India's 9/11: Memorializing 26/11 terror attack on the 13th anniversary of Mumbai terror attacks
Updated: Feb 17
26/11 Mumbai terror attack
On November 26, 2008, ten young men from Pakistan carried out 12 coordinated shooting and bombing attacks in the city of Mumbai, India. The terrorists targeted the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the Oberoi Trident hotel, the Taj Palace & Tower hotel, the Leopold Cafe, the Cama Hospital, the Nariman House, the Metro Cinema, a lane behind the Times of India building, St. Xavier's College, Mazagaon port area, and a taxi at Vile Parle. At the Taj, the terror attack was the worst, with many hotel guests taken hostage for three days (CNN 2018).
By the early morning of 28 November, all sites in the city except for the Taj Hotel had been secured by Mumbai Police and security forces, where the terror attack continued. On 29 November, India's National Security Guards (NSG) conducted Operation Black Tornado and finally overpowered the terrorists. It culminated in the death of all the terrorists, except one, Ajmal Kasab, and ended the Mumbai terror attack (Wikipedia n.d.).
Lashkar-e-Taiba, an Islamist terrorist organization founded by Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi of Pakistan, eventually took responsibility for the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack. The coordinated shooting and bombing was the hallmark of the Mumbai terror attack and it lasted for four days. The Taj Hotel became the focus of the terror attack, as the ten terrorists took it over in a hostage situation that began on Wednesday 26 November and lasted until Saturday 29 November 2008. The attacks drew widespread global condemnation in which a total of 175 people were killed, including nine attackers, and more than 300 were wounded (The Guardian 2008), as per a report in The Guardian.
The 2008 Mumbai attacks were quickly dubbed as 26/11. Ejaz Haider, a senior editor with the Daily Times group, quoted McCain as saying, "The democratic government of India is under pressure and it will be a matter of days after they have given the evidence to Pakistan to use the option of force if Islamabad fails to act against the terrorists," McCain said (India Today 2008).
"We were angry after 9/11. This is India's 9/11. We cannot tell India not to act when that is what we did, asking the Taliban to hand over Osama Bin Laden to avoid a war and waging one when they refused to do so," McCain said.
In my anti-memorial to 9/11, I highlight the over one billion non-US lives that have been lost in America's War on Terror, as the counter-memory of 9/11. McCain's statement above encourages India to respond to the terrorists in the same way the US had in 2001.
The Context is Partition
In a brilliant and unflinching article, Arundhati Roy deconstructs the religious bigotry in both India and Pakistan, and writes (Roy 2008),
"We need context. Always. In this nuclear subcontinent that context is partition. The Radcliffe Line, which separated India and Pakistan and tore through states, districts, villages, fields, communities, water systems, homes, and families, was drawn virtually overnight."
From the Partition of 1947, Roy connects the dots to the recurring cycles of communal violence in India, which consistently targets Muslims, such as the Kashmir conflict since 1989, the demolition of the Babri Mosque in 1992, and the Gujarat Pogrom of 2002.
These are exactly the contextual links I have been tracking in my research and artwork in the Partition Memorial Project. Something like 26/11 does not happen in a vacuum. It exists because of 1947, 1989, 1992, and 2002.
India's War on Terror
Arguably, India has been battling terrorism and insurgency since 1947, claims the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies website. IPCS makes a direct comparison with America's response to 9/11 by waging a "war on Terror" by attacking Afghanistan and Iraq. IPCS implies that India should do the same in the aftermath of 26/11 and other similar terrorist attacks, and launch its own "war on terror" by attacking Pakistan (Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies 2015).
In a thoughtful opinion piece in New York Times, Amitava Ghosh counters this position by writing, “when commentators repeat the metaphor of 9/11 they are in effect pushing the Indian government to mount a comparable response. If India takes a hard line modeled on the actions of the Bush administration, the consequences are sure to be equally disastrous. The very power of the 9/11 metaphor, blinds us to the possibility that there might be other, more productive analogies for the invasion of Mumbai: one is the Madrid train bombings of March 11, 2004, which led to a comparable number of casualties and created a similar sense of shock and grief,” (Ghosh 2008).
The 9/11 Memorial Museum is a US government-sponsored monument and thus has a nationalist, political agenda, and it privileges the 2,983 American lives that were lost in 9/11. The memorial and its memorialization rituals performed every year on September 11th, demonstrate that very clearly.
Public monuments created by state and central governments tend to have a nationalist agenda that inadvertently alienates one or more groups, which just perpetuates the issue. For instance, the 9/11 memorial in New York, eulogizes the 2,983 American lives that were lost when the Twin Towers were attacked on 9/1/2001, but no mention is made of the millions of middle eastern lives that have been lost in America's War on Terror, as a direct result of 9/11.
Anti-Memorial to 9/11
I advocate a more considered approach, instead of a reactive approach, and look for non-violent solutions to such complex geopolitical issues. One of the ways in which I propose to accomplish peaceful solutions is by memorializing traumatic events in a non-partisan way. I do this by creating art installations that are anti-memorials to traumatic geopolitical events, from a counter-memory perspective.
