Monday, July 25, 2011

Wounded Mumbai

Economic & Political Weekly, July 23, 2011

A city bleeds. Three bombs rip apart some of its many congested localities. Twenty people die, 131 are injured. And the residents of that city collectively ask: Why? Why here? Why now? Why us?

The 13 July serial blasts in Mumbai’s Zaveri Bazaar, Opera House and Dadar were not the first. The city has a list of significant “terror” dates: 1993, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2008 and now 2011. The 13 July blasts were not as devastating as the previous ones. Many more were killed in the serial blasts that ripped through the city’s “lifeline”, its commuter trains, on 11 July 2006 and even more on 12 March 1993. Yet each time terror strikes Mumbai, people still ask the same question. Why?

The answer to that question is neither simple nor obvious. It has been hovering in the air for decades. It is rooted in the city’s history, its trajectory of maldevelopment and its politics. Yet, the relevant question
is not “why” but “what”, what terms like “terror” and “security” actually mean for Mumbai’s residents.

The first terror strike took place on 12 March 1993 when 13 huge  RDX-laden explosions shook the city from its southern tip in Nariman Point to the Santa Cruz airport in the north. Hundreds were injured, 257 people died.

On 13 March, the city got back to work – much as it did on 14 July 2011. But something changed then. And Mumbai has never been the same again. The 1993 serial bombings sent out a clear message. They came within weeks of the end of the worst communal riots Mumbai had ever seen, the post Babri masjid conflagration that stretched from the night of 6 December 1992 right up to the end of January 1993. The majority of those killed were Muslims. The serial blasts sent out a message – that the victims of the targeted killing would not sit back and accept their fate.

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