A recollection of Mumbai


Thanks to Aziz at City of Brass

This is a guest post by Zeba Iqbal.

On the evening of July 11, 2006 a series of bomb blasts ripped through several suburban train lines in Mumbai. Over 200 people died and over 700 were injured. I was living in India then and was amazed at Mumbai’s resilience. The city did not miss a beat.

Trains were running again that night, and by the next morning, it was business as usual – offices and shops were open. Mumbai was a little bruised, a little sad, a little scared – but on its feet.

Mumbai did not recover so quickly from the attacks of November 26, 2008. Almost 200 were killed and over 300 injured in ten separate shooting and bombing attacks across Mumbai (mainly South Mumbai). The siege which lasted 60-hours began at 9 pm on the 26th and ended on the 29th – paralyzed Mumbai for three days, and stunned it for many more.

Halfway across the world in America, I celebrated a subdued Thanksgiving with family. We watched with disbelief and sadness as the horrific events of 26/11 unfolded in Mumbai. For those who don’t know Mumbai, it is the New York City of India. A big tough safe city that never sleeps. Like New York City, Mumbai is surrounded by water.

By all accounts, last year’s decentralized, prolonged form of real-time attack on ‘posh’ Mumbai was a successful mission for the perpetrators. Armed with a simple blueprint, the attackers vividly illustrated just how vulnerable cities near water are, and how difficult it is to safeguard them. A recent mock attack in Miami strengthened this hypothesis.

Mumbaikars, and Indians at large, continue to be very critical of the authorities’ response to the attacks and infighting between police and other officials is ongoing. Most would say that Mutbai is no safer today than it was at this time last year. However, The attacks did result in heightened security, citizen campaigns and private debate.

My annual visit to India this year coincided with the anniversary of 26/11. Though I am on vacation and admittedly somewhat disconnected I have been observing the lead up to 26/11 – in general, and also the attitude of India towards its Muslims – in specific.

The build up to 26/11 on Indian TV was somewhat limited at least partially because the trial of the one surviving gunman Ajmal Kasab is underway and the government had issued an advisory requesting balanced reporting. The media seems to have taken it seriously. The newspapers and the 24-hour news stations had some coverage on and before the anniversary of 26/11, but did not overshadow other news namely the Prime Minister’s visit to meet President Obama and the Liberhan report.

This is my second trip back to post-26/11 India. As mentioned above, I do see a change in India’s attitude towards security and counter terrorism, but I am heartened to say, I don’t see any antagonism towards Muslims. The government, the media and everyday Indians seek justice for the perpetrators and harbor anger towards them. I was very fearful of that last year, but I have scanned articles, headlines and news stories – not one article or recommendation I have come across has ever questioned Islam or Indian Muslims with respect to the attacks. And it is worth remembering that muslims in India stood in solidarity with their Hindu fellow citizens, by forgoing the ritual sacrifice of cows on Eid ul Adha last year, and wore black armbands as a symbol of mourning.

As an American Muslim, this is very refreshing to me. I know first hand what post-9/11 America felt like – it was and continues to be a struggle – against ignorance, internal division and external attack – and for mutual understanding, integration and a nuanced identity. Indian Muslims struggle too, just not for general acceptance, as reflected by India’s response to 26/11.

This makes sense because India has the largest number of Muslims in a non-Muslim country. Muslims are a majority minority with approximately 140 million Muslims (by conservative estimates) in India accounting for 13.5% of the 1.17 billion population. Muslims are overrepresented in the film industry and under represented in politics. Indian Muslims do have their problems with literacy, poverty and justice – but then so does India as a whole. Their problems (which do need to be addressed) are in sync with the overall Indian equation.

Muslims are an integral part of the fabric of India – its history, its architecture, its culture. I am reminded of that every time I see a Muslim working alongside a Hindu, a Hajj terminal at an Indian airport, watch an Urdu play, eat halal chicken nuggets or chicken pepperoni at an Indian McDonalds or Pizza Hut or see Hindus and Muslims coming out of a dargah together.

I am oversimplifying to make point that 26/11 was not a watershed moment for Indian Muslims, India and terrorism. It was a watershed moment for India and terrorism.

Saying that Indian Muslims have a place in society, does not mean that India has not had its moments of significant communal strife, even in its recent history, but the economy is strong and private sector businesses are growing. As the middle class stabilizes, the BJP is losing power, and has recently been discredited in the Liberhan issue with respect to the 1992 Babri Masjid incident. In the face of tragedy particularly in urban India, attempts to divide on the basis of religious and communal lines have failed. Indians united on the issue of 26/11 and found power in numbers.

The historic Taj Mahal hotel, a focal point of tragedy, destruction and heroism during the attacks had a simple message on their 26/11 homage page. The message ended with:

“Today we take a step forward. Tomorrow we’ll take many more.”

