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Parents and police on toes as Navratri nights near

Ahmedabad, Sept. 29: Last year, Trishul Trapasia’s parents kept worrying that their 19-year-old son and their neighbour’s daughter might stray from the straight and the narrow during the night-long revelry that accompanies the Navratri festivities. This year, they fear for his life.

The nine-day non-stop celebrations, when sweets and crackers run out of stock, is going to be an introspective, low-key affair this time when the festival Gujaratis most eagerly await kicks off on October 7.

Even Trishul sounds circumspect. “Gujaratis were already broken when the earthquake shook our lives and Godhra happened. And now the communal riots and the fear of terrorists,” he says. “We didn’t need any of these. Of course, everyone is a bit jittery.”

“Jittery” may be an understatement for the thousands of parents who would now think twice before sending their children to the noisy, crowded Garbas that start in the evening and often last till the wee hours of the morning. “Garbas always happen in vast empty spaces that cannot be properly barricaded. How can anyone feel safe after the terrorist attack on the Swaminarayan temple' I will try convincing my two children to give the Garbas a miss this time,” says Vipul Togadia.

But more than anybody else, it is the administration, especially police, that is worried. “We are mooting a proposal to cut short Garba timings and wind up the festivities by 11 pm. Though this idea will come for a lot of stick from revellers, there will also be many who will volunteer to abide by it. Everyone knows things are not what they used to be,” says Maniram, additional director general (law and order), Ahmedabad.

The police are ready to provide two guards at each Garba site, but they know it will be far from enough if a serious attack takes place. “There are thousands of Garbas all over the state which have millions participating in it. We cannot afford to spare more than two policemen,” Maniram says. “We will ask each Garba organiser to arrange for at least 50 private security personnel. Each person will be frisked thoroughly, there will be double-checking at each entry point and, if possible, people will have to go through metal detectors.”

Intelligence agencies are also on tenterhooks and have urged the administration to provide “maximum” security. They have pointed out that because of the state’s long porous border, it is not difficult to smuggle in arms and explosives.

“If someone really wants to attack a Garba gathering, there is precious little we or the police can do,” says Tarun Shah, who has been organising massive Garbas as manager in the Sun-n-Step club. “What can a couple of policemen do' Moreover, there is a limit to the frisking that is done by private securitymen. That, too, on an occasion like Navratri.”

“Have you seen the milling crowds during Navratri'” asks Hemant Singh, manager of a private security agency. “People come in droves till 1 am and even till 2 in the morning. The most we can do is double-check the entry passes. How can we fight with unending crowds of boisterous young boys and girls.”

But some residents are undaunted. “Navratri is a time when people free themselves, they dance and laugh, give and receive,” says Kamalaben Trivedi, putting the celebrations this time in perspective. “These things can’t be done under the shadow of guns and terrorists. We are all afraid but we will celebrate. The rest is up to Ma Amba.”

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