Thursday, 27 November 2008

Mumbai under Siege - Are Citizens not Responsible?

2008 has been an unprecedented year in the history of India’s struggle against terrorism. No longer are violent attacks limited to Tier I cities and no longer are the perpetrators targeting public transport systems. It has suddenly become a campaign aiming every city which is even slightly sensitive to communal tensions. The modus operandi is to destroy the most basic every day hang outs – shopping areas, restaurants, hotels and even residential locales. And if the ongoing terror siege of Mumbai is an indication, terrorist organizations in India are succeeding in their mission.

The media has been covering the Mumbai attacks through the night and has over and over again blamed the government and law enforcement agencies for this tragedy. Given the enormity and the gravity of the situation, indeed the very first question that needs to be answered post resolution is why and how did this happen. However, is it a question that needs to be answered only by the governing entities? I do not think so.

As a nation, and more so as the city of Mumbai, we have fought terrorism for a long time now. There is an inherent realization in each one of us that we are probably not safe. But there is no effort from the citizens to help the police. We frown upon their check posts, we do not co-operate with their random scrutiny and some of us do not even consider answering their questions worth our while. When the government implements new laws to fight terrorists, “minorities” amongst us just jump at the opportunity and play it out to be an oppression dictate.

Private organizations have made little effort in beefing up security at their own premises. It is not just in terms of scanning people and their belongings (which in fact some offices implement very efficiently), but in terms of installing security cameras, having a trained vigilance team in place to monitor the footage and employing qualified security guards at and around entrances. If one considers why the two hotels (the Taj and Trident) could be taken under control by terrorists, one reason immediately stands out. Both have multiple entrances which can be broken into without being noticed. Who should take responsibility for safeguarding private premises? If we start expecting the police to do so then I think we should stop expecting them to monitor other crimes in the city.

There are critical questions, however, that the authorities need to answer. Despite the robust intelligence infrastructure that the country has, how was the possibility of such a shootout and siege missed? How could the weapons be used in open public places without the attackers being detected? Why did it take the fire brigade 30 minutes to reach the Taj? And lastly why was media allowed to come in close proximity of some of the attack sites, such that forensic evidence could have been destroyed?

Yet again our city of dreams has been invaded and our attitude remains unchanged. We are still looking for a scapegoat to pass on the blame to. But it is high time that we realize that it is only collective responsibility and joint accountability that will lead to a meaningful fight against terrorism. In the absence of this we remain a vulnerable and ready target for those who want to create chaos and disrupt lives; more than they already are.

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