comment on COVID-19 death figures.
“Everyone knows that no matter what the official figures are, the actual number is much more,” Mayank Aggarwal, who leads Wall of Grief with Tapasya, told Arab News.
But for Aggarwal, the purpose of the project is not only formal documentation.
“This project should trigger conversations and bring people together to question the system and make it more accountable,” he said.
It is also meant to help open spaces for those who are grieving lost family members and friends, he added.
“We wanted to have a common space where people can come together and share their grief — a space that does not allow us to forget what happened to us.”