My anti-memorial to 9/11, "Ungrievable Lives: The Ghosts of 9/11," seeks to address the erasure of the non-American lives lost. More than a million non-American Lives have been lost in America's War on Terror, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, and Pakistan. These lives are deemed "ungrievable" for to grieve them is to declare oneself an enemy of America.
How has Mumbai memorialized 26/11?
Several memorials, big and small, have been created all over Mumbai to memorialize and commemorate the victims of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks in the past 13 years, in Mumbai, India. Last year, on the 12th anniversary of 26/11, people memorialized the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks in a variety of ways.
The big Police Memorial just outside the Police Gymkhana on Marine Drive, is the largest 26/11 memorial in the city and remembers the 18 security personnel who were slain during the Mumbai terror attack — officers and men of Mumbai Police, Railway Protection Force (RPF), Government Railway Police (GRP), Home Guards, and the commandos of the National Security Guard (NSG). It vows never to forget the heinous 26/11 terror attack, the courage of the security forces, and the sacrifices of our martyrs.
Taj Mahal Hotel
The most fraught site of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, a memorial plaque has been placed next to the waterfall in the lobby, near the entrance to the spa. It remembers the 31 guests, hotel staff, and security personnel who perished in the siege. On the 12th anniversary of 26/11, candles were lit to pay homage to the martyrs.
A sculpture next to the plaque, called the ‘Tree of Life’, is also dedicated to them. A plaque has also been installed in the staff area of the hotel. And outside the kitchen area, a memorial remembers the chefs and kitchen staff who died in the attack. These two memorials are, however, not accessible to the public.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus
Gunman Ajmal Kasab strides through the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus railway station (Sebastian D’souza / Mumbai Mirror / AP Images).
On the passenger concourse for outstation trains, is a memorial to the railway passengers, workers, and security staff who were killed that night, with the message: ‘The fight against terrorism will continue.’
Cama and Albless hospital
A small memorial has been constructed at the Cama Hospital in Mumbai, another site of the terrorist attacks of 26/11. It honors the two guards who lost their lives in the attack.
Memorial bust to Tukaram Omble
A bust of sub-inspector Tukaram Omble is installed at the entrance of Chowpatty. His memorial, Prerana Sthal, marks the spot where he sacrificed his life, fighting Ajmal Kasab, the lone terrorist to be caught alive in the attacks. Omble held the barrel of Kasab’s AK-47, taking all the bullets in his chest, enabling his colleagues to overpower the terrorist.
Napean Sea Road
A chowk has been named in honor of additional commissioner of police, Ashok Kamte, who was gunned down.
26-11 memorial outside Trident Hotel26/11 memorial plaque outside Trident Hotel, and at the pool level, on the portico outside. A memorial outside the Oberoi Trident Hotel on the first anniversary of the Mumbai 26/11 attacks.
The bullet marks in Cafe Leopold have been preserved. They are the memorials, grim reminders to the attacks, preserved as tributes to the people who died there. I couldn't find any information on a memorial built in Cafe Leopold to 26/11, but if I find any information of one, I will update this blog post.
Access to the Chabad House memorial on Nariman Way, is dedicated to the 8 Jews, including the Rabbi, his family, is restricted to Jews. But there are plans to convert the top two stories into a museum and the terrace to a living memorial to all the victims of the attacks, irrespective of religion. The wall opposite the building, which was showered with bullets, bears a message condemning the terror attacks. It is being called a living memorial.
From top, left to bottom, right -
In Poonam Nagar, there are parks dedicated to Hemant Karkare and Ashok Kamte of Mumbai Police and Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan of NSG.
Several public parks are dedicated to the memory of Omble, off the Western Express Highway in Goregaon East, at Gundavali in Andheri East, and at IC Colony in Borivali West.
Memorials have also been erected in Goregaon West opposite the railway station.
A public park on the Jogeshwari-Vikhroli Link Road towards Vikhroli, is dedicated to the memory of Vijay Salaskar, of Mumbai Police who died in the attack.
Memorials have been erected between the courthouse and the police control room. However, there have been several complaints from the public that this memorial has not been maintained properly, and recently it was vandalized.
Caesar, Max, Tiger, and Sultan, police dogs who helped detect explosives during the attacks, have their own memorials at a Virar farmhouse where they retired and died after years of active service.
9/11 Memorials vs. 26/11 Memorials
The way 26/11 has been memorialized in Mumbai is clearly different from the way 9/11 has been memorialized in New York. The 9/11 Memorial Museum is located on a bigger site, and the memorial itself has been built on a grand scale. The memorials in Mumbai are comparatively smaller, but multiplicitous and diffused all over the city. Arguably, this difference is also because of the financial resources available in the US, a first-world wealthy country, and in India, a developing country with limited resources.
Mini-Memorials to 26/11
Inspired by the brutality of the 26/11 attacks, artists and writers have created what one can call "mini-memorials" to 2/111.
