Sunday, November 30, 2008

The events of the last few days in Mumbai - the city of my birth - has brought terror to me in a manner most chilling. Terror has reached my doorstep! I do not live in Mumbai, however my wife and I have our parents and siblings and loads of friends who live there. I visit Mumbai every year and exactly 4 months ago I was dining at the Cafe Leopold and at the Taj hotel.

I am still numbed by the magnitude of the events and trying to balance sadness with anger while trying to think constructively as to what we can do to move ahead. The blogsphere is alive with posts, tweets, and groups on Facebook. People are voicing their apprehensions and giving advice.

But how does one control a heterogenous crowd of 19 million people? Even if, hypothetically, one were to restrict freedom and curtail the openness of Mumbai, it is a difficult task! Difficult but not impossble, if we think creatively and honestly.

I believe the answer lies in citizens getting more involved in how Mumbai is run and how the country is run. How? by getting involved in civic matters in your local environment. Why? To start some place small! To build trust! and to address issues that creates a sense of community. A community that is solution-focused and transcends boundaries of religion and social strata. Why? To understand how to share the responsibility with the authorities in creating a good place to live. This simple involvement will create an understanding of challenges and generate practical solutions. Those solutions will infect others and you will be infected by others. And then as the picture of the issues and potential solutions gets sharper; you can support politicians to make democracy work "for the people and by the people" on your terms. Your involvement will have created a sense of transparency and can be used to challenge politicians who are reluctant to change.

With what? Use social networking technologies like to create tools to make this work. Impossible? No! 2 years ago people dismissed claims that Barack Obama could be the next US president. With his roots in communty service, he has managed to galvanize millions to work for change. So lets start now and hopefully in two years we will have reached a milestone in creating a transparent society. A caring and just society. One that is proactive and bonded. One that destroys corruption.

Where to start? Begin by identifying the local politicians and what their promises were and what their responsibilities are. Confront them with this. Use the Right to Information Act and use social networking technology. Educate at the school-level! Educate at the ALM-level? Create networks with diaspora Mumbaikars! Grow at the grassroots! Leverage alumni networks and other action groups. Use this vast human resource that India prides itself with. Get involved!

A society that is transparent and proactive will never allow terrorists to operate in peace.

Comments please!

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