One argument that is being made about the Mumbai attacks is that they are garnering so much attention because this time the rich were targeted. This argument contains multiple levels of silliness.
Yes, there is a class divide in India. There is a divide between the literate and the illiterate. There is a divide between those who read English newspapers and those who don’t. There is a divide between cities and villages. Now, the whole point of a class divide is that those on one side of a divide feel greater kinship among themselves than with those on the other side. Readers of English newspapers like to read about the travails of other middle-class readers like themselves and don’t care much about farmers dying in Vidarbha. A citizen of Mumbai cares more about people dying in train bombings in his city than he does for deaths due to Naxalism or caste wars. That makes sense.
But if you try to stretch this standard argument to argue that this particular terror strike is getting more attention because it was targeted at the rich South Bombay types, that is where the argument snaps. The typical English speaker is far more likely to travel by train than be able to afford coffee at the Taj or Oberoi. He is much more likely to feel kinship with those who died in a train blast on July 11, 2006 than with those who died in the November massacre.
There is a sliver of truth in the argument – in that it is true that the attacks got more attention in the West because Americans and Britons were killed. But using the argument to explain why they have generated such an enormous outrage amont Mumbaikars involves lazy thinking as well as an active effort to avoid the blindlingly obvious.
Five years ago, the Economist was cheering not only the invasion of Afghanistan, but also that of Iraq. Now, when it comes to India’s response to the Mumbai terror attacks, the Economist has declared that we should not emulate the US “mistakes” like… the invasion of Afghanistan. Worse still, now it turns out that the US incursions into Pakistan – the threat of which is the only thing that is keeping Pakistan in check, are also a bad idea.
I am usually contemptuous of attempts to link enormous tragedies to the writer’s minor personal misfortunes, but bear with me on this. On 27th November, I was stuck in a hotel room in the United States, unable to return to Mumbai because my flight was cancelled due to the terrorist attacks. I had missed breakfast because I was glued to the television, and because it was Thanksgiving day and no restaurant was open, I faced the prospect of staying hungry throughout the day. I was also feeling exceedingly lonely and was desperately missing my two-month old infant son.
My problems, needless to say, were trivial compared to what my city went through. The reason I am mentioning them is to explain why the incident of Karambir Kang, General Manager at the Taj, losing his wife and two daughters in a fire while he was saving hotel guests caused me to burst into tears.
It has been over a week since, and I am still seething. This is not the first terrorist strike on Mumbai or on India, and the way things are going, this will not be the last. But there was something different about this one. It is one thing to anonymously set off a few bombs and kill a couple of hundred people. It is quite another when 10 or 20 people, armed with guns and grenades, hold off the might of the Indian State. This is probably the greatest display of India’s military weakness since the defeat of 1962.
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