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India: What about Mumbai’s “one-star” victims?

A response to the tragedy of November 2008

Much of the world watched, riveted, as militants and police battled Nov. 26-28,2008 in Mumbai, India. Sixty hours of carnage left more than 170 persons dead, including at least 140 Indians, at the five-star Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels, a Jewish center, the Chhatrapati Shivaji (formerly Victoria) railway station and other sites. In a widely circulated commentary Tamil writer Gnani Sankaran criticizes the news coverage. Gnani, of Chennai, says the media focused on the wealthy and foreigners who died while virtually ignoring the “Aam Aadmis” (common people) among the victims – more than 50 of whom were killed by grenades and AK-47s on the Victoria station platform. In “Hotel Taj: Icon of whose India?” Gnani expresses his regret that “[t]hose caught in this crossfire are always the Aam Aadmis whose deaths are not even mourned…” This news perspective, sadly, is all too common.

“…It is a matter of great shame that these [four English-language news] channels simply did not bother about the other icon that faced the first attack from terrorists – the Chatrapathi Shivaji Terminus (CST) railway station. CST is the true icon of Mumbai. It is through this railway station hundreds of Indians from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, West Bengal and Tamilnadu have poured into Mumbai over the years, transforming themselves into Mumbaikars and built the Mumbai of today along with the Marathis and Kolis.

“…And the TV cameras did not go to the government run JJ hospital to find out who those 26 unidentified bodies were. Instead they were again invading the battered Taj to try in vain for a scoop shot of the dead bodies of the page 3 celebrities. In all probability, the unidentified bodies could be those of workers from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh migrating to Mumbai, arriving by train at CST without cell phones and pan cards to identify them….

“The channels conveniently failed to acknowledge that the Aam Aadmis of India surviving in Mumbai were not affected by Taj, Oberoi and Trident closing down for a couple of weeks or months. What mattered to them was the stoppage of BEST buses and suburban trains even for one hour. But the channels were not covering that aspect of the terror attack.

“…Hotel Taj is where the rich and the powerful of India and the globe congregate. It is a symbol or icon of power of money and politics, not India. It is the icon of the financiers and swindlers of India. Mumbai and India were built by the Aam Aadmis who passed through CST, and Taj was the oasis of peace and privacy for those who wielded power over these masses of labouring classes….

“It is precisely because Taj is the icon of power and not people, that the terrorists chose to strike. The terrorists have understood after several efforts that the Aam Aadmi will never break down even if you bomb her markets and trains. He/she was resilient because that is the only way he/she can even survive….

“The same channels celebrated resilience when bombs went off in trains and markets killing and maiming the Aam Aadmis. The resilience of the ordinary worker suited the rich business class of Mumbai since work or manufacture or film shooting did not stop. When it came to them, the rich shamelessly exhibited their lack of nerves and refused to be resilient themselves. They cry for government intervention now to protect their private spas and swimming pools and bars and restaurants, similar to the way in which Citibank, General Motors and their ilk cry for government money when their coffers are emptied by their own ideologies.

“The terrorists have learnt that the ordinary Indian is unperturbed by terror. For one whose daily existence itself is a terror of government sponsored inflation and market sponsored exclusion, pain is something he has learnt to live with. The rich of Mumbai and India Inc. are facing the pain for the first time and learning about it just as the middle classes of India learnt about violation of human rights only during emergency, a cool 28 years after independence.

...Has there ever been any 24 hour non stop coverage of violence against dalits and adivasis [scheduled castes and indigenous people] of this country? ...

“Arnabs and Rajdeeps [i.e., Indian television journalists] would wax eloquent on [Prime Minister] Manmohan Singh and [opposition leader L.K.] Advani visiting Mumbai separately and not together showing solidarity even at this hour of national crisis…. Why should Arnab and Rajdeep and Barkha keep harping every five minutes that this piece of information was exclusive to their channel, at the time of such a national crisis? Is this the time to promote the channel? If that is valid, the politician promoting his own political constituency is equally valid. And the duty of the politician is to do politics, his politics. It is for the people to evaluate that politics. And terrorism is not above politics. It is politics by other means….

“Those caught in this crossfire are always the Aam Aadmis whose deaths are not even mourned – the taxi driver who lost the entire family at CST firing, the numerous waiters and stewards who lost their lives working in Taj for a monthly salary that would be one time bill for their masters.”  

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