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Reflecting on Mumbai

Caroline Jaine's picture

I do not have to be Indian to feel the sense of sorrow and unfathomable injustice as this month the world remembers the Mumbai attacks of a year ago.  Many times we seem to have shaken our pitiful heads and said “never again” after a grand scale terror attack, but still man continues to kill man for an increasingly bizarre list of reasons.  Political pressure, ignorance, social emasculation, brainwashing and drug addiction are amongst the culprits.

In the year since Mumbai, across the region we have seen murderers in Pakistan turn on their own people – with a recent gruesome blast in a Peshawar market killing over 100, mainly women and children, with no real explanation that I could fathom. Again, I do not have to be Pakistani to feel a sense of sorrow. 

In today’s world, 75% of the victims of war are civilian – 100 years ago the figure was only 5%.  But terrorists target civilians 100% of the time. In researching this article the internet was full to bursting with vicious stories of murder by the extreme; of Islam-bashing, or Hindu-bashing, or of just bashing.  Of rancid-blogs and snide-blogs and outright-inciting-hatred blogs.  Again, I didn’t know where to begin and felt overwhelmed by the never-ending challenge of inspiring people to value peace.

But casting an eye over my own list of blog postings you might not be surprised to learn that I am not happy with stopping there.  I am not a quiet peacenik who lights candles and remembers how dreadful it all was (and laments the negative) - I am at my best when turning attention to dramatic and dynamic stories of peace.  I found Dramatic Examples of Cooperation in shell-shocked Gaza  recently.  So whilst we remember Mumbai, let’s give support to all those in India who are actively working towards cohesion in some dramatic ways.  This is for:

  • The Kathat community in Rajasthan who consider themselves both Hindu and Muslim;
  • Amit Dave a Reuters photographer who captured a moving image of Muslims releasing pigeons to symbolise peace during a rally in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad after the Mumbai attacks (not to miss out the Muslims at the Siliguri mosque in northeastern Indian who paid homage to the victims of the Mumbai attacks during a special prayer meeting last year);
  • Swaraaj Chauhan, who describes in his Moderate Voices blog how in the not too distant past the highly cosmopolitan Mumbai (or Bombay) stood as a “shining example of the peaceful co-existence between Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Parsis or any other religions and sects” - and he sees no reason why this can’t happen again;
  • mediator, Janet M Powers who’s book Kites over the Mango Tree is dedicated to restoring harmony between Hindus and Muslims in Gujarat;
  • and tucked away on page 17 of my Google search (I am quite tenacious when I get going) I found the remarkable Kamlesh Pathak.  Kamlesh is a Hindu woman who was moved by the plight of poor children in her home in Gwalior – so she runs a Madrassa.  Probably the only Hindu female in the world to do so. 

I am aware that the Mumbai attack had absolutely nothing to do with the beautiful peaceful religion that is Islam, and that the victims of the three-day-long terror were spread across faith groups and nationalities.  However, since the vicious Hindu-Muslim rioting the city witnessed in the early 1990s, it is not surprising that many less-helpful commentators have cited the Mumbai event as an ugly attack by Muslims against Hindus.    I hope that these examples of cross-cultural support above go some way to unpicking this. It took me just ten internet minutes to find handfuls of people who focus on peaceful solutions, not bitter retaliation - there are millions more out there - let’s give them a voice and support.

What happened in Mumbai last November was pure murder.  Humankind killing humankind.  To reduce this to a Hindu/Muslim – or even a Pakistan/India problem won’t help anything but our inclination to fathom the unfathomable.  However, for Kamlesh and her friends, and for Mumbai and Peshawar let’s stop shaking our heads and take every opportunity to celebrate where cohesion exists.

Photo Credit: Flickr User Argenberg


In the list of those working for cohesion you might also add The South Asian Idea dedicated to promoting understanding across borders among college students in South Asia. Its response to the Mumbai incident is recorded in a series of posts at:

Submitted by Temporary Mumbaikar on
I spent a considerable part of this year in Mumbai - including Ramzaan and Ganesh Puja celebrations which commenced at the same time. The city wore a festive look. Since Hindus and Muslims live cheek by jowl both occasions were observed in the narrow confines of what constitutes space in this city. As my housekeeper put it - this year was especially auspicious - since both were taking place at the same time. I'm not sure how that works - two different religions have two different auspicious things happening at the same time - this evidently increases the sum total of auspiciousness. In some crowded housing societies, Aarti started later than usual in the evening - because Namaaz had to be completed first and one lot could not drown out the other and the space was too cramped anyway. In most markets the marquee with the idol was next to the enclosure for Namaaz. Kids went from one to the other as kids often do. The loudspeakers during immersion day belted out the Ganesh Vandana at decibels likely to lead to hearing loss followed by Qawwalis which were equally loud. Some Ganesh idol immersion processions stopped at the Sufi shrine on the way because that was their tradition and this year was especially auspicious! Later it was Diwali - and everyone burst crackers and ate sweets and wished each other. For an outsider it was difficult to identify which community’s festival it was. This was a huge difference from last year - post 26/11. No community wanted to celebrate any of their own festivals. Christmas mass was sorrowful. New Year was simply sad. Everyone religious, non-religious, rich and poor was heartbroken. It was nice to see that the city had recovered. As for people who voice hate - they have their own problems - unfortunately they can also unleash violence. As to the rest, I have no idea whether they were focusing on any solutions - I think they were just being who they always had been. This blog post is the Bank at its worst- sanctimonious and do-gooding with no comprehension of ground realities. I also went back to good old HQ this summer. A refreshing change had taken place in the White House. But DC was the same as it had always been – where the privileged people of the Northwest do not step into the rest of the city. Maybe someone from Dharavi- the world’s second largest slum- can go and teach them how to live together every day. As for me – like Gandhi, I will strive to be the change I wish to see and change my residence in the city where I will spend most of my professional life – DC. Mumbai I will not worry about – ten misguided people with guns can’t dampen the spirit of “cohesion” of 15 million people, give or take a few.

Submitted by Caroline Jaine on
Thank you for leaving your thoughts and some deeper insight. I, like you, like to think I strive to be the change. My apologies to the World Bank for giving the impression that they are adopting moral superiority on such an issue. I do not work for the World Bank, but they have graciously hosted my words un-edited for a while now. These are my words, not theirs - I am but a Nomad passing through.

Submitted by Sara Khan on
Loved reading your blog Caroline, In a world where we let no moment to create "other" your blog is celebrating cohesion, Excellent...

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