Monday, December 01, 2008

Afterthoughts on the Mumbai Attack

1st December, 2008

The Mumbai attack has shocked us all. It has made us all wonder, how safe are we really in this country? Or rather, is there any safety at all anywhere in the world? Maybe we should seriously consider making a beeline for the moon instead! But jokes apart, there are some things that have been haunting me, and I think the best way to get it out of my system is to pen them down.

The first thought is about a rather freakish generalization that every one makes about the Muslims of our country. After every terrorist attack, esp. in India, I get to hear every one – my friends, family, acquaintances and strangers – blasting the Indian Muslims off. It’s all down to them, it’s only because of these people that these terrorist attacks happen, and it’s these people who abet the terrorists. I sympathize with the Indian Muslims, try to defend them, but no one is in the mood to listen. I can’t but help feel vulnerable. I have quite a few Muslim friends, and they are no more involved in terrorist activities than I am, and yet they come under fire, when a lot of the others, who really are involved, go scot free.

I can’t understand this urge to generalize. And that too, only against the Muslims. Every one knows that there is no dearth of Indian Hindus (or belonging to other religious sects) who would, for the sake of money, sell their country and men to these terrorists. During their meticulous planning of these attacks, are we to understand that these terrorists did not take the help of any Hindus, Christians, Sikhs or others? Of course they did. And those Indians did not feel a thing while selling off their motherland to the terrorists. And yet, it is only the Muslims who come under attack.

Why do we do this? Why are we so eager to shift the blame off to other shoulders? Why can’t we take responsibility of our own actions and say, “Yes, we Indians come from a land of traitors, where no one loves their country. It is only money that matters to them.” Not family, not love, not even religion. Because no religion endorses killing of innocent lives. And yet, we do nothing to stop it.

Is it because we really can’t do anything, or because we don’t want to do the dirty work?

Secondly, I can’t but help doubt the strength of our country’s defense mechanisms. Bulks of RDX were shipped into the commercial capital, and police was aware of it. The terrorists were staying in the city, and planning their attacks, and the intelligence did nothing. And finally, what security did these large five stars have? None.

One would think that after the episode of the JW Marriot in Pakistan, we would have learnt. Evidently not. We believe in learning through our own mistakes, rather than through the mistakes of others.

When we all were wondering how these terrorists could’ve entered these hotels and create such havoc, an acquaintance of mine pointed out a very pertinent deficiency in the security system of the five stars. They frisk the visitor, but do they check the luggage? No, they don’t. The visitor can carry anything inside – anything at all. There is no baggage x-ray system, like in the airports. It turns out that it is quite a necessary system that should be installed in the hotels. Why is it that we are thinking about all this after such destruction? Why didn’t we plug the holes before anything of the sort could’ve happened? No one knows.

But we do know that we are not safe anywhere. The railways are a fiasco. There is no one to check the travelers. If the terrorists want to blast off the Howrah or the Sealdah stations, it would be only too easy – and it would cost a lot of lives. If the terrorists want to carry RDX or other stuff from one place to another by train, no one will even detect it – because there again, no one checks the baggage. The security system is almost equally dismal in the naval transport, seeing as the terrorists had used it to gain entry into Mumbai.

Which basically means, we are not safe anywhere. Except perhaps in our own homes. Or may be not even there, as one blast on the street, caused by the very same bombs which have been smuggled in through the railways or the ships, can claim our lives even when we are in there. A terrifying fact which the media is almost painstakingly etching into our minds.

That brings me to the third thought that has been haunting me real bad. The media. Are they doing anything worthwhile? Is it any good broadcasting to the world what the government, police and commandos are doing at every stage? They are merely forewarning the terrorist outfits about our strengths, and consequently our weaknesses. The common man does not need to know the nitty-gritty of the evacuation activities, not do they need to see the gruesome details on television.

But the media also is too selfish to care. They just want their channels / magazines / papers to sell, and in their race to report the most gruesome, most intimate details of such terrorist attacks, they don’t stop to think about the security of their nation. They forget the might of the pen, and instead, glorify the sword. The media does not hesitate to highlight the worst, and neglect the best. They think that by flashing the human remains of the martyrs, they will sell themselves to the public. But they do not stop to think once of how the morale of the public would drop, what insecurity they are injecting into the public mood.

Has the media forgotten its duties? Has it forgotten that media lives to brighten up the lives of the public, and not to demoralize them? Has it forgotten that its objective is not to scare the public into reticence, but to inspire them to march ahead, irrespective of the hardships?

Having been a part of the print media before, I really feel relieved that I am no more a part of a system which thrives on the negatives of lives, and exists to wipe out the positives.

The last thought pertains to us Kolkatans. And the false, really selfish sense of security we suffer from. Post Mumbai attacks, one refrain was to be heard from almost every Kolkatan. “We are safe here. Kolkata is the exit route for these terrorists; they will not do anything to jeopardize that one.”

It shames me to think of myself as a Kolkatan these days. Because like the rest, we too think only of our own safety. We know Kolkata is a safe haven for the terrorists. We know that they enter our country through the minimally protected Bangladesh borders, mingle and stay with us, gather information through us, plan and then carry out their objectives. And yet, we are shameless enough to say that we are safe, because the terrorists do all this here. We forget that by saying this, we are actually saving our own necks at the cost of numerous other who die as a result of these terrorist activities. And yet, the average Kolkatan will do nothing upon hearing or seeing anything suspicious. He loves himself too much, even more than the brother who stays and works in Mumbai, or the friend who resides in Delhi. He doesn’t care even about his own family going up in flames in the U.S. He is just happy to be alive himself.

The average Kolkatan forgets that the terrorists will leave none. They do not target Kolkata as often as they target Delhi and Mumbai because Kolkata is dead – in terms of investment, industry or people. One day, when Mumbai, Delhi and the other cities become impregnable fortresses, learning out of the many scars that the terrorist attacks have left on their faces, these terrorists will realize that Kolkata is the most soft target – and that day, they will take advantage of this false sense of security, and blow the city up in flames. And that day, we Kolkatans will perhaps not even get the time to rue the moments when we could’ve ended it all, but we did not bother.

I wish it was not like this I wish I was not a part of a world that might go up in arms and flames any day, any time. I wish we could all join hands to do something about it. But alas… I belong to a nation of traitors. Neither will they do anything themselves, nor will they let me do anything to make this a better place to live in…