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Voices from the
South Asian Subcontinent

By Kaveta A Chhibber

A Kavita Media Presentation. Please email comments here.
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It seems just like yesterday that Mumbai was under siege. A cross section of people from India and Pakistan, share their thoughts in the continuing coverage of the Mumbai attack and its aftermath. It looks as though things have seemingly come back to normal-but have they?

“I was working in the lab with a colleague of mine and we were talking about the fact that there is so much hatred against America in the world today and how she finds it very disturbing. She mentioned a tour her parents were taking and talked about how a lot of hatred comes out of ignorance, lack of education and opportunities. The conversation then turned to ultimately to 9/11 and I said that India has had a 9/11 practically every year. I remember rushing out from work every year and calling my family in India and my friends trying to make sure they were all okay. At this point another colleague walked in and said, “Oh have you heard about Mumbai? There has been a terrorist attack.” I thought he had heard my conversation walking in and was just trying to kid me. He said-No check it out and my stomach just sank. I called my parents- ironically, they were ironically asleep and had no idea this was going on in Bombay.

I grew up in Bombay and I was there for 21 years. During the time that I grew up there, a significant part of Bombay comprised of middle class Maharastrians and that was the spectrum of society, I grew up in. The Taj Hotel and the Oberoi were regarded as these lofty places that we could stare at and admire from afar. They attacked these places to get the world’s attention, attacking a number of people from diverse ethnicities, but what really hit closer to home was the Chatrapati Shivaji terminus being attacked.

The one thing I have always loved about Bombay is the Bombay trains. Even though I could afford to travel by car, all through my college years I traveled by train in big groups of friends. We were all one big family, no matter what our economic strata, our religion or anything else for that matter. We’d get into the train and we’d travel together. But somehow the last time I was in India over a year ago, I just could not bring myself to travel by train.

I had an American friend who was staying with me I just did not feel comfortable taking her anywhere in a train though the experience would have been quite unique. For me this fear was a personal defeat and that is what terrorism is all about-that we start getting scared of things we once associated with our fondest memories, and our most safe, secure places.

Its sad that year after year we have these attacks and nothing changes. Until now we have had bomb blasts in our trains but you could still travel without being put through a security check. You can invoke the Mumbai spirit and may be you need that to get your strength and sanity back, but you also have to hold the system and the government that should have been equipped to predict and prevent such things, responsible.

What continues to haunt me is the image of that young terrorist walking all over Chatrapati Shivaji terminus and you have all that footage of him-why didn’t anyone in the control room look at this footage and call for our forces to come in right away?

You can’t blame the people of Pakistan and its time we set a clear demarcation between the people of a nation, its political entities and its terrorists. One can’t jump the gun and hold a government responsible either for what the terrorists have done and its quite possible that is exactly what their intention was-that they don’t want the peace talks between India and Pakistan to culminate into something more substantial.

Every nation has their radical extremists-people who carry out these violent acts even when their own nation is harassed and embarrassed by these incursions.

The bottom line to this is the realization that there is very little value of human life in India, given the high population and the amount of poverty. The usual reaction is oh just a few people died. As long as our friends and family are fine, that’s all that matters. In any case many of these people are homeless and sleeping on foot paths. We have become immune to the sufferings of others. In a city of millions like Bombay, to tighten up security, or control the actions of people is impossible.

But there is one thing that has happened that is very important. What is interesting is that suddenly people from so many nationalities and ethnicities have come together. People are suddenly finding out about the issues others face. The common Indian didn’t really understand or identified with what the Israelis have had to go through and now they do. The Westerners too are no longer foreigners. This attack has made us realize its not just one person’s problem, even though it happened on Indian soil.

That will strengthen everyone’s resolve to fight this as a global coalition against terrorism.

People talk about change and point to Obama’s election. But I believe that the biggest difference between the Obama election and any political activity that occurs in our country is the involvement of youth. The majority of the youth that I have seen in Bombay are absolutely not interested in politics. They are more interested in the next mall that’s going to open in their zip code, the new movie and so on.

The youth of India MUST get involved. I will admit that I’m not a particularly patriotic person but my loyalties are not pledged to a nation. My loyalties are pledged to peace. I want peace; I want people to work together for that.

