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Impact of Mumbai Attacks Resonates Throughout India

December 5, 2008 at 6:25 PM EDT
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Anger and grief from the Mumbai attacks has spread throughout Indian cities and villages both large and small as people struggle to make sense of the bloodshed. NewsHour special correspondent Simon Marks reports from India on reaction to the attacks around the country.
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JIM LEHRER: Next tonight, special correspondent Simon Marks wraps up a week of reporting from India with reaction to last week’s terror attacks from beyond Mumbai.

SIMON MARKS, NewsHour Special Correspondent: It’s wedding season in India. And on the streets of Ahmedabad, 340 miles north of Mumbai, it’s a good time of year to be in the celebratory music business.

Hundreds of weddings in Mumbai itself have been postponed, with couples no longer finding the dancing in the streets associated with Indian marriages appropriate, given the tragic events of last week.

But here, in India’s sixth-largest city, with a population of 5 million, ceremonies are going ahead as normal. Wedding guests told us they sympathize with the losses suffered by their fellow Indians and want to see the government strike back at neighboring Pakistan, which is being blamed for the attack.

VARUN PUJARA (through translator): It is very wrong that these terrorists came to India. The politicians need to take a harsh stance toward these mad men so it will never happen again.

And I think we should attack Pakistan. I think we should teach them a lesson so they never, even think of doing it again.

SIMON MARKS: Cities like Ahmedabad have seen explosive growth over the past 20 years; commercial areas, shopping malls, and office blocks are sprouting up everywhere.

India is witnessing an enormous population shift, as people leave the countryside and follow what they hope will be a path to prosperity in the cities.

More than 35 Indian cities now boast a population larger than one million, and many of these new Indian urbanites are globally connected. They tuned in last week in enormous numbers as the country’s cable networks provided continuing coverage of the crisis in Mumbai.

Citizens demand better protection

SIMON MARKS: And virtually everyone we met here, including trinket sellers outside a Hindu temple, took a strong position on the need for Indian politicians to better protect the nation.

MUNNI BEHEN: We feel scared. We don't let our kids wander around on their own. And even when they go to school, we feel worried. When they come home, we're relieved.

NARENDRA MODI, Chief Minister of Gujarat: In warlike situation, there is a consensus in the country.

SIMON MARKS: But prominent Indian opposition figures, like Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat, the state in which Ahmedabad is located, are being uncharacteristically reserved.

With anger in Mumbai itself still not abating -- protestors there earlier this week were excoriating the entire political class -- this usually vigorous government foe says he's willing to seek ways of working with the ruling coalition in a bid to solve India's problems.

NARENDRA MODI: The anger is against the system. Terrorism is against humanism. And unless and until the humanist forces do not come together and fight against the terrorism, naturally those who believe in humanity will be afraid of it and the anger is very natural.

SIMON MARKS: Narendra Modi is a controversial figure, both within India and on the world stage. He's banned from traveling to the United States for his alleged incitement of sectarian violence in Gujarat that claimed over 1,000 lives -- the vast majority of them Muslim -- in February 2002.

Mr. Modi told us he has no plans to use last week's terror strikes as an opportunity to play sectarian politics in the country's general election campaign next spring, no plans, he says, to try and tie India's Islamic community to the Mumbai attacks.

NARENDRA MODI: I would not like to talk in terms of Hindu, Muslim, this and that. I always prefer to talk about the Indian community.

Indian Muslims fear backlash

SIMON MARKS: But some Indian Muslims aren't convinced, as we heard this afternoon on one of Mumbai's packed commuter trains, taking office workers out of the city at the start of the weekend.

This train, we were told, was only about 75 percent full; apparently, it is possible to pack even more people into these gender-segregated compartments. Muslims and Hindus travel back and forth on the rails, squashed together like sardines.

Mohammed Habib, a Muslim who works as an electrical engineer in Mumbai, told us he's worried about his community's future.

MUSLIM INDIAN: I'm totally Indian and 100 percent Indian.

SIMON MARKS: But do you worry about the relationship between Indian Muslims and Indian Hindus?

MUSLIM INDIAN: Yes, 100 percent, because there are some people who make partition between Hindu and Muslims.

SIMON MARKS: And you think that could happen now because of what happened last week?

MUSLIM INDIAN: Maybe possible. Maybe, in some other regions, maybe in the name of religion and in the name of elections they do something like that.

SIMON MARKS: Muslim community leaders here in Mumbai and in other parts of India are joining the public call for action to be taken against Pakistan. In a country in which Hindu and Muslim communities have often in the past taken part in murderous attacks on one another, observers here are heartened that last week's events have not sparked any sectarian violence.

Shashi Tharoor is one of India's most prominent newspaper columnists and a former undersecretary general of the United Nations.

SHASHI THAROOR, Columnist: In a fractious democracy like ours, there are enough politicians who thrive on the politics of division and the politics of hatred. And I was afraid that some of them would seize this opportunity to demonize our Muslim minority. Not only has that not happened, I no longer fear the worst, barring new developments and new revelations of local complicity, which may have other consequences for those who might have been complicit.

Sense of normalcy returning

SIMON MARKS: And there are some parts of India where people are not overly focused on the events of last week and what they revealed about the state of India's national security.

About 45 minutes by train from Mumbai lies the village of Vighar, where the rhythms of life don't seem to have changed much for hundreds of years. Two-thirds of India's population -- more than 600 million people -- still live in the country's rural communities. People here told us that they were aware of the assault on Mumbai, just 40 miles away, but that the issues it raised didn't really touch them directly.

MANISHA PHADKE (through translator): We don't know that much about it. If anybody goes into town for work, then we find out a little bit. But people from this village don't really go there. Only if they go to the city do they hear about this.

SIMON MARKS: Back in Mumbai, there's a new tourist attraction. The piazza opposite the Taj Hotel, one of two five-star facilities attacked by the terrorists, is now open to the public once again.

Today, they came in droves and rented binoculars from some quick-thinking entrepreneurs to catch a close-up look of a building that is now a monument to last week's tragedy.

The harbor used by the terrorists to launch their attacks is also open again. And today, tourist boats were bringing visitors to the scene amid no visible signs of increased shoreline security.

With a general election on the horizon, the attack's lasting impact on India's internal community relations and its relationship with Pakistan will take a while to come into focus.

JIM LEHRER: You can watch all of Simon Marks' reports from India on our "World View" page. Just go to PBS.org, click on "TV Shows," and then to the Online NewsHour.

Still to come on the NewsHour tonight, Brooks and Marcus. But first, this is Pledge Week on public television.