Making sense of the Mayhem in Mumbai


Dec 3, Cartoonscape, The Hindu

I was always more of a Dilliwalli (Delhi woman) than a Mumbaikar though Bombay was just an overnight train ride from the city I grew up in—Ahmedabad—and we frequently visited my cousins who lived in that monstrous metropolis. Today all Indian cities seem equally monstrous to me sprawling over the landscape spewing noxious fumes and toxic trash, dwarfing the insect-like citizens who inhabit them.

For the last twenty years I’ve lived in Kingston, Jamaica, another monstrous city, a miniature one in proportion to its Indian counterparts of course. Still there were many things about the mayhem in Mumbai that I could relate to as being part of a common trend we find ourselves in as citizens of postcolonial nations that haven’t exactly distinguished themselves in independence. Where were the safeguards one expects the authorities to put in place in cities threatened by warring gangs or ‘terrorists’?

For instance exactly two weeks ago there were 3-4 attempted break-ins/robberies in my Kingston neighbourhood. Ever since a colleague and resident of the area was murdered in his house last year there’s been an increase in security guards on the compound. Unfortunately this hasn’t significantly deterred robbers and thieves from plaguing the area.

If I hadn’t heard about the incidents via my helper and a passer-by on the evening of the attacks I wouldn’t have known that anything had happened. Neither the security company to whom we pay millions every year nor the University from whom we rent these premises considered it necessary to send out a bulletin informing all residents of what had happened, exactly where and under what circumstances, so the rest of us could take all necessary precautions.

I was glad then to be invited to a ‘security meeting’ on December 2nd where I thought I could express my concern and find out more about what exactly had happened. The session was also to discuss putting together some kind of neighbourhood watch to thwart/repel any further such attempts to part us from our earthly possessions.

The meeting turned out to be a farce; apparently I knew more (via the yamvine) about the various attempted burglaries than most people there, including the President of our Association. When people started turning to me for information and the campus police started giving us inane advice on keeping our handbags and jewellery out of sight of windows and doors I suddenly found myself thinking: I wonder if this is how and why the terror attacks in Mumbai happened?

I mean here we are living in Kingston (not Lausanne or Dubai), with an escalating crime rate and Christmas approaching and no one seems seized with a sense of urgency about how to organize and protect ourselves in the face of utter apathy and inertia on the part of the authorities concerned.

Officials in Mumbai it turns out were warned of impending attacks and suspicious activities by everyone from local fishermen to the US government. In spite of this security measures at both hotels and the main train station in Mumbai were downgraded the week before the attacks. Three very senior police officers were killed in the first few hours of what turned out to be an almost three-day siege. According to news reports corruption in the tendering process for police equipment resulted in faulty and substandard ‘bullet-proof’ vests being issued to police personnel; the vests were incapable of repelling bullets even from a hand gun much less an automatic weapon like an AK 47.

‘Mumbaikars’, or residents of Mumbai, reacted with anger and disbelief in the wake of the attacks. Politicians have come in for heavy criticism especially after the Chief Minister, Vilasrao Deshmukh, toured the Taj in the company of prominent Bollywood director, Ram Gopal Verma. A number of political leaders including Deshmukh, his Deputy, the Home Minister and the Head of Security have since been forced to resign.

An SMS text addressed to film directors made the rounds saying “A humble appeal to Mahesh Bhatt, Ram Gopal Verma, Sanjay Gupta, Rahul Dholakia and Apoorva Lakhia, Sirs, what’s happening in our beloved Bombay is terrifying and sad. Don’t insult us by thinking of making a ‘realistic’ film glorifying or capitalising on this situation. God please save our country from such terrorism and such filmmakers.”

Further South the Chief Minister of Kerala, V S Achutanandan, belatedly tried to pay a condolence call on the Bangalore home of the parents of one of the heroes of the Mumbai attacks, slain National Security Guard (NSG) commando Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan. The Major’s grief-stricken father refused to let the CM enter his residence prompting the Minister to make the gratuitously callous comment that had it not been the home of Major Unnikrishnan not even a dog would have wanted to enter it. Public outrage was so great that after initially refusing to apologize the Chief Minister lost face when he was forced to do so to pacify the citizenry.

