Today I visited a memorial service and candlelight vigil held at the University of Southern California for the events that transpired in Mumbai. It was an event hosted by both the Association of Indian Students and the Pakistani Student Association and I began to wonder: am I dreaming, or could this actually happen on a larger scale? Could both countries who have been victims to numerous acts of terrorism, maybe even by the same outfits, try to fight the issue together? Can we break across religious lines? Can we break across economic lines? Can we break across politica...I stopped dreaming.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the militants in the horrific attacks that hit Mumbai last week were Islamic fundamentalists with religious motivations. One survivor who was taken hostage said, as reported by the Wall Street Journal, that the militants raised issues of Babri Masjid and Godhra riots as reasons for their attacks. The survivor also said that the Muslims in the line-up were asked to stand aside as the terrorists shot the others.
Typically in Mumbai, after news like this comes out, you would expect to see the Muslim dominated areas becoming sensitive and tensions between communities would rise. In fact in 1993, after the bomb blasts in Mumbai, then Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Sharad Pawar recently admitted to making false statements about bombs found and diffused in Muslim dominated neighborhoods of Mumbai as well, to show that Hindu's weren't particularly being targeted in the series of attacks.
But this time around, Mumbai doesn't require these false statements. This time it seems, things in Mumbai are different. We see peaceful marches, candlelight vigils, Facebook groups to express solidarity, action groups with online petitions, and numerous other forms of content and protest that have no element of religion. This may be the first time we see the city (maybe not the country) unite, across religious lines, against terrorism.
So how did Mumbai do it?
Although India is fundamentally a religious country, the city of Mumbai is not as driven by religion as it is by business. Suketu Mehta, a journalism professor and author of "Mumbai: Maximum City" defined Mumbai as the city of "dhanda" or ongoing business. In his editorial in the New York Times he said:
"In the Bombay I grew up in, your religion was a personal eccentricity, like a hairstyle. In my school, you were denominated by which cricketer or Bollywood star you worshiped, not which prophet."
Although Mehta seems afraid that things in today's Mumbai have changed, it seems more evident than ever before that now, the city he grew up in, remains. In fact with India's financial rallies in the past years, Mumbaikars are increasingly defined by their financial status over their religion.
After these attacks, the wealthy are as afraid and affected by terrorism as the rest of the country is, they are united in the fear they feel. Which is why today on the streets of Mumbai, you see both rich and poor, uniting to walk and protest against terrorism. And no one knows if they are walking besides a Hindu or a Muslim. In fact, no one cares.