12th painful anniversary of what came to be known as 26/11, the four-day siege of Mumbai
Pretoria – Thursday marked the 12th painful anniversary of what came to be known as 26/11, the four-day siege of Mumbai, which left at least 166 people dead in India’s populous city and more than 370 people injured.
South Africa is home to the largest population of people of Indian descent in Africa, at around 1.3 million, who are situated mainly in Durban and also scattered across different parts of the country. There is also a considerable number of Indian expatriates who have migrated to South Africa in recent times, further strengthening the bond of people-to-people relations between the two nations.
Johannesburg-based IT consultant Tushar Das has lived in South Africa for almost nine years, and for him there are striking similarities between India and South Africa.
“We are part of a growing Indian community who came from India in the last 10 to 15 years mostly for different job assignments and business-related activities. The community represents people from all across India. Majority of the people are in the profession of IT. There are people in other industries too,” he said.
“We really love this country because we find a lot of similarities between India and South Africa. Two democracies who have historic relations and bonding, people who have seen colonialism, fought for their rights became independent and trying to become stronger day by day. We have a lot in common.”
From November 26 until the 29th in 2008, 10 terrorists trained by the Pakistan-based terrorist organisation Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) carried out a series of co-ordinated attacks against multiple targets in Mumbai, including the famous Taj Mahal hotel, the Oberoi Hotel, the Leopold Cafe, the Nariman (Chabad) House, and the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus train station, killing 166 people.
Nine of the gunmen were killed during the attacks and one survived. Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving gunman, was executed by India in November 2012.
India has repeatedly criticised its neighbour Pakistan for failing to prosecute any of the “prime suspects” linked to the Mumbai attacks.
But for Das, the significance and commemorations of horrific events in developing nations is not given prominence in comparison to similar deadly events in developed countries.
“It is unfortunate, but it’s the fact that developing nations like ours are always ignored even when they are in pain, when they bleed, because of terrorist activities. Innocent people die, democracies are challenged, but they do not get the required attention in comparison to the Western developed countries. For example, 50 people died in terrorist attacks in Mozambique, but it was not highlighted in the same way when two people were killed in France,” he said.
When 26/11 happened, shaking Mumbai to its core, Das had just arrived in South Africa from India.
“I was in South Africa, after coming here just a month before. We watched the news in our office in Joburg CBD. We could see the horrific images, helplessly watching the brutal killing of innocent people for hours. That day not only we Indians but even all our South African friends were also there with us, they stood behind us, and condemned the attack in the similar tone,” Das recounted.
Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, on Thursday Das told African News Agency that plans were under way to organise commemorative events, including prayer sessions in honour of the victims and survivors.
“We, some of the peace-loving Indian people in Johannesburg as well as in Durban, are trying to arrange interfaith peace prayers today. We are trying to highlight the issues of this terrorism and the impact on the society. We are also trying to highlight that terrorists and terrorism are a curse in any human society and it should not be promoted by some specific countries in the world,” he said.
“We request all of our fellow South African friends to stand (with) us and raise our voice against terrorism. Terrorism doesn’t have any specific religion, we need to raise our voices or else it will one day impact all of us.”
From Mumbai, senior assistant editor of the widely circulated Hindustan Times newspaper Presley Thomas told African News Agency he still had visions of the Wednesday night, on November 26, 2008, when he was plunged into the deep action of covering the blasts and attacks.
“As I neared the police commissioner’s office on foot, I heard an AK-47 going off and people of all ages scurrying. The AK-47s create a distinct noise, which I had experienced while covering the 2002 Akshardham Temple attack in Gandhinagar district of Gujarat state, and I instantly realised that this was a terrorist attack,” he said.
“I informed my superiors that it was not a common case of firing but a possible terror attack. Then things unfolded one by one as we got reports of armed gunmen having entered Hotel Taj Palace and Towers, Hotel Oberoi-Trident, Chabad House, and of two gunmen on the loose after killing some Mumbai police officers outside Cama Hospital.”
Thomas, 41, who currently heads the Hindustan Times’ crime and legal team, said in his observations that the Indian people have moved on from the horrific events of November 2008, but with evident deep scars.
“If you ask in literal terms of people having moved on from November 26, 2008, then the answer would be yes. We as a country have always been resilient and people have moved on in life. But the terrorist attack has, obviously, left its scar. It is tough for one to find closure when one still reads that the persons who engineered the terrorist attack have still not been prosecuted by Pakistan,” he said.
African News Agency (ANA)