Salaam Bombay!

India must cautiously fight terrorism within its borders

CALCUTTA, India—After New York’s 9/11, Madrid’s 3/11, and London’s 7/7, Bombay will now remember 7/11: Starting at 6:24 p.m. on Tuesday July 11, Bombay was rocked by seven successive, devastating blasts. Timers detonated bombs left in overhead luggage racks in first-class train compartments, ripping apart whole carriages, killing over 200 commuters, and injuring close to 800.

By all accounts, Bombay has fought back. If terror attacks are meant, above all else, to cripple the lives and spirits of common people, then Bombay provided a fitting response—trains on the bomb-affected Western line ran as usual the next day, with many commuters returning to work on their preferred mode of transport. Here in Calcutta, I have heard from many of my friends in Bombay about the “indomitable spirit” of their city, a phrase that has been used extensively by the television news channels reporting from Bombay.

There were reports of people serving tea, bread, and daal to survivors and friends at train stations, free rides home were offered and gratefully accepted, beds for lost travelers and survivors were provided by slum-dwellers, and people rushed to hospitals to donate blood, as blood types became more important than caste or religion in India’s most cosmopolitan city.

Sadly, Bombay is no stranger to terrorism. In 1993 it was ravaged by a series of bomb blasts attributed to criminal gangs, which killed over 250 people. Along with other smaller blasts over the last few years, India has tackled terrorism in Kashmir, Maoist insurgencies and frequent acts of terrorism across the country, as well as sporadic acts of terror from separatist groups in Assam and southern India.

The blasts of 7/11, however, represent a new breed of terror for India. The blasts were synchronized and used a high-quality explosive. This was the work of a well-financed terror group that needed no suicide bombers. As a nation, India must now move on from merely praising its phenomenal ability to seemingly brush off and heal from its many natural and man-made disasters—it must develop and hone its intelligence network to prevent these attacks, and not allow terrorism to deter the peace process in Kashmir.

In the first few days following the Bombay blasts, official statements from New Delhi treated the atrocity as a mere terror act. Notably, the government resisted the populist—and counterproductive—temptation to dub the bombing an “act of war” or an attack sponsored by Pakistan; initial statements from both nations stressed the need to continue dialogue and confidence-building measures between the tense neighbors.

Terror attacks in New York, Madrid, London, Bali, Casablanca, Istanbul, and Bombay show that the “war on terror” is a global effort that affects all civilized nations, but this fight has to be conducted without spawning more hatred and terror. In this respect the initial Indian response has been extremely commendable—the government has refused to blame a specific group or promise its people counterattacks.

India needs to maintain this stance: While the death of 200 civilians is a terrible, terrible tragedy, it represents a fraction of the lives lost to earthquakes, tsunamis, rains, floods, typhoons, and even daily accidents while using public transport. How does Bombay, and indeed the rest of India, constantly cope with its many natural and man-made disasters?

By maintaining a sense of historical proportion, and not overreacting to the situation. The Bombay terror attacks are not an “act of war” because the bombers are not soldiers, and the Indian people should never recognize their cause. The blasts were a cowardly attempt to disrupt our lives, and once the intelligence network finds out who is responsible, arrests must be made.

At the time of writing this article, New Delhi Television reported that peace talks between India and Pakistan scheduled for next week will be delayed because New Delhi says it has evidence of Islamabad’s hand in the bombings. If the reports aren’t true, we’ve just given the terrorists behind 7/11 what they wanted. But if they are, we’re possibly looking at another India-Pakistan standoff and more violent uncertainty in Kashmir. Either way, the need of the hour is cool-headed thinking from the Indian government: While preserving existing peace-talks, they must act fast to outthink terrorists. Meanwhile, the Indian people and media need to resist the temptation to provide a religious or nationalistic slant to terrorism before any evidence is collected—I would hope we’ve learnt that lesson by now.

Ravi Agrawal ’05-’06 was a Crimson news editor. He is presently eating mangoes and writing at home before tasting the real world starting next month in London.