Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Attack on "Everyday India"

This is a draft I wrote for EPW on the terror attack at VT (CST), Mumbai.

Attack on "everyday India"

The tragic deaths of victims of the terror attack at Mumbai's busiest railway station gets scarce coverage by an elite-driven media.

The senseless and horrific carnage at the Chattrapati Sivaji Terminus (CST) on November 26th , which killed 56 people (and counting) and injured scores of others, preceded the 62 hour siege of the Taj, Oberoi and Nariman House in the terrorist attack saga in Mumbai. Even as visuals in the mass media were focussed at the dramatic siege and military action in the hotels, many attacked at the iconic CST were dying of bullet wounds in hospitals, joining the ranks of others who died instantly at the location.

CST is an iconic structure that serves as a major landmark and junction for the arterial local (central) railway system in the city. CST is also the station where most people entering or leaving Mumbai disembark/embark. The first blast of bullets from the terrorists' guns - AK-47s, were fired at hapless passengers waiting to embark onto many of the long distance trains leaving Mumbai such as the Mahanagari Express leaving at midnight, the Siddheshwar Express at 2220 and the Husainsagar Express at 2150. Following this was indiscriminate firing at waiting passengers, railway workers, poorly equipped security guards, ticket counters and shops in the station.Grenades were also lobbed at the structures in the station. A bomb was also set up, but which failed to go off and was defused by the police a week after it was kept in the station.

The time of attack, peak travel hours for the citizenry of Mumbai, was chosen to inflict maximum damage. The targets were picked to massacre the people of “everyday India”- office goers, workers, day-labourers, traders, migrants, shopkeepers and all of whom who have made Mumbai the cosmopolitan hub that it is today. Among the many victims were the Walliullah family from Nawada in Bihar, who lost six of their members and computer engineer Upendra Yadav who is survived by injured wife Sunita and infant daughter Sheetal, still being treated for greivous wounds. Shivshankar Gupta, a hawker, four members of taxi driver Zahur Ansari's family, the yet to be identified people who succumbed to wounds in St.George's hospital, Janardhan's (of Jharkhand) two children, Ajaz Dalal's uncle, home guard Mukesh Jadhav, were also victims of the horror. Utensils seller Bharat Naodiya who ensured that his children, Viraj and Anjali were safe, even after he was shot and was bleeding profusely and who lost his wife Poonam, and many others; all of them were gunned down by bullets which were fired at them randomly, but deliberately. They joined the scores of other randomly targetted victims of bomb blasts which blew up trains and buses in Mumbai in the past in 2003 and 2006, for the simple fault that they were going about their daily lives.

The investigators of the terror attacks, the security and ruling establishments have claimed with certainty that the attackers were Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) trained terrorists. The LeT claims itself to be a jihadi organisation that endeavours to establishing Islamic rule over south Asia and for whom therefore the secular Indian state is a professed enemy. That its intended targets included many who professed their beliefs in Islam (atleast 22 of the 56 people confirmed dead in CST were Muslims) points out to the farcical fanaticism of the radical jihadi groups claiming to act in the name of religion. The terrorists who attacked CST went on to inflict more horror and deaths at the Cama hospital and nearby the Metro cinema, killing more defenseless and innocent people in the process.

The world was outraged at the acts of terror, but seemingly the focus was kept on the more spectacular attacks in the luxury hotels and the siege on Nariman House, where a hapless Jewish family was murdered. The victims at the CST were more or less afterthoughts - surely this is because the media (particularly the hysterical television media) were more concerned for the elite than the everyday Indian. The prominent coverage of the attacks and the victims at CST was reduced to flashing the images of terrorists - later "revealed" to be Mohammad Ajmal Amir Kasab (the lone terrorist in custody) and Abu Dera Ismael Khan, captured by circuit television camera installed at the station. Indeed, the lack of adequate coverage of the travails of those affected by the attacks at CST, points out to the indifference to the ordinary Indian for the mass media today, a stigma that has been much commented upon already.

The incidents slowly coming to light from the CST saga are heart-rending - brave policemen battling with inadequate weaponry, the presence of mind of the railway announcer Vishnu Zende and constable Jullu Yadav who prevented the deaths of even more people by warning them to stay inside the trains and not to alight when the station was being attacked and people acting as shields to save their kin and dying in the process. There could have been even more deaths - precisely what the terrorists wanted, but lives were saved and who would go on to tell more about the tragic incidents at "everyday Mumbai's hub". They may have been ordinary people who never caught the eye of the flash-bulbs or subjected to thrust microphones, but they were witness to probably the worst terrorist attack in India's cultural melting pot - Mumbai.

The terrorist attacks at the CST, the Taj, the Oberoi-Trident, Nariman House were following up a sequence of such attacks and bombings that has maimed the citizenry of Mumbai for the past few years. All of them were aimed at tearing up the communal fabric in the country. That those who died themselves belonged to various communities and identities, points out to the tragedy and farce of identity and communal politics, which are the basis and wellspring of terror committed in the name of identity.

A much modified but more poignant version of this was published as an EPW editorial here .

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