Recently, I ran across the blog of “Indian Homemaker,” an everyday Indian Homemaker who cares deeply about issues like feminism, human rights, tolerance and peace, gender equality, and her day to day experiences. It was interesting to see those perspectives from a “housewife,” who normally would be stereotyped as an individual who is not feminist or politically active. She defies stereotypes, and I am thankful for people like her for expanding our boundaries daily.

But what struck me most was that her most recent blog posts are heartwrenching, focusing on the death of her 19-year old daughter Tejaswee, who passed away just last month due to dengue fever. What truly tugged at my heart strings was the link to Tejaswee’s blog, where she had written about her own hopes, dreams, and passions. I’ve never met her, but her blog spoke to me; she was an intelligent young woman, around my age, with ambitions of becoming a politician in India, working towards ending poverty, and adopting a daughter. I too, have so many similar goals – down to adopting a child. And so, the reports of her death hit a little too close to home. Here are a few thoughts:

Social justice means fighting for human potential

It made me realize, again: this is reason we [in the “field” of social justice] are doing this work. I saw so clearly that this smart young woman had so much potential. Potential to achieve great things, right injustices, help change lives of the poor and marginalized. This potential was all robbed when she passed away. This made it so clear to me that what I am fighting against is the barriers that lack of human rights and equal opportunity places in front of people, preventing them from achieving their full potential. Because if we all had the opportunities to pursue our dreams – how different – how much better – would this world be! Reading Tejaswee’s posts made this fully apparent.

We live on through our online personas

I thought, also, about how in this day and age, our online personas change the way we think of death, life, and humanity. You or I or anyone else can venture over to her blog, read her writing, and feel like we know her personally. And yet – she is gone. She is not here physically, but she lives on through her online presence. It is a strange contradiction, but somehow a comfort. By baring my thoughts to this online platform, I feel like I, too, would be remembered even after I’m gone. We will all live on beyond our physical time here on earth. We can be remembered for who we were. There is something deeply reassuring about that, and I am thankful to the Internet for ‘eternalizing’ those of us who choose to have an online presence.

Bringing humanity back to social change efforts

I also realized that by reading Tejaswee’s blog posts and intimate thoughts, I almost felt like I knew her – and so, the tragedy of her death was personalized. She wasn’t a vague statistic; she was a human being, with feelings and dreams. And I wished I could have done something to avert her untimely death.

The use of online personas could be a valuable tool in the world of international development, human rights, and anti-war activism. Right now, the violence of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is muted. While we may see destruction, death, carnage through videos and news stories, we can never truly fathom the immense human potential that is being lost through these conflicts. The same goes for the thousands of women who die every day from childbirth, the children who perish from malnutrition worldwide, the senseless deaths of the poor from diseases like malaria, TB, and HIV/AIDS. The same goes for the violence and rapes taking place in the DRC, prisoners in Zimbabwe dying from poor prison conditions, the Pakistan floods, and the countless stories of the daily struggles of the poor, marginalized and minorities around the world.

These people and their lives are all reduced to numbers. X number of people have died today of Y disease or Z war. These stories are not personalized and so, most people living privileged lives in the West never truly understand the scale of what is happening and the importance of doing something. We can improve advocacy by personalizing these stories, by making these struggling individuals humans, not numbers on a screen. And we can do that by allowing them to tell their stories, what makes them tick, what they want to accomplish in life, who they are, and why they love – and publishing these online to create their online personas. Only in this way can we get people to understand the immense human potential that is being destroyed every day. Only then can we inspire more people to take action. And only when we turn numbers into personas can we give due respect to the individuality, beauty, and significance of every single human life.

What do you think, about death and the online persona? I would love to hear your thoughts.