I am reaching the tail end of a two week business trip to India. Being here shortly after what is referred to locally as the 26/11 attacks has been an eye opening experience. Reading local newspapers and talking with people who live here gives you a much different viewpoint than the international press does.
This attack hit people pretty hard. On a psychological level, it was a traumatic event in how it unfolded and the exhaustive media coverage of every detail. It also impacted the upper levels of society, who have largely been above the fray in the past. It is very telling that the world media focused on the attacks at the Taj and Oberoi, when the attack on the train station, which claimed the lives of 70 of your average Mumbai citizens was much less publicized.
You also need to realize the devastating economic impact of this. The Indian economy is already hurting because it is strongly tied to ours, and our credit meltdown has hurt them. The US bailouts are front page news here. When you add on top of that the impact of these attacks, it’s bad news. I spent a few days when I first arrived in Goa. Goa is a popular beach destination during December and January. The decrease in tourism there during their peak season is going to result in a pretty lean year for businesses there. Business hotels here in Bangalore, the heart of India’s booming IT industry are similarly empty. This is a painful combination.
What is ironic about the decrease in travel is that I have felt very safe here. Security is much more thorough here than at any airport or hotel in the US. It’s largely a matter of publicity. The level of media exposure for the attacks has resulted in some knee jerk reactions, that are understandable, but probably not fully justified. I’m not expecting to turn the tide here, but at least I can say my piece that I haven’t felt threatened at all during my time here.
The people here are amazing. Almost every person I meet treats me like an old friend, offers to take me to dinner, offers me rides, talks to me. Equally impressive is how they have handled their response to these attacks. Of course there is outrage, and some finger pointing at the government level. However, Muslim, Hindu and Christian have all joined hands to condemn the attacks and refuse to make this a religious issue. It’s very different from the sort of reactions I saw in the US in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. They are determined to not give in to fear and hatred and let the terrorists win.