Mumbai attacks prompt elite to action -- for now
AFP - Sunday, December 7
MUMBAI (AFP) - - When Rishabh Srivastava was accepted into the Indian army earlier this year, he turned down the offer and became a software engineer instead.
But after watching gunmen rampage through Mumbai, killing 163 people, he decided to download another enlistment form.
"If I get a second chance, I'll take it," said Srivastava, 22, who works for a multinational firm in the Indian financial capital and is applying for a five-year commission in the army.
"I want to serve my nation. I want to serve in the line of fire. As it is we are dying."
Since the attacks, which targeted two of Mumbai's top luxury hotels, there has been an awakening of sorts among the elite of India's commercial capital.
As they struggle to come to terms with the attacks that brought their usually vibrant and defiant city to a standstill for 60 hours, many are volunteering their services for the public good.
Sociologists say the need to give something back is a natural reaction by the elite, but is likely to be shortlived -- as it has been after similar violent incidents in the past.
"I doubt that we are seeing a trend. (The attacks) have shaken people out of their complacency but after the initial reaction they will go back to the same," said A.N. Roy, associate director of the Institute of Social Sciences in New Delhi.
The November 26 attacks by 10 heavily-armed Islamist extremists struck at the heart of the ultra-chic southern peninsula, known as SoBo for southern Bombay, the city's former name.
The waterside Taj Mahal and Trident/Oberoi hotels overrun by the gunmen, along with a Jewish prayer centre, were regular haunts for Mumbai's middle and upper classes, who frequented their expensive restaurants and shopped in their boutiques, the only outlets here for international fashion labels.
As India's economy has opened up, those who can afford it have turned to private schools, hospitals, housing, even water, largely regarding failing public services as the problem of the poor.
Even when violence hit, it always seemed to happen to someone else.
"When it happened on the trains, we were not directly affected," said Aditi Choksey, 64, referring to the 2006 attacks on Mumbai's railways that killed hundreds.
But this time, he said, "we've known people who have been killed".
"It's as if it happened to us," said Choksey, who runs a fabrics business and joined a massive rally to mark one week since the attacks at the Gateway of India.
In a country of 1.1 billion mostly impoverished and uneducated people, the privileged refer to themselves as "the elite" and generally take little interest in grass roots politics.
Seeing their city under attack and reading reports that authorities ignored warnings, however, has angered Mumbai's privileged, Roy said.
"For the first time people have begun to realise that we put too much on our political class and establishment and there is some demand that they are more accountable -- and a sense that people must also do their bit," he said.
These days well-heeled diners at fancy bars and restaurants argue loudly about terrorism and blame the government for a lack of leadership.
Bejewelled women with European brand-name handbags heeded the call to join the week-after rally, saying they wanted to pressure politicians.
Newspapers have carried reports of people turning up at hospitals to give blood or donate food to victims.
Roy said the altruism was an attempt to deal with a lack of control "because there is nothing they can do, we can't deal with it, we don't know who to blame".
"That sense of helplessness is keeping people on their guard and that prompts people to want to do something that gives them a stake in what is happening to them," he said.
But he believes it will be short-lived.
"India has been a victim of terrorism much before it became a global phenomenon so when people ask themselves if this is a defining moment, it is not.
"It is more of the same and soon people will get back to their normal lives -- until the next time," he said.
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