'Root of terrorism is communalism'

Jun 06, 2013, 07:11 IST | Asha Mahadevan

Mumbai Police Commissioner Dr Satyapal Singh stated that alertness should be our only religion

Dr Satyapal Singh, Commissioner of Police, Mumbai, explained the major security challenges facing the city and how we can keep Mumbai safe at an interactive meeting organised by the Indian Merchants’ Chamber (IMC) and the Federation of the Accommodation Industry of India at the IMC Building, Churchgate, on Tuesday evening.

German Bakery in Pune after the blast in February 2010

Keeping the mood light, even though it was a “serious subject”, Singh listed terrorism, organised crime and maintaining communal harmony as among the major challenges facing Mumbai, alongside cyber crime, economic offences, VIP security and coastal security. The audience consisting of businessmen, delegates, activists and even a professor or two, listened raptly as Singh spoke beyond the expected one hour, explaining how due to Mumbai’s high population, it is difficult for the police force to ensure the city is safe.

Cops inspect the wreckage of a bike at Zaveri Bazaar after the bomb blast took place in July 2011

“There is one policeman for every 300 Mumbaikars, and that is only if we are considering the population in the census, and not the floating population. The police public ratio in New York City is 1:166, in London is 1:127 and in Kolkata is 1:173,” he said.

That’s why it is even more important that the population stays alert. “Alertness should be our religion,” he said. “Not Hinduism, Islam or Christianity. If we become religiously alert, then we will be safe. Wherever we go, even if it is to the mall, we should be alert.” Singh and his team have been spreading awareness in various parts of the city. To highlight the importance of being alert, Singh gave two examples. The first one was about the German Bakery Blast in Pune in February 2010.

Dr Satyapal Singh, Commissioner of Police, Mumbai

“Three times we had given in writing to the establishment that it was vulnerable with so many foreigners visiting it regularly. They did not take any measures. On the day of the blast, the bag (with the bomb) lay there under the table for 86 minutes. A waiter reported to the manager that the bag lay unattended, and it was 20 minutes after that, the blast took place.

Public awareness is most important.” Singh’s second example was about a drill that his team undertook a couple of weeks ago. “We placed a bag in Zaveri Market to see public awareness. No one bothered about it. One taxi driver saw it, and he took the bag into his taxi and started opening it!” said Singh, to nervous laughter from the audience.

Discussing the spread of terrorism, Singh said, “The root of terrorism is in the mind. The root of terrorism is communalism. It is not possible that everybody will be just like us. We should respect diversity. Diversity is the beauty of nature. When we see differences between us, fear is developed in the mind. When there is fear, there is intolerance and hatred.

When there is intolerance and hatred, there is violence. Everything starts in the mind. That’s why we should control the mind.” To impact minds, it is necessary to start when they are young. Singh said he and his team have been spreading awareness through campaigns in educational institutions. “The impressionable minds are in schools and colleges. If you can inculcate this feeling in them, then Mumbai will be safe,” he said. 

According to Singh, terrorism has three main ingredients. The first one is educated youth who are brainwashed into becoming terrorists. “These are engineers and doctors, not illiterate youth,” said Singh. He added that taking drugs has become a fashion amongst youth, which makes the city even more unsafe. “A drug addict can easily agree to keep a bag in a train for a few thousand rupees. Drug addicts are vulnerable, they make the department vulnerable and so you are vulnerable.” 

The second ingredient is subverting institutions through corruption. Addressing the businessmen in the audience, Singh said, “If you can smuggle contraband into the city without paying octroi, so can the terrorists. If you can get a driving licence without appearing for a driving test, then so can the terrorist. In such cases, the city can never be safe.” The third ingredient is division of society in the name of caste, religion and language. “If we have a divide, we can’t be safe as terrorist organisations can take advantage of it.”

Singh then explained the things that one should do in order to help make Mumbai safe. “Firstly, don’t believe in superstition,” he said and recalled an incident involving the 26/11 terrorist Ajmal Kasab. “When Kasab was interrogated, he said that he had been told that as a shaheed (martyr), he will attain jannat (heaven), his dead body will smell sweet and his face will have a glow.

He was then taken to the morgue where the other nine terrorists were lying dead, and he was asked, ‘Are their bodies smelling sweet? Do their faces have a glow?’ We have millions of scientists and astrophysicists but no one has claimed they have seen heaven. We can create heaven or hell here on earth.” 

Singh said, “Secondly, criminals can become terrorists. Don’t tolerate a criminal as your neighbour. If you do so today, he will rob you tomorrow.” Coming to his third point, he said, “Inform the police immediately when you see a suspicious person, activity or thing. If you are in a train, don’t think you will get down at the next station and then call us. Everyone has a mobile phone nowadays. A minute’s delay can cost lives.”

Singh explained that he interacted with the police force in Boston, USA, earlier this week and stressed the importance of having CCTV cameras. (Their footage proved crucial in identifying the Boston Marathon bombers.) However, when one audience member questioned him on why footage from CCTV cameras was unable to pinpoint the perpetrator in the Bandra acid attack case, he dodged the question and said, “We still lack security consciousness.

We must become responsible citizens.” When another member asked him why anyone will disclose corruption activities risking their safety, Singh assured him, “We will ensure protection for whistleblowers.” Singh ended his talk by summing it up in one line: “I am here to appeal to you to join hands with the police to make the city safe and secure for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren,” he said to appreciative applause.

By the numbers

Number of places in the city identified as being vulnerable to terrorists

Number of VIPs visiting the city everyday

Number of foreign tourists visiting the city everyday

Number of calls the Mumbai police’s main helpline gets every day. The women’s helpline gets 600-700 calls daily

Approximate number of new vehicles registered in the city every working day 

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