Hopes for Calm in Battered Indian City

By Emily Wax
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, May 15, 2008

JAIPUR, India, May 15 -- With a dawn-to-dusk curfew stopping everything but funerals a day after seven bombs exploded in this ancient walled city, police and community leaders were hopeful they could prevent an outbreak of communal violence between the local Hindu majority and Muslim minority.

The toll rose to at least 80 killed and 200 injured in Tuesday's attack, India's deadliest since train bombings that killed nearly 200 people in Mumbai in July 2006.

Authorities arrested at least a dozen people and issued a sketch of a suspect said to have a strong accent belonging to the largely Muslim Bengal region, which straddles eastern India and Bangladesh.

Early Thursday, a group calling itself the Indian Mujahideen asserted responsibility for setting off the bombs. In e-mails sent to police and a Hindi news channel, they said they chose to attack Jaipur to target the tourism industry. They also said they were able to target economies around the world, including the United States and Britain.

Bombings always lead to fear of Hindu-Muslim riots of the type that have plagued India off and on since 1947, when what are now Pakistan and Bangladesh were split off from India by British colonial authorities amid horrendous communal violence.

But many people were confident Wednesday that Jaipur would remain calm, noting its long tradition of intermarriage and happy coexistence between members of the two faiths. "There may just be no rioting at all over this and Jaipur can heal," said Aril Mishra, a prominent historian in Rajasthan state, which has Jaipur as its capital. "But both communities are worried."

Vasundhara Raje, chief minister of Rajasthan, said Jaipur's people were "limping back to normal." K.L. Charuvedia, publicity chief for the Rajasthan wing of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, called the blasts "the handiwork of Bangladesh immigrants" whom he described as living unlawfully in Jaipur as laborers and putting pressure on the local economy. Most Bangladeshis are Muslim.

Muslim leaders called for calm. "We can't play the blame game so quickly," said Iqbal Ansari of Muslim Human Rights, a nonprofit group. "Our communities also have to live long-term in trust. We are praying for peace."

Lawmakers, anti-terrorism activists and some ordinary Indians said Wednesday that with attacks of this kind on the rise, the government must form a single agency to coordinate investigations.

"We have a structural problem in dealing with terrorism in India," said Prakash Singh, a retired police official. "When a terrorist crime is conceived in one place, details hatched in a second place and executed in a third place, then the need for a central federal instrument to handle this is critical."

Wednesday's curfew ended at 6 p.m.; the streets were largely back to normal by 6:15 p.m., save for the presence of police and other security forces. Fruit sellers pushed carts of summer mangoes into markets. Beggars shook tin cups in traffic. Thousands thronged the city's Hanuman temple to pray, as sharpshooters stood watch on rooftops.

In the winding alleys of the old city, family members lifted wooden coffins sprinkled with rose petals. Mourners wailed as they carried the dead through crowds.

"We don't want to lose everything when the politicians will start blaming each other and sparking tensions," said Vipin Godha, 28, a jeweler who was at a hospital visiting a friend injured in the bombings. "We must maintain brotherhood."

Buying fruit from a Hindu mango seller, Abu Thahir, 46, said he was Muslim but wasn't angry with his Hindu brethren. He said he, too, wants tougher laws and a better fight against terrorist attacks.

"It's Jaipur which has suffered," said Thahir, wearing a Muslim prayer cap. "They are not religious people if they want to shatter our city and our nation."

Special correspondent Ria Sen in Jaipur and correspondent Rama Lakshmi in New Delhi contributed to this report.


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