Zeba Iqbal is the Vice-Chair of CAMP International (Council for the Advancement of Muslim Professionals). She currently lives in NYC and works for Princeton University. Zeba is an active social and community networker and activist for the Muslim American community and is a 2009-10 American Muslim Civic Leadership Institute fellow.

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One thought on “A recollection of Mumbai

  1. Wow what a lame article, I mean seriously, could the Indian Nationalism be any less appalling in this “feel good” attempt to elevate and ignore India’s terrible treatment of minorities in favor of the elitist ex-pat (like Zeba) driven revisionist narrative of Shining India?

    Oh oh oh, where to begin, this’ll be fun, let’s see:

    1. The media played a huge role in paralyzing Mumbai, compared to the incidents in 2006, which were just a part of the on-going bomb blasts and communal strife that have plagued the city for the past 200 years. To argue that people wanted justice and were united in that, is more a reflection of the manufactured consent of the media oligopoly run by the bourgeoisie who kept screaming this is “India’s 9/11!”, than any true sense of outrage – after all there are hundreds of people dying in the countryside bomb blasts aplenty (Orissa, Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Rajisthan, Tamil Nadu, Andhra, Bengal) – 26/11 (as the Indian intelligentsia have dubbed it to garner sympathy akin to a good public relations stunt) – was just one event that mobilized people because it was an opportunity to bring together the fractured arms of India’s so-called democracy as a good war mood drums up votes. I guess they learned from George Bush well.

    2. No where is Zeba’s elitist background more apparent, than when she generalizes the conclusion of the Gujarat Massacre as “discrediting the BJP.” You assume discrediting the BJP is somehow important in a step to create India a more vibrant or accessible place. That simply isn’t true as Congress was largely responsible for the Hindu Rate of Growth throughout the 70s and 80s (aka shitty growth with no future for the country) – the BJP and its advisors kicked off and implemented most of the economic liberalization reforms, prior to which, only a select oligarchic Mumbaikar community of robber-barons controlled the economy (and to a large extent still do, but that’s a side story). Of course Shining India Secular Fundos are too busy counting the scalps of the BJP to actually pay attention to the facts.

    3. Next, Gujarat is a re-occurring incident, since you lived in a walled-off complex in Mumbai without so much as a real understanding of what the remaining 1 billion people in India go through on a daily basis – let me shed some light for you – India is a shithole Zeba, Muslims get murdered every day simply because they are Muslim. Christians get murdered every day simply because they are Christian. I have cousins in Gujarat that were murdered for no reason than they choose to work on some crazy Hindu holiday. On Eid ul Azha, scores of Muslims are routinely assassinated just because they choose to sacrifice a cow. Do I really need to break it down for you in Bihar, Andhra, or any other state? Let’s not even discuss how Dalits and the extreme poor have created armed movements for independence in most of Eastern India backed by the Naxalite ideology. Many steps forward huh? Try visiting the rest of India before making some assumptions about how the “Indian Nation” feels – although given India isn’t ACTUALLY a nation outside of the textbooks of the elite – it’s redundant to say the least.

    Maybe the dream is for India to one day become a state where people can live free and together. That won’t happen as long as India extracts the fruits of global economic progress with its extremists infiltrating agencies, governments, and organizations abroad, without fessing up to its shithole situation at home. My suggestion? Isolate, sanction, and eventually break-up India into multiple pieces – akin to its historic reality – not this British-mandated monster-military nation. Muslims deserve to rule India precisely because the Hindus are so uncivilized and incompetent. That will happen when Hindus themselves are truly divided and broken, and recognize that the Hindu religion itself is a concoction of Orientalists who were too stupid to understand the diversity of faiths represented in the Subcontinent, calling everything “Hindu” without much knowledge.

    Oh by the way, am I the only person who finds it funny that the Indian Government has to TELL the media to be “fair” and am I the only one who finds it funny that they “listen” the Government? Kinda shows you how pathetic the media culture is in India.

    Finally let me add, I know it’s a popular mechanic of the Shining India fundamentalists to scream about the size of the Muslim population. Muslims range between 100 million and 140 million. Your “conservative” estimate of “140 million” shows just how little you researched your own assumptions and the inherent bias in your article.

    Zeba, don’t try to become the next Fareed Zakaria – you are better than that. The entire pro-India BS has been done to that, and will lead nowhere, since India can never get beyond it’s (lack of) penis envy with Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan, or Bhutan – all countries which supremely hate India without a doubt for India’s ruthless interference and military jingoism (and Afghanistan may have turned, but only recently because of RAW agents and bribes to drug lords, and the funding of terrorist movements).

    At least China can say there are countries in its sphere of influence which respect it, albeit grudgingly. India can make no such claim, and frankly, never will.

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