Angry Mumbai Wants Answers, Changes

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Uriel Sinai / Getty

Mumbai residents attend a candlelight vigil near the Oberoi hotel following a demonstration against the terrorist attacks on Nov. 30

The candlelight procession that drew hundreds of Mumbai residents out onto Marine Drive on Sunday was more than just a symbolic gesture of solidarity with those who had died or lost loved ones in the three-day terrorist attacks last week. The marchers were expressing their defiance in the face of those who had come to kill, and also their anger at the authorities for failing to protect their city and anger at the leaders seeking political advantage from the tragedy. Amid the mounting outrage at the authorities, the central government's Home Minister, Shivraj Patil — already under pressure in the wake of previous attacks — resigned, claiming moral responsibility for the attacks.

Terrorist attacks in India have increased in scale and frequency over the past decade. This year alone, the country's biggest cities — including New Delhi, Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Jaipur, among others — have suffered bomb blasts that have killed hundreds of people. Mumbai, the country's financial center, was attacked in a series of bombing in 1993 that killed 257 people, and again in the 2006 train bombings that killed 184. Each time, the city dusted itself off and got back to work, buoyed by the seemingly indomitable "Mumbai spirit." But this time, Mumbaikars aren't in a rush to restore normalcy; they want answers and they want changes. (See pictures of Mumbai in the aftermath of the attacks.)

"We've been attacked before," says Rohini Ramanathan, a radio talk-show host whose morning program has been flooded with emotional phone calls from listeners reacting to the massacre. "But after these recent attacks, people are saying let's not pretend everything's all right. We don't need to make a show of the Mumbai spirit when what we need now is to make sure this will not be forgotten, all will not be normal again."

The overwhelming sentiment among residents is one of having been let down. "Mumbai has been a bad scene for so many years," says Sheetal Javeri, an administration professional, emerging from CST, the railway terminal struck by terrorists on Wednesday night. "But the government has taken no steps. If five-star hotels can be targeted so easily, where is the common man to go?" She has little option but to use the commuter rail line despite the attacks. "But that doesn't mean I don't fear for my safety or my family's safety," she says. "They still don't know how many terrorists there were and how many may still be at large." Trisha Sethi, a media professional, says, "We're looking over our shoulders now. We're judging people now."

Each new detail that emerges about the city's three-day ordeal points to multiple failures by the security agencies, including the failure to intercept and heed intelligence; the failure to contain the terrorists and the damage they were able to inflict; and the failure to capture more than one terrorist alive in order to ascertain their identities, motives, origins and affiliations. But these failures are neither startling nor new. Indian security experts have for decades pointed at the need for a better intelligence-gathering system, from the police post up. And they say India needs more police officers — at the moment, the country has 122 officers for every 100,000 people, against the U.N.-mandated norm of at least 222 officers per 100,000 people. Currently, no more than 1.5% of police personnel are dedicated to intelligence duties.

For many Mumbai residents, the question is whether and how fast the authorities will repair the intelligence and security systems to withstand the challenges of the 21st century. "The terrorists have accomplished what they wanted," says Niranjan Ashar, who lives a few meters from CST. "We need to know what the government is going to do to make us feel safer. We need to know what systems they will devise. How will they ensure such an attack will never happen again?"

Eighty-year-old Behram Contractor loves the city that his Parsi community has played a vital role in building. "The Taj was built by a Parsi, because the big hotel, the Watson, wouldn't let Indians in," he says. But the city's politicians have lost Contractor's confidence. "Today Mumbai lies shattered because it is ruled by people with no conscience," he says, referring to the blame game currently taking place between the ruling Congress Party and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). On Nov. 28, while Mumbai was still in the grip of terrorism, the BJP released a campaign ad for state elections in Delhi that said, "Brutal terror strikes at will. Weak government: unwilling and incapable." Mumbai residents have also expressed disdain at political banners across Mumbai "saluting" slain police officials, with their sponsors' names mentioned prominently below.

While censure for the government is a common theme in the wake of terrorist attacks, some believe that Mumbai's people will have to lead a movement for change. Asit Bhansali is a financial adviser who has lived in his Marine Drive home for more than 40 years. "Normally, Mumbai has a dog-eat-dog mentality. There's no emotion; it's all about making money," he says. "But this time, the threat is too serious and too real ... Now we need change. We need to look beyond 'my life, my family, my business.' Someone's got to push this change, and it has to be us." As Ramanathan has been telling her radio listeners, "Start with getting your voter registration. Start by voting." Of course, it's precisely that expected backlash at the polls that politicians are positioning themselves to exploit.

See pictures of Mumbai sifting through the rubble.

See pictures of terror in Mumbai.