Friday, December 30, 2005

Some press-speak, and some me-speak

From the Hindu's editorial:

...Terrorism may do precision-targeting or it may not. Shock-and-awe serves to demonstrate the softness of civil society, the vulnerability of a whole system. IISc was a soft target, if ever there was one. Praveen Swami's exclusive report published on page one sets out a disturbing context in which two dozen intelligence warnings over the past four years should have better prepared the Bangalore authorities for Wednesday's heart-rending tragedy. ...

... can anything be done to prevent trained gunmen fielded by a resilient fanatical outfit from spraying bullets or lobbing hand grenades on unsuspecting scientists coming out of an international conference? Provided intelligence inputs can be acted on quickly, in a coordinated way, and the system can be made to assign a high enough political priority to vigilance and pre-emptive action against terrorism, the answer could be `yes.' ...

Praveen Swami's report, referred to by the Hindu editorial, is here.

Some snippets from another report by the Hindu's Bangalore reporter:

A heart-wrenching scene was witnessed at the M.S. Ramaiah Hospital on Thursday morning, when Saurab Puri, son of M.C. Puri, the Delhi IIT professor killed in the terrorist attack, and other relatives came to take away the body.Saurab Puri and other family members reached the hospital by 11.15 a.m. The son broke down on seeing his father's body. ... IISc director P. Balaram was seen consoling the family. Several IISc staffers had volunteered their services to help out at the hospital.

Pankaj Gupta, a scientist who was injured in the shoot-out, is recovering from his wounds in the same hospital, doctors said. Another injured person Patelappa, a lab assistant, is also recovering. Both are in the intensive care unit. Gupta, was wounded in his right arm and nose and Patelappa went through a 90-minute operation for an injury in the pelvis.

At Mallige Medical Centre, Vijay Chandru of IISc is recovering after a long operation to treat multiple wounds. Several colleagues gathered at the hospital on Wednesday night to donate blood. Sangeetha, another scientist wounded near her eye, is also recovering at the ICU there.

Yesterday, when a colleague and I visited Vijay Chandru at the hospital (we couldn't see him, since he was still in ICU), we saw Sangeetha leaving the hospital after being discharged.

The Economic Times's editorial:

Yes, an institution like IISc can and should be guarded better. But there are so many other soft targets — cinema halls, shopping malls, restaurants, railway stations, schools — that it is futile to place the entire burden of security on the state machinery.

Even if the government releases all those policemen currently guarding our cash-for-questions specimens for policing the populace at large, they will be spread out too thin to be effective in terms of conventional policing.


It is up to the government and the political leadership to institute effective frameworks for coordinated action by the citizenry and ensure voluntary involvement.This is a complex, multifaceted challenge. It means politics that eschews both communal hatred, which sows the seeds of terror, and appeasement of communalism, which allows the malaise to spread.

It means inclusive politics and justice that do not close all avenues other than violence. It means throwing out the legacy of the caste culture that fragments society, to enlarge the framework of cooperation beyond one’s own group to the entire nation. It calls for replacing custom and tradition as guidelines for personal conduct with disciplined adherence to new systems of organised action. Ad-hocism and quick fixes must give way to strong systems.

Many commenters fail to appreciate the trade-offs which are an essential part of our life when they demand 100 % action, 100 % preventive measures, and 100 % security. There is no such thing; by definition, these 'features of modern life' can only be provided at sub-100% rates. In other words, we necessarily have to deal with probability of security; this probability is reduced by anything that takes the police forces' time and effort away from providing security to people, such as 'guarding our cahs-for-questions specimens' as the Economic Times put it, or raiding dance bars in our cities and towns, and arresting some hapless people who are just trying to earn a living.

This doesn't mean that our police forces need not improve their capabilities in collecting, assessing and acting on intelligence that has a bearing on people's safety and security. Those efforts must be beefed up as well; what I would argue for is to take a whole lot of unnecessary baggage off from our police officers' backs, and allow them to concentrate on things that really matter. From this point of view, harassing streetside vendors (selling vegetables to dads abd moms, and balloons to kids in Malleswaram) will possibly emerge with a far lower priority than other things. Yet, this sort of shit happens on a daily basis. I would argue strongly for taking those pieces of 'law' that allow this sort of harassment out of our lawbooks as well as improving our police forces' capabilities in combating terrorism.