The Mumbai siege uncovered unexpected heroes such as the seven South African bodyguards who were at the Taj providing protection for cricketers playing in the Indian Premier League tournament. They helped lead 120 hostages to safety armed only with knives and meat cleavers, even carrying a traumatised 80-year-old woman in a chair down 25 flights of stairs.

As Shobha De, Mumbai’s celebrity writer and blogger commented:

“The grand, old Taj could not provide the Marcos (’Marcos’ is short for “Marine Commandos, an elite special operations unit of the Indian Navy,) with a map of the premises – they were sent in cold – while the terrorists possessed a detailed floor plan all along…There was also a spectacular lack of co- ordination during the entire operation, especially during the first few crucial hours, when all the people involved seemed to be bumbling along without clear directions from one central body. We still don’t know whose orders were being followed, nor who was in command throughout. It became equally obvious that neither the city, nor the hotels have a crisis management programme in place that provides an immediate plan of action in an emergency. Look at how efficiently and swiftly the South African body guards swung into action … and saved so many lives. There was discipline and arduous training behind the drill they followed. Our brave men used their hearts, when minds were needed far more.”

Meanwhile the Hindustan Times reported that the government had “threatened action against television channels repeatedly broadcasting scenes of the Mumbai terror attack saying it may evoke strong sentiments among those affected by it.” The directive ordered that ‘Gory scenes should not shown, tragedy should not be replayed’ for fear of “the terrorists feeling that their operation was successful”.

According to the Hindustan Times the advisory stipulated that “News coverage pertaining to the event should project that India is not demoralised and has risen despite all terrorist attacks as normalcy has been restored. News coverage should project that India is a global power which has full support of the international community”.

Why is it that nations always try to save face before saving lives? Why do politicians instinctively do the wrong thing in the face of disaster, trying to maximize photo ops and free publicity rather than provide meaningful intervention? Why do the authorities always wait for disaster to strike before putting in place the necessary safeguards? These questions are as relevant in Kingston as they were in Mumbai…

Author: Annie Paul

writer, editor and avid tweeter anniepaulose@gmail.com

10 thoughts on “Making sense of the Mayhem in Mumbai”

  1. Annie, an excellent comparison of two post colonial societies,both totally lacking and devoid, with regard to understanding and implementing pro-active and pre-emptive policies and measures to deter,prevent,maintain,manage and contain tragic — man made or otherwise — disasters, such as, urban violence and terrorism being savagely and brutally unleashed on civilian populations.Indeed,the culture and psychology of inaction, on the part of governmental authorities is suffocating.Again,it boils down to political leadership or the lack thereof.Many of our leaders in both societies, India and Jamaica are totally disconnected from the mass publics.Indeed,in many instances they are totally aloof and indifferent.Consequently,they do not comprehend the day to day circumstances,situations and experiences of the populace, until a crisis develops or ensue, then at that point in time, they try to react and most of the time in confounded,bewildered,and discombobulated manner,suggesting and indicating a considerably high degree of unpreparedness,lack of sophistication and appreciation of the problem,crisis, or disaster at hand.In all honesty, most of our leaders at various levels within both societies are just MUDDLERS and do not understand or appreciate the essence and principles of SYSTEMS and MANAGEMENT regarding various crises, challenges and disasters including terrorism that confronts us as a people.What transpired in Mumbai will eventually happen in Jamaica and I can categorically assure you that we will not be ready for it. Indeed, it is just a matter of time.Interestingly,with all our hotels across the island, none of them is secure to prevent such an eventuality. WI NUH READY!! TRUST ME! But we talk a good talk,but when dissected and analyzed it is the usual vacuous rhetoric. Nuff respect!!ESTEBAN AGOSTO REID

  2. Thanks EAR,yes, i think like you that the Caribbean is likely to be the next port of call for the disgruntled of the world. our hotels are completely open and vulnerable. i can book a room and move in with luggage full of weapons and bombs. even without booking a room i could be part of some conference or get-together such as the IFFRO AGM at the Ritz-Carlton recently and arrive with suitcases full of ‘books’ or ‘printed material’ pertaining to the meeting. no one scans the luggage/baggage or otherwise ensures that no armaments are being smuggled into the hotel.well, to tell you the truth there has been no reason for hotels here to take such precautions but in the wake of Mumbai i think we all need to step up the security or end up with the kind of mayhem that ensued in mumbai–

