By Jane Mee Wong
Northwest Asian Weekly
As Mumbai finds itself grieving over the recent tragedy, Seattle’s South Asian community gathered to commemorate lost lives and unsung heroes.
Approximately 30 community members gathered at the University of Washington for a memorial service for the Mumbai terror victims. The India Arts and Heritage Society (IAHS), Indian Association of Western Washington (IAWW) and Monson Masala organized the memorial.
In the presence of diyas (clay lamps signifying light) and peace made by Indian and Pakistani community members, the audience grappled with the sadness they felt as they saw Mumbai come under attack.
Mita Pandya, whose relatives reside in Mumbai, spoke about the helplessness of seeing the tragedy unfold with no way of helping. “It was hard to see the places we used to go, burning on the TV screen,” she said.
Reeling with anger and fearing that tourist areas were under attack, Pandya said, “The terrorists were looking for people with U.S. and British passports. It could easily have been me and my husband. There are many Indians who live in the U.S. and Britain today, [but] India is still our home.” Pandya’s husband is a South Asian British national.
At the memorial, some individuals focused on the heroic deeds of people in Mumbai who helped to rescue others’ lives.
Debadutta Dash of Washington State and India Trade Relations Action Committee (WASIRAC) spoke of the train conductor at the Victoria Terminal who, in the local Hindi and Marathi languages, told people to leave the station when he spotted heavily armed terrorists among the crowd.
Murthy Kalkura of the Indian Association of Western Washington (IAWW) spoke of a bartender in the Taj Hotel who lost his life trying to distract the terrorists from the guests in the bar.
In light of the tensions between India and Pakistan that have risen as a result of alleged links between the Muslim terrorists and Pakistani Intelligence, Sabina Ansari, a Pakistani American woman, reminded the people who gathered that Pakistanis are also experiencing sorrow at this moment.
“I grew up in Karachi and we have been through times like this before. I am very glad that there is a solidarity event like this one today.”
Speaking of inter-religious tensions that existed within India, Dash said, “There are politicians in India who have been trying to divide the people through religion. It is high time that we overcome those divisions.”
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP — the former ruling party) had been responsible for the rise of Hindutva in India. It also participated in riling up anti-Muslim sentiments. The rise of Hindutva had allegedly caused the 2002 Gujarat massacre of Indian Muslims.
“Indians and Muslims fought together for India’s independence from the British [in 1947]. We are a democracy and we have to tolerate one another,” Dash said.
Nitika Raj, a member of Chaya, a South Asian domestic violence organization, said, “Violence against women [in South Asian communities] is reflective of bigger systems of oppression. Sometimes people use violence as a way to be heard. We need to find a peaceful way instead, and address the larger inequalities.”
Echoing Raj’s sentiments, various members in the room also cited Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings. “Gandhi said the more hatred there is between us, the more divided we will be. We have to move forward,” said a member of the audience.
“We have to emulate Gandhi,” said Priyanka Joshi, a reporter with Monsoon Masala. “He taught us to disdain the evil but not the person who did it.” Referring to the diyas, she encouraged the audience to take one home to “remind ourselves that the Pakistani people have respect for us too.” ♦
Jane Mee Wong can be reached at email@example.com.