Never again

The date 26/11 and the images of the horrific events that unfolded on that night and for 60 hours thereafter in the city of Mumbai will be etched in our memories forever. Who can forget the image of blood-splattered bodies lying strewn around at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus or of the iconic Taj hotel up in flames? Or that of people who set aside their personal losses to rescue others? Around 166 people were killed in the attack and over 300 injured. The country and Mumbai in particular have suffered many terrorist attacks. Yet 26/11 tore into India’s soul like no other. The attacks were the worst ever in India’s recent history, not just because of the high death toll but because of the sheer magnitude of the operation. India’s financial capital was held hostage by a mere 10 terrorists for over 60 hours. The attacks showed up the gaping holes in India’s intelligence apparatus, the unpreparedness of its security forces to respond to such situations and the utter ineptness of the political establishment. 26/11 changed India. It shook middle-class India out of its complacency. Ordinary Indians grieved alongside those who had lost family and friends in the attacks and quickly their grief turned to rage.

26/11 brought middle-class India out on the streets demanding answers and action from their elected representatives. This forced the government to act. A few heads in high places rolled. A slew of security measures were put in place. Mumbai has more sandbagged security checkpoints, screening is more thorough at hotels and other installations and the city has its own NSG commando unit. Intelligence gathering and sharing systems apparently have been overhauled. Officials claim that India today is better prepared. But have things changed? A year after the attacks, troubling questions remain. Is Mumbai safer? Is the country prepared to tackle a terrorist assault of a similar scale? The Taj and the Oberoi might be safer today but can we confidently say the same of our railway stations or markets? Is the government more concerned about the security of the powerful, the rich and the famous than it is of the common man?

We speak highly of the Mumbaikar and his resilient spirit, of how when repeatedly hit by adversity, he picks himself up, dusts his clothes and moves on. A year on, the best way to honour that spirit is to ensure that Mumbai does not encounter such terrible tragedy again.

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