26/11 – JUST ANOTHER DATE?
“HEY! Let us not carry fire crackers on local trains. It’s forbidden. The police will round us up,” advised my brother when I gleefully suggested carrying a packet full of fireworks to Marine Drive on the eve of Diwali, last year. We all agreed to my brother’s very sound advice and like responsible citizens boarded the local train to CST without any kind of explosives in possession. The train seemed fairly packed during the evening on the 26th of October, 2011.Among the celebrations, what my eyes did not misswas thatmany commuters carried huge Diwali rockets, Chakris, Anaar, chocolate bombs and other fire crackers as we proceeded toward our destination. My brother saw my angst and immediately whispered into my ears, “You will see. They will all have to leave these packets behind once we reach the terminus. The police will give them a nice time.” He smirked.
We reached the terminus. There was no checking happening. There were about six to eight police personnel talking to each other, completely oblivious to the explosives being carried around. After the most tragic and historic terror attack that Mumbai witnessed on November 26, 2008, it is rather interesting as well as sad to assess the improvement in the security system in the city. How many times have we seen armoured security men near the Gateway of India? On that very occasion of Diwali, we also happened to visit the Gateway of India for a boat ride. The entry seemed secured as a team of security personnel buzzed around. I casually asked one of the lady police if they were ready to combat an attack if there was one at that instant. She looked at me quizzically before replying, “Kya Madam. Aapghumona.Kuchnahihogaaapko”. As clear as it seemed that they were not armed enough, I did not argue further.
The Leopold café was one of the targets on that fateful day. The marks the bullets left on the wall still prevail to give us a sense of the terror that the customers and staff of the café had experienced during the attack. If one strolls into the café today, almost over three years since the attack, one will find a security guard with a double barrelled gun, standing with another guard with a metal detector. Such is the security on a Saturday night when the crowd is supposed to be at its peak. Upon being asked, the manager said,“We manage with private guards only.” It is not entirely right to say that nothing has been done so far to beef up the security within the state. Union Home Minister Mr P. Chidambaram has been putting together a Multi-Agency Coordination Committee to look into intelligence sharing. The centre has set up four NSG (National Security Guard) hubs in Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Hyderabad. Maharashtra has set up its own Commando unit FORCE ONE. Many areas in the city have been put under CCTV coverage. Also, Maharashtra has already spent 631 Crores modernising its force alone. But the question still remains. Are we prepared to combat another attack? A year after the terror attack, Union home secretary GopalPillai said that “terrorists can strike in any city at any time.” Home minister Mr Chidambaram himself admits that we are still not prepared enough.
Ms Kaschit Mishra, a daily commuter, says, “Given the crowd in local train stations, it is probably humanly impossible to identify a suspicious bag lying inside a dust bin or on the train for that matter. As long as I don’t think about it, it doesn’t affect me. But once I start looking around assessing the security levels, it gives me jitters.” Another commuter, Mr Harsh Pathak said, “When I go to the World Trade Centre, for office purposes, the guards do their job quite efficiently, but once I gain entry, the computerized checking can easily be avoided. Despite the security, there are alternative paths into the building that can be taken with ease without getting oneself checked. The entry to the shopping Arcade needs to be heavily guarded.” Ms Kalyani Mishra, a professor in psychology, says, “The subway to Churchgate station has broken door frame metal detectors. The guards sit there doing nothing. The police personnel roam about with outdated .303 rifles. If this is the scene, then we are certainly not very far away from another 26/11”. Security experts say that little has changed since the last terror attack. There needs to be a solution that can strengthen the police forces from the grass root level. If the police at the local level are strong enough to combat crime and terror, the fear among the citizens will come down to a great extent. The government is definitely doing its bit but the need of the hour is to learn to stop such attacks from happening by remaining on high alert, paying serious attention to details of information, training rigorously and remaining vigilant at all times. Perhaps, it is time we gave up the laid back attitude that we have all comfortably fallen into.
NEEL KAMAL MISHRA
SOPHIA COLLEGE FOR WOMEN