Wednesday, February 27, 2013


A midnight alert on my iPhone reported "Two Explosions in Hyderabad. Many dead. Scores injured". I was perturbed. I immediately called my father who lives in Hyderabad. He was distressed and disturbed. The carnage that was on television was hard for him to see. Body parts scattered in the rubble, maimed bodies in white bandages strewn across crowded hospital beds and women wailing over their loved ones. Two bombs had killed 17 people and left 120 injured in a congested neighborhood of the city. Hyderabad rarely makes it to the international scene; on February 21, it made headlines across the globe for a few hours.

I left Hyderabad in the early 90s and have since returned periodically from my adopted home in Brooklyn, New York. Watching my city from a distance and sometimes feeling a foreigner when I am there, has given me a rare insight into its evolution. The seamless intermingling of Islamic and Hindu culture in this city, has defined everyone's identity for centuries. This aspect has always been a matter of pride and charm for those who have lived here or have passed through. Most Hyderabadi's consider themselves to be part Muslim and part Hindu and can appreciate each other’s food, customs and traditions with very little effort. My father speaks, reads and writes fluently in Urdu, which is most often considered a Muslim language. He grew up in British India, when Hyderabad was a Muslim kingdom and Urdu was the official language of the region and everyone had to learn and speak it. It is no longer the case. For many urban denizens Urdu has become as foreign as German or French.

Growing up in Hyderabad was complicated at times. There would be periodic tension in the air when religious riots would break out in the "Old City". The older part of this 400-year-old city is a congested maze of magnificent beauty and filth. Ancient monuments, majestic palaces and ornate doorways lie hidden among urban blight and narrow alleyways. Hindus and Muslims live packed together in this part of the city as they have for centuries. Their religious public ceremonies dominate the streets during festival season.

Sometimes horror stories of Hindus killing Muslims and vice versa would fill the morning headlines and the whole city would shut down. People living in the new part of town, who were mostly middle or upper middle class, would be left angry, disturbed and befuddled by the violence. Everyone always knew the riots were ignited by the religious mafia and its criminal political cohorts, for reasons beyond most people's comprehension. The dark and painful legacy of the India-Pakistan separation and the butchery that took place along religious lines at that time, always loomed large. A few people would be knifed, the police would declare a curfew, some arson would take place, the city would turn into a ghost town for a few days. Hardworking people and businessmen would be disgusted and distraught. Us children would be happy for not having to go to school. Then life would slowly return to normal until the next flare up.

While the violence during the riots would be senseless, in no measure can it be compared to what took place this week. We never heard of bombs or explosions. In the past seven years Hyderabad has been a victim to at least five explosions that have caused mayhem, gripping the city in fear like never before.

Hyderabad is no Aleppo, Kabul, Quetta, Baghdad or Tripoli. But the city has dramatically changed over the last decade and the population has increased significantly pushing the city to grow in every direction possible, including skyward. IT companies from Microsoft to Infosys all have offices here and the droves that service them keep increasing. Much like the movie industry transformed the fabric of the city in the 80s and 90s, the technology boom has rearranged the city in the last decade, tearing one city into many. The boom has created wealth and economic mobility never seen before. But large sections of the city have not been touched at all by the shine.

Hyderabad has had its share of political upheaval some of which is still on going. The painful violent invasion of Hyderabad in 1948 by the national police, effectively assimilated it into the Indian Union. The Naxallite (peasant revolt) movement which started in the 60s in the rural areas sometimes brought violence into the city. A regional uprising to split the state into two distinct ethnic provinces that started in the 60s, has had a resurgence and has caused chaos on every front over the last few years. So when the recent explosions took place there were a range of groups who could have had a motive to pursue it. But as always, due to the long history of animosity and involvement of Pakistan and its terrorist groups in spreading havoc in India, the obvious glance shifted westward.

As usual the Muslim groups with various beefs to pick with the Indian government came under scrutiny. Pakistan's inbred terrorist groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and its ilk were mentioned. Then speculation that this attack could be a reprisal for the executions of two terrorists in Indian custody was seen as a possibility. Last November Ajmal Qasab the only surviving gunman from the 2011 terrorist attacks on Bombay was expeditiously hanged. The 25 year old terrorist who had done the bidding of his Lashkar-e-Taiba handlers from Pakistan, by spraying innocent bystanders with bullets, was sentenced to death by a court and executed in secret for populist political reasons. Early this month, Mohammad Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri man who was involved in planning the attacks on the Indian Parliament in 2001 was suddenly pulled out of his 12 year long solitary confinement and put to death in secret. His family was not informed of his impending execution and his body was never returned to them. His trial and sentencing was fraught with controversy and exposed the failings of the Indian justice system and the media. The gaping holes in the case against Afzal Guru were exposed in the press by Arundhati Roy and others.

In reality there are many groups within India that have reasons to cause mayhem only to make a point against a system that has failed to deliver. Human rights violations, extrajudicial killings, lack of social justice, a decrepit justice system and a corrupt and criminal political class have all created a toxic environment. For example, since 1990 when the struggle for self-determination in Kashmir became militant, 68,000 people have died, 10,000 have disappeared, and at least 100,000 have been tortured at the hands of the Indian Army. Whether "Saffron Terrorists" (Hindu Terrorists) or your run of the mill "Islamic Terrorists" carried out these senseless killings in Hyderabad, only time will tell. Maybe an official report ten years too late will reveal something unexpected. But the truth will always remain masqueraded so long as there is no faith in the system. 

Indiscriminate carnage of civilians has become a recurrent phenomenon around the world. Choosing "Soft Targets" has become the order of the day. As a result a sense of depraved indifference has risen in the minds of ordinary citizens, against the system, towards those who kill and those who get killed. May it be terrorist organizations doing the killing or governments and their military establishments (as in the case of Sri Lanka), scenes of mass murder have desensitized the public. Making the shock and the memory of it as short lived as a blink of an eye. There will be no memorials, no hour long TV shows about the victims of the Hyderabad blast. Just return to business as usual. Life is cheap and disposable in a nation of too many.
There is no dearth if senseless killing in the world. There never was. From dictators to democracies, they all take part in the art of senseless killing and find means to justify their actions to the world. President Bashar Assad in Syria butchers his own people claiming to be protecting his nation from terrorists. The President of the United States authorizes the use of drones and violates the sovereignty of nations to kill people who supposedly threaten his country. Close to three thousand people have died in US drone strikes mostly in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen. Many of them unproven terrorists. Some women and children as well. China recently contemplated using a drone to kill a drug lord. So it is only a matter of time when other nations will procure flying objects to kill, playing judge, jury and executioner from the sky.
Poverty, destitution, uncertainty and a loss of faith in the system often breeds high levels of religious zeal. Spiritual congregation, places of worship and Ashrams fill the void for some. Revolt using violence as a means of expression also fills a void for some who feel they have been wronged. One has to appreciate life to not want to end it. There are too many today, to whom death is but a momentary blip, a speck on the road to oblivion, a way of making an illusory impact. Executing killers makes one a killer and only breeds more killing. Whether you do it from the sky or from the ground, killing can never be an answer or a solution to anything. It is what it is.