Everyday Terror. Both sophisticated and simple. Both real and present. Both alien and our very own. Reading Raghu Raman’s book called Everyman’s War brought it forth in clear, crisp and accessible terms.While he speaks more of what feeds grander terror networks, now and in the future, I am reminded of everyday terror that we tolerate, allowing it to grow.
Feeling safe in India is merely a childhood memory. I am a woman, in North India. Living in a state of terror is how it has always been. It was not just the transistor bombs that were placed in DTC buses in the eighties – there were larger battles being fought in various states. To this day, I enter a bus and look under seats, and look with suspicion at places where things may be wedged. Better still, I do not travel in buses. Public transport brings with it the fear of the various kinds of terror that infests the daily lives of us all.
First, of course, the obvious – the fear of bombs. They could be planted anywhere there are people. It takes little to have us live in fear forever. Then, Second: the fear of social terror – inappropriate touch. Or worse. For years we have imprisoned ourselves in our very real fears because of social predators. The night of December 16 stands testament to the fear and the fight.
Third: public health and hygiene – I could catch a disease. A real fear in a nation of incurable strands of tuberculosis (a response to poor monitoring of antibiotic dosage?), poor public hygiene (yes, men do their business on the streets, where do they wash their hands afterwards?), the diseases spread by spit and bodily fluids that seep through gutter water in puddles and potholes. Then of course, the very real chance of a strained back, spondilytis and asthma from the conditions that exist on our roads. With clear consequences to our productivity and economic value.
Four: The real and present danger from the terror of a job badly done: Wires left hanging can electrocute. Gutters left open suck children through long distances before their bodies are found. A road dug up and not refilled – not my department syndrome. Or even a sudden part of the middle of the road that has come away, suddenly popping up in front of a speeding driver.
Fifth: The terror of rules not followed. Accidents due to drivers on the wrong side of the road. Accidents due to overspeeding. Because drivers do not care to watch all around and drive where their nose leads them. Myopic road sense sans care. To walk on the road is to walk in fear. And this merely reflects other types of brazen rule breaking that endangers our structures and safety.
Six: Petty crime. No need to elaborate – but who has walked on the road and felt their wallet and jewellery safe? Which woman does not walk with her purse firmly tucked under her arm. Who would even purchase a purse to be used on Indian streets without a series of zips that locks us into safety? Is this terror? Yes, because it escalates. We now face terror of the lawless entitled – those who pull guns if you honk at them to give way as they straddle two lanes on the road. This ability to get away with no consequences too feeds the monster that continues to grow, clearly out of hand.
Last, and the most important: The terror of Nobody Cares. Knowing that if anything goes wrong, I could be lying on the street, slowly bleeding, where I could be saved, but will not. Because everyone will walk past. Uncaring.
We live this everyday, and yet we do not fight them as we fight terror. They feed each other. Raghu Raman, in his new book brings these together, weaving a tale of the battles against terror that must be fought with engagement by all, because the landscape of terror includes us all. The war is at our doorstep. And must be fought with all the weapons we have – guns, information, training, kindness, care, observation, intelligence and more. Connecting the dots, bringing the grand vision and real stories together, he simplifies the arena of terror. Bringing it right to our doorstep, he traces the paths that terror chains take, reminding us of the implications of the little acts of callousness in our daily lives.
Much of what he wrote resonated as I crossed three airports the day before the high-terror-alert independence day. Every moment was a moment of alertness, of awareness of potential danger, of bureaucracy finding ridiculous solutions (what was that hand written journal of ticket numbers and names noted down after a pat down?) and of crisp incompetence (they scanned my purse twice, emptied of laptops, phones, chargers, circuits – and could not spot the bottle of water I had forgotten in there). Armed personnel everywhere, roads to airports manned as if it was the road out of Srinagar. And yet, security personnel deployment is not security.
The battle is long, and may never be won. The book is well timed, and a reminder of the big picture that we need to see, and the little actions we need to perform. As he rightly says – the hero is us. Everyday. The battle against terror is about zero tolerance, and the fight for right. By doing what is right. And this is everyman’s war.