By Fredrick Kunkle and Christopher Twarowski
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, November 28, 2008 2:48 PM
Indian Americans have watched the Asian nation's growing prosperity and economic strength carry their homeland toward a place among the world's most powerful industrialized nations.
But Wednesday's brazen assault on luxury hotels and other sites in India's financial capital dealt a horrifying blow to the expatriate community as India joined the ranks of other nations whose most powerful cities have been humbled by a catastrophic terrorist attack.
"This is like an Indian 9/11 in many ways," said Lakhinder Vohra of Woodbridge, whose uncle was rescued by Indian commandos late Thursday after spending nearly 24 hours trapped inside a hotel targeted in the assault.
Indian Americans in the Washington region were consumed with grief, anxiety and outrage over the still-unfolding terror attacks in Mumbai that have left at least 145 people dead.
Two Virginia residents, Alan Scherr, 58, and his 13-year-old daughter, Naomi Scherr, of Nelson County, members of a spiritual community called Synchronicity, were killed in the attack, Synchronicity members said this morning.
Members of the local Jewish community also shared a feeling of being targeted as news came that the terrorists appeared to have singled out Jews. At a Jewish outreach center, a young Israeli American rabbi, his wife and three others affiliated with the Chabad-Lubavitch movement also were killed, organization officials said today.
"We are shocked," said Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan, regional director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Maryland, yesterday after learning that the center in Mumbai had been attacked. "We are horrified. We are pained by it. We are an organization that reaches out to people all over the world; that's why we are in Mumbai. And for us to be the recipients of this kind of attack is just horrifying."
Although India has been struck by 44 bomb blasts since May, Indian authorities said Wednesday's assault was unprecedented in the audacity and success of laying siege to well-known symbols of the country's prosperity and tourism industry.
Members of the Washington region's Indian American community followed the events half a world away through the experience of Vohra's elderly uncle, Jang Bahadur Singh Bakshi, who was trapped for 20 hours inside his room on the 18th floor of the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai.
Vohra, who is executive director and editor of Sikhcommunitycenter.org, a news portal for local Sikh community members, said his uncle lives for extended periods at the hotel while conducting business in India.
His uncle, who is known in the Washington area as Bill Bakshi, had been staying in the wing opposite the heaviest fighting after the terrorist assault began. He was without food but had access to the Internet, utilities and a cellphone and received hundreds of calls from business associates, relatives and others who knew he was a frequent guest at the hotel.
In the Washington region, only Salvadorans outnumber Indians among immigrant groups. More than 107,000 Indians live in the Washington area, about 80 percent of whom are immigrants, according to 2005 Census data. About 2.5 million Indian Americans live in the United States
Mahendra Sheh, 59, manager of the Bombay Cafe on Lee Highway in Fairfax County, said he has many family members and friends, including his two sons and wife, in Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay. "Everybody's okay," said Sheh, of Potomac.
He said he learned about the attacks from his son, who called to tell him that he and the rest of the family were safe at home, several miles from the attacks.
"I feel horrible that there are people that still believe in killing others to get their point across, which is sickening," Sheh said.
Ratee Patel, 74, of Arlington County, a community organizer whose brother-in-law lives in Mumbai, and Parthasarathy Pillai of College Park, former president and chairman of the National Federation of Indian American Associations, said they plan to try to organize an event, such as a candlelight vigil, in response to the attacks.
Patel said he would like to send a message to the Indian government, possibly through the Indian Embassy, that a concerted effort to combat terrorism must be made.
"There has to be some coordinated effort by all nations in the world to see how we can put down this type of terrorism," he said.
"Our prayers are with Rabbi Holtzberg and his family and all the others that are there," Kaplan said. "We hope that we'll be able to hear good news."