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After the terror, now it is the rage

By Savera R Someshwar
December 04, 2008 12:47 IST
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When a city rises in rage, it time for her wrong-doers to tremble.

On Wednesday, Mumbai stood up to accuse those who had harmed her -- her so-called political leaders, the bureaucracy, the intelligence department and Mumbai herself.

"We are our own biggest culprits," said an angry youngster, who refused to be identified. "We let this happen to us. It's our chalta-hai, I-me-myself attitude that has resulted in this mess, this carnage. We are only concerned about ourselves, our homes, the money we make, the benefits we can get… What are we giving back? Where are we demanding accountability? When have we ever stood up to our politicians? Have we ever forced a politician out of his job because he was not competent? We would do that in the corporate world. Then why do we let these **** get away?"

For once, Mumbai was not indifferent. Her citizens refused to dust themselves and move on, as they have done umpteen times. Earlier, they shrugged off riots, floods and blasts. They accepted plaudits about their indomitable spirit and went about their lives as if nothing had happened. But, after 15 years dotted with crises, the gild has worn off these honeyed words. Mumbai and her citizens clearly have had enough. This time, they refused to sit at home. They refused to say what happened in the city, beginning exactly a week ago, was someone else's problem. This once, they refused to accept, or be limited by, 'the spirit of Mumbai' tag.

Wednesday evening, thousands of professionals, students, housewives, celebrities – Mumbaikars of all hues  -- made their way to the Gateway of India  -- that unforgettable monument to Mumbai's welcoming arms – to ensure that their voice was heard, that their angry outpourings would even reach the deaf ears of hardcore politicians and a certain neighbouring nation.

"The spirit of Mumbai, if you still wish to call it that, has changed," says Ashok Ambegaonkar.

 "We are not going to take things lying down any more. If you can't take care of us, we will take care of ourselves. Do not underestimate us. Do not think you know the spirit of Mumbai. Do not fling words like 'resilience' at us and think it will make us happy. You do not realise what the spirit of Mumbai means. We are demanding that the politicians do their job. If you don't, you will find no place in our city."

A young hotel management student, Sagar Khod, who hopes to make his career in the very industry that was targeted by the terrorists, is walking near Regal Cinema – which marks the road leading to the Gateway. Fisted in his hand is a black banner that proclaims, 'Terrorists must die a slow death.'

"They have to suffer," he says, "just as we have suffered. They have to know the pain we have gone through. Instant death was too easy an escape."

Subodh Runwal was so angry that the words were fighting each other to spew though his lips. "How many more acts of terror is it going to take before the Indian government decides to attack Pakistan? Do they want a bribe? I am willing to bribe them to do this. Just tell me how much they want. We would not let anyone violate our home; why are we letting them violate our country again and again and again?"

In the background were escalating chants of Pakistan hai, hai and Jab tak sooraj chand rahega, Bharat tera naam rahega.

But rage was not the only emotion coursing though the tens of thousands – some pegged it as between one to two lakhs -- of people who were making their way towards the Taj. There was grief too, for those who had died deaths that many believed were unnecessary.

Many were mourning the policemen who died because they did not have guns to fight the terrorists. The NSG commandoes who died recovering Nariman House, the Taj hotels, the Oberoi and the Trident.

"Today, one week later," says 19-year-old Ruchita Sharma, "nothing has changed. Most of the cops are still carrying only lathis. The luckier ones are toting around these ancient rifles. They still don't have any proper weapons or proper protective gear. Then, on what grounds, do we expect them to fight the terrorists. Going before the well-equipped, well-protected with so many drawbacks is as good as committing suicide. What right do we have to ask this of them?

"I am disgusted with the politicians; they don't feel anything. R R Patil had the gall to say bade shaheron main aise choti-moti baatein hoti rehti hain. They don't value our martyrs; they don't value our blood. I'm here for the cops. This time, things have to change for them. The least we can do is ensure they are better-equipped."

The much-abused Mumbai policeman is overwhelmed by this outpouring of love, affection, gratitude, honour and sorrow. "It's the first time we've had this kind of support from the people in the city," say some policemen who have been called in from guard duty at Nariman House.

"People are stopping to shake our hands, to say thanks, to take our autograph. They tell us they are sorry about the policemen who died. They tell us we must be better-equipped. We never even dreamt that we would get this kind of support from the people. This makes what we do worthwhile; this makes our work easier."

The overwhelmingly youthful press of sweaty humanity included six-year-old Zayne was there with his parents, Sylvester and Nineveh. Zayne says he came here to pray for the people who died and to light a candle for them. He now wanted to wave a flag for India. His parents, who were there to express their solidarity with their fellow citizens, are amazed at the huge turnout. "The processions were actually starting at Marine Drive," says Nineveh.

The sheer numbers had overwhelmed everyone  -- including the cops, the media and the people who were actually there. The cops thought there would be more than one to two thousand people; tens of thousands turned out, protesting, mourning, walking and there was no untoward incident.

Photographer Palash Ranjan Bhowmick says, "I've covered hundreds of rallies over the years, but I've never seem something like this – so spontaneous. It's amazing!"

Fighting to ensure that the Mumbaikar's anger would turn into something positive, many young people had started their own websites and citizen groups. Much of the rough cobbling, they hope, will turn into action that shows concrete results. A volunteer at one such group said, "We're not sure what we are going to do yet. At the moment, we are just gathering names and volunteers. Maybe we'll make local groups that will deal with problems in your street or area."

Sandeep, a software engineer, is much more militant. "If you can't do anything," he says, "you've just wasted your time coming here. It's time to stop talking; it's time for action. Each one of us is capable of doing something. We can make sure the cops are doing their job properly. We can make sure bags are checked in areas where people gather or a public service is provided. We can make sure that every time we see something wrong happening, we open our mouths and question it. Loudly. I've made a list of the things that I feel need to be rectified. I'm going to go and stand in front of whoever can make the changes and protest. I know people will join me. What are they going to do to us if we protest peacefully? They will be forced to listen."

Go, Mumbaikar, go. Don't let your anger die or your resolve falter. You are a city of leaders, of doers. Today, if you have decided to cleanse the system, you will do it. You are strong. You are capable. You truly have the spirit.

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