“I can’t believe this is happening again,” my friend Radhika tells me over the phone, as I ask her how she’s doing.
She’s usually a stoic person, a hardened journalist who’s been living in Mumbai for years. She’s seen and lived through bomb blasts, communal riots – even floods. But the serial blasts on the evening of July 13, 2011 has brought back painful memories of November 26, 2008. And they’ve softened my tough friends’ guard.
Like Radhika, several Mumbaikers have been jolted back to a harsh and sad reality: that their city is still as vulnerable as it was in 2008. No matter how many promises are made of safety, they still need to watch their backs on local trains, buses, cabs even markets.
In 2008, attackers went on the rampage targeting the cities elite – and its poor – killing over 166 people. In 2011, unknown groups have used multiple bombs at crowded markets to unleash fear and panic once again. And it seems the lessons learnt from then to now are minimal.
Consider this: India has spent millions of dollars since the 2008 attacks on counterterrorism intelligence efforts. But the much tom-tom’ed national investigation agency set up in 2009 to placate public anger, has yet to achieve a breakthrough since November 2008. The latest annual home ministry report for 2010-11 talks of how large investments were made to “meet the grave challenges faced by global terrorism”. Yet police forces struggle with basic investigations. Intelligence gathering on the ground is abysmal, compounded by a severe shortage of manpower. Intelligence agencies still don’t share information as much as they should due to mutual distrust – leading many to joke that often India’s left hand doesn’t know what its right hand is up to.
Experts say the apparent ease with which the latest bombs could be planted in crowded markets, shows the lax security faced by many Indian cities. Markets, bus stops, railway stations are all vulenrable targets. Yet there aren’t enough CCTV cameras in position. Or even if there are, they’re not functional.
And although five-star hotels have upped their security after 2008, their spaces – where the average person can’t avoid – are where security needs to be fool-proof.
The thought that this tragedy could have been avoided is what makes these serial blasts so painful. Those who’ve lost their loved ones have no choice but to live on – hoping that somewhere, someday they get justice. But looking at Indian investigators’ track record, it won’t be as easy or simple as that.
Time and again, inquiries are formed with a deadline. Yet, recommendations are tossed aside and investigations are stretched indefinitely.
Mumbai, my love
In the meantime, Mumbaikers are once again defying tragedy. Their spirit and sense of dignity are what make this city a true microcosm of what humanity should be.
Like my friend Radhika says: “I may be broken but I’m not shattered. And, I still have a deadline.”