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Opt for theatre not terrorism: Thane Police to vulnerable Mumbai youths

Ashwin Aghor | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:51 IST

New venture

  • Thane police starts street play competition
  • Aims to connect with vulnerable youths prone to radicalisation

More in the story

  • Why is the Mumbai police stuck in a vicious cycle?

The city of Mumbai is no stranger to terror attacks or terror outfits. Its adjoining cities Thane and Navi Mumbai have always been an easy target and a hotbed for terrorist activity. These cities have been victims of several such attacks, including serial bomb blasts and the infamous 26/11 attacks.

Read: Terror Central? why arrest of 'ISIS India chief' puts Thane under the lens

Many innocent lives were claimed and huge property losses were incurred by the government, as well as citizens. After each attack, the state government and police departments sit and 'brainstorm' ways to trace the perpetrators. As routine practice, they press the informers into action, make a few arrests, and file charge-sheets against those arrested and the 'absconding' masterminds of the attacks. They then proceed to pat their backs for a job well done.

As a result they have never managed to really identify the root of the problem and have continually missed arriving at a constructive solution. Up until now that is.

Reaching out to the youth

The department spends huge amounts of money on anti-terror advertisements. But the expenditure has been in vain because the campaigns have not yet yielded desired results. "It was after much deliberation that we decided to approach the youth through a street play competition," said Vijay Bhise, senior police inspector, ATC, Thane police.

Bhise and his team arrived at the conclusion that college students and those in their early and mid 30s were highly vulnerable to radicalisation and needed to be attended to.

Also read- Mumbai terror attacks: Ajmal Kasab shot her in the leg, now she wants to be IPS officer

"The recent incident, wherein youths in their early 30s were radicalised and some even left the country to join the terror outfit ISIS, has been giving us sleepless nights. After much brainstorming we identified the root cause of the problem and decided to reach out to the vulnerable youths to become a barrier between them and the terrorists."

The idea of the street play was appreciated and approved by senior officials like the Commissioner of Police Parambeer Singh and Joint Commissioner of Police Ashutosh Dumbre. A team of ATC put together the concept of a street play competition involving college students from across Thane Police Commissionerate.

"We just gave the theme for the street plays. Students were asked to write and direct the plays as per their imagination and creativity. The response to the competition was overwhelming. In all 34 teams from colleges across the Commissionerate participated in the competition, out of which eight made it to the finals. The finals are scheduled for 10 March at Thane," Bhise said.

Mumbai has been a target of repeated terror attacks. The police and govt have so far failed to tackle it

Apart from the competition, the police officials also floated the idea of 'Police Mitra' (Friends of Police). This is meant to be a group on social media to counter the terror outfits targeting innocent youths online.

"We had distributed feedback forms to all the students in Thane, Kalyan, Dombivli, Ulhasnagar and Bhivandi on Police Mitra. We were taken aback when over 4,500 students across these cities expressed willingness to be a part of this group," Bhise said, adding, "If they can brainwash the innocent youths, we also can do the same and be the barrier between the terrorist and the youths of our country."

A sketchy situation

Sleeper cells and terror modules continue to operate and radicalise vulnerable youths and recruit them to carry out acts of terror. These radicalised youngsters are even sent out of India for arms and explosives training. The vicious cycle continues despite police claiming to have eliminated the anti-national networks time and again.

It seems that the police department and government have ignored the root cause of the problem and were busy building superficial remedies. Given the number of terror attacks and the ease with which they have been executed, it is amply clear that the police and intelligence agencies are either lacking in their efforts, or have failed in their diagnosis of the root problem so far.

The police are reaching out to vulnerable youths through street plays and hoping to prevent radicalisation

Thane city and district have had a peculiar connection to all the anti-national and terror acts carried out in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region over last two decades. It has become a practise with Mumbai and Thane police to descend on the dingy alleys in Mumbra and Bhivandi, the suburbs of Thane and also parts of Navi Mumbai, and arrest a few small fishes who would be of no use in reaching the real masterminds. The police department, then seemingly goes into hibernation till the next terror attack or bomb blast.

Since Thane city and district have always been at the centre of controversy for providing logistical support to the perpetrators, the Anti Terror Cell (ATC) of Thane Crime branch decided to remove the blot through these street plays.

Thane police have always been at the receiving end of criticism. "To overcome this taboo, we decided to target the root cause and intervene at the point when students and youths get radicalised, and become terror sympathisers in the name of religion. We decided to brainwash the vulnerable youths against the perpetrators," Bhise said.

Edited by Anna Verghese

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First published: 2 March 2016, 7:47 IST
Ashwin Aghor @CatchNews

Journalist based in Mumbai.