Even here in the US, when I was writing for Obama’s campaign, I was focusing on what I could do to help those people get elected who would do something for humanity. That’s what democracy is all about.

These young kids who become terrorists-their world view is so narrow due to the influences around them-so much so that they are not open to any alternative view. When they see other human beings, they don’t see them in terms of the elderly or innocent children-they are just targets to be eliminated, because these targets are the ones causing whatever problems they think they have.

I know today I’m always worried about, always scared for my family in Bombay. The common man is always caught in the crossfire between terrorists and the government. We also have to stop thinking about terrorism in religious terms. Even after the Mumbai bomb blasts in the early nineties, there were several Muslim families protecting Hindus and vice versa. Relations between Hindus and Muslims have been quite cordial in Bombay for many years. I believe the people of Pakistan are like us and want peace, a good future for their children, and they too don’t want terrorists in their midst. The media has been very irresponsible as have the politicians in creating more tension than solutions. I found the reports on various blogs and twitter to be much more accurate than what the media was reporting.

Around New year’s eve, I spoke to my parents and they always have plans for New Years’ Eve with the extended family. But this year they didn’t get together-not out of fear alone but also as a mark of respect to those who lost their lives. And that surprised me. I was not aware that my family was socially conscious or demonstrative of it. To be honest, Mumbai has had so many terrorist attacks that after a while the initial panic dies down and people go on with their lives. But this time I think the attack really sunk its teeth into people’s psyches. I asked my aunt why they wouldn’t celebrate New Years’ Eve and she said they just hadn’t gotten over the attack. The gunshots and explosions had been heard clearly in the home of my younger aunt who lives in South Mumbai and she must’ve felt the fear that one does only in the middle of a war. In this attack, I personally think, people lost that sense of "Oh it wasn’t me or my loved ones in the train/ bus that exploded", because everyone felt the threat throughout the city in those few days that the terrorists had not been killed and captured. My dad, who in spite of a car and a driver, loved to travel by Mumbai’s public transport, has stopped doing so which makes me very sad. It makes me sad not just because he cannot travel by his beloved public transport but because he has the luxury of a choice; there are so many who don’t and will have to board a train and get off at the CST station knowing that there had been dead bodies and gun fire there. But while the fear lives among the citizens, I am starting to hear less and less in the media about the incident. I don’t see or hear of enough pressure building on our politicians or security officials.

- Aditi Nadkarni, cancer researcher, film maker, writer-Ohio United States

“This was the first major attack in India from the sea front and of course on the economic and entertainment hub of India. People have asked if something like this could happen in Kashmir and the answer is no it cannot simply because as far as Kashmir is concerned its mostly now full of Kashmiri Muslims and if something was to happen there the loss will be to them. Secondly there is a very large number of Indian soldiers deployed in that area so the terrorists cannot get into the area the way they got into Bombay with that kind of ammunition, and go into the hotels as they did. That is not possible in Jammu and Kashmir.

The population in Bombay has been homogeneous except for the recent effort by Raj Thackeray to create divisiveness which obviously hasn’t worked. This attack may involve not just Pakistan but other countries as well. I don’t think the terrorists deliberately targeted foreigners. Their target seemed to be the economically key areas and these hotels are a hub for many international business meetings attended by the elite from India and foreigners looking to make investments.

People have been critical of the commandos-firstly how much damage did you want caused to your own people? The injuries would have been a lot more had they allowed the typical commando operation. They would have killed a lot more people along with the militants, and there would have been a much greater destruction of the buildings as well.

The kind of armed forces and police force required for India does not exist. What we all do is pray to God-Oh God save us, and hope that He listens.

The right type of equipment, man power that the armed forces should have, the training they need is non existent. There is no force involved in keeping the citizens of this country safe. The politicians use the divisiveness to win votes. Had they looked after the interests of the country without looking at religion, had they looked after the Muslims, the Muslims would have themselves fought these terrorists.

What this country has is a large number of fools- people who are yes men. Unless we evaluate the leaders of this country-what are their ambitions, what kind of progress will they bring, how dedicated are they to make the difference, we will always be targets for these anti national forces.

