Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Mumbai will survive - will Peace?

Following the atrocities committed in Mumbai last week, there is very little a blogger can say that hasn't been said before about countless terrorist attacks, be they on Indian, British, Spanish, Israeli or American land - or anywhere else that violence is unleashed against innocent victims. We can express our sympathy for those who have lost loved ones, we can express outrage at the various catastrophic 'intelligence' failings leading up to the violent murders, we can even write about the root causes of such indiscriminate killing, speculating on everything from the origins of the gunmen and the involvement of 'external linkages' to whether India's policy in Kashmir is ultimately to blame.

But what we can't do on the pages of the world wide web is feel the gut-wrenching horror of learning that one's father, daughter, friend or lover has been blown away. What we cannot achieve is a sense of just how the hostages in the Taj Hotel or the commuters at Victoria Terminus (re-named after Chatrapati Shivaji, the controversial 17th Century Hindu king and inspiration behind the Hindu fundamentalist political party Shiv Sena ) must have reacted to the very first gunshot. What blogs cannot recreate is the tense, nervous, anger-filled atmosphere in Mumbai in the immediate aftermath of yet another devastating attack on its people. The Internet undoubtedly brings us closer to the events in Mumbai, what with instantaneous media coverage and impacting photo-journalism on Flickr. But as we remain necessarily at a distance, all we can do is contemplate, all we can do is analyse the whys and the what-nexts.

Like the blogger Elastic Thinker (whose excellent take on the attacks can, nay should, be read here), I too have link with Mumbai. Having been there around a dozen times visiting family, I've taken in lungfuls of the salty, smog-laden air at Juhu and Chowpatty beaches; I've had the (somewhat dubious) pleasure of riding the commuter trains downtown during rush hour; I've sampled the chaotic, loud, aggressive, colourful, diverse, abjectly poor and spectacularly wealthy aspects of life in Mumbai. And it's this economic contrast that the recent attacks highlighted - the average commuter gunned down in the rail hub, sharing headlines and funerals with guests from the international five-star Taj and Oberoi hotels.

And perhaps it is this economic iniquity that lies at the heart of such terrorist activity. Wherever terrorism has occurred in recent years, economic injustice, real or perceived, is often a driver of tensions between ethnic groups; be it the hardships suffered by Palestinians following Israel's segregate-and-occupy policy, be it exclusion from wider economic success in Kashmir or (insert neglected region of developing nation here), leaving people behind whilst unevenly distributing the fruits of growth inevitably causes underlying community-based tensions to be revealed.

It's at this point, of course, that I must reassure the reader that I do not in an way believe that taking even a single life is ever justified. No matter how much hardship one suffers, not matter the injustices one faces, such callous killing is evil and counter-productive. Indeed there is a great irony that this attack happened in the back yard of one of the 20th Century's most eloquent exponents of the peaceful protest. Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi's campaign skilfully and (mostly) peacefully ended British rule over India without Gandhi causing injury to one person, without recourse to violence in spite of the gravest of provocation and oppression. Many students of contemporary sub-continental history cite the painful separation of India and Pakistan, a step against which Gandhi was vehemently opposed, as the origin of attacks such as that in Mumbai. Perhaps, if this is the case, a re-awakening of the principle of ahimsa (non-violence) that Gandhi espoused is needed on both sides - only then will the people of Mumbai and India as a whole be able to live in peace and prosperity alongside their brothers and sisters with whom they share a common human bond. Without a return to leadership with peace at its heart, this attack may escalate populist sentiment towards full-scale war, with unthinkable consequences for all.


NM said...

Hear here...you make a great point about income inequality, and how these attacks provide a tragic view of inequalities. Also, a great point on the symbolism of the CST specifically, with its namesake representing Hindu nationalism. To date, I don't think I've heard that reference in the press coverage.

If anything good can come out of this, it is that it is now a wide open fact that India has a lot of work to do. What is reassuring is that India's civil society, which has always been strong (and Gandhi being the best example of its strength), is standing up and demanding more of its government. And you and I both know India's government has been lacking in many ways for far too long.

teekblog said...

You're probably right, I don't think the press in the UK has covered the Shivaji connection.

As for Indian civil society, I'm afraid that in recent years there has been something of a degeneration in governmental policy, resulting in populist reactionary gestures pandering to the lowest common denominator - hence civil society becomes nothing short of a pack of hounds baying for blood. We need statesmanship akin to that of Gandhi, showing the people that initiating another cycle of violent revenge and retribution is futile whereas hitting the causes may be difficult but is the only path to follow.

Anjelina said...

The thing is that our politician never take these things seriously. CM of Maharshatra told, in these big cities such things are common.shame!