By Rifat Jawaid
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Everytime there’s a conversation about India and Pakistan starting bilateral talks, sceptics quickly jump in to remind us why any such move would be counterproductive as long as the perpetrators of 26/11 Mumbai attacks are roaming about scotfree.
It’s almost been wiped off our memory that the city of Mumbai had withstood the trauma of similar carnage only two years before the 26/11 attacks shook the world. This later came to be known as Mumbai’s 7/11 attacks.
Not many people would know that more people had died in Mumbai following the blast in one of its local trains on July 11, 2006 than during 26/11 attacks. And yet, we’ve almost deserted this episode from our public discourse.
I remember sitting with my new BBC team in Birmingham, brainstorming the ideas for the new radio show that I had just launched a couple of months ago. Our afternoon programme with Nikki Bedi was about to go on air when the news of the train blasts began to be reported. It didn’t take us long to realise the magnitude of what had just happened.
As a group of senior news executives within the BBC, we had a quick huddle to decide the possible coverage of this event. The British Foreign Office had increased the threat level for Mumbai, meaning that only journalists armed with hostile environment training could travel to India to cover this unfortunate event.
There was a unanimity on my name in the room as I was fresh from my hostile environment training and also could immediately travel without having to worry about going through the visa application process.
The urgency of the situation demanded that I travel immediately. I didn’t even have time to go home and pack my bag. So with just my laptop bag and recording equipment, I hired a cab to the Heathrow Airport and told my colleagues to make arrangements for flight and accommodation for Mumbai in the meantime.
Luckily, I found a seat in a Mumbai-bound Jet Airways flight. I reached Mumbai at around 0800 in the morning. My colleagues in Mumbai office informed me that a lot of injured passengers had been brought to Sion Hospital. I told my cab driver to take me there so that I could speak to few relatives and victims and file my first report.
It was almost impossible to work in that humid and hot morning of Mumbai and the idea of first going to the hotel (a seven star in this case) before slogging myself in the field looked very tempting. But, the journalist in me advised against the idea of visiting the hotel first. It was more important for me to tell the story of this massive destruction than to worry about my personal discomfort.
There was chaos outside the Sion hospital but I managed to interview quite a few victims’ relatives and went live to our breakfast programme back in London. Within 10 hours of leaving England I was able to report on what was the biggest story of that year.
I visited other hospitals, spoke to victims and their families and even undertook a journey in the first class coach of a Mumbai local passing through the site of the blasts. That’s because one of the blasts had taken place in the first class coach of a local train. My colleagues in London were against the idea of taking a train journey on the same route, but it looked like a very good editorial proposition for me.
That afternoon, I appeared on 18 different radio and TV programmes of the BBC in four different languages (English, Hindu, Urdu and Bengali) since there was a huge interest in this story even amongst our domestic audience in UK.
It was an interview that I did that evening in a Jogeshwari slum, which aptly defined the destruction the terrorists had caused. I met a 65-year-old man called Madhusudan Mohan Dhavekar. The terrorists had taken away the life of his only son, 24-year-old Manish Dhavekar, on his 65th birthday.
The sight of a father who had lost his only son on his 65th birthday was simply unbearable. What was even more gut-wrenching was the circumstances around Manish’s death.
The grieving family told me that their son had phoned Madhusudan minutes before boarding the ill-fated train.
“He asked me not to cut the cake until he reached home. He enquired if we needed anything for the birthday celebrations. I told him not to worry about buying anything and to return home as soon as possible.”
Manish’s mother, Madhvi Dhavekar, told me it was after years of prayers and visits to various temples across the country that ‘God had blessed’ them with a child.
She told me. ” We only had one son. My husband retired last year, and my boy took the responsibility of running the family. He would work late hours to ensure we were happy. Last month, I scolded him for exhausting himself with too much work. But he wouldn’t listen. He would often say: ‘Mom and Dad, I want to give you the world of happiness and for that I need to earn loads of money.'”
While the interview was being broadcast, I received a text message from one of my colleagues in London. The text message read, “all your staff members are in tears. Never understand what motivates these terrorists to kill innocent people.”
Manish’s tragedy, however, brought home the point that anybody could have been in his place. Those who were lucky to be unaffected by the brutal force of terrorism on July 11 weren’t so fortunate on 26/11. And who knows what these lunatics may be planning for their next act of sadistic adventure.
It’s, nonetheless, time to reflect that when we show our outrage against Pakistan for 26/11 attacks, let’s also save some anger for the victims of 7/11 and all those terrorist acts where innocent lives were taken away in the name of religion and ideologies.
The recent developments around the alleged attempts to botch investigations in terror blasts of Ajmer, Malegaon and Modasa in Gujarat show that we’ve learnt nothing from our past. Turning a blind eye to the acts of indigenous terrorism will be fatal for the integrity of India. It may suit one’s political ideology not to punish the perpetrators of these crimes, but it’s long-term impact on the country will be monumental.
Rifat Jawaid is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Janta Ka Reporter