Saturday, December 6, 2008

Do candlelight vigils work?

In light of the recent Bombay terror attack, several citizens and groups have come together in an unprecedented way to show support and solidarity to the victims of this tragic incident, as well as pull up the authorities for severely letting down the citizenry, by holding candle-light vigils, 1/2/3 minute silences, etc. The biggest such meeting was held at the Gateway of India on Sunday, November 30, two days after the deadly siege ended that killed around 200 people and injured around 1,000. But do these candle-light vigils, public show of solidarity/outcry help? 

Yesterday, I was standing at the Nariman Point bus-stop to catch a bus to go home around 19.45 hrs. The roads were quite empty and office goers were waiting to catch the next bus home, on my opposite side where the road goes to VT station, there was a long queue waiting for their BEST buses. Suddenly a large group of citizens, shouting slogans like "Bharat Maata Ki Jai", armed with a loudspeaker playing patriotic songs like "Chhodon kal ki baatein, kal ki baat puraani...." showed up. It was a procession of young children and they were roller-skating their way ahead. Nobody was walking, everybody was roller-skating. It was evident that they were on the streets to protest against the recent terror attack. Within seconds, there was traffic jam and packed buses, waiting to ferry tired working class people home, were caught up in a mile or two long traffic jam. Was it all worth it? 

Would there be no future terrorist attacks because these little children got on streets and caused a massive traffic jam during peak hours? Will our politicians be moved by this emotional show of solidarity and suddenly change their ways? They inconvenienced everyone else who were not a part of that procession.  This is what my uncle, Rusi Tavadia, an Indian-born settled in USA says and his sentiments are reflected by many Indians who have left India to settle abroad, fed-up of our country's corruption: "Holding Morchas with the slogans is not going to bring any radical results.  Indian politicians are such thick pig skinned people that the morchas mean nothing to them.  At this point, people should rise against the government, stop paying taxes and elect fresh blood.  It is easy to say than done, but until the political thugs are exposed for their illegal actions, nothing is going to happen and I am afraid things will continue status-quo."

There have been lot of candlelight vigils that Bombay and India has seen. I remember there was one in - I think - Azad Maidan when the holy well of Bhikha-Behram in Fountain, opposite the telegraph and VSNL offices, was vandalised and its precious stained glass was stolen. The Bhikha-Behram well is a very holy site for Parsees. 2,000 Zoroastrians turned up, including Pheroza Godrej. Former police commissioner Julio Rebeiro also turned up to show his support. What happened? People came, talked, protested, lamented, grieved and then went back home. More than four years have passed and the thieves are still at large, they were never caught. I am not much in favour of these candle-lit vigils and I have never attended one. 

However, there is something unique happening these days I am noticing. The recent Bombay terror attack has resulted in a public outcry I have never seen before. Not even a single (non-political) soul sympathises with the government and thinks that they are not at fault. Everyone is unanimous and firmly believe that the government and politicians have let us down. Such is the public outcry this time, that the media is shouting (not literally though like Rajdeep Sardesai, but in a way that do not require ear-plugs) about how the machinery is a big let-down and several such key issues. Citizens are finding courage and will to name politicians and remind of their attitude. Nobody is spared. The Deshmukhs, Patils, Advanis, Gandhis, Thackerys, Modis and even the Karats of the world, all of them are getting their just dues. Nasty and sarcastic SMSs are forwarded with vigour reminding us of how they have let us down. Newspapers have covered, on their front pages, the Gateway of India candlelight vigil where people are shown holding up placards with severe criticism of how the political machinery has let us down. This newspaper report claims that former Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh almost survived despite taking Ram Gopal Verma on the Taj Terror Tourism package, but the Gateway of India candle-lit vigil did him in. Amazing what a citizen's movement can do. 

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