It’s no surprise that coming to India would make my fellow students and I realize how many things we take for granted. Not only luxuries like cable television, air conditioning, washing machines and dryers, but also basic necessities like food, shelter, clean drinking water and free education. These are things that many people in India do without everyday of their lives. These realizations, while humbling, were anticipated and prepared for as we readied ourselves for this trip. One thing that I didn’t anticipate realizing is one thing that nearly every American not only takes for granted, but have come to expect as our God-given right: our safety.
I don’t mean the kind of safety you get from wearing a safety belt and abiding by traffic laws, but rather a general sense of protection from outsiders coming into our homes, workplaces and public areas with the intent to harm us. Yes, September 11 was an eye-opening tragedy that made us question our security. Yes, we’ve become far more diligent on our policing and mindfulness of terrorist groups, but for the most part, in the past 10 years, we have again settled into our existence in the land of the free and home of the brave where every person is allowed the right to feel safe, secure and free from eminent danger. It is because we are Americans, living in a political, economical and military powerhouse that we allow ourselves this peace of mind and comfort that enables us to carry on with our everyday lives. What does this have to do with India?
On our way home from another decadent group dinner, our blissful food comas were interrupted with the news that a terrorist attack had occurred in the financial district of Mumbai, the city are scheduled to fly into tomorrow afternoon and where we are scheduled to stay for the next 10 days. The three bombings occurred within minutes of each other, in a very concentrated area just before evening rush hour, killing at least twenty people and injuring over 100 more.
For those of you not familiar with India’s metropolitan areas, Mumbai to India is roughly the equivalent of what New York City to the U.S. It is the financial center, the core of the advertising industry and hub for a large number of multi-national corporations. Therefore a terrorist attack in this area has the potential for significant economical and social repercussions. This kind of attack in the U.S. would cause fear and panic to arise across the country, while the city itself would come to a halt. Planes would be grounded; public transportation would stop and heightened security measures would be put into action in every major city from coast to coast.
However India has not come to a screeching halt. As we learned from a contact on the ground in Mumbai, the public transportation is still open, places of business are operating as normal, and any real chaos related to the bombing has been limited to the immediate area of the attacks. If we hadn’t received word about the bombings from the university and had neglected to tune our televisions to an English-speaking news network, it’s possible that our group wouldn’t have even heard about the attacks until we picked up a paper tomorrow morning.
The odd thing about this event is that even though I’m only a few hours from the location of the attack, halfway around the world from every person, place and thing that normally gives me a feeling of security, I have absolutely no fear about getting on a plane and flying to Mumbai tomorrow.
This feeling is not shared by many of the students in our group and I don’t blame them. Perhaps I should be frightened, but I’m not. In fact, right now I feel a stronger urge to be here than I have the past thirteen days. I want to stay here and speak to people in Mumbai. I want to learn how they feel about this attack and what it is about their beliefs that allows them to stay so strong in the face of something that would bring the citizens of other cities to their knees. I think that this event will allow all of us to learn far more about the Indian people and culture than we could ever learn from a book or hear from a tour guide. I just hope that Dr. Alvey and the university can find a way for those of us eager to continue with the trip to be able to stay while the rest of our group returns home.
More to come…