A few days ago, as the horrors of the Mumbai terror attack sank in, I couldn’t sleep. On the night of 26/27 November, ten young men armed with modern killing devices attacked the populace of this wonderful city, killed 175 people, and injured 295. And the death toll will rise. But numbers reveal little. They don’t tell us about the emptiness of an orphaned child, the vulnerability of a widowed woman, or an old man who has lost his only son.
The most graphic description of the terror that I have read so far is from a private source. A friend from Mumbai forwarded an email from someone working in the Times of India Building:
“It's not every day that you hear gunshots and grenades going off outside your office at 10 PM. It was a scene straight out of a disaster flick … hordes of people running for their lives … some crawling on the road. Piqued curiosity takes me to the windows facing CST (Chhatrapati Sivaji Terminal) … as I pull the blinds away, I see two boys with black backpacks ... walking down the deserted station as if on a stroll in a park … before my numb nerve-endings could react to the sight, the kids turn to us … and open fire … sparks flying off their guns … the cold arrogant sense of victory in their walk will remain etched on my mind forever …
“5 hours later, I was standing under the same metal-detector that the boys were standing under … the deathly silence that had descended upon the building bore testimony to the massacre … so many lives changed irrevocably … mine is too perhaps, as the train dopplered away from CST, I thanked god … I was alive.”
The carnage was the latest one in a long series of insane acts. According to Los Angeles Times, "2,300 people died in 2007 in attacks by various groups in India, making it perhaps the country most affected by terrorism in the world." After every attack, the Press conducts autopsies. From what has been unearthed so far, the incompetence of some government agencies is as shocking as the cockiness of the terrorists. Can it be true that a government that can send a probe to the moon can’t find guns with telescopic sights for the anti-terror policemen in Mumbai?
I wish after every terrorist attack, the Press also asked how many innocents have been arrested and tortured by police. Besides our duty to preserve human dignity, these boys will have a good reason to become real terrorists in future.
But should we ask questions related to the security apparatus alone?
In Nandigram, the criminals were identifiable. But it is not so in terror attacks. They operate at three levels: the masterminds, who are virtually unknowable, the foot soldiers, who pull the trigger, detonate the bombs, and the people who offer them shelter. The home-grown terrorists are mostly disaffected young men from underprivileged sections, with no job, nothing to look forward to. As Barack Obama writes in his inimitable prose:
“I know, I have seen, the desperation and disorder of the powerless: how it twists the lives of children on the streets of Jakarta or Nairobi in much the same way it does the lives of children on Chicago’s South Side, how narrow the path is for them between humiliation and untrammelled fury, how easily they slip into violence and despair.”
It is precisely this powerless young who is a prime potential recruit of terror groups. Can we do something about him? Our caste-based reservation system has two serious flaws: (a) it leaves out many groups who deserve the support and (b) it ignores the family income of the potential beneficiary. We must demand that the government replaces this system with real affirmative action for all underprivileged people. It won’t be easy, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be tried.
Individually, we can do very little, but very little is better than nothing. Can those of us who can, help one such person, bring one of them from the brink of an abyss, and offer him or her an opportunity of a respectable life? If I am not capable of doing so alone, can I join together with a few friends and do so?
A friend and his wife have been supporting the higher education of a student, who they didn’t even know. These days, if you throw a stone in a Bangalore or Hyderabad mall, it will hit someone who earns over 50 thousand a month. How many of them help the underprivileged? Long ago, I read in Hindustan Times that Mr. Nandan Nilekani, the Infosys CEO, sets aside a fixed amount every month for charity. How many of his colleagues follow his example?
Another thing that we ought to do is to cleanse ourselves of prejudice. Let not the word “Muslim” precede “terrorist” every time non-Muslims use the term. A terrorist belongs to only one community. The colonel and the fake sadhu, who finance bombing mosques, are brothers of the terror masterminds who reportedly live in plush bungalows in Karachi. And let’s call the men who burn Christian homes in Orissa, terrorists too. Let’s hope the law catches up with them just as it catches up with the accomplices and the brains behind the mass killers of Mumbai.
Monday, 01 December 2008