Cyril Shroff on the Mumbai Attacks

Question: How did the Mumbai attacks change India’s attitude toward terrorism?

Cyril Shroff: It’s a landmark event in our psyche.  We were always worried about terrorism which was mainly cross-border. In the initial years we thought of it essentially as a problem that was effectively centered around Kashmir and there were sporadic incidence across the country.

But I think 26/11 changed a lot of that because it made us all realize how vulnerable we are and how soft the target we are. Mumbai which is such a prominent commercial city and how easy it was for a bunch of 10 to 15 young boys effectively to come and hold a city to ransom for nearly four days and occupy the attention of the whole world just showed how weak we are. And I’m sure Mumbai is not the only city which can if they decided to do it, in any other European city as well, I’m sure they will find a way because they are determined and have belief that really have nothing to loose. 

How do I view the security situation? I say with a lot of trepidation because everyday we open the newspapers and we see the situation on our western border deteriorating and our heart sink lower and lower everyday. We don’t know where that is going to end but we are really relying upon Washington to help us resolve this.

Look at the way India reacted. Did it post-26/11 take a bunch of fighter aircraft and bombed these camps out of existence. They could have done that I’m sure but I think the outcome of that would have been far worse. This is probably what those behind the attacks were looking for, and I’m glad that our government was mature enough not to fall into that trap. 

Question: What action are you taking to reform security?

Cyril Shroff: So a bunch of like-minded citizens like myself be filed a public interest litigation in our high court in Mumbai seeking mandatory judicial reliefs for police reform, because we thought one of the factors that would be essential for preventing in recurrence of this in the future would be a stronger security set up, a more empowered police and this case is pending in our high court. Our judiciary has got quite interested. 

The reason why I did this was that India and particularly people in urban cities have over a period of time have got anesthetizes to some of these incidents that were happening everyday. 26/11 of course was different but it was perhaps too careless to assume that the Mumbai spirit of tolerance will take us through even such incidents and we had to do something about it. So we wanted to have a positive action in a more civilized way which was not backward-looking but was meant towards finding a solution and this initiative that was taken by me and a few others received a lot of support and I do hope that this case goes through and eventually something comes out of it. But people are at the superficial level, they’re back to business as usual but 26/11 I think has left a deep scar on people’s minds.

Question: How have the attacks affected business in India?

Cyril Shroff: One thing it certainly has done is I think every businessman in India or somebody doing business with India recognizing terrorist risk as now an important business consideration. I think the cost of business, doing business in India has gone up. It fundamentally hasn’t affected people’s views on India as yet because people believe that this is something which is a global phenomenon. Terrorism is not confined in it’s, in its damaging impact only doing the defects on number of other countries as well. 

So while at one level has been taken in stride it has increased a cost of doing business. No one in the world is saying, we’re not going to do business in India, because it is a high risk target. On the contrary. In fact the West went out of its way to demonstrate solidarity with us. As lawyers there was an important delegation of the American Bar Association which we hosted in on the Mumbai leg they came to India in early January. Post 26/11 have given them the option to cancel the trip and said, we’re not going to do that. We are going to be in Mumbai because this is exactly what the terrorist wants us to do and we’re not going to do that. So the West has shown extraordinary support. 

Recorded on: April 29, 2009

The lawyer considers terrorism’s impact on Indian society, business and police powers.

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