This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Grandstanding To Death

From September 2006

In the papers in Eastern India a lot of noise is being made about the killing of two so-called "bomb disposal experts" of the West Bengal Police in a Maoist mine blast. Although my own sympathies are completely with the Maoists in the present instance, let me act as a neutral and report on the episode as objectively as possible.
Briefly, what happened was this: on the morning of September 21, at a place called Lalgarh of West Midnapore district of West Bengal, villagers noticed a tree felled across a road bordering a forest. In its branches they saw a wire, and police, called to the scene at 8.30 am, removed the felled tree, exposing a stainless steel milk can, like the one below, partly buried in the earth.The wire emerged from this and vanished into the forest.

The police then summoned the Bomb Disposal Squad in Belpahari. This comprised "bomb disposal experts" constables Utpal Bhakta and Basudeb Chakraborty. By this time, 10 am, photographers and reporters had congregated at the spot. Bhakta and Chakraborty traced the red and black wire back to a black bag about 30 metres away. With photographers hanging around just behind him, which must have boosted his ego no end, Bhakta cut the wire and apparently assumed the bomb was safe. He made no attempt to investigate the contents of the bag. Neither Bhakta nor Chakraborty was wearing any kind of protective equipment, in fact they were not even in uniform but in white shirts and civilian trousers. Bhakta then dug the milk can out of the earth with a  knife, pulled it out with a hook at the end of a rope, and carried it by the handle to the roadside, putting it down where everyone could admire and photograph it.
Now began the second part of the comedy. Bhakta took a hammer and chisel, and, making no effort to evacuate the people from the area,  began trying to hammer the lid off the mine (it had been sealed with a waterproof adhesive). I can just see him thinking of the glory that would be his when he split the bomb open and displayed its innards to the reporters, who would ooh and aah and put his photo all over the paper. Next instant the bomb went off, blowing both the "experts" to pieces and injuring 27, some seriously. Among the injured were 9 policemen and at least 6 journalists, most of whom were standing over Bhakta admiring his handiwork. 
Now, however you try to spin this little episode, the stark fact is that the two so-called experts were killed as a result of their own grandstanding for the camera. There was no need whatsoever to pick up the can and display it for the camera, let alone try to open it with a hammer and chisel. We have all seen bomb disposal squads in action on TV, like the guy on the top left of this post, in helmets and body armour, who even then approach suspected mines carefully, build sandbag barriers around them, and then blow them up from a safe distance. None of them take insane risks like Utpal Bhakta and Basudeb Chakraborty did. It is extremely doubtful if they would have done this had the newspeople not been present. The ultimate responsibility for the deaths and injuries from this episode can be safely laid at the doors of the poisonous 24x7 news culture.

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