The lackadaisical attitude of security personnel manning malls and cineplexes even as the festive season rush begins is worrying and must be tackled on a priority basis. In surprise checks last week, the police reported a staggering level of unpreparedness in some of Delhi's malls, where plainclothes policemen breezed in with dummy bombs and arms and went undetected.
While mall owners valiantly try to squirm out of this, we must admit that we are not surprised. Malls, cineplexes, and for that matter, any public area in India are anything but secure. As we have seen so often, tall claims that every precaution has been taken come apart each time there is a mishap. Indians know that they risk life and limb when venturing into any public area. Hence, the tendency to look out for oneself, pushing, and jumping queues, with total disregard that such activities add to problems in the event of a mishap.
In Delhi, for instance, there is one practice that can neither be wished away nor understood. The police seem to create traffic jams by installing 'barriers', which have little 'security' impact and are roadblocks. The slowed-down traffic is not even checked as the police can be found literally on the side, their job over by dragging a barricade across the road.
This is replicated in every market and public area. We walk through endless numbers of metal detectors, only to see many others bypassing the detector and jumping over cordons. The cavalier attitude of our police and private security personnel results in citizens opting for their own course of action in the event of an emergency. Such a public response, it must be recognised, creates half the problem and leads to more casualties. Citizen awareness and orientation to a basic drill of evacuation and helping secure public places should form an integral part of any security-delivery mechanism. It is a futile exercise to only point fingers at the men in uniform. With the festival season here, all this becomes ever more imperative. Whether it is the design of shamianas/pandals for Durga pujas and Diwali melas in all cities, or deploying security personnel trained in crowd management, citizens must be made more aware of navigating public areas.
It is sheer lethargy and a fatalistic outlook that drive our current preparedness to face an emergency in a public area and holds our security hostage. Our cities will never be secure unless people start to invest in the process. Safety, literally, begins with you.