Delhi keeps Diwali lamps burning in shadow of terror

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The Independent Online

The people of Delhi came out defiantly to celebrate the Hindu festival of Diwali yesterday, despite the bombings on Saturday in which at least 61 people died.

As evening fell, the city echoed to the sound of fireworks, as worshippers refused to cancel celebrations for the biggest festival of the Hindu year.

On Monday night, people flocked to special ceremonies that had been called at shopping markets across the city to light Diwali oil lamps in a display of defiance of the bombers. "Light a lamp, keep the flame alive," the Times of India said in a front-page headline.

For Hindus, Diwali marks the triumph of good over evil, and for many Delhiites that gave it a special significance yesterday. Heavy security around the city was put in place to prevent further attacks and police were frisking worshippers at the entrances to Hindu temples but the city's main temple to the monkey god Hanuman was still packed to bursting.

The city's markets, however, were empty. Shops stay open until early afternoon on Diwali because sales on the day are believed to be lucky. But this year, although retailers had hung the usual curtains of marigolds across their entrances, shoppers stayed away. Two of the three bombs on Saturday were at markets and targeted people shopping for gifts for Diwali.

For the victims, it was a Diwali of grief. One hero of the bombings, Kuldeep Singh, the bus driver who saved scores of lives by throwing out a bomb that was hidden on his bus just as it exploded, lay in a hospital bed. He lost his sight, his hearing and one arm in the blast. His wife is eight months pregnant with their first child.

The newspapers were full of heartrending tales. Rahul Kocchar, a 14-year-old boy who was shopping with his parents when the bomb went off, told how both his parents died but he survived, and is now alone. Then there is Sulendra Kumar Yadav, 15, who had to search through the charred bodies on his own in an attempt to identify the remains of his elder brother. His parents were out of town and the boy could not find his brother's remains, and gave up, saying: "I can't look at any more bodies".

Many are still searching for relatives, and it is feared the death toll may rise.

If Delhi insisted on going ahead with its celebrations yesterday, there was anger beneath the surface. That was reflected in the Hindustan Times headline, which referred to Monday's sentencing to death of a militant for an attack on an army barracks in 2000. "One down? Now for 29/10 killers," it read.

A day after India said it had "indications" that Pakistan-based militants were behind the attack, the Islamic militant group Lashkar-e Toiba issued a second denial. Police appear to be taking more seriously a claim of responsibility from a smaller Pakistan-based group, Islami Inqilab Mahaz.