Let’s put fishers and hotel staff on India’s security payroll
I’m in Goa, and this small Indian state is about ten hours south of Mumbai. We’re safe here (thanks for asking), but we’re quite aware that we share the same coastline, rail corridor and hospitality workers. I’ve been following the news of what’s being called “The Mumbai Event” or “26/11” (perhaps CNN has come up with a more snappy title?) but it hadn’t really settled into my psyche until I sat down and caught up with a copy of the November 30, 2008 Sunday Express at a coffee shop in Candolim.
Before that day, I knew that Goa was involved. Many Goa-bound train passengers were caught in the indiscriminate firing at Chatrapathi Shivaji Terminus, Mumbai’s main train station. They were lined up to board the Konkan Kanya which was scheduled to depart Wednesday evening. Reported Goa’s own Herald on Thursday November 27, two Goan brothers in Mumbai for a medical examination and at the station phoned the newspaper to report that gunshots had created panic in the station.
Likewise, I knew that 23-year-old chef Boris do Rego, originally from the small Goan village of Divar, was on the phone to his brother, secreted in the Taj hotel’s kitchens and comforting frightened hotel guests when he was gunned down. His family literally heard his dying words over his mobile phone.
I must have looked quite a sight on the coffee shop patio – alternately sipping americano coffee, furiously circling news stories in pen, and dabbing tears.
Page 1 of the Sunday Express : the sickening news that not only had government intelligence received alerts on a possible sea attack a week ago, but that the terrorists had penetrated three levels of coastal defence and lingered in Indian waters for 72 hours before finally stepping ashore.
No fools, Indians; they know that the money designated for naval staffing, vessels, and technology went into politician’s pockets, and that gaps of surveillance on the “porous” coastline existed to allow for the free (bribed) movement of smuggled goods and people.
In the Sunday Express Manu Pubby wrote a fascinating story on this called TERROR WAVE: How a group of terrorists exploited the porous sea route and trumped three layers of coastal and maritime security. The outermost layer, he writes, is the open ocean and should be guarded by the Navy. The second layer extends 12 nautical miles from the shoreline and should be guarded by the Coast Guard. The third layer is close to the shore and should be guarded by the state’s police force (Mumbai is in the state of Maharashtra, just north of the state of Goa).
Writes Pubby, “The ease with which the terrorists managed to land with a sizeable amount of arms and ammunicition confirmed what experts have long known – the marine wings of police forces are woefully shorty of resources and manpower to guard the shore.” Read between the lines.
Naturally, this got Goan chins wagging as its coastline could be considered fairly “porous” in its own right. A story in the December 2, 2008 Herald describes how the All Goa Fishing Boats Owners Associations (AGFBOA) in Vasco de Gama have reminded police repeatedly of the illegal smuggling activities on the shores they work. Now, suddenly, the police force is asking these humble fishers to be their eyes on the sea. Fishing boats!
Ironically, the fishers who usually crowded the Mumbai beaches where the terrorists landed were gathered around a television set watching a cricket match. However, writes Ritu Sarin, a fisherwoman who remained at the shore says she “noticed a dinghy dock with six tough-looking youth and remembers how they flung their life jackets on the boat, picked up their ‘baggage’ and came ashore.” She said that “…each of the six men was carrying two heavy blue plastic bags in each hand and had bulging backpacks.” I hope Mumbai’s police are putting her on the payroll.
The most touching story in this special edition was a column titled “In the line of duty” by Sandipan Deb. He wrote about the heroism of the staff of the Taj Mahal Hotel. Among the stories he recounts is one where guests at a wedding reception were moved into a conference room when the shooting started. Staff barricaded the doors, turned off the lights and told everyone to turn off their cell phones. They provided napkins and towels, then sandwiches, and later, lime juice and smoked salmon. “Only when they realized that the kitchen had been taken over did the flow of snacks stop.”
Stresses Deb, “…They are not trained policemen or soldiers, they never anticipated that one day they would be in the middle of such horrific butchery and be called on to save lives. Indeed, they are trained to provide the meekest of services: deliver an ice bucket, endure rude guests shouting at them for no reason. The primary undercurrents of most of the interactions their clients have with them are indifference and condescension. They are non-persons. [think of the caste system – UR] Now we know they are heroes.”
Not much I can add to that except, Amen.