A new city in a new country, a country I feel acquainted with thanks to sitcoms, friends who are already there, journals and the World Wide Web. Even though I know I am much aware of the world around me and beyond, much of my anxiety stems from the fact that I have never travelled outside of India.
As I muse and wonder about my life ahead, I cannot help but feel wistful about India, my country. I have travelled much within my large country, spent substantial years in the north, the south, the west, central India and also the east, lived and studied in small towns and cities alike -- Bhatinda, Gwalior, Deolali, Chennai, Wellington, Samba ,Panagarh, Pune, Delhi, Kolkata and Bombay, thanks to the wandering life I have had as an army officer’s daughter.
The diversity of this nation is mind-boggling, ask me, for I have lived and adapted in so many culturally diverse regions of this country. It is indeed a wonder that we have remained one country for so long. If you read the history of India (especially after independence) you will understand what I mean by that, and because of this diversity, and in spite of the rampant appalling corruption at all levels, the buffoonery of the political, business and social class,sometimes crossing from the ridiculous to the evil , the poverty, religious and cultural strife, terrorism, the Naxals, call for independent states and secession, India remains one nation and a nation with possibilities where democracy is alive and kicking.
But the reality of India is not just what is happening today. The issues that are ripping the very fabric of this nation's existence are not new, they have haunted India since Independence and some even before that.
A line from Leon Uris’ Trinity comes back to me ever so often, “For you see, in Ireland there is no future, only the past happening over and over.” So is the story of India.
Kashmir, Pakistan, corruption, inept administrators, corrupt politicians, Naxals, government without will, weak opposition, poverty, more poverty, more corruption, illiteracy, health, Telangana, Gorkhaland, Nagaland, Bodos, division along the lines of caste, creed, language and region -- these and many more important issues have been haunting India for over sixty years. I can repeat it a thousand times, for the problem over the years have remained the same and no solution comes to the fore.
India still remains an idea, an idea which Gandhi believed in and fought for. He wasn’t just fighting for independence from the Britishers, he was fighting to free our minds too, And for that he was assassinated.
But this is not a lesson in Indian history.
When terrorism struck Mumbai yet again on July 13th, there was the usual outpouring of sadness and anger against the perpetrators. But unlike 26/11, even Mumbai did not mourn much. The tone and tenor of the people was different, they huffed and whined, asked for Kasab to be hanged immediately and of course cursed the government. Most importantly the 'Spirit of Mumbai' was rubbished by Mumbaikars themselves. It seemed people were simply fed up and had given up. Within a day, in fact the next morning, Harry Potter and Delhi Belly newsfeed took over Facebook, Twitter and the general gupshup of Mumbaikars.
I was one of the many horrified at the randomness of the attack, upset that my Bombay was hit yet again and utterly mournful for a few hours. A very close friend of mine was minutes away from Opera House at the time of the tragedy. I will not deny that the government is truly weak, that administrators and civic authorities have barely done anything to safeguard the citizens, that corruption and blatant unconcern of those in power is indeed rueful. And that most of us are right in huffing and puffing.
But what about the role of the civil society? Do we have a civil society?
Mumbai has a long history of violence and terrorist attacks. 26/11 is regarded as significant for even the rich and the influential were blatantly targeted and killed. After 26/11, hotels beefed up their security -- hell, at some hotels security feels more stringent than our airport security! Yet public places –- the stations, bus-stops etc remain woefully unsecured. A few bunkers were put up at several stations where policemen with ancient guns sat chatting; a few armored cars were purchased and floated around the city. Barely any change even after the uproar of 26/11.
Government is supposed to protect and secure public property, well they did not and no one else did anything about it. Our city houses some of the richest Indians, some very influential celebrities and qualified professionals. Hotel owners secured their premises, but did not think about securing the trains and buses their employees take to reach these hotels. The same with corporates. Industrialists for years have been hand in glove with the government -- changing policies to suit their business needs, grabbing land, displacing people, setting up SEZs, getting licenses (telecom and what not) out of turn, mining illegally... Can’t they work closely with the government to secure their city, where their sons and daughters are as much a target as their employees?
So much can be done.
-- IT companies can work to design innovative software to improve security systems around public places.
-- Industrialists can develop an independent unit and hire professionals keen on improving and helping the city. Of course a good professional comes at a price, and companies pay much when they hire for their firms, so why not hire someone willing to work for the city and make it lucrative, so that good talent can be engaged?
-- Educate and empower the poor, the downtrodden, the minorities.Terrorist organizations will have fewer recruits from the local population.
These are some of many possible ideas -- I can list some more for so much can indeed be done, and it may help. For example, the Lokpal Bill is a civil society initiative, it has been a long struggle and it will be even longer before it is ever passed. However it has made the government wake up, take notice and step up. We need to create a stronger civil society to protect ourselves and truly realize the power of democracy.