Yesterday I talked to a senior professor here at the University of Mumbai. Professor Uttara Sahasrabuddhe teaches political science and International relations. The focus of our talks were Indo-Pakistani relations and the significance of the 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai, also referred to as “26/11”, which left 166 people killed and over 300 injured after a three-day series of blasts and terror in the city.
Apart from the 2008 attack, India has seen devastating terror attacks throughout the ’90s and 2000s. What made for Prof. Sahasrabuddhe the 2008 attack different from the others was that it deliberately targeted foreigners and tourists, since many of the places chosen for the attack (the two hotels Taj Mahal Palace and Oberoi Trident, and the Leopold Café) are frequented by foreigners.
The terrorists belonged to the Lashkar-i-Taiba group, a jihadist terrorist organisation operating from Pakistan. Only one of the terrorists, Ajmal Kasab, was arrested, the rest was killed in subsequent gunfire. Most that is known of the planning and preparations for the attack has been gathered in his hearings and the prosecution process.
India’s Muslim community is different from Europe’s Muslim community in the sense that in India it has historically always been a part of the society, professor Sahasrabuddhe explains to me. Europe’s Muslim population has mostly emerged with migration. Because of this difference, it’s also unthinkable for her that after an islamist-jihadist motivated terrorist attack the media would feature reports of Muslim community and religious leaders condemning the attack, just as it has been the case in Western media after the recent tragic case of Charlie Hebdo. (Well, I can’t understand it either for that matter.)
India’s response to the attack has also been different from the ones we have seen in the following weeks after Charlie Hebdo: no new anti-terror laws, no marches of the masses – or world leaders for that matter – through Mumbai’s streets. According to Uttara Sahasrabuddhe, India has tried to focus on further integration of Muslims in the society. “One way to do this has been to implement affirmative actions: we are positively discriminating religious groups and different castes to get seats in State bodies”, she explains. “But still, Muslims form the poorer part of Indian society and only 1 % of the Muslim population is educated on a university level.”
The attacks also had a negative impact on the Indo-Pakistani relations: the peace talks that had gotten a new small momentum in 2008 were halted. Now India blames Pakistan for not acting to capture those responsible for the attack, who are freely moving in the country.
But mostly India managed the aftermath of the attack with silence. “Mumbai has a natural capacity of bouncing back to normality in two days, be it a flood or terror attack or anything else”, Uttara Sahasrabuddhe tells me. But even for a megapolis, I find it a bit of an understatement. The families of the victims will for sure not have bounced back to their daily lives that quickly. The “Taj”, as everyone calls the famous South Mumbai hotel, shut its doors for two years for renovations.
Terrorism, says this Indian professor, is never very personal. For all it matters, it is a global phenomenon that needs also a global response.