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India Under Siege

People interested in the latest coverage of a truly horrible day in Mumbai (Bombay) should probably visit The Times of India's website. (The New York Times, too, has good, extensive coverage). A group by the name of Deccan Mujahedeen has claimed credit for the attacks, but nothing has been confirmed. The group is named for the Deccan Plateau, which takes up much of southern India, including a large part of Maharashtra (whose capital is Bombay).

If indeed the attacks were the result of Islamic militants, they come at an interesting moment for India. Just two weeks ago, for the first time, the government of India arrested a Hindu terrorist cell in Maharashtra. Meanwhile, Bal Thackeray, the leader of the Hindu extremist party Shiv Sena, recently wrote in an op-ed that, “It is time to counter [Muslim terror] with Hindu terror. Hindu suicide squads should be readied to ensure the existence of Hindu society and to protect the nation.” Shiv Sena currently wields enormous power in Bombay.

The point of all this is not that Hindu terrorists were behind the attacks. Rather, it's that a potentially horrific tit-for-tat has now been set in motion. Bombay is known as India's most cosmopolitan city, and for good reason. But it has long been associated with violent sectarian clashes, and there are currently enormous tensions surrounding the ever-increasing number of poorer, north Indian immigrants streaming into the city.

In 1993, terrorists set off 13 bombs in Bombay, killing hundreds. These attacks were meant as retaliation for the infamous destruction of the Babri Mosque by Hindu chauvinists in late 1992, and for riots earlier in 1993 that killed hundreds of Muslims. And on and on it goes.

Aside from any larger geopolitical implications and repercussions, then, it is worth giving some thought to what now awaits Bombay. An Indian friend of mine currently works at the Taj Mahal Hotel in the Colaba area of the city. It is one of the amazing landmarks that was attacked tonight. I have not gotten word from my friend, who was fortunate to get this good job that enables him to provide for his wife and children. And, although he does not advertise it, he happens to be a Muslim--a Muslim who has faced the same hardships faced by many Muslims in Bombay. Even if he's presently safe and uninjured, he and many residents of this remarkable city face long and possibly harrowing days ahead.

--Isaac Chotiner