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Mumbai Attacks Hit Home For Young South Asian Americans

New America Media, Roundup, Rupa Dev Posted: Dec 03, 2008

Editor's Note: The attackers in Mumbai were apparently in their twenties. NAM reporter Rupa Dev spoke with South Asian Americans in their twenties about how these attacks affected their lives and their view of South Asia.

Where were you when you first heard about the terrorist attacks?

Shruti Ganguly, 26, Filmmaker, Nylon magazine, New York, NY
I was in my office when I saw an email about the attacks. I saw that SAJA (South Asian Journalists Association) was holding a blog radio cast in which people all around the world were calling in to discuss the attacks. While listening on the call, I unexpectedly heard the voice of a friend, who reported that she was trapped in a Mumbai apartment because the terrorists were shooting outside. I left work early, went straight home, and put the news on. I was online with my friend in Mumbai throughout the day.

Riddhika Jesrani, 26, Jewelry Designer & Graphic Designer, New York, NY
It was around noon when I got a text message from one of my cousins who lives in Bombay that read, "Oh my God, they've attacked the Taj." I started live streaming CNN.com at work, and I could hear the bullets going off on television and see all the blood. It was horrifying. It was really hard to watch the news coverage, especially seeing The Taj and The Oberoi attacked. Those are the places where we hang out on a given night in Mumbai. And they're such beautiful buildings.

What was your immediate reaction?

Sejal Patel, 22, Human Resources, Intel, Portland, OR
Every time my mom hears about terrorist kids, she always blames their moms.When I heard about the attacks, I thought to myself, 'oh wow every time I go to India some act of destruction ends up happening.' I'm planning to visit India next month. I was in India when the Tsunami hit in 2004. My mother was there when the earthquake in Gujarat happened. I was in Mumbai when (Benazir) Bhutto was assassinated. All of a sudden, the areas I always thought were safe aren't anymore.

Muffadal Saylawala, 20, Student, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, IL
A few days before the Wednesday attacks, I read an article in the Financial Times that discussed how Pakistan's President Asif Zardari was trying to display peaceful relations with India by sharing intelligence and weapon information. Immediately after I read it, I thought to myself, some type of tragedy will definitely happen within the next few days. And it did.

Were you disturbed by the youth of the terrorists?

Riddhika Jesrani: These terrorists were our age; we're trying to save the world, and they're trying to bring it down. They are so young and so clearly set out to cause destruction. It's frightening to see how intensely they've been trained to be fueled by hatred.

Yagnesh Vadgama, 26, Behavior Therapist Los Angeles, CA
No, I wasn't surprised by the smiles on their faces and their bootlegged designer shirts. When I was backpacking through Kerala few years ago, I got to see different areas of the state, and specifically, the towns and villages that are predominately Muslim. There were streets and streets with houses flying the Pakistani flag. I asked these people why they were flying Pakistani flags, and they told me they felt a deeper connection with Pakistan because Pakistan represents Islam. Even though India is a secular nation founded on secular ideals, they reiterated that Pakistan represents Muslim ideals. So when I saw the faces of these terrorists on television, it almost brought me back to those feelings of tension amongst people in these Kerala villages who felt they were somehow being cheated by India and the government.

Tanzila "Taz" Ahmed, 29, regular contributor, Sepia Mutiny blog
Every time my mom hears about terrorist kids, she always blames their moms. She really believes the notion that American and British South Asian become terrorists because their mothers didn't want to take care of them. I'm not sure if that's a common sentiment among my mother's generation of Muslims.

Living here in the United States, do you feel detached from violence in India?

Urvi Nagrani, 21, Student, UCSB, Santa Barbara, CA
Maybe I'd be able to feel detached if I lacked personal ties to the situation, but I've been to all of the sites that were attacked, I have family members who live very close to all the sites. I was unable to enjoy the luxury of apathy.

Shima Khan, 24, High School Teacher, Austin, TX
I'm definitely upset with what has happened. Clearly, there was an internal glitch as well. Why wasn't security tightened after the 2006 blasts?

Shivani Mehta, 28, Fashion Designer, New York, NY
Bombay is so fresh in my mind. When they attack the train stations, they were attacking working class. When they attacked temples, they were attacking the middle class. Now they attacked the Taj and Oberoi, so they're targeting the upper class.

Taz Ahmed: Since I'm the only Muslim blogger on Sepia Mutiny, I didn't want to post anything because I knew there would be a bunch of attacks against me. I primarily identify as South Asian American, but I think situations like these literally force my Muslim identity to be brought out.

Yagnesh Vadgama: When I was in India, I would hang out at Leopold Caf because my Marathi and Hindi aren't great and people spoke English there. When I heard Leopold got attacked, that news hit me really hard. And when I heard the train got attacked as well, that news hit me hard, too. I never had a personal driver when I was in India and I only took local transportation like the train. I felt this wave of burnt out disappointment and exhaustion from these acts of violence constantly happening. It hurt even more this time because the memories of these attacked landmarks kept replaying in my mind.

Muffadal Saylawala: The American media kept mentioning that India suspected the source of the attacks to be from an "external force", which is a code name for Pakistan. I watched the Pakistani news channel and they showed footage of complete chaos in Pakistan, with troops assembling in Kashmir. India and Pakistan were supposedly going to strengthen peaceful relations at this very historic time, potentially ending 60 years of strife and suffering. And it all fell apart in two days.

Do you think these attacks might sway people towards canceling travel plans to India?

Pritesh Patel, 26, M.D., Resident, Chicago, IL
My concern is that foreigners who were just started to get comfortable with the idea of visiting India might now be turned off by the country. Now they might think India isn't safe, that India is a third world country, and cancel travel plans.

Sejal Patel: I think India is going to be labeled as an unsafe place. But what people need to realize is that no place is safe from being under attack. There were the attacks in London just a few years back.

Do you think Hindu/Muslim tension will subside in the coming years?

Shima Khan: I was born in India and lived there for about 12 years of my life. I never felt as though there was a difference between me and my Hindu friends. Our closest family friends were Hindu. Media and politicians spread this terror and reinforce stereotypes.

Shruti Ganguly: There's always been some conflict, but I was talking to my friends in India, and they feel something has changed in India. Indians are talking about their government, their country, and there seems to be some level of introspection that has come out of this whole incident. Usually we point fingers. But this time, it seems people are questioning things on so many more levels - government, global policy, the history of terrorism. People want to learn about what's going on, how they can move forward and what they can do.

Yagnesh Vadgama: As long as there is ineptitude in education, a lack of resources, a lack of a skill or trade, there will be people who are frustrated and have nowhere to go. That mounting frustration often turns into hatred.

Pritesh Patel: India is one of the most integrated democracies in the world. Now terrorism has spread rampantly throughout the world. Is terrorism a fad? It's as if terrorism has evolved into the cool thing to do, like it's elite to be part of an extreme underground network and to be notoriously remembered for these acts of horrific violence.

Shivani Mehta: My parents' generation still has that "Partition" (1947 partition of the subcontinent) mentality. I believe their generation thinks the tensions will persist, and I would like to believe that they won't because we've (our generation) grown up removed from the whole Hindu/Muslim violence issue. However, having been in India, I don't think the tension will subside until a fundamental change happens in the Indian and Pakistani societies.

Related Articles:

Mumbai Terrorists Wear Uniform of Young India

Live Blogging the Mumbai Attacks

Lessons From 9/11 For India Today

As the Mumbai Fires Die, the Terror of the Aftermath

Dawood -- Did Criminal Mastermind Stage Mumbai Nightmare?

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