Wednesday, December 10, 2008

In Outcry Over Siege, Two Indias Emerge

Washington Post | The recent siege brought terrorism to the doorstep of India's affluent and struck at the symbols of their prosperity. India's expanding elite, which has felt somewhat insulated from the heat, traffic, sporadic electricity outages and overall commotion in this fast-paced city, suddenly felt vulnerable.

In India, terrorists have usually targeted crowded markets and trains, seldom frequented by the wealthy. Typically, the victims have been the poor, including taxi drivers, deliverymen, shopkeepers and street sweepers. But the gunmen who struck several sites in Mumbai late last month focused much of their rage on the city's two most luxurious hotels and its most likely guests: business executives, socialites, Bollywood film directors and political bigwigs.

Never before has a terrorist attack in India brought such raw outrage and calls for sweeping changes in government. A public interest lawsuit was filed against the government over the failure to protect citizens. It was backed by some of Mumbai's richest, including stock analysts, lawyers and real estate tycoons. Billboards bearing the words "Jago, Mumbai, Jago," or "Wake up, Mumbai," went up in upper-class neighborhoods.

"The hard reality of this country is that we are living in two Indias. One is for the rich, who matter, and one is for the poor, who are invisible," said Ashok Agarwal, a lawyer who runs Social Jurist, a group that litigates education cases on behalf of the marginalized sections of society. "In India, you can use the poor for your benefit. He should cook your meals, wash your utensils, scrub your clothes, but when it comes to doing justice for the victims of other bombings, there wasn't this level of outrage. When poor people were attacked, the country wasn't suddenly insecure. This is a fundamental injustice, and it has led to authorities ignoring attacks."