Dear Sri Lanka,
Shani Asokan analyses the curious social media case over the missing cat
In times like these, when anything and everything we hear about is almost guaranteed to be COVID-19- related, even the smallest piece of fresh news or gossip has the potential to become the talk of the town. This was certainly the case when one of our Prime Minister’s sons took to social media to post about his missing cat. The message was simple, he stated that his pet cat had gone missing from his house in Beddegana, and a reward would be given to anyone who could find her.
Within minutes of posting, the news went viral, inspiring many posts, tweets, and memes about the PM’s youngest son’s kitten dilemma. Most were unsympathetic, but some voiced reason, arguing that it should be treated like any other posting of a missing pet, regardless of who the owner was. However, these ‘sensible’ posters were soon shut down by others who attempted to explain just why everyone was so angry over a simple missing cat post. For most angry posters, their outrage was not at the missing cat, but at what the post itself signified.
One poster, commenting under a news article about the same lamented about the people in power being out of touch with the general public, stating that to post about a missing cat while people in the country do not have enough food to eat three meals a day was insensitive. Similarly, a tweet pointed out the irony of so much care and attention over a missing cat, while hundreds and thousands of people still remain missing or disappeared in the country.
This line of thinking even inspired several cartoonists, with one panel showing the missing cat posters being plastered over posters of a missing person. Others speculated about the reward that was being offered.
One particularly popular meme hinted at tax payer money being used for the said reward, while another suggested that all efforts should go into finding the cat, as we the people may have to pay for its replacement, in the event of a permanent loss. Money, it turns out was also central to this whole fiasco, as diligent netizens soon figured out that the feline in question is no ordinary house cat.
She is a Turkish Angora, one of the pricier breeds of domestic cats, not so easily acquired on the island. As a result, social media discussions ensued along the lines of money, power and the privilege of pedigreed cat ownership, along with mentions of ill-gotten gains, and allegations of corruption, of course. Now, while some of you may be tempted to lean towards the opinion of the more ‘sensible’ social media users who called into question the jokes being made about the situation, and criticised the outrage at something as simple as a missing pet, this is a good time to stop and check your privilege. Perhaps, this pandemic has not affected you as much as your neighbour, or the aunty down the street.
Perhaps during the war years, you and your family were relatively safe and unaffected by the fear, trauma and general unrest. Perhaps, it is easy for you to tune out the unhappiness and suffering around you and focus on the text of the missing cat post, as opposed to the sub-text. If you really feel that way, fine. Check your privilege and move on. Don’t criticise people for venting their frustrations at the people at the top who seem to have turned a blind eye to it all. Don’t try to stop them from seizing an opportunity to talk about the things they are not otherwise able to.
To you, this may just seem like a missing cat that needs to be found (no one is disagreeing with you, by the way, none of these people would want to see that poor animal harmed in any way) but to others, it is symbolic of the sheer difference in priority that a well-padded bank account can make. It is symbolic of power, and the lack of it. So no, don’t fault them for using a post to talk about money, privilege and the ever-widening gap between the rich and poor in Sri Lanka. There’s too many people on one side of the gorge for us to keep silent. Sincerely, An animal lover