Just when Union Health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad had come visiting the bomb blast site at Dilsukhnagar in Hyderabad, a junior Congress functionary broke out into a flurry of abuses and indulged in fisticuffs with the policemen when being denied entry near the leader. He did not quite manage to elbow his way in, given that several other heavyweight Congress leaders were already in attendance on the conducted tour.
On the busy Dilsukhnagar main road, traffic had been stopped to make way for the VVIP convoy. The siren of an ambulance that was stuck in the jam sounded for a while before falling silent, perhaps realising that the Health minister was priority over the health of the patient inside the vehicle.
A senior IPS officer standing by my side, while Azad mumbled condolence soundbites to TV cameras, muttered, "We are waiting for these political jamborees to end before we start some serious investigative work.''
However, the Congress isn't the only guilty of indulging in 'political jamborees'. The Telugu Desam Party and the BJP have jostled for airtime in bouts of competitive politics. With elections just an year away, they have found reason to be present where the cameras are. So while former home minister Devender Goud of the TDP demanded the resignation of the Congress government, the BJP is convinced the terror attack is revenge for hanging 2001 Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru and points the finger of accusation at Pakistan.
By late Friday evening, curious onlookers had gathered, keen to see the blast site at close quarters. Some even posed for pictures in front of the charred two-wheelers. Of course, there were a few who quietly mourned the loss of precious lives even as different TV channels indulged in sponsored candle journalism on air.
The place was briefly dominated by groups carrying BJP flags, again obstructing flow of traffic. Slogans of 'Bharat Mata ki jai', 'Pakistan murdabad' and 'Jai Shri Ram' rent the air. It was also a field day for lumpen elements, who spared no opportunity to behave indecently with women. And by the time it was 10 pm, there were several in high spirits, who were aggressively demanding they have their say on live television.
The situation was no better 24 hours earlier. On Thursday evening, soon after the twin blasts within 150 m of each other, the scene opposite the Dilsukhnagar bus station was a lesson in how not to cope with the aftermath of a bomb blast. The injured were lifted sans stretchers by onlookers eager to help but without realising that lifting someone with a spine or neck injury by his hands and legs could paralyse him for life. In an attempt to reach the nearest hospital during the golden hour, patients were moved even in autorickshaws. The presence of the Chief Minister at the spot meant the focus of the police was on ensuring his security, rather than helping in relief and collection of forensic evidence. The media jamboree that followed only compounded the problem.
Despite its frequent dates with terror attacks, India has never developed or followed a protocol in reacting to such tragedies. The police takes inordinately long in cordoning off the area and keep the area sterile to ensure collection of quality forensic evidence. Kiran Kumar Reddy in fact gently berated journalists for endangering themselves by stepping on live wires, while walking around the spot.
Even during such incidents, hospitals admit and attend to patients on a first-come-first-seen basis instead of on the basis of the nature of injury. VIPs make a beeline to hospitals, even entering ICUs to visit patients in a critical state, having undergone surgery. On the night of the blast, there were over 500 people - mainly local politicians and journalists - demanding entry into Yashoda and Osmania hospitals. Such behaviour only puts tremendous pressure on the hospital's medical and paramedical staff and diverts their attention from the job at hand.
Which is why it is time India develops its protocol in dealing with such terror attacks. The onus is different groups in society at large to put a system in place. Here are some suggestions:
One, ban bomb blast tourism immediately. It reduces everyone to vultures, making a mockery of the tragedy. Let no politician visit a blast site in the first 48 hours, leaving the field clear for the police and medical staff to do their job.
Two, a dead body should not be treated as just a statistic. Treat the deceased with respect because the trauma that the near and dear ones go through is unimaginable.
Three, the government has to think beyond announcing ex-gratia compensation and behaving as if it has done its duty. A system for rehabilitation has to be put in place.
Four, ensure every department involved in the relief and investigation deputes a senior person to brief the media and disseminate information. This will prevent rumours from floating around.
And five, the media needs to develop a code of conduct and ensure journalists follow it. This business of boasting of exclusives with victims from inside ICUs and reporting from 'ground zero' has to stop. I hope Justice Katju and the National Broadcasters Association are listening.
Updated Date: Feb 23, 2013 19:59 PM