And then you will find people among Hindus who will take advantage of a situation like this to strengthen their position, not to be good, but to harm the country.

How can you say that the Muslims of this country are not bonafide citizens of this country, that they should not have any value system or ideas? Do all Hindus have the same ideas? Do our politicians have the same ideas? Communalism which has divided this country has created these circumstances where such attacks will continue to occur.

The Quran teaches equality but are the terrorists following the Quran? No they are not. So much has gone down the drain there. To start with, education in the Islamic world was much higher compared to others but gradually they became illiterate and poverty stricken particularly in India and the Middle East. In the last few years these people have become rich but they have had a gripe against the world.

The Quranic interpretation where the Quran talks about jihad has been grossly misinterpreted. It talks about the Jihad being a fight against the evil within yourself and that has been reinterpreted to mean that a Muslim must fight anyone who doesn’t believe in Allah or Islam.

The largest portions of Muslims are only fighting for their livelihood but when terrorism takes place you start calling it Islamic terrorism. Now that is also one way of instigating people. The cause of terrorism is often social, political and economic grievance.

No matter what anyone says, the attack was immediately recognized by many of us who are trained in this sort of stuff, to be an Al Qaeda type of attack. There is no question and they get a lot of help from many other Muslim countries.

America too has to take responsibility. All this started in 1972 by the Americans when they went against Russia and many people know that the Talibans were being trained in Afghanistan and Pakistan was being given war weapons. And today Pakistan too is suffering the consequences.

America will always look for its own interest first so if India and Bombay plays a role in their self interest they will do something otherwise things are on their own.

America has now ceased to be a monopolizing global power and terrorism has come up as a major factor where America is concerned. India and China are now powerhouses themselves.

Terrorism is not a new phenomenon in India but what have we done so far? Nothing.

India and Pakistan can never be one country again but what they can have is a very close and fruitful relationship economically and that is what modern wisdom dictates but for that you need stability in the region and you cannot have stability if you have sponsored terrorism or terrorism is setting deep roots in your country. So at some stage they have to get their act together and fight terrorism-and the sooner they do it the better it is for them and their citizens as well as those who are suffering.

The question now is how will Pakistan handles certain segments of ISI and military that are obviously supporting terrorism? That’s where America comes in. China will continue to support Pakistan but the relations between India and China will continue to be amicable since we share a large border with China.

One remains concerned about Pakistan because their social system has not been a democracy. They have had a despotic rule right from the beginning.

America has been worse that a terrorist in the eyes of many if you see what it did in Iraq. Look at what the Americans did in world war 11. They first claimed to have started the war because of inequality in the world and then they used the atom bomb against Japan in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing people and their progeny.

As far as India is concerned, our intelligence and our government has been very weak on terrorism and have not acted even after being tipped off many times. They have not paid attention, the intelligence services have not acted in the manner that was appropriate and there hasn’t been any long term planning as far as combating terrorism is concerned. Even when someone is caught, nothing happens. The government gets nothing in return for their complaints and chest beating, from Pakistan or the world and anyone who is caught just lies languishing in jail and that is what makes terrorist elements think India is weak.
- General X, military - name withheld on request.

I was watching TV when suddenly the news appeared about the Mumbai attack. Initially I didn’t think much of it-I never thought it was going to be that serious but slowly and gradually the whole incident took on a huge and chaotic turn.

The very first day after the attack we were all so sympathetic and sad at the loss of life and the tragedy that happened but then without finishing the investigation the accusations started flying from India. Under normal circumstances if everyone had behaved with dignity, I may have also conceded that maybe some unruly elements from here were behind this but when India becomes so abrasive the automatic reaction of every Pakistani is that we must stand behind Pakistan army since Indian government and Indian fundamentalists are blaming Pakistan without gathering concrete evidence and realizing that not the entire Pakistani military is bad., But I guess if we did the same thing-accused India without evidence, Indians would be as offended all across India. And would be unified just as we became.

All political parties gathered together-something no one could have ever imagined happening in Pakistan. It was interesting that all political parties gathered under Zardari and Gilani but there as no other choice-the circumstances were such.

