Just days after the train blasts in Bombay, Altaf (name changed) turned 50. I am talking to him that day, so when he mentions this, I say, without really thinking, “Happy birthday!” Only to realize that he has not stopped talking, and is saying: “I’m not celebrating my birthday this year. Very close friend of mine died in the blasts.”
This close friend was a man who worked in finance, left work for home that evening and was blown up on the train. Not a Muslim, like Altaf, which has some relevance to the story. His wife and Altaf work together in a school. They’ve known each other for years.
I say, inadequately, that I’m sorry for his friend’s death.
Altaf says, “You know what? I went over to the house to be with the family. His wife introduced me to everyone as Altaf-bhai.”
There’s a noticeably odd tone in his voice as he says this. It’s almost as if he was surprised by that “Altaf-bhai“, while knowing he shouldn’t be. This was, after all, a close family friend, and it was natural that she would call him that. Yet the immediate aftermath of dreadful atrocity is a strange time, when people fall prey to prejudice and easy finger-pointing. Must be Muslims who were responsible, they are always responsible, so there had better be some introspection among Muslims, and why haven’t they condemned the blasts enough? (Never enough). Common thoughts, expressed often.
Then this woman, in her moment of profound grief. Treats Altaf like the close friend he is, like always.
So the odd tone in his voice.
Let’s try this, shall we? Exactly what is the distinction between riots and terror attacks?
Let’s make it specific. Three examples each. Exactly what is the distinction between:
Anyone care to explain this? (But in civil, reasonable terms. Anything else will be ignored).
The morning after the blasts on trains, DNA had a small front-page item titled “Reign of terror.” Thinking this must list previous terror-stricken times in Bombay, I scanned it. Sure enough, it was indeed such a list, and here it is:
- March 12, 1993: Series of blasts rip through 13 places in the city, killing 257 and injuring 713…
December 2, 2002: Two killed, 31 injured in explosion in a BEST bus outside Ghatkopar station.
December 6, 2002: 25 injured in explosion at Bombay Central station…
January 27, 2003: 30 injured as crude bomb planted in a bicycle explodes at a shopping complex outside Vile Parle station.
March 13, 2003: 11 killed, 65 injured in explosion in a ladies’ special train at Mulund station.
August 25, 2003: Two successive blasts occur at Gateway of India and Zaveri Bazaar killing 46 and injuring more than 160…
OK good. A fine list of terrorist attacks.
So now you tell me. If a “Reign of terror” goes back 13+ years to start with March 12, 1993, why would it not go back just three months more, to December 1992, when weeks of godawful violence erupted in this city? That violence killed about a thousand people and drove 150,000 people (source: When Bombay Burned, UBSPD, 1993) from their homes. Why would that violence be excluded from this list?
I really want to know. In all honesty and humility, I want to know.
Did those weeks not qualify as a “reign of terror”? Or does a “reign of terror” mean only bombs?
Well, the blurb on the back of the same When Bombay Burned says of that time: “Citizens witnessed, with growing horror, people being killed on the streets, their homes and property destroyed.”
What do you think those citizens felt? What did those people being killed feel? What would you feel if you witnessed those things? Would you call that feeling terror? (The blurb calls it “horror”). What would you feel if you watched it happening in your city, lived through it like I did, for the better part of two months? Would you call it terror?
I would. I felt that terror for weeks as I wandered my city. Countless other fellow-citizens did. What else was it but terror?
For that matter, turn the clock back another 3+ years, to the end of the 1980s. That’s when many Kashmiris were killed and many more driven from their homes solely because they were Hindu. Would you call what they felt as they died, what the others felt as they fled, terror? I would. What else was it?
For that matter, turn the clock back another 5+ years, to November 1984. That’s when many people were slaughtered in Delhi solely because they wore turbans. Would you call what they felt as they died, what those who survived felt, terror? I would. What else was it?
Or let’s ask the more uncomfortable questions. Is it terror only when we can point a finger accusingly across our Western border? Is it terror only when we can point a finger accusingly at people of one particular religion?
Is it terror only when we can tell ourselves complacently that it’s not us, but them, doing it? (Whoever you want “us” and “them” to be).
When we are selective about what we call terrorism — when we say “this massacre is terrorism but do not bring up that other one, it is not terrorism” — we thoroughly undermine any fight we mount against terrorism.
Citizens for Peace is holding a multi-faith public meeting ‘A Prayer for Peace’ to mourn the loss of so many lives in the train blasts, and to re-affirm our commitment to peace and harmony. Leaders of all major religions will participate. Please come.
When: Friday 14th July, 5.30pm to 6.30pm
Where: K C College, Churchgate, Mumbai.