India remembers the victims of the Mumbai attacks of 26 November 2008
by Nirmala Carvalho
The military carries out a “Protection March” through the streets of the city. A survivor of the Taj Mahal Hotel attack says, “Sadness clouds any feeling of anger or vengeance.” The tragedy taught him “that human life is precious and we treasure it, respect and appreciate everyone, friend, colleague or relative.”
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – India marked the first anniversary of last year's deadly attacks on Mumbai by Islamist militants with a series of ceremonies that began at night to honour the 174 victims. The locations where the attacks took place have become places of pilgrimage. Individually or in groups, people are stopping in front of the Taj Mahal and Oberoi Trident hotesl, the Chhatrapati Shivaji railway station, the Leopold Café, Cama Hospital and Chabad House to pay homage to the victims of the carnage.

Official ceremonies began with law enforcement agencies parading through the city, displaying their equipment, including "rapid intervention" vehicles. In a show of force designed to show that they could respond to any situation, the various military and police forces carried out a “Suraksha (Protection) March, going by the various locations hit by the ten-member terrorist group, which kept the city in the grip of terror for almost 60 hours a year ago.

Indian flags and banners opposing violence and terrorism were on display on window panes and across the streets of Mumbai, India’s financial capital, which quickly recovered from the shock and has never looked back, but is still hiding under its daily routine the indelible signs of uneasiness that it has had since 26 November 2008.

AsiaNews met one of the survivors from the attack against the Taj Mahal hotel, a 24-year-old Christian man who still works there. He asked that his name not be used.

A year after the attack, he said, “Sadness clouds any feeling of anger or vengeance.” During that fateful day, he lost a number of friends and when he speaks about them, he is burdened by a sense of guilt because “I survived and they didn’t. Their lives were cut short by this senseless outrage; their dreams for the future were extinguished forever in a few short moments.”

What happened on 26 November is still carved in his mind. “The first shots, the sudden burst of fire that frightened the hotel guests, and I was alarmed,” he said.

With bitterness, he can still remember the attackers. “They were young men, no older than us working at the hotel. They handled their AF47 and grenades with ease.”

He went back to work almost immediately, a few days after the attack, trying to salvage what was not destroyed and figure out the damages. “But the weight of the sadness continues to be overwhelming.”

In the weeks that followed the tragedy, his days were full “not of anger, but sadness and regrets for the senseless loss of life and the violence that led to nowhere.”

Last Christmas he was unable to put up a Christmas tree. “I could not rejoice having so many friends killed.” But now, a year after the event, “the cradle of the Nativity gives me new hope. The vulnerability of the Baby Jesus is a sign of new life, and the precariousness of his birth in a manger gives me immense strength and courage.”

On the day that India commemorates its victims, the special court set up to try the single surviving terrorist announced that it finished examining the almost 600 depositions.

On Wednesday, a court in Pakistan also charged seven people in connection with the attacks, including alleged mastermind Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, head of the banned militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

For many, this is a sign of overture coming from Islamabad but both India and Pakistan have found it difficult to re-establish forthright relations after 26 November.

The days following the multiple attacks were a low point in the two nations’ bilateral relationship. New Delhi’s first reaction was to freeze relations and accuse the Pakistani government of direct involvement in the attacks.

The 24-year-old survivor refused to talk about politics but was critical of all the speculations and controversies that followed 26 November.  “How can we speculate about the death of our guests and colleagues?” he said. “Our colleagues left behind relatives and families in mourning. We are asked today to share in their sorrow.”

“If this tragedy taught me anything it is that human life is precious and we should treasure it, respect and appreciate everyone: friend, colleague or relative,” he said a year after the events of 26 November.