Two weeks ago, on a Sunday morning, close to 100,000 people were on the roads of Mumbai. About 38,000 were running the marathon with the rest cheering them. The sea-link had been opened and running over the ocean was awesome. Like most years, I ran the half marathon and like all years, I loved and hated it (while going over the steep gradients) but thoroughly enjoyed the overall experience. In case you are wondering what the marathon has got to do with a column on internal security, just go along with me here.
For those who don’t run, the marathon, or even half of it (21km), it could seem a daunting feat. And in some ways, it is. For a decent timing and, more importantly, not being terribly fatigued at the end, training of 6-12 months is fairly common. But ask any runner who has been bitten by the bug and one will tell you that long-distance running is not just about training the body. It is more mental resoluteness than physical strength. Keeping at it, while every muscle of the body screams in agony, is difficult and stopping seems so easy.
Strengthening a community’s security is a bit like that. The target of a terrorist’s attack is never the body count; instead, it is an attack on the psyche of society. Does a 26/11 numb and outrage the nation? Of course it does, as it should. But if society cowers in fear of another attack, the terrorist wins. This doesn’t mean our lives won’t change or hasn’t changed since terror has become an everyday fact. But we can influence how it changes us.
Also Read Raghu Raman’s earlier columns
Until about a couple of decades ago, distance running was considered to be the domain of athletes and fitness buffs. Definitely not what “regular” people such as office workers, homemakers, teachers and doctors did. The marathon was considered very difficult and meant only for “tough” people. Bob Glover was one of the evangelists who decided to change that for the common man. In 1990, Bob created the New York City Marathon training programme based on his best-selling book, whose training methods have been followed by over a million runners.
Come to think of it, running is not all that technical. Actually, it is a sport which requires only a pair of shoes—and some world-class athletes don’t even use that. So why has it remained esoteric for so long?
Well, to begin with, there was a misconception that to run long distances, you had to be very fit and train heavily. A second belief was that you had to be young and in continuous training. Glover’s training programme bust many myths about running and showed how novices of all ages could run the half and full marathons in respectable timings in just 16–20 weeks of training, only for 3-4 days a week. From a nominal 2km of walking per day, right up to the marathon. It was about gradual progress and regular training to convert pain into a pleasant way of life.
There is no doubt that we are entering a world where enhanced security will have to be the way of life. Frisking of people and baggage, check-points on roads, increased surveillance and yes, sadly, terrorist incidents despite all these precautions, will be the norm. We can choose to be overwhelmed by them, or we can respond by changing ourselves.
One would think that we would figure out what is best and immediately start practising personal security and good discipline. Unfortunately, humans don’t behave like that. If it were so, hundreds of thousands of deaths would be avoided because smokers would quit, riders would wear helmets and doctors would wash hands. Ironically, many don’t realize that each of us has a personal responsibility towards our society’s security which we can’t just leave to the security personnel who are on the frontline.
Think about it this way. How would you label a person who consciously breaks laws and then pleads, browbeats, bullies or bribes his way out when caught? Interestingly, that depends on who the label is put on, doesn’t it? I mean, if this was a smuggler who was caught bringing RDX into the country and trying to bribe his way out, you could label him a terrorist who should be shown zero tolerance. But what about someone who jumps the red light and does exactly the same thing? Or acts haughty and irritated when the guard at the mall is just trying to do his job—of keeping our children safe (because we can be sure that his children are never going to be able to enter that mall).
From time immemorial, when faced with danger, every society has fronted its best warriors and adapted ways to protect its progeny and itself. And like long-distance running, improving our security posture is more of a mental realignment than physical discomfort. If we just worked at facilitating it, rather than being recalcitrant, security could be dovetailed into our way of life. Because any security regimen is like coach Glover’s training programme. It can advise the runner, motivate him, coach him, but the actual running has to be done by society and not the coach.
Raghu Raman is an expert on homeland security. Respond to this fortnightly column at email@example.com.