Donna and Joe have finished their assignment in India. Occasionally they still travel somewhere.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Terrorism in Bangalore

On Friday afternoon Donna called me at work to alert me that several bombs had gone off in the city of Bangalore. (She had also heard that a visiting professor had been shot on the campus of India Institute of Science where I sometimes am a guest lecturer, but that turned out to be a reference to the one previous act of terrorism that had happened a couple of years ago.) Others in the office had also heard both these reports. As the afternoon went by people called home, and their families called them with news and to know that everyone was OK. The television warned people that the phone lines were jammed for this reason, so people shouldn't panic if they couldn't get through to a loved one. Our housekeeper/friend got a call from her son in Dubai, a nearby country, to see if she was all right. Sometime in the afternoon, although I did not see it until evening, the international assignment people sent an e-mail stating the bombings had occurred, and advising us not to panic, not to believe rumors and not to go out unnecessarily.

According to the various news reports 7-10 bombs went off in a period of about 30 minutes, all triggered by timers. Another, unexploded bomb was found and successfully disarmed by police on Saturday. One or two people were killed and 5 to 10 injured, again news reports differ. The bombs were described as being crude, low intensity explosives.

On Saturday the city of Ahmadabad was struck by 17 bombs killing 24 or more people and injuring 80 or more. Ahmadabad is north of Mumbai, about 1000 miles from from here. The bombs were described as being similar to those in Bangalore. But they were placed closer together and went off within seconds of one another according to witnesses. A group calling itself "Indian Mujahedeen" e-mailed several TV stations in to claim responsibility for the Ahmadabad bombings. The e-mails described the group as radicals of Islam and demanded release of members of Students Islamic Movement (SIMI) being held on terror charges associated with previous bombings.

Saturday we went out shopping as if it was any other day in Bangalore. However we were able to find a parking spot on Brigade road right in front of Pizza Hut, which indicates that a lot of people were staying home. Sunday on the way home from church I also noticed that traffic was quite light. Heavy monsoon rains may have something to do with that also. During the service, and especially in the pastoral prayer bombings were a major focus; but after church it did not seem to be a major topic of conversation over coffee.

These events were actually not as frightening to us as the events of two weeks earlier. A number of Muslims on the street behind our apartment had told our driver, and other people walking dogs, that if they walked them by their house they would kill the dog, or both of them. This had happened many times before we came, but seemed mostly an empty threat, although a friend carries a box cutter with her every time she walks her dog for defense. Then that week, in a space of 3 days, 2 street dogs that were tamed and befriended by locals died of poisoning. The first one was admittedly "rowdy", friendly to a fault, and had been catching and eating rats. (This raises concerns about rabies, although she was vaccinated.) I know of no conflicts about the 2nd dog.

(In fairness, I have to say that there are 2 other contributing factors: The first is that the Muslim faith believes that dogs are not only unclean, but unholy. If a traditional Muslim touches a dog I think they have to do a ritual cleansing. I don't know if something happens if the dog is on their property, and whether they consider the incline from the road to their gate to their parking area to be their property. I suppose to them, our beloved pets are the equivalent of a huge rat on a leash. The second is that Muslims can and do keep cats, and some of them have had a cat killed by street dogs; a ghastly sight, even if it's not your cat. On the other side, there are websites to tell people a variety of horrible ways to kill dogs.)

It could have been that the dogs just got a hold of rats that had been poisoned, but Donna and others with dogs were understandably upset and nervous. A day of two later, there was a rally of some sort at the Muslim Mosque, with angry sounding speeches in Hindu that were broadcast with the usual morning wake-up loudspeakers, so that the entire neighborhood could hear. This went on for several hours, ending after midnight. We could not understand what was said, but could tell this was not a love-fest. A friend said their speeches are anti-American and anti-Hindi.

The next day someone left parts of a pig carcass in or on the steps of two mosques in Bangalore fairly near our neighborhood. This led many Muslims to gather at the police station in the district where this happened and also at mosques around the city, including a large mosque a block from our apartment. The streets around our apartment were blocked by crowds and by police trying to control the crowds. Donna called me saying our driver wasn't sure I would be able to come home that night. (The roads out of our neighborhood were blocked, so he had walked Jaya to a rickshaw stop to see that she got there safely.)

But later things were calmer. When I came home there were many people milling about in the streets. Most shops were open, but just barely. Merchandise which is normally displayed on the sidewalk was taken in and windows were covered with only the main door open for customers to come in and out. Bus loads of police were stationed at several intersections, ready to respond to problems.

On normal day Hindus, Muslims and Christians mingle in Bangalore without any apparent friction; but below the surface there are many fears, prejudices, resentments and wounds. The central government is saying these acts are aimed at stirring up conflict which the terrorists can then exploit to force action on their agenda.

The technology may be modern but conflict is as old as the human race. Each of us can choose to be part of the problem or part of the solution. But only all of us together can make peace.

Donna and Joe

P.S. The afternoon of the bombings I decided that if people were spreading hate and hurt, I wanted to spread friendship and peace. So I took Luna out for her walk, I took a basket of candy and had her take it to people we met to offer them a piece. (This is how I'd taught her to greet visitors to the florist shop where I worked in the U.S., with the command, "Take it to our friend.") After the first time, I realized that I'd better only do it for people we knew, or someone might think they were poisoned. I guess it was kind of stupid, but I just felt like on such a bad day, something good or fun should happen.

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