By Neelanjana Banerjee
New America Media
Editor's Note: South Asian bloggers covered the Mumbai attacks in real time and continue to analyze them now. Neelanjana Banerjee is an editor for New America Media.
SAN FRANCISCO -- While reporters covered Mumbai’s terrorist attacks from outside the smoking Taj Hotel last week, South Asian bloggers the world over logged on to voice their fears, post their near brushes with death and offer their own analysis of the story.
On Nov. 27th, Rahul of Green Channel wrote a post simply titled “Nightmares” where he detailed his own close brush with survivors of the attack.
“I was there with my pregnant wife and friends, stepping out of Gordon House after considering a meal, when a wave of people, crying, running, looking disoriented, swept onto our lane from Colaba Causeway and the Taj. One boy draped a coat around his inconsolable partner. She hunched, her face planted firmly in her palms. The boy looked behind nervously, and quickened his pace. I ran to them to ask what happened. ‘There’s been a shootout,’ he said, walking on. Behind them, the crowd that began streaming into this lane grew seriously thick. I turned tail and ran indoors. All night long we stayed awake, hearing the muffled rumble of exploding grenades from two streets away. Sometimes we would hush each other and look around, our eyes asking, ‘Was that another…?’ ”
Pickled Politics, a British group blog focused on South Asian issues, gave updates debunking media hunches, like the idea that some of the attackers might be British Pakistanis.
“The front page of today’s Evening Standard loudly asserts that some of the terrorists were from Leeds and surrounding areas. At this point nothing is certain because there is a constant stream of conflicting reports from India. Media orgs there are jumping on anything anyone says, so take it with a bucket of salt. The Indian government pretty much makes it near impossible for British Pakistanis to get a visa there, whether on business or for pleasure. If Pakistanis want to travel, they not only have to register where they’re going to be staying but also have visas only for specific cities rather than the country. And even then, they’re watched by the police. I’m not even exaggerating. The only way a British Pakistani terrorist would have gotten to India is by smuggling on to a boat going from Karachi to Mumbai,” blogger Sunny wrote on Nov. 28th.
On India Uncut, Mumbai-based blogger Amit Varma lauded the bravery of the local law enforcement, even though he acknowledges they were ill-equipped.
“For decades now, we’ve taken it for granted that our army is better equipped and trained than our police. Our army defends our country from outside attack; our police looks after local law and order, which demands less of them. But it’s become clear now that that old paradigm has changed. As long as we are threatened by terrorists, we will remain in a state of suspended war, and we need to invest in bringing our cops up to date with urban warfare, in terms of both training and equipment. The heroism they have displayed in the last two days makes it clear that our police can match the best forces in the world in terms of valor and spirit. But it’s time now to back them up so that if terrorists attack Mumbai again, we won’t need to call in the army.”
Meanwhile, South Asian American superblog Sepia Mutiny pointed their readers away from television news coverage of the attacks, with their “endlessly repeating video loops and paid talking heads,” and suggested logging on to Twitter or the Mumbai attacks wiki page for up-to-date information. But “ugly” comments lead to admonishing and the closing of discussion by moderators.
“Use the comments to post informational facts or words of sympathy only. Right now is not the time for recriminations,” blogger Abhi wrote on the 27th.
Still, high emotions were unavoidable for many, like in this UberDesi post by blogger Runa, titled “In the Aftermath”:
“I have spent an entire Thanksgiving weekend glued to the television and to Indian TV channels online watching the coverage of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. It was difficult for anyone to watch the senseless carnage and the massacre of innocents. For those of us who had a relationship with Mumbai, it was even more so. The Taj, the Oberoi and Cafe Leopold were well-loved landmarks. When I was growing up, the Taj and the Oberoi represented aspirational objectives – someday I wanted to earn enough to afford to have a complete meal at the restaurants in those hotels. We satisfied ourselves by having an occasional cup of coffee at the coffee shops for the outrageous sum of Rs.35 and felt the impacts on our student budgets for days after; yet we felt it was worth it to be able to say that we went to the Taj or the Oberoi. NDTV showed the remanants of the Taj today – the reporters voice cracking with emotion as the camera panned shards of broken glass, shattered windows and soot-stained walls.