In fact I was about to leave for India the next day for a conference in Chandigarh and friends were to pick me up from across the border but then the kind of outburst that followed from the media as well as Indian politicians, saddened and angered us and we had to cancel the trip. Finger pointing started right away and in the end everyone involved created a lot of trouble and bad feelings.

We were sitting and wondering- how does Pakistan react to everything? India and Pakistan can’t afford to create more tensions for themselves. Why don’t we all learn from the past mistakes of 7-8 years. There were so many questions-many people in Pakistan thought it could be the BJP or some other extremist group behind this with the elections in India being round the corner. And if the extremists were Muslim then why have these people developed that kind of hatred and frustration in their hearts to commit such acts? How can we integrate such people into the mainstream?

As far as America is concerned, their misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan are well documented by now and Pakistan has had to pay a heavy price because of the war on terror.

As far as Obama is concerned he has already made all kinds of compromises and I have little hope from him after he took Hillary Clinton and Gates in. I think he will just continue the Bush policies. He says he will take American forces out of Iraq and Afghanistan but he does not understand the realities.

My personal opinion is that the US interest in the South Asian subcontinent is pro India. They are making good use of India for their own purposes and the Indian leadership is cooperating with the Americans and becoming pawns of US policy makers. If India escalates the tension Pakistan will have to move forward and moving our troops from the Fattah border will create problems for everyone including the Americans.

We have enough problems in Pakistan already. Pakistanis if they don’t fight outsiders, start fighting each other. You can see how often we have internal attacks and innocent civilians get hurt. Under normal circumstances I would have rooted for civilian rule but when these kinds of things happen and India threatens us, then we feel we cant do without the army.

In general, most people in Pakistan hold the Indian leadership in high esteem. We always compare their leadership with ours and we know we have an inferiority complex when we look at Indian leaders-their vision, their caliber but then every time something like this happens, the way they react, makes them lose respect in our eyes.

Their loud indictment of Pakistan was to hide their own incompetence and inadequacies and to pacify their own people so they did what they could to attack Pakistan, because if they didn’t they would be in great trouble. India tries to ape America’s way to attack without realizing that Americans themselves don’t know how to get off the tiger that they are riding.

The media coverage was terrible. We in Pakistan were glued to the TV watching what the Indian media was saying, I’m sure all of India was watching too and getting influenced. Look at the things that have happened in your country where Pakistan has been blamed unfairly. The Samjhauta express incident for instance; before that there was another incident where a train was burnt down. I’m not praising Pakistan but in the last 50 years, we may have a lot of short comings, but I have never seen a big group in Pakistan attack another big group. Burning and hurting so many people. We have issues of tribal fights and family feuds but nothing like the planned attacks we see in India killing hundreds of Muslims and Christians. You will never see Hindus being killed in Pakistan like that by a group. You’ll see random acts but the kind of upheavals we see in India against minority communities is very dangerous. So how can you call India a democracy?

There is so much love between the common Pakistani and Indian citizen. Even Zardari for whatever he is worth, said that in every Pakistani there is an Indian living. We were so happy at the progress that had been made and were looking forward to many visits to each other’s country from both sides. In fact one of my friends was planning to buy a hotel saying very soon we will have many Indian tourists visiting here and that would be so wonderful but now this has happened. I don’t know why but just when we see some hope of both the countries coming together, something like this happens and sabotages the initiative.

So we are now back to paying many taxes to maintain our army because we need it. Today the common feeling is if we didn’t have the army and the ISI, things would be chaotic. Every one is on guard again because we don’t know what is going to happen to us-its in India’s hands.

Its so sad that Congress in India used to be a non aligned independent party and that used to be its legacy but the way they are catering to the USA, Indian government has become a stooge of the USA and those who are against the peace process must be very happy.

- Hafizullah Khan Niazi - Pakistani businessman and political observer

I grew up in Bombay and lived there until 1982. At that time while we didn’t have globalised amenities and name brands, life was a lot better than what it seems to be today. Bombay is truly a melting pot-you’ve got Jains, Muslims and Catholics and so many others living in harmony together and in those days we never ever thought about their ethnicity. There were no barriers then but I have seen that change. I feel this is mostly because of the political mess there; politicians are trying to segregate the people and divide the city and make it not as welcoming to everybody. Like this thing we have recently asking people to learn Marathi. Yes things have changed a lot.

