Mumbai massacre revisited By Irfan Husain
Posted by jagoindia on July 9, 2009
By Irfan Husain, 04 Jul, 2009
ALL too often, natural disasters and human atrocities make only a
fleeting impression. We watch fascinated and horrified as TV anchors
give us their impressions while images of death and disaster roll
across our screens.
But soon, one particular crisis is overtaken by another, and
relentlessly, the news cycle moves on.
It is not until one sees and hears the survivors that the magnitude of
a disaster really sinks in. This is what I experienced while watching
Channel 4’s programme on its Dispatches series. Called Terror in
Mumbai, the documentary retraces the steps of the terrorists as they
first landed in Mumbai by boat, and then made their way across the
city, spreading mayhem over a period of 60 hours.
We were shown clips from CCTV cameras that had captured the killing
spree. Casually the killers shot everybody who moved. At the VT
railway station, where 52 people died, they massacred a family, and a
young boy who survived later recounted who had died: ‘My father. My
mother. My aunt. My uncle. Their two sons. What had we done to them?
So many dead. What had they done to the terrorists?’ What indeed?
When I wrote a couple of columns after the atrocity last year,
expressing sympathy for the victims and condemning the killers and
those behind them in Pakistan, I got a flood of angry emails,
demanding to know the proof that linked the terrorists to Pakistan.
Our government was in similar denial. And although it has grudgingly
accepted that the controllers and planners of the attack were based in
Pakistan, and has even arrested some members of the Laskhar-i-Taiba
that has morphed into the Jamaatud Dawa, very little progress has been
made on punishing those responsible.
The most chilling part of the documentary was the constant voice
contact between the terrorists and their handlers. Talking on cell
phones, the controllers urged on their pawns in Punjabi and Urdu,
interspersed with the odd English words and phrases. They certainly
did not sound like graduates of a madressah. Rather, they were
professionals doing a job, instructing the young terrorists to kill as
many people as possible; urging them to move from one target to
another; and repeating that they must not allow themselves to be
Soon after his arrest, Ajmal Kasab was questioned by the police, and
admitted that he had been sent by the Lashkar-i-Taiba. Asked why and
how he had joined the group, he said his father had ‘sold’ him to the
Lashkar. He said his father had explained that the money would lift
the family out of poverty, and pay for his sisters’ weddings. How many
more young men are being sold to terror outfits across Pakistan?
One Turkish couple, spared because of their faith, recount how the
bodies of massacred guests at the Trident Oberoi piled up around them,
and how slippery it was to walk over the pools of blood. A neighbour
of the rabbi and his wife who were murdered at the Jewish Centre
describe how one by one, the couple said ‘shoot me’ to the killers,
and were duly shot. After the terrorists had left, the two-year old
son of the murdered couple is filmed in a heart-breaking sequence,
walking around in the room, clearly confused.
After Kasab had been captured, the controllers realised what would
happen if he spilled the beans. They ask two of the killers to take a
hostage and get her to call the authorities with a demand to free
Kasab in exchange for her life. After an hour or so, when there is no
response from the government, they are told to finish off the hostage.
All through the atrocity, the handlers — obviously watching the drama
on TV — keep urging their foot soldiers on, encouraging them by
descriptions of what they are seeing on TV. ‘The whole world is
watching your deeds…. Remember this is a fight between the believers
and the non-believers…. If you speak to the authorities, tell them
this is only the trailer and the real film is yet to come.…’
And when the terrorists are clearly exhausted, the controllers urge
them on: ‘Throw some grenades, my brother, there’s no harm in throwing
a few grenades. How hard can it be to throw a grenade? Just pull the
pin and throw it. For your mission to end successfully, you must be
killed. God is waiting for you in heaven.’ After each such
exhortation, the young terrorist at the receiving end says,
‘Inshallah’. At the start of the programme, the handler asks the
landing party if they have eliminated the captain of the hijacked
boat, and if so, how? ‘Zibah kar diya,’ is the chilling response.
(Literally: ‘We have slit his throat’; but there is a ritualistic
connotation to ‘zibah’ that does not translate well into English.)
This repeated use of Islamic phrases and responses underlines the
extent to which the faith has been cynically used to spread violence.
While Muslims argue that Islam does not condone this kind of terrorism
against unarmed, innocent civilians, most do not condemn it in clear,
unequivocal terms. After agreeing that such acts are un-Islamic, there
is all too often a lingering ‘Yes, but…’ hanging in the air.
It is this ambiguity that has given terror groups in Pakistan and
elsewhere the space and legitimacy they need to operate. Now that
Pakistanis have seen the true face of terrorism in Swat, and have
begun to support the government in its drive to rid us of this cancer,
the lesson needs to be reinforced. One way would be to dub the Channel
4 documentary and show it extensively on various TV channels in
Pakistan. We need to hear ordinary people who survived or lost close
relatives, and see their pain.
We need to see the horrors inflicted in the name of Islam. Above all,
we need to share the agony of our neighbours.