Studies were largely interrupted last night as news of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai began to wash over the international student postgraduate ghetto that is my home now. Unsurprisingly there are a large number of Pakistani and Indian nationals staying in this building, with three being my immediate neighbours. Nationals of both states huddled together in front of computer screens and the televisions at the nearby student pub, in a mix of horror, silent contemplation and frantic attempts to contact family and friends living, working, studying or otherwise visiting Mumbai.
Initial reports from those contacted from our dorms ranged from complete surprise (we’re watching a movie, what are you talking about? Really? Oh Sh…) to confusion (we heard explosions and gunfire, but we don’t know whats happening) to anguished concern (Can’t talk now, going to hospital to find someone; So and so was at the Cafe (Leopold), we can’t reach him now…). Ironic in our modern technological society that we in Edinburgh were at times better informed than those in Mumbai itself. For a while students here served as centres for relaying information and compiling lists of who’s injured, what hospital they were at, who’s okay and were they are and so on. And then of course the cellphone network in Mumbai either collapsed due to traffic or was disabled by the authorities, we don’t know.
Not being a national or having anyone (that I know of) involved in the area, but being a newshound as I am, I spent the time mostly transfixed by the live images from the computer (I highly recommend this site for such information; also has live streaming video) and making tea for my neighbours in between lending my phone out for them to contact and coordinate with loved ones in Mumbai. All in all it was a long night, and as I type this the situation in Mumbai, almost 24hrs since it began, remains unresolved. At least the students here, although understandably tense and worried, are less so now, most having since contacted their people and become reassured that the situation, though unresolved, is at least largely contained. Most are now taking naps to catch up on a restless night, and talk is going more towards speculating who was behind this and why.
It probabaly won’t be clear for some time yet where these people came from, where they trained and what their plans were. From my perspective, the fact that today is also US Thanksgiving (the attacks started at 2300hrs Mumbai time, an hour before Thanksgiving itself and in time to make US primetime news) seems relevant to me. Of course this is not a holiday in India, but the choice of largely Western associated targets and US citizens (in addition to Britons) seems to indicate a possible link. Also there are many regional elections in India at this moment, including the disputed Kashmir region, and a national election is due soon. These events will undoubtedly have an impact on the outcomes of these polls, but its hard to tell if it will strengthen support for the Congress or return the right-wing Hindu nationalist BJP to power.
Most Indians here are pointing the finger at Pakistan, but not necessarily the Pakistani civilian government but more the Pakistani military and secret service which in many ways acts independently of the elected government. There are no signs of tension between the Indian and Pakistani students here, only shared concern and disgust at these atrocities. In particular most are suspecting the Lashkar-e-Toiba Kashmiri militant group, which has alleged Al Queda connections. Others are looking at the banned Students’ Islamic Movement of India, but most are stressing that the connection to Islam is superficial. Ironically I recall reading an article recently on the BBC concerning Hindu terrorists, and it may very well be possible that they are behind this with the hope of inciting Hindu-Muslim strife.
It does seem though that the contagion is spreading throughout south-east asia, and that is decidedly not a good thing. Ironically tonight, as it is every Thursday at the nearby student pub, is ‘beer and balti’ night. I imagine it will be rather subdued compared to usual.