A Year After Attack, What's Changed In Mumbai?

India's financial capital, Mumbai, on Friday commemorates the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks that left 166 people dead.

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News on this Thanksgiving morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

While Americans are celebrating a holiday, this day is a very somber one for the people of India. These were the sounds on the streets of Mumbai exactly one year ago today.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOTS)

INSKEEP: The sound of gunfire as a team of heavily armed militants invaded India's biggest city. They sailed in from Pakistan, landed by rubber dinghy and proceeded on a rampage that lasted nearly three days. They attacked a rail terminal, two top hotels, a café and a Jewish center. And by the time it was over, more than 170 people lay dead, including nine of the 10 attackers. We're going to talk about all this with NPR's Philip Reeves. He is based in New Delhi. He covered the attacks at that time and he joins us now. Hi, Phil.

PHILIP REEVES: Hi.

INSKEEP: How is India marking this occasion, this anniversary?

REEVES: Well, Steve, Mumbai is a very resilient, tough port city. It has a huge population, 14 million people, and it's a city in which on average 10 people die on the railway network in that town every day. A lot of people have no choice but to carry on and that was clear from the beginning that they were going to do that. The city got back to business remarkably quickly. That said, there are ceremonies being held in Mumbai today.

There are prayers, there are candlelit vigils at the Gateway of India, which is right by the Taj Mahal Hotel, one of the hotels that came under siege during those terrible three days. There's a memorial service for the six people who died in Nariman House, the Jewish center, including a rabbi and his pregnant wife, who were killed there, and at the rail terminus where most of the victims actually died there's a blood donation drive.

Diplomats from the 10 countries, foreign countries, including the U.S., who lost people in the attacks, have gone to Mumbai to take part in some of these events, and of course the Indian security forces are taking part. They also lost men and officers, and the Indian public who bore the brunt. They are also pausing today, I think, to remember those terrible three days in Mumbai.

INSKEEP: Phil, this was described at the time as India's 9/11. Now that a year has passed, it has turned out to be as memorable, dramatic or transformative event as 9/11 was seen in the United States?

REEVES: Well, it clearly isn't. Because the reaction to the event was different. The Indian government was under a lot of political pressure to attack Pakistan. It was from Pakistan that the militants came. They're believed to be from the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba. India's government resisted that, and so the fall-out from these attacks has clearly been very different from 9/11 in the States.

But in terms of the coverage in the media, for example, the TV stations are today running scenes again and again from the attacks of the burning Taj Mahal Hotel, for instance - the gunfire, the bang of grenades - they're running testimony of the people who were caught up in these events, and of course tragically from families who lost relatives. We're also hearing extracts from these extraordinary tape recordings.

I've been watching a channel this morning in which you can hear one of the gunman talking to his controller and the controller talking to a terrified hostage and so on. And of course the newspapers here have been doing a lot of coverage, and a lot of it's introspective, soul searching about whether anything is really changed. In fact, that's the headline today in the Hindustan Times. What, it says in big letters on the front page, what really has changed?

INSKEEP: Well, okay, what has changed in terms of security in India?

REEVES: Well, one of the events actually happening in Mumbai today is a parade by police and commandos who have been set up in Mumbai, and they've been parading with their new equipment, with armored vehicles, patrol boats, new weapons and so forth. Officials say that the state of Maharashtra, which is where Mumbai is located, has spent nearly $30 million on new security measures. There are now rapid reaction commandoes in the city.

During the Mumbai events of a year ago, it took hours to get paramilitary forces to the scene. And the coast guard there has been beefed up. But inevitably India, you know, it's a country of 1.1 billion people. It's, you know, teeming cities, big market places. It's very, very difficult to secure a place like this against attacks of this kind. And I don't actually think it's ever going to be possible, and that brings us to the big worry here, which is what happens if there's another attack of this kind.

INSKEEP: And not only what happens in terms of people's lives but in terms of geopolitics. The last attack on Mumbai, there was a great danger, as you mentioned, of some kind of escalation between India and Pakistan, two nuclear armed nations.

REEVES: And if there was another attack, Steve, I think the ability of the Indian government to resist that pressure will be considerably less. It would bring about a very dangerous moment in South Asia, I think.

INSKEEP: NPR's Philip Reeves is in New Delhi. Philip, thanks as always.

REEVES: You're welcome.

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