Also this talk of Bombay being an international city-well it certainly does not feel like it when you land there and you realize that they have really deprived the city of all that it should have when you see all the wealth and brain power they have there.

I have been going back to Bombay twice a year for the past few years and this has been the time when everything was booming and everyone had the money and 35 percent stock returns were everyone’s birth right. Everyone has the money but their favorite past time was to play the blame game. It still is. They keep blaming the government most of all and I tell them that the government is the reflection of its people. They talk about America and look up to America, but when every single politician is not only corrupt, majority of them have criminal records and there is a bribe sheet starting from the bottom and going all the way to the top, how can you look at America?

They don’t really care. You want to get work done, you find out how much you have to pay to get it done and you accept it as part of the lifestyle. When I discovered this system and asked what can be done to change things people around me said-“Oh you just have to get used to it-once you get used to it, its great”. So I said if you are not even going to acknowledge a problem, you are not going to fix it and even this incident will be used by the politicians to see how they can use it for their personal gain.

You’ll be going somewhere on the road and there is a mess and you’ll wonder where are the cops? Then you will find them but you’ll see they are least bothered about what their actual job is. They are more concerned about how much they can get out of you. I remember this interesting incident where a physician friend of mine was hauled up by a cop early in the morning and told he was detected with a high level of alcohol in his breath through the detector and that he would be taken to jail unless he gives the cop 25,000 rupees. The doctor said let me see the instrument. But how many people will have the know how? This kind of stuff is rampant. The cops are not trained in any way to handle tough situations- they just sit there with their big pot bellies and are pretty lethargic and in situations like this Mumbai attack they would not know what to do. In fact many of these cops pay money to get the job because they know that while their salary is meager they will be compensated by the bribes they will get. Its really sad-you pay most cops peanuts, they neither have the physical attributes not training and then you expect them to save your country from terrorists?

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that there is no willingness to change the system and the corruption is right at the top as well and everyone looks the other way and pretends all is fine as long as things work.

The terrorists are better equipped to know how everything works then the caretakers of this country.

You just cant take baby steps. The whole system has to be wiped clean with a totally new agenda, a whole new quality of people and to admit that we have damaged the country enough. First it was the British now its us ourselves.

Then when something like this happens they put the blame on something or someone else. There is so much going on within the dark underbelly of the cities themselves that makes this kind of terrorism live within our own borders. Politicians use this not only to create stories but also to make the other side look bad.

I find it annoying and sad that we have to live with so much security. When I go to a mall, you go through metal detectors, then you go through physical searches. This has been going on for months and its such a sad thing- this perpetration of insecurity amongst the people, this fear as if there is a perpetual war going on. However earlier if you went to the Taj, they’d check you but in the most superficial way. Its very mechanical. I would not have been surprised if there was a bomb or an AK 47 and they’d open the trunk and still shut it down. The security people are not really alert in general. You could have walked into any hotel with a gun inside your jacket and gotten away with it.

I have felt that things have changed over the past few years and Bombay is definitely not as safe as it used to be. We live in a home that is near Shivaji Park and the Shiv Sena is well known around there. When I was growing up, we had these coconut trees in our compound within the walls. And people always tried to steal them; my uncle was quite feared in the lane. He had a loud voice and just a yell from him would make these people hurriedly slide down the trees and run away.

I went back to Bombay a few years ago and the same thing happens. My uncle is there in the balcony. I yell at the guy who is stealing the coconut and he just looks at me and keeps on stealing, then comes down at his leisure and walks away with some other street urchins. I look at my uncle and say-What happened? You used to scare these guys away with just one yell.” He just shook his head and said-“Things have changed-now you yell at them and they will come back and break your windows.” So now you have to be afraid of the bad guys instead of the other way around.

I think the terrorists deliberately targeted the elite and economic hubs in Bombay so they could generate maximum publicity. Its also an attempt to try and stop the positive steps taken towards Indo-Pak relations. The economic repercussions will be contained to an extent. Any time you look at business its always about economics and money. So when people look at India they know it’s a good market. Short term effects were bound to be there but in the long term it becomes another event to think about and you realize that such things have happened in different years and just when Indians are about to forget it something else happens and reminds us about the previous incidents.

