Saturday, April 11, 2009

WHEN WILL THE IGNOMINY END...??

We Indians take pride in the fact that we have the world’s maximum number of amnesia patients. We are champions at forgetting events that affect us the most. And that too the events that have happened in the not so distant past. No one speaks about the pogroms in Gujrat, the Tsunami, the Bhuj earthquake or the 1992 riots. Kashmir and Kargill seem to be a generation away. The Bhopal gas tragedy probably occurred in the last millennium. But then, I guess I am wrong. They didn’t affect me. I am still living. And as far as I know, no one ‘related’ to me was the victim of any of the above tragedies. So, there is no reason for me or for that matter, any one of us to remember anything.

But, something is changing. Some people have decided that no matter what happens, they would cure this disease. We won’t be allowed to forget anything. Why? Because these people won’t wait for years to pass. Mumbai, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Surat, Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Delhi were scarred one by one during a span of few months. Then, as if challenged by the hollow rhetoric in the Indian media about the ‘Undying spirit of Mumbaikkers’, the city of dreams was turned into a nightmarish hell on 26th of November. Whatever transpired on that day was not just carnage but a mockery of the sovereignty and integrity of the largest democracy on earth. But one thing is sure that with the frequency and scale of these attacks leaving long lasting wounds on India’s countenance, we will forget to forget them.

Talking about memory, I remember watching the film “A Wednesday” with one of my friends some time back. It laid bare right in front of our eyes, the inevitable truth that the common man in India is no longer at the mercy of the so called ‘saviours’ of democracy (read politicians) but the perpetrators of these heinous acts who consider committing such acts as sanctimonious and a service to whichever religion or community they belong to. Although the film depicted a scenario that remains unlikely by the farthest stretch of the imagination, it might just become true if the things stand as they are. I wonder if any one of us will be proud of “it” then.

It is a rarity that anyone has ever tried to ask the question that should have been imperative and dealt with on war footing. What has been or is being done by the government or the entire internal security and intelligence network of the country in order to give justice to the victims or avoid such events from repetition? Fifteen years down the line and justice is the last thing on the minds of the living victims of the 93 blasts. The rhetoric about the failure of the system and the government machinery reverberates at high frequencies for some time after any attack and then it suddenly ceases overnight. Why doesn’t our political elite or for that matter, the media keep the fire burning even when nothing has happened? What has been done, what should be done and how it should be done in any of the above cases are questions that need to be deliberated and contemplated not just in the highest echelons of central and state governments, but also by the educated mass of the nation so that civil society, corporate world and security services all work in conjunction with the government to initiate and implement concrete long term measures to eliminate or atleast mitigate the occurrences of such events.

When it comes to terrorism, there is an immediate need to take the following steps. Firstly, the stance of successive governments must change from that of reactionary steps to proactive policies like banning any or all organizations in the country that have had past record of direct or indirect indulgence in any sort of anti social activities. The media has a critical role to play here as it is the only force that can formulate public opinion in favour or against certain measures by highlighting their pros and cons. Secondly, it is high time India’s internal security system must be revamped to give the war on terrorism a national structure and direction. It is a national disgrace that the centre and states keep squabbling over the issue whether internal security is a state issue or whether who should take the first steps. After 9/11, the Patriot Act in the USA was a unified step taken by the Federal and the state governments which resulted in the formation of the Department of Homeland Security that has acted with autonomy within the purview of the act and has taken concrete measures to avoid any further attacks to be carried out on US soil and has maintained a clean record since its inception. On the other hand, India is yet to decide whether there is even a need for such a National agency or the future of India is safe in the hands of the State Security forces (read the Police) in the wake of another such mishap. Thirdly, the legal structure in the country must provide for such measures so as to bring any suspicious elements within the custody of the security forces and punish the perpetrators of these crimes. Laws like Tada must be enacted to ensure that all culprits must be made to pay for their acts and it should set an example for the rest. Fourthly, international collaborations with world’s leading security agencies must be forged so as to understand and learn the latest counter terrorism strategies, share critical information and attain the modern technologies necessary in countering this menace.

The aftermath of 26/11 in terms of India’s response can at best be termed as meek. The recent political and diplomatic ‘game’ with Pakistan over the identity of the terrorists and the proofs that the attacks were planned and controlled from Pakistani soil are only making India’s case weaker by the day in the international community and the citizens of the nation have lost all hope that justice can ever be handed out to them. The recent election spotlight has completely diverted the focus from the war against terrorism in India and the usual blamegame has started. The media’s role in the current scenario becomes an all pervasive one as it not only needs to continue to ask the toughest questions about the concrete ways to tackle terrorism to all the politicians seeking a seat in this year’s parliament. At the same time, the media must probe deeper into the current state of the Indian Internal security systems and the imperative changes needed in it. Though campaigns like “Lead India” are a step in the right direction, the reach and impact of such initiatives are still limited in scope as the English speaking population in the country is still miniscule and the largely regional media is unaware of the nitty gritties of the issues involved.

There is no doubt that headlines are not just about what is happening in the political or economic scene on the previous day or two but is also about what is critical for the vast majority of the Indians living their lives under the gravest threat that the world has seen since the rise of Nazism.
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