“What if?” seems to be the choice phrase on the MUWCI campus today. It is whispered in the cafeteria, muttered in the classrooms, and discussed in our houses. “What if it had happened two days later, when MUWCI students would have been enjoying a meal at Leopold’s Café, or using the toilet in luxury at the Taj Hotel, or trying to find a train at Victoria Terminus? What if we had been there when it happened?” As horrifying as these thoughts are, in the current situation no “what ifs” are needed to create a general sense of terror and loss: what really did occur is frightening enough on its own.
Beginning around 10pm Indian time on Wednesday the 26th of November, a group of approximately 80 highly armed terrorists raked havoc on India’s economic capitol, the megacity of Mumbai, located approximately 160 km from MUWCI. Their focus seemed to be on symbols of decadence and foreign involvement in India: the places attacked included the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels, two of the most luxurious establishments in the city, Leopold’s Café, a favored haunt for generations of backpackers (and MUWCI students) and Mumbai’s central railway station, near the tourist hub of the city, in addition to the headquarters of a Jewish outreach group in Mumbai. There were also reports of attacks on hospitals, a cinema and an office building. In all, over 100 people have been reported dead, and over 300 reported injured. A previously unknown group called the “Deccan Mujahideen” has taken responsibility, although no major news source has been able to confirm this.
Although bomb blasts are unfortunately not infrequent in India (earlier this school year both Delhi and the northeastern state of Assam were hit), this situation was different both because of its magnitude and its targets. In addition to bombings, hostage situations emerged at both the Taj and Oberoi hotels. Gunmen stormed the popular tourist neighborhood of Colaba (where both the Taj and Leopold’s are located), and the city, including its stock market, Sensex, sat silent and motionless. At least 11 police officers were killed, as well as the head of the anti-terrorist unit of Mumbai. Foreign citizens were primary targets: the terrorists seemed to be hunting down Westerners, those with US and British passports were singled out during the hostage situations at the two hotels, and Israelis were targeted through the attack on the Jewish Outreach Center.
The impacts this will have on the MUWCI campus are as of yet unseen, despite the rather obvious ban from leaving the immediate area until the situation “calms down” and the cancelation of the upcoming “exeat” (double overnight, during which most students head for Mumbai) weekend. For the moment, we are safe on top of our hill, anxiously reading reports on both the situation itself, as well as the implications for Indian foreign policy and international relations in the wake of the attacks. There have been reports of possible implications for Indian-Pakistan relations as well as communal relations within India.
Amanda Lanzillo (MUWCI 2009)