On the 26th of November 2008, there was a double blow.
It had been raining almost all night in Chennai and we put on the TV to figure out what the weather was going to be like only to find out that there had been attacks with guns and bombs in multiple areas in Mumbai. The attacks in Mumbai and the rain in Tamil Nadu continued over the next 36 hours or so --- with disastrous effects all around.
All this was more than a week ago and so it feels as if one can write about it with a modicum of objectivity.
The cyclone that hit Tamil Nadu was not man-made, but many of its consequences were. The attacks in Mumbai were carried out by people who were human beings once upon a time, but they had their humanity stripped by those who run the camps which trained them. So to some extent it feels as if we have suffered from a natural disaster --- but one which could have been mitigated by humans.
The Indian state and people seem to be returning back to "normal" and this is said be a sign of our resilience.
On the other hand that may only be because we suffer a thousand cuts every day --- self-inflicted. Indeed, each one of us is a minor terrorist carrying out little acts of rebellion against the state; acts that also threaten the well-being of our fellow citizens. Some examples follow:
- we throw plastic bags and paper cups into the canals and drains around our cities.
- we evade taxes and even pride ourselves on reducing government power as a consequence.
- we throw lavish "rave" parties where drugs and alcohol flow freely.
- we destroy public roads and public spaces for our own private needs.
The list could go on and on ... All of these acts weaken our state and our people to the point where we cannot act swiftly in an emergency:
- garbage blocks the canals, which leads to floods during heavy rains.
- the lost taxes means reduced training and equipment for our police and other emergency forces.
- the drugs and alcohol that are distributed at the "rave" parties are bought from the same smugglers who also bring guns and RDX.
- public roads are in no shape to supply things required during emergencies.
- public spaces are not available for relief efforts since they are illegally occupied or damaged beyond use.
- our under-paid police force has its hands full dealing with the thousands of little violations that we commit.
- our police force is so used to looking the other way while our top brass and gold-laden classes are violating the rules that they can be forgiven if they cannot distinguish them from the "real" terrorists.
This is what makes us a "soft target for terror". If the Indian government were to indeed go after all those who are weakening it and terrorizing its people, then a good percentage of our citizenry and an even larger percentage of our well-off citizenry would find itself in the cross-hairs.
To paraphrase what an assistant commissioner of police once said:
If 100% of our citizens are 2% terrorists then it is very hard to catch the 2% of the citizens who are 100% terrorists.