Here we are again: another serial bomb blast, another city and its people attacked; many killed, even more injured. Yet it is like we never learn anything from each of these horrendous episodes – as if we are inherently unable to learn from our past mistakes.
Our conscious memory has lost count of the number of times our nation has been attacked by terror, yet the mental and physical pain is as evident as the first one; the anger and helplessness of the people to the destruction and devastation caused by the bombs, as strong as ever.
The only change in this weird déjà vú is the magnitude of anger felt by the people of the country – increasing each time, having seen more of their friends and family suffer first hand to terror. And the increase in the quantum of frustration felt, coupled with the personal inability to bring about a positive change.
Every time the unfortunate news breaks, the media rush out in hordes – thrusting their microphones at anybody they can find and capturing on camera all they could. The resulting news can at best be described as reactive and sensational, as the news values take roost and the media ethics take a back seat. The number of bombs and number of people affected attempts to be directly proportional to the need for an increase in TRP.
The sudden elevation of the common man and even authorities to being an "expert" – solely owing to a circumstantial situation – brings about many bloopers, which may be rather funny in any other situation. In these though they show the callousness of the media and the authorities to lives lost - fellow citizens killed and hurt for no fault of theirs.
The top cops under pressure try their hand at playing down the situation, and make innocuous statements as "it was an LPG cylinder that burst, and we are awaiting more info". The common man – fortunate to have witnessed the incident from a safe distance, yet unfortunate enough to get caught under the media eye – cannot help but speculate to what he or she saw, and fuel further discussion in the newsroom.
The local government officials are quick to make the expected statements of "this is an attack on the people," if not "they are trying to break the communal harmony". And when that is not enough, indeed quick to put up their hands and claim that they are not equipped to handle the terror situation and this is a central government matter.
Even as the anti-terror team scampers on a flight from Delhi to reach ground zero, the "experts" are woken up from their slumbers and called in to the studio, to fill in the gaps with what can only be described as irresponsible speculation and free-thinking.
Some even pull out "exclusive reports" from six months to eons ago and proclaim on live TV: "in a police interrogation in Delhi two people arrested had mentioned they had recce'd the same market area". You have well-meaning journalists like Mr Sardesai act shocked, repeat the claims, and unwillingly (?) validate this 'proof' summarising the 'revelation' as "the authorities had specific information that this specific area would be attacked, yet they did nothing".
Soon the politicos at Delhi are caught by the determined journalists and forced to make their rather educated statements: "the state authorities are studying the situation and we are awaiting reports". Then there is the most preferred question of all, "Are you visiting the scene of attack? When?" This begets an expected response of "at the first opportunity," or even better "soon as I can; even tonight".
Our politicos are neither criminologists nor experts in detecting terror attack reasons. Yet our media is always keen to have them rush to the scene of attack, bringing relief measures and investigations to a halt with all attention shifting to the VVIP visit and related security.
The scoop though is when the home minister is finally caught on camera admitting, "Yes! We had received reports to a possible attack two days ago, but there was no specifics".
Our media excels in live recording the hapless politicians making their most foolish of declarations. Whether it was the DDLJ inspired, "in big cities like this, small incidents do happen" by Mr RR Patil on 26/11 to the more regular "we did not have specific information" by Mr SK Shinde.
As funny and sad this may sound at the same time, we seem to learn nothing from each of these disasters: No lessons learnt on handling emergency situations. No lessons learnt on conflict management. No lessons learnt of simple media management. Worst of all, no lessons learnt on preventing such terror attacks from recurring again.
Clearly, getting some inkling to a possible terrorist attack without a specific date, time and place is hardly "actionable information". Yet, it should be enough to put us on high alert, to make us more aware to oncoming attack. Then again, we are a country that chose not to warn the tens of thousands of people staying on the Indian coastline of the oncoming tsunami, despite clear indications that they would be submerged.
Tens of thousands of hapless people! And the then Director of the Indian Meteorological Department on a TV show had the gall to say: "Yes. We knew of it but what would the people have done in just one hour?" Indeed! What could they have done, other than perhaps tried to save their lives? And possibly succeeded too, if not for our authorities who were entrusted with making the decision for them.
Our problem is manifold, yet at the very basic it is this one simple need: the need to respect human lives. And we will not change our dismal situation till our political leaders and bureaucrats learn to do just that: to respect and safeguard every single Indian life. Or pay for it.