In Correspondents Report, the ABC’s [Australian Broadcasting Corporate] overseas reporters give their interpretation and analysis of the week’s major events.
ELIZABETH JACKSON: This month’s bombing of Delhi’s high court is the seventh terrorist attack in India in the past 18 months.
The frequency of these incidents suggests India’s government and security forces are incapable of preventing regular attacks on their own soil.
Those that can afford it resort to employing their own guards to protect their homes and businesses from crime and acts of terror.
But as our India correspondent Richard Lindell reports, increased security on the street is not necessarily making people safer.
RICHARD LINDELL: The last time I travelled to India was just after the terrorist attack on Mumbai in 2008.
So when I arrived here for my posting almost a year ago, one of the things that struck me was the increased security and police presence.
India’s government and private sector had clearly stepped up its security effort. You can find evidence of this everywhere: at hotels, at malls, at government buildings, even at home.
Yet for me, security is a source of frustration and at times, comic relief. And it’s not that I don’t think it’s necessary, it’s just that at the end of the process, I don’t feel any safer.
When I go to the mall, I pass through a number of checkpoints.
First the car – open the boot, open the glove box, the routine is always the same and no guard ever bothers to check the contents.
After parking the car, I walk through a metal detector that may or may not be switched on.
I then submit to a pat down. It’s also a half hearted affair and what’s in my pockets remain a mystery to my friendly guard.
Some days, I’ll play my role in this charade several times over as I move from office to office or mall to mall.
We also have a guard at home. But when we come home late at night, it takes a number of loud blows on the horn to wake the guard from his slumber as he’s sprawled across two chairs in the driveway.
If I’m not driving, I easily slip past him after unbolting the metal latch and closing the squeaky gate behind me with a thud.
It always brings a smile to my face. Anyway, I like my guard, and who can blame him for sleeping on the job given his appalling pay and conditions.
The police aren’t much better. They’re ill-equipped, poorly trained and even more poorly paid.
During high alerts, I’ll often see half a dozen standing around in a group having a chat, rather than one or two.
Terror expert Ajai Sahni is scathing of what passes for security in India
AJAI SAHNI: In the absence of anything else being done it has a minor deterrent value on amateurs. As far as trained, committed terrorists are concerned all the static positioning of force is a complete waste of time and money. This is a fraud intended to create a false sense of security in the larger population.
RICHARD LINDELL: Professor Dipankar Gupta is a sociologist and former member of the National Security Advisory Board.
He says what’s needed is an independent and well trained police force, but says such reforms work against the political and personal interests of those in power.
DIPANKAR GUPTA: There are two elements that work side by side. One is we don’t want to lose control over the police and number two is if we have good personnel we have to change the way we do policing and by changing the way we do policing these police officers will become qualified, confident of themselves, have a certain degree of self respect and we’re does that leave us? I mean the politicians or the leaders.
RICHARD LINDELL: India’s government can provide security when it wants to.
Airport security is process driven, regimented and thorough. Major events including the Cricket World Cup and Commonwealth Games were secure and numerous world leaders have been kept safe during state visits over the past year.
So why is day to day security beyond the government?
Professor Gupta again.
DIPANKAR GUPTA: When these incidents happen, and this is a sorry commentary on our society, but when poorer people get killed there isn’t much anguish in the newspapers at least, people aren’t really bothered that much and the poor people too are used to that.
You know, a life is not a life, it depends what kind of life. This is a kind of lackadaisical attitude, “it doesn’t really concern me or concern people like us”. You may have heard the phrase “PLU” in India, “people like us”.
The notion of citizenship, that idea of citizenship is not really deeply ingrained within us, there are people and people, and yes we’re citizens in a manner of speaking and under the law but not quite so in practice and not quite so certainly in terms of our emotional relationship with one another.
RICHARD LINDELL: So why the disconnect?
Maybe it’s because in India everything is magnified. The grinding poverty is so intense, the social issues so immense, it’s overwhelming.
The survival instinct kicks in and those who can afford to block out the harsh realities of daily life.
When I first came to India, I didn’t understand how such extremes of wealth and poverty could live side by side, how the well-off could go about their daily life seemingly without guilt and without care.
But now a year later, it’s me seeking refuge in my nice home, protected by my guard and housekeeper, it’s me shopping and eating in the shiny new malls and it’s me living in a bubble that only money can buy.
But money only buys so much. An air-conditioned car is no protection against the wrenching sight and sound of a child tapping on the window for a few rupees, nor does an air-conditioned home stop the smell of sewerage rising up through the laundry or dirty water running from the taps.
I could go on. The bubble often bursts.
As it should. It shakes us out of our slumber and perhaps it helps us care a little more for those around us, like my guard asleep in the driveway.
This is Richard Lindell in New Delhi for Correspondents Report.
[ Australian Broadcasting Corporation ]