"Like the common man being interviewed on numerous channels, the overwhelming emotion I feel is raw anger. Anger at a world in which religion and dogma cause humans to plot, plan and execute murderous rampages. Anger at the Indian government which has allowed this to happen to Mumbai again and again. Anger that the Indian police and military forces have to put their lives at line with one hand tied behind their backs due to the political interference that dogs every institution in India. Anger that the attacks at the Taj and the Oberoi received all the International media attention while the attacks at the CST (Chahatrapati Shivai Terminus formerly VT) which killed so many poor and indigent people were barely mentioned in passing. Anger, impotent rage, that all we can do is hold candlelight vigils and pray for the dead while the dance of destruction continues unchecked because there is no political will to end the cancer of terrorism through action not talk. Anger at myself because I find myself thinking hateful thoughts and wanting blood for blood though my rational mind knows better. Because when someone is standing outside your home and yelling at you, it’s easy to turn the other cheek. But when someone enters your home and slaps you right across the face – you want to scream and yell and beat them senseless. I am not proud of the way I feel right now and I need to take a breath and go away a little while and think about all this. One thing is clear – this cannot go on. Something has to change. We have to do something – but what?”
After the dust settled and the bodies were counted, Indian bloggers were able to weigh in on the bigger picture. Bengali blogger GreatBong – winner of the Indiblog of the Year award in 2006 – analyzed India’s terror policies after the attacks, which he dubbed "26/11" in comparison to 9/11.
“If any good has come out of 26/11 it has been the government’s announcement in principle to have a federal agency on terror (though I believe that similar ideas have been floated before and then consigned to the dustheap of public memory). Now, the only thing that remains to be seen is how this federal agency is staffed, what kind of counter-terrorism equipment provided, how much political interference the agency has to put with and the extent to which the powers provided to this agency will be misused to settle personal scores and spy on political opponents. The most important thing in the way forward is how India handles the issue of Pakistan and its role in 26/11. The wrong way to go about things is to get into a press battle with Pakistan by making public statements hinting at having conclusive proof of “foreign involvement” and leaving it at that. Unfortunately, this is exactly what India has done. To be honest, India will always find it tough to win the international media war despite being the victim because 1) the Indian government does not invest in lobbying as much as Pakistan does. Which is why you will see Pakistani diplomats on CNN and not their Indian counterparts and 2) Indian expatriates, despite being a wealthy constituent of US society and a significant source of campaign cash for both parties, lack the patriotic enthusiasm of the Cuban or the Chinese diaspora when it comes to using their financial might for the homeland.”
While the IndiaTime blog writes about “What India Can Learn from Israel,” connecting the Mumbai terror attacks to similar attacks that were carried out by militants who sailed a small boat to the shores of a coastal city in Israel in 1979.
“Last week, more than a dozen muslim militants sailed in their motorized rubber boats reaching the Sassoon dock in Mumbai, India’s biggest coastal city. Like the PLF militants, they too, followed a handbook written by their mentors from the port of origin. They too, killed police officers, and killed indiscriminately at innocent civilians. And what did the home minister of the state had to say about that? “…in big cities like, such small incidents do happen..”, said RR Patil alias Aba, as he is affectionately called by his stupid followers. Here in India, we do not give a hoot about an individual life, alive or dead. Indian prisoners have been rotting in Pakistani jails for decades, but India does not have give a hoot. India’s most wanted have been celebrating a luxurious life in Karachi’s poshest suburbs, but India does not have the guts to influence an exchange. Forty years ago, an Indian prime minister went to Russia to meet with his Pakistani counterpart and came back home in a coffin. We did not bother to raise a stink. Every day, thousands die in India. Some with dignity. Some without dignity. Some mysteriously. Some openly. Some at the hands of gangsters and some at the hands of the police. Some at the hands of their husbands or in-laws. Some at the hands of their doctors. Some at their own hands, full of despair. Death tolls in dozens and hundreds means nothing for us. If it is in thousands, maybe the news is worth a glance. Tens of thousands and you have a fair shot at our attention. I don’t know if there is a health study out there that has measured the thickness of skins in people from different countries. I am willing to bet that India’s residents will probably have the thickest skins, with our politicians topping the study with several feet of skin thickness catalyzed by wads of cash in their pockets. So why even bother about those Israeli fools? Emptying their banks for dead bodies of their soldiers and citizens! Ha! We Indians are way too smarter than that."