Plagued by Terrorism, Indians Voice Frustration

Market official Ashok Randhawa, right, visits Indu and Vinod Poddar, whose son Karan was among 50 people killed in a 2005 bombing that also cost Vinod his lower leg.
Market official Ashok Randhawa, right, visits Indu and Vinod Poddar, whose son Karan was among 50 people killed in a 2005 bombing that also cost Vinod his lower leg. (By Emily Wax -- The Washington Post)
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By Emily Wax
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, July 29, 2008

NEW DELHI, July 28 -- Lalit Mohan Joshi, an Indian businessman, was delivering a batch of jeweled slippers to a merchant one evening when he was approached by a stranger. The stranger asked him to watch a plastic bag, which appeared to hold a pressure cooker.

Moments after the man disappeared into the night, the bag detonated, killing 50 people, injuring 155 others and setting fire to New Delhi's congested Sarojini Nagar market during what had been a festive holiday weekend in the fall of 2005. Joshi's skin melted like wax in the inferno; 90 percent of his body was covered in third-degree burns.

He was hospitalized for 45 days, had two excruciating skin-grafting operations and was out of work for six months. All the while, he waited for the police to interview him. But they never showed up.

Now, following back-to-back bombings in Bangalore and Ahmedabad -- on Friday and Saturday, respectively -- Joshi is among the many Indians who are voicing frustration over such attacks and the failure of the government to find those responsible for them. The bombings almost always remain unsolved, with culprits still at large and the victims' broken lives and painful stories long forgotten.

An estimated 3,674 people died in terrorist attacks in India from January 2004 to March 2007, making the subcontinent second only to Iraq in deaths from terrorist attacks during the same period, according to the National Counterterrorism Center in Washington, the U.S. agency that analyzes intelligence pertaining to terrorism. The blasts in the western city of Ahmedabad over the weekend added 49 to that total. Two died in the Bangalore attack.

"It's very maddening," said Joshi, noting that, while 25 security cameras had been installed in Sarojini Nagar market immediately after the blast, some were old and none of them worked. Requests to replace them were ignored, merchant leaders said.

Rishi Sharma, 32, another victim of the 2005 market blast, said he couldn't watch TV over the weekend for fear of seeing footage from the attack in Ahmedabad.

"It's like reliving the experience again and again," he said.

There have been 15 bombings since the one that injured Sharma. In many cases, authorities have pointed the finger vaguely in the direction of Islamist fighters in Pakistan and Bangladesh. But the failure of authorities to identify specifically who was behind the attacks has eroded many Indians' faith in the country's investigative agencies.

"Nation on Edge! Govt. Clueless," said a headline on Monday in the popular tabloid paper Mail Today. Editorials in other newspapers have been filled with calls on the government to be more vigilant in its investigations.

While acknowledging the challenges of finding the guilty in a sprawling, chaotic country of 1.1 billion people, terrorism experts say the investigations so far have fallen short of their expectations.

"There is just no excuse for this," said B. Raman, a retired intelligence officer. "These are attacks on ordinary life. The bombs are hidden in lunch boxes, in bags, in bicycles. We can fight this. But there doesn't seem to be much serious will to really get tough on terror."

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