That instability is always going to be a warning for corporations and foreign investors that ,okay while we should go ahead and invest, we must be careful. Its really still more out of the necessity of what India offers than out of this great desire that it’s a great country to do business with because it isn’t. Then there are also leaders who don’t like foreign investors. They don’t like anything international or being in the global eye and so they don’t want to make it desirable for others to do business in India.

The Indian media coverage of the tragedy was shoddy, unprofessional and repetitive and on top of that they added great melodrama to it, rather than sticking to the facts. They often missed the key points that should have been covered. I found myself switching to CNN and thought their reporting was a bit more balanced. The Indian channels were just more interested in all the hype and word play and not at all interested in putting any thought into what should and shouldn’t be on the air. And if creating havoc and getting attention from the world was the goal of the terrorists they couldn’t have found better allies than the Indian media. The terrorists and their allies must have been thrilled by what they achieved. NDTV was especially irresponsible. A stealth operation that was live was being broadcast as if there was some circus going on-it was all about TRPs. It seems that these days any one can pick up the microphone and become a journalist. Most of the people reporting on the attack were fresh out of school with zero knowledge of how to be sensitive-they didn’t seem someone you would respect or believe. Even the tone of their voice was so Bollywood. They did not come across as reliable, authoritative voices you wanted to pay attention to. They just seemed to be part of the general noise.

As far as the role of America is concerned, Obama needs to understand that America is one of the most hated nations in the world today. I hope he doesn’t allow himself to be spoon-fed nonsense from people with their own agenda. Obama is in a unique position-he knows what racism is, he is very popular and if he wants he can guide his administration into creating a whole new relationship with the South Asian subcontinent and change the policies that have made USA so hated in a large part of the world. Today, because of what has happened in the recent past, your American passport does not get you the respect you should feel. Now you often have to hide the fact that you are a US citizen.

I will not be investing in India because I learnt some lessons the hard way. You read and hear about the rampant bureaucracy and corruption in the country and how difficult it is to do business in Bombay and India in general. It is true. Everyone places all kinds of hurdles there unlike here in the US where the system is in place in such a way that you look at the big picture that if you do well, its good for the country. In India it’s the opposite and it makes no sense. The system is so full of corruption and bureaucracy and blatant lies-like the developer telling you when something will be ready versus what they are actually going to do. The infrastructure is a mess. They have grand plans but no one thinks anything through. For example there will be two lanes leading to a building but there will be no parking and they will not address that issue at all and many rules are broken, and stuff permitted that should not have been, but they go around the system. In the long run it is very detrimental and you end up with problems you never bargained for.

I feel I can achieve a lot more here in the US, than investing in India, and with a far less effort.

The Mumbai spirit is constantly invoked when convenient but no one wants to address the real problems.

Its time the system is changed. Its time to make office bearers sit down honestly and say let us see what is really wrong and work towards eradicating that. The system needs a complete overhauling, so when something like this happens, the cops deliver instead of feeling that either you have to be afraid of the cops or that they are too corrupt and inept to help.

I still remember sitting in a friend’s house and his peon came crying saying his brother died but the police wants 30,000 rupees before they would clear the body and sign the release papers. This from a guy who make 5-6000 rupees a month, but they said- “You arrange for the money or we will cut the body up and say there has been some foul play.” And this is not an isolated incident. Many cops say people die every day-we cant get emotionally involved..give us the money.

If these are the kinds of cops you have, how do you expect them to protect the country? We have to worry about perpetrators from within our own country before we point fingers at outsiders.

If the younger generation decides to change the country, that’s great but its not happening right now.

- Mahesh Patel, Entrepreneur, Georgia, USA

With the tragic attack on Sri Lankan cricketers in Lahore, the finger pointing has started again. Pakistan says India’s involved, India says look into your own state for terrorism’s tenacious tentacles, and the end result is always the same-the common man sheds the blood and takes the hit.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these columns are solely those of the writers/interviewees and do not necessarily represent those of the editor/publisher.

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