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Raising social consciousness is the first step

Raising social consciousness is the first step
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First Published: Wed, Feb 24 2010. 10 26 PM IST

Updated: Wed, Feb 24 2010. 10 26 PM IST
Last fortnight saw the end of a 14-month hiatus from terror attacks. Fifteen lives were lost in a bomb blast in Pune, underscoring the sad fact that each day we move from the last strike is a day closer to the next one.
This week, I want to talk about an aspect which is particularly relevant for a society to be co-opted into the battle against terrorism. About realizing that fighting terrorism begins much closer than we think.
Twenty-three years ago, Second Lieutenant Alok Singh was commissioned into the Indian Army. Those were turbulent years for our forces. Terrorism was still raging in Punjab and we had a full-blown war in Sri Lanka. Singh was launched straight into operations in some of the toughest combat spots as part of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka. And he showed the finest tradition of the Indian Army winning the Veer Chakra, one of the country’s highest gallantry awards.
Last week, Singh was killed in a hit-and-run accident in upmarket south Delhi. That fact in itself is unremarkable, given that thousands of people die in accidents in India each year.
What was incredible was that this war hero lay on the road bleeding for over three hours before he was taken to a hospital. He left behind ageing parents, a wife and two young boys whose world was shattered within minutes.
Like all other families that lose their loved ones, there was bewilderment as to why the hundreds of passers-by, motorists and pedestrians, who saw Singh mangled on the road, didn’t help him.
I can appreciate the fear in the driver, who actually hit him and ran, but I find it hard to understand the apathy of those who followed and did nothing.
On 13 February, a bomb explosion took place in Pune. A week later, Maoist rebels slaughtered 25 paramilitary personnel and three days later, killed 12 more, but on the very same day, prominent English-language dailies led with the news that India was indeed No. 1 in cricket.
Lest we choose the easy way out, and chide the newspapers, let us be clear that they are a mirror of the society, not its conscience keepers.
I like cricket as much as the next guy, but when a nation reeling under devastating attacks accords priority to a national pastime over national security, I think it is time to join the dots and extrapolate the big picture.
Just what does it take for us to be shaken out of this sense of individual and collective apathy? At what point will there be a realization that security and safety cannot be left to a few million soldiers and paramilitary personnel. And that zero tolerance must begin with behavioural changes at the very basic levels and not grandiose strategies across borders.
In his book The Tipping Point, Malcom Gladwell chronicled the saga of New York city being brought back from the brink of crime-ridden collapse.
The starting point of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s battle against the literal underworld of New York tube service was a refusal to accept dirty trains. He understood the concept of the “broken window”, which postulates that when the window of an abandoned house is first broken, and no one fixes it, then more windows get broken.
United we stand: Locals participate in a candlelight vigil for victims of the Pune blast. PTI
The broken windows act as a signal that no one is in charge and so pretty soon the entire building is defaced. Next the vagrants and dope dealers start hanging around this building and before you know it, it becomes the crime street headquarters. But it all starts with that first broken window, which wasn’t fixed as soon as it was broken.
The condoning of that basic act was the starting point of social degeneration. It is high time that we identify our broken windows. They could be something as simple as being uncompromising on traffic regulations and keeping at it until there is a cultural shift. Until red light jumping, speeding, lane breaking and every act of impudence and disregard for social norms is stamped out.
As a matter of fact—it should ideally be something simple, almost banal, but requiring resolute steadfastness to eradicate. Zero tolerance needs to begin at ground zero.
While terrorism may have become a label for fundamentalist activists, stamping it out begins with zero tolerance towards all unacceptable behaviour. Because if we don’t pay attention to how these dots are joining, we may soon have no choice, but to tolerate.
Raghu Raman is an expert on homeland security. These are the author’s personal views.
Respond to this fortnightly column at crosshairs@livemint.com
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First Published: Wed, Feb 24 2010. 10 26 PM IST