Bombings increase tension: Following claims of Pakistani involvement, Hindus see the city's 2 million Muslim residents as potential traitors, writes Tim McGirk in Bombay

Click to follow
The Independent Online
AFTER a bomb sent showers of glass and gold jewellery flying in Bombay's Zaveri Bazaar on Friday, Tayeb Ali went looking for his brother, a poor coolie, who had gone missing.

For three days, Mr Ali searched the mortuaries of Bombay's hospitals. He soon learned the procedure. He was first told to check the heap of blood-soaked and stinking clothes outside the door of each morgue, since a garment might help to identify the dozens of disfigured corpses that lay on the cold floor. Finally Mr Ali found his brother. Glass shards from a jewellery store window had opened a gash across his chest and he bled to death.

Together with the other Muslim coolies from Zaveri Bazaar, Mr Ali scraped together enough rupees so that he could wash his brother's body with rose water and bury him in the garden beside the Sonapur mosque. He could not afford a proper grave for his brother, who was buried in one of the cemetery's paths under a heap of grey earth and old bones.

'My brother was 23. He had worked in Bombay as a coolie since he was 10. He slept in a doorway in the bazaar and sent home as many rupees as he could to his family in Bihar,' said Mr Ali, weeping. 'Many of us came to Bombay hoping for a chance to live better. Instead, we've found death.'

Mr Ali's brother was among the 255 people who died in 11 bomb blasts set off across Bombay last Friday with murderous precision. No terrorist group has yet claimed responsibility for the explosions, but right-wing Hindu politicians accuse Pakistan of involvement. They allege Pakistan set off the bombs to derail India's economy and inflame religious hatred between Muslims and Hindus once again.

It does not matter to many Bombay Hindus that scores of Muslims also died in the blasts, which ripped through the stock exchange, an airline office, a cinema and several crowded markets. They see the city's 2 million Muslims as potential traitors, and police, backed by security forces, are patrolling sensitive areas of Bombay to stop communal riots from erupting again. In December and January more than 600 people died in Bombay's religious unrest.

Under pressure from the authorities, Bal Thackeray, the virulently anti-Muslim leader of the Hindu regional party, the Shiv Sena, has agreed not to unleash his party thugs on Muslims in revenge for the bombings, at least not now. He urged his supporters to await the outcome of the police inquiry.

But Mr Thackeray is not alone in fomenting unrest between Muslims and Hindus. Lal Krishna Advani, leader of the main opposition party, the right-wing Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, visited the fortress-like Shiv Sena headquarters in Bombay, which terrorist bombers had attempted to destroy by setting a bomb off in a nearby petrol station. The bomb killed dozens of people and demolished several cars, but it failed to ignite the station's underground petrol tank as intended. Mr Advani implied that Pakistan was behind the bombings and then went a step further, casting suspicion on Bombay's Muslims.

'Maybe the brain is in Islamabad, but the hand is certainly here. The brain may belong to an enemy country, but the hand is that of a traitor,' Mr Advani said. His remarks - along with the discovery last night of another bomb, outside a crowded bar in the Dadar district - have put tensions between Bombay's Hindus and Muslims on a knife edge.

For decades, Bombay's wheeling-dealing, neon frenzy has attracted people from towns and villages all across this vast country. But at a Hindu cremation ground across the city, the sentiments of despair and disenchantment with Bombay were much the same as at Mr Ali's brother's funeral. A knot of silent men sat as far as they could get from the flames of Ravi Marigowda's funeral pyre. Marigowda, 20, had arrived in Bombay a fortnight ago and was proud of the 100 rupees a day ( pounds 2.20) he earned as a waiter in the New Modern Cafe. He, too, was killed by a bomb.

'What can we say?' said Ganesh Shetty, the cafe owner. 'This feeling of hatred is coming back again between Hindus and Muslims. Everyone is thinking of leaving Bombay. It's not a safe place.' More than 40,000 slum- dwellers fled after the last riots, and a new exodus of refugees may soon begin.

Comments