  3. Quite some attention has been drawn on the WW-1 implements that the local police / security were ‘armed’ with, the delay in commando-es dropping in, lack of coordination between agencies and inaction within, politicians fumbling both with words & actions. This incident should also throw light on the responsibilities within media on their reportage – how many lives did they save by their live telecasts & leading scoops and how many were they responsible for losing ? There will always be security related gaps in all such incidents, but the key new learning from Mumbai would be how media conducts & regulates itself. Everytime,someone does a live telecast of commando-es being airdropped or comes live to say how x number of people are kept safe in a “member’s area” within the hotel or does a live phone-in interview with a victim trapped within, these terrorists are provided with directions & sitting ducks for their statistics. Such parts of media must be tried as cohorts to terrorism unleashed.

  4. Annie – In some ways, Mumbai is just a larger version of Kingston. But in many many ways, its citizens are leaps and bounds ahead of Jamaicans in terms of their insistence on talking back directly to the government – not just through votes or via media, but by making themselves and their outrage visible and heard. I mean, who would have thought that in the middle of this siege, that people in Mumbai and elsewhere in India would be taking to the streets and demanding that the gov’t get its act together? We in Jamaica would not ever think of doing such a thing, even when the circumstances clearly call for such mass action. Instead, we hungrily turn on each other, faulting one group or another for the problem, and then plotting how to get rid of them. All the while, the inept government officials etc. sits with legs crossed waiting for the helper to bring the paycheck and the cup of tea.I am sorry to hear what is going on in your neighborhood; this kind of ineptitude just makes me want to throw bricks.

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  6. There is no doubt that as Anonymous says one of the big lessons from Mumbai is the gross lack of responsible reporting from the media. if and when anything like this happens here the media should apply the knowledge acquired from live reporting at the Taj Palace in Mumbai.Perhaps the offending media personnel in Mumbai do need some kind of disciplinary action; its worth considering because Anon is right we don’t know how many lives were unnecessarily lost due to info gratuitously provided by the Indian media.Natalie: you’re right (as usual). there is not enough citizen activism in Jamaica. we rarely if ever see the kind of anger that is being directed at politicians in India now. how and when will this change?Sify.com:hey thanks for the invite. of course i’m interested. have sent an email.

  7. Annie,your analogies and descriptions with respect to terroristic behaviour manifesting or unfolding in Jamaican hotels are well taken.Interestingly,both scenarios posited by you are extremely likely.Concerning local/domestic or foreign terrorists carrying out such operations. Surely, the likelihood is greater that foreign terrorists are more likely to exploit the lack of security and the vulnerability of Jamaica in this regard.Nonetheless,all hotels, and for that matter,all institutions in Jamaica need to become more pro-active and pre-emptive regarding the possibility of terrorism.Because our homegrown terrorists are becoming more empowered and brazen daily, as the IRRELEVANCY and IMPOTENCY of both the extant administration and the OPPOSITION becomes more conspicuously obvious.Consequently,the likelihood of assaults on such institutions by homegrown terrorists should not be taken lightly or disregarded.With regard to the IRRELEVANCY and IMPOTENCY of both the state and HER MAJESTY’S LOYAL OPPOSITION, witness the COWARDLY behaviour on the part of the state and the OPPOSITION in the calculated and systematic CLEANSING and DEPOPULATION of the Gravel Heights community by thugs, while the police provides cover and escort services for the denizens of the community.Undoubtedly,and unquestionably,this can be taxonomized as the MOTHER OF ALL SHAMEFUL ACTS IN the ANNALS of JAMAICA, where law abiding citizens are removed/forced from their homes by gunmen, while the state pontificates and pontificates, exposing their IRRELEVANCY and their INCOMPETENCY of controlling thugs and goons.Indeed,this reminds one of DARFUR. Nuff respect!!ESTEBAN AGOSTO REID

  8. Yes, EAR the situation in Gravel Heights is alarming and the state’s impotence even more so. Someone should do a map of the country showing all the areas controlled by Dons and ‘thugs’ as you call them. this is the sort of thing one of the newspapers should undertake. a very graphic representation of the erosion of state power…

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