Moneyed Mumbai gets serious about security

Mumbai, December 22:

The billboard above The Pizzeria restaurant on Mumbai’s sweeping Marine Drive promenade changes regularly. This week it tells anyone who passes: “Recommended. Helmets and bulletproof vests for Mumbaiites.” As people in India’s financial and entertainment capital pick up the pieces from last month’s attacks, one firm is happy to oblige.

APK Trading and Investment, in south Mumbai’s Colaba district, is a stone’s throw from the Jewish cultural centre and a 10-minute walk from Leopold’s cafe, which were both targeted by militants on November 26.

The firm, which sells equipment such as metal detectors, searchlights and minefield shoes, this week placed a small front-page newspaper advert promoting bulletproof vests for anyone from the military and police to civilians.

“It’s a good time to advertise,” said one of its directors, Kavita Kapahi. “We’ve had a lot of enquiries from all sorts of people and a lot of quotations have gone out,” she told AFP.

Since the shooting stopped on November 29, even the normally politically apathetic moneyed classes have demonstrated on the streets, criticising the government for failing to prevent the attacks.

Elsewhere, well-heeled residents’ groups have been holding first-aid courses and drawing up emergency drills, while private security firms have reported a rise in interest.

One Mumbai resident, Bollywood megastar Amitabh Bachchan, even revealed that he had taken to sleeping with a loaded .32 revolver placed under his pillow. Calls asking about armour-plated cars and obtaining gun licences have reportedly surged.

For Wilson John, a security specialist at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi, the desire of Mumbaikars to protect themselves is a natural reaction to the three days of bloodshed.

But it is also a damning comment on India’s creaking state apparatus, he added.

For Pradeep Chak, marketing executive at security firm Topsgrup, the Mumbai attacks have shaken up complacent attitudes, particularly among corporate firms, who are now seeking to beef up security with the latest technology.

“Most of the time, security cover was seen as a cost by the organisation, not as an investment. You’re not spending money, you’re saving money,” he told AFP.

But despite talk of a new-found solidarity across the city, like much in Mumbai, the interest in bulletproof vests and armoured vehicles exposes the massive gulf between rich and poor.

While ordinary, working-class Mumbaikars have to make to do with government promises that security will be stepped up, the rich can act differently.

At APK, a basic civilian version of the Israeli-made body armour that protects against 9mm bullets is well beyond most people’s means at just under 50,000 rupees. Some potential customers have asked about more costly vests protecting against powerful AK-47 assault rifles.

Armour-plating for a regular car, meanwhile, costs about 500,000 rupees.