Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Attack on Mumbai

I am watching the TV - the terrorist attack on Mumbai is being telecast live. This is going to be a long and cruel night. It seems that terrorists have taken over certain spots in Mumbai - VT station, a cafe in Colaba, and some of key hotels downtown. There seems to be encounters going on in different locations in South Mumbai. The reports are also saying that groups of young men, armed with grenades, explosives and assault rifles, have come into hotels and asked for British and American nationals and taken them away. There is a lot of confusion on the streets, and TV channels are broadcasting whatever they can.

One noticeable thing is that there is a complete communication breakdown. The police did not make any substantial statement - no facts are being shared or communicated. I can see, right at this time, the Home Minister of India, Shivraj Patil, is making a statement. The statement sounds unsure and he is vainly trying to reassure people to stay calm, not to draw conclusions and wait till tomorrow morning for facts. There is a clear lack of understanding of people's requirement for news and facts on this day of 24x7 news - we don't want to wait till tomorrow morning to know what happened. It must be difficult to divulge facts while the things are happening are tough, but there must be a way to disseminate facts in an orderly manner. Besides, a police statement is always reassuring than politicians making useless statements, because that goes on to show how they are controlling the situation.

No details on casualties yet, but it is clearly very high and a number of foreigners will be among them. There are at least three senior police officials have been killed - reportedly Vijay Salaskar, the famed encounter specialist, Hemant Karkare, the ATS chief and a very respected official, an Additional Police Commissioner - all in direct encounter. We are looking into more than 100 people dead, and many more injured - and still counting. We know that there are a number of CEOs and Senior Officials are sitting inside the Tajmahal Hotel, where an encounter is going on and grenades have just gone off on the Taj rooftop.

The pain feels very real, and close to heart. It seems I can't sleep today - at least till the terrorists have been seized and hostages freed. This seems like I am on seize myself - people caught up in this for no fault of their's. For all the fault of American governments, this is mindless violence, against women, children, innocents. For some reason, I have never felt this strongly about terrorism. I have watched 9-11 on TV and I was very much on London on 7/7, when I used the tube another part of the town when the bombs went off. I have seen on TV news of bombs going off in Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Mumbai trains - all that.

I don't know why, but possibly because of my recent travels to Mumbai, the feeling of familiarity, the friends that I have acquired, all that. May be this is why I was so engrossed in the movie - A Wednesday - recently. The terror felt real, and so pointless. I now know - in my heart - why this is so cowardly - picking up population centres indiscriminately and killing people without responsibility or reason.

One thing this tells us though. We must stamp out these incidents. Of course, there is this broader goal of attacking the causes of terrorism, but that is a patronizing discussion at times like this. But I am convinced, incidences like this tells us, all Indians, that we must stamp out corruption. In countries like ours, such incidences can happen because someone somewhere did not do their job, turned a blind eye, let things go undetected. Corruption lets us become casual, put our guards down and let these things happen. We must, collectively, take a stance to stamp out corruption in every part of our life. It is no longer an issue of morality; this is something we must to do to ensure the safety of ourselves, our children and countless others who have done nothing to deserve this.

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