Mumbai:: What happened and why?

Thanks for your calls and messages of concern.
I am safe, sad and angry.
Safe because I choose to believe that life will go on as usual.
Sad because people I know have lost their loved ones. What can I say or do to comfort them?
Angry because several disturbing questions are racing through my head.

1) Why was Hemant Karkare, the chief of the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS), killed? Who killed him and two other top cops? When Karkare was appointed as ATS chief in January this year, he cracked the Thane (on the outskirts of Mumbai) bomb blast that took place a year ago. Most people believed that this blast was the work of Islamic terrorists. Karkare’s investigations revealed that a Hindu right-wing group was responsible for this bomb blast and for a few others too.

Subsequently, following the blasts at Malegaon (a Muslim-dominated town in Maharashtra) in September this year, Karkare and his team discovered that Hindu holy men and women (Sadhus and Sadhvis) along with a military officer and others were involved. Abuses and threats came his way for his investigations into this case. His critics included the top bosses of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena.

2) Where were the self-proclaimed protectors of Mumbai, the Shiv Sena and the MNS when Mumbai was attacked? These political parties repeatedly attack ordinary, hardworking, poor people from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and other states of India who come to Mumbai to seek a living. They recently disrupted life in Mumbai for days by unleashing violence against unarmed North Indians working as taxi drivers, security guards, construction workers, street vendors, etc. Why did these bullies cower in fear instead of flexing their muscles in the battle to defend Mumbai?

3) Why were the TV journalists immaturely and irresponsibly reporting not facts but bytes of information that had a life span of one minute in the imagination of the journalists? These people made a spectacle of the tragedy and the rescue operation. Were the journalists trying to convey their anguish or their excitement? They seemed to be narrating the unfolding drama of a theatrical performance.

4) Do the celebrities invited to speak on behalf of Mumbai represent the people of Mumbai? Their glitzy lifestyles are alien from the daily existence of the masses. Those who pride themselves as the elites are untouched by the misery that plagues the lives of the majority.
In normal times their indifference is cruel and their ignorance deliberate. But on the TV channels these past few days it was garbage that was arrogantly spewing out from their glossy lips. Their statements were inane but definitely not innocuous. The ageing TV star urged people not to pay taxes and suggested brutal attack on our neighbouring country. It is a well-know fact that India has several upper crust tax defaulters who manage to creatively dodge the tax system and to get away with. By not challenging the hatred and violence against a community and a country that these painted faces were preaching, the journalists are guilty of endorsing such vile views.

5) Why did the media focus largely on the tragedy unfolding at the five-star hotels? The newspapers too are filled with stories of the ordeal of the elites. It seems as if there is no need to grieve the killing of more than 50 ordinary people at CST station or the sweeper at Cama hospital. Are some lives more precious than others?

6) Are these luxury hotels Mumbai’s icons? India’s journalists seemed to think so; that’s how they referred to these places. They surely know that ordinary folks in Mumbai are rudely barred from straying into these areas. That hardly matters to them. The editor of a national daily, the Indian Express, tried to stir up the sympathy of his readers for the loss of his “second home” (his words), the Oberoi - Trident hotel.

7) Shouldn’t we overhaul our security establishment in terms of training, equipment, job specification, salaries, resources, and way of functioning? Large sections of the security forces are poorly trained, badly paid, inadequately equipped, wrongly deployed, politically controlled, and harbour communal biases. We need a security set-up to maintain law and order, to enforce the rule of law, to tackle crime and to punish the guilty without prejudice or fear. Instead, what we have is a system that is almost completely rotten and that thrives on exploiting the weak and the defenceless. And the few upright personnel are quickly sidelined or eliminated.

8) Should we foolishly squander personnel and honest tax payers’ money to guard politicians, celebrities and cricketers? Why do they tremble in fear behind protective shields while ordinary folks apparently have no fears and so go unprotected?

9) Can a fractured society outsmart a well-synchronised team executing a meticulously-planned operation? A rigid hierarchical system is at the core of the Indian social matrix. Thus social relations between sections of society are unequal and based on power, status and connections. Your position on the social ladder determines whether you are treated with respect or with contempt. We are unable to express solidarity that transcends caste, class, regional and religious barriers. People considered to be on the lower rungs of the hierarchy are alienated from human society. It’s not too difficult to tear down a weak, rotten, divided society that does not value the lives of all its people equally.

10) Will we ever be able to challenge and defeat the prejudices that are spreading? We should, we will.

chrissie d'costa