What was your first reaction when you heard about the Mumbai terror attacks? Let me answer that for you – you texted your near and dear ones in Mumbai to find if they were ok. With a sense of relief you continued surfing through news channels for updates. Of course there were none, instead your senses were assaulted by morbid images of death and despair. You flinched at the sight of the young boy’s face contorted with grief, bodies strewn around in a mangled heap. You shuddered at thought that just 10 minutes back these bodies were someone’s father, brother or son. The cacophony of the shrieking voice of the anchor and the angry eye witness accounts only added to your bewilderment. You were seized with helpless rage.
Fact is we are never prepared for violence, hatred and death. It always takes us unawares. That Wednesday was no different. Serial bomb blasts left behind a pile of bodies. The response was delayed and chaotic. Tears and blood melted into chaos and mayhem. It took an hour for the police to put up barricades. Forensic teams arrived in droves only to contaminate the scene of crime, the ambulances were nowhere in sight. It was the residents who had to take up the task of rushing the injured and the dying to the hospitals in tempos, taxis and even handcarts. Teeming crowds... TV channels swooping in like hungry vultures in their bid for glory...the clueless police doing nothing to assuage the panic... the elected expressing their well rehearsed lines of condolences and the sickening finger pointing at ‘others’ to explain administrative failures...
And we were left wondering weren’t things supposed to change for the better post 26/11? What about the lofty promises made for implementing pre-emptive measures and managing consequences better should such incidents occur? Just empty words to placate an angry nation?
The truth is most of the proposals made after the horrific attacks are gathering dust on a bureaucrat’s table. Plans for installing over 7000 CCTVs have yet to see the light of day but would things have been any different if we did have them all over the city? Do we have IT linkages and enough personnel to process footage on an hourly basis? Look what happened to the seven high-speed, bulletproof boats that were purchased spending crores post 26/11. They are lying idle at a private dockyard for want of trained policemen and fuel. Mumbai police still does not have bullet-proof jackets. Maximum City despite being a soft target for repeated terror attacks still doesn’t have an Emergency Medical Service. So why should things be different this time or in the future?
We are used to getting let down by our leaders.
But what gets my goat are the paeans sung in honour of the resilient spirit of Mumbai. Look at these brave souls; they don’t let tears get into the way of a business called life. Hail the Mumbaikar who is in a hurry to move on rather than look back and grieve for its dead. A load of crap if you ask me! For an average Mumbaikar each day is a struggle for survival as he elbows his way through local trains to get to work, wades through rain deluged streets, battles with food inflation, water scarcity, and pollution. His list of woes is endless and the blasts are only a fleeting setback. So don’t you insult the people of Mumbai by romanticizing the hardening of the soul! As if he has a choice! As if anybody has a choice in any other city or town.
And I feel the much touted resoluteness of Mumbaikars is merely an excuse that the system uses to cover up its ineptness. Our elected would have us believe that we are strong enough to take care of ourselves, so why bother? So what if we can’t protect them, let’s fill them with a false sense of well-being instead.
For the next few days, we will continue to debate the hows and whys of 13/7. We will conduct a ruthless post mortem of the tragedy; demand justice and berate the failure of a system that is supposed to protect its citizens from harm. But for how long? Soon we will resume from where we had left off.
And that’s what our elected rely on – our short lived memory. We prefer to forget until next time. How many next times will it take till we say enough is enough and demand our rights as citizens?
Unfortunately we are caught in a loop of inaction and predictable reactions. 26/11... 7/06....13/11... Every time we are taken by surprise, we go into a state of shock, grieve for the dead, sputter in rage and vent our angst at the leaders. And then we move on to the next headline.
The only ones who will carry the memories to their grave is the wife who lost her 44 year old husband in Zaveri Bazar, the children who lost their parents at Taj, the train blast victim who has spent the last five years in bed grappling with a destiny carved out of hatred.
So what can you do? I’ll say let’s be proactive and demand answerability from politicians and bureaucrats on a sustained basis. Let us have a unified forum through social media where we can expose the lack of governance. Let us be more vocal about the disenchantment, the daily bribes we have to pay to get things moving, the councillor who is all words and no action. Why suffer silently?
The media, for all its tabloid tendencies and obsession with TRPs, has still played a pivotal role in mobilizing public opinion and shaking the authorities out of their complacency – be it the legislative, the judiciary or the executive. People in seats of power are increasingly uncomfortable about getting exposed. The media can be our constant watch-dog and inform the public about the promises that were forgotten conveniently! Why do we have to wait for a bomb blast to stir into action? Why can’t we have a sustained campaign and demand accountability? Our leaders need to heed a public interface where we can air our grievances instead of treating us just as faceless ballot papers. You were elected to serve us and it is your duty to listen to us. And let us use social networking sites to show our support for the few honest politicians, bureaucrats and police officers so that they can complete what they set out to do, instead of getting ‘transferred’ whenever they become too hot to be handled. God knows we need them and they need us.
Change doesn’t happen in a day so why wait for a next time.