Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bombay Burning

After  graduation [from Holy Cross (me) and Bucknell (Margo)] we got married during Peace Corps training and headed off for two years in Maharashtra - 1967-1969. We lived in Vasai (Bassein) 50 km from downtown Bombay.  An old Portuguese fort now in ruins once housed a Jesuit Colegio, and in its shadow was Sao Pedru Church, which served the Catholic fishermen with whom I worked the first year.

40 years ago we may have spent Thanksgiving  weekend (as we did many) at the Salvation Army Red Shield hostel down the block from the Taj (now seen in flames).  Got suits tailor-made  there that I quickly “outgrew” on return to American diet.  Took  the electric train from Bassein Rd. to VT (Victoria Terminus) - now the scene of gunmen with AK 47's randomly shooting down passengers, vehicles burning out front.

What  went wrong?

As Margo reminded me in an email the other night - when we were there the partition bloodshed was 20 years in the past.  The U.S., with urban riots, the ML King and RF Kennedy assassinations, was a cauldron.  And the Vietnam War of comfortably hazy memory ground on through the heavy killing years that  yielded Khe Sanh, carpet bombing,  My Lai, Tet, and Hue.

Attention now will go to the Muslim gunmen who targeted civilians - India’s 9/11.  This may have been the outgrowth of Kashmiri Muslim nationalism as it appears.  But the consequences may be gravest for India’s Muslims - an often persecuted minority.  

The “communal disturbances” - coverage of which is banned in the Indian press - usually take the form of Hindu nationalist  pogroms.  I remember a village about 20 miles from us where a Hindu mob surrounded the Muslim section and tossed torches onto the thatched roofs, burning out an entire neighborhood and trapping an unknown number in their flaming huts.

Such pogroms are not ancient history. There was a systematic assault in 2000 in Surat, Gujarat about 40 miles north of us.  Here is a report.  

The Shiv Sena - the Maratha nationalist party - was in its early stages - inveighing against South Indians who thrived in the Bombay financial district now assaulted.  They broadened their base by moving from Maratha nationalism to Hindu nationalism.

For the first time I am really worried about the future of India.