The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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After silence, a vocal question

Mumbai, July 18: The city that never stops stood still for two minutes to honour its dead today and then moved on, shrugging at the futility of symbolic gestures.

Trains froze on tracks, traffic signals turned red, cinemas halted shows and even cable operators pulled out the plugs at 6.25 pm to the wails of sirens and chimes of church bells. On film sets, Bollywood stars paused as President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam led the entire nation in paying silent homage to the July 11 victims.

“It’s great. The entire country is with Mumbai. It certainly makes a statement. But what about the more practical things' Is there a long-term plan to ensure there won’t be another July 11'” asked public relations executive Arushi Channa.

“If the authorities really had any respect for lives, they would have caught the terrorists by now rather than organise these events,” said civic employee Nitin Usgaonkar.

Yet there was no dearth of volunteers. Groups of local boys as well as social and political activists spilled on the streets to ensure everyone became part of the event.

For once, Mumbai was eerily quiet.

No one seemed to mind, although to some the tokenism of the ritual reflected the politicians’ indifference to the loss of human lives.

“Here we are mourning for lives lost in terrorist strikes. Just above a hundred kilometres away, hundreds of farmers have committed suicide because of poverty. It’s the same story of people being left to fend for themselves,” said Yash Bajla, who runs an electricals shop in Mahim.

But Farid Batawala of the Bombay Aman Committee, a citizen’s group, explained why the gesture was important. “Earlier, citizens were apathetic. Life in this city just moves on without allowing anybody a moment to think about anything other than the daily struggle for survival,” he said.

“But this time, it was necessary to get people together so that the communal polarisation, which is the objective of terrorist attacks, can be avoided. The event generated a sense of solidarity, and that really mattered.”

Citizen’s forums across the city have decided to make contact between communities a regular event through neighbourhood committees made up of eminent as well as ordinary citizens.

“Terrorists’ objective is to divide society. If we have an in-built mechanism to stall that, their purpose will be defeated. Mumbai has gone through enough riots to realise their futility,” said Dolphy D’Souza of the Bombay Catholic Sabha.

Police were tight-lipped on the progress of the probe. Anti-terrorist squad chief K.P. Raghuvanshi said: “We are investigating a series of leads. The state forensic laboratory has been asked to reconstruct the blasts.”

A group called Lashkar-e-Qahar has sent an email to a TV channel warning of more blasts in the city. The group had earlier claimed responsibility for the July 11 blasts in an email that the police claim to have traced to Indore. But officers aren’t ruling out a prank.

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