26/11 Memorial Day trophy
The Gateway of India is the inspiration behind the 3D trophy that has been specially commissioned to commemorate the heroes of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.
Sand artist Sudarshan Patnaik
Sudarshan Patnaik creates temporary sculptures from sand and has created notable memorials to 26/11.
To The Last Bullet
Vinita Kamte, the widow of police officer, Ashok Kamte, who died fighting the terrorists of the 26/11 terror attack, has written a book titled "To the Last Bullet: The Inspiring Story of a Braveheart - Ashok Kamte," that is is notable as a tribute to 26/11.
9/11 as a metaphor
Juxtaposing 26/11 as “India’s 9/11,” the relationship between memory and history becomes complex, but in a way that is generative in understanding post-26/11 discourses. Rohit Chopra has written a brilliant article titled, "The 26/11 Network-Archive: Public Memory, History, and the Global in an Age of Terror," (Chopra 2015).
Chopra writes that news about 26/11 first broke on Twitter, and instantly went viral globally. Ordinary people became reporters and journalists as they tweeted about the unfolding events of 26/11. Reportage, history-making, and memory-making of 26/11 happened online and Chopra calls this the "26/11 network-archive."
The comparison to 9/11 was instant, and this created local and global meanings of the Mumbai terror attacks. Chopra writes, "In the online memory discourse of 26/11, the experience of terror appears to work as a bridge between local suffering and global belonging. Attacking the landmark sites of Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the Taj Mahal, and Oberoi hotels, and Chabad House, a Jewish center in the city’s historic Colaba district are iconic emblems of the city and vibrant centers of its economic and social life, signaled that the attackers meant to wound Mumbai both literally and symbolically," Chopra observes astutely.
The Israel Angle
It is interesting indeed that the terrorists targeted a known Jewish site. The sites they chose are deliberate and symbolic. One can only surmise that they were targeting not just India, but also the United States, and Israel. The 26/11 attack was not meant to be local, it was intended as an international statement. Muslims in Kashmir often express kinship with the Muslims in Palestine, and India often expresses kinship with Israel. More on this in another blog post.
9/11-style terror attacks
The 9/11 attacks in the US have become the metaphor for international terrorist attacks, and it is worth looking at 9/11 as a metaphor in a broad way. “9/11-style attacks” is a phrase that has gained increasing currency to describe terrorist attacks. An article in The Telegraph, "How did these terror attacks during the last 20 years change the world?" also connects these local terror attacks in a global network of 9/11-style attacks.
Think about it, if somebody tells you that a 9/11-style attack just happened in xyz city, you will know exactly what is being described. It has become a shorthand for targeted and bloody terror attacks on soft targets, by jihadis that most likely die in the attack, and they use coordinated bombings, using bombs or planes, they take hostages, or cause a large number of civilian casualties. I content that a "9/11-style attack" is a vernacular term for what Pierre Nora describes as “Monster Event” (Nora and Hildreth 1983).
As such, the Paris bombings on November 13, 2015, and the Madrid bombings of March 11, 2004 are similar 9/11-style terror attacks and help situate 26/11 in a continuum of international terrorist attacks since 9/11/2001.
An anti-memorial to 26/11
I decided to create an anti-memorial to the Mumbai terror attack, the Paris bombings, and the Madrid bombings, that leverages 9/11 as a metaphor. This anti-memorial focuses on the global/local imaginaries of trauma that have been created in the wake of these 9/11-style attacks.
Nodes of Trauma
This anti-memorial does not replace or undermine the local memorializations in Mumbai, Paris, Madrid, and New York. Instead, it supplants these sited memorials with one that cannot be sited in a physical location, but can connect each of these sites as nodes of trauma in the arc of post-9/11 terrorist attacks.
The Counter-Memory Project undertakes intensive research on traumatic geopolitical events, such as partitions, terrorist attacks, civil and military wars, and communal and racial riots. The goal of the Counter-Memory Project is to excavate the counter-memories from these fraught events and create anti-memorials to them.
These alternative modes of memorialization can help communities heal and self-reflect on such controversial and polarizing traumatic geopolitical events. The anti-memorials can sometimes be provocative, but they shed light on questions that have been erased from dominant discourse amid nationalist rhetoric.
Chopra, Rohit. 2015. "26/11 Network Archive." International Journal of Communication. https://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/view/2263/1360.
2018. CNN. November 25. https://www.cnn.com/2018/11/25/opinions/10-year-anniversary-mumbai-terror-attacks-intl/index.html.
Ghosh, Amitava. 2008. NY Times. December 3. https://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/03/opinion/03ghosh.html.
2008. India Today. December 7. https://www.indiatoday.in/latest-headlines/story/mccain-warns-pakistan-of-indian-strikes-34740-2008-12-07.
2015. Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. February 28. http://www.ipcs.org/comm_select.php?articleNo=1657.
Nora, Pierre, and L Hildreth. 1983. "Monster Events." Discourse 5-20.
Roy, Arundhati. 2008. The Guardian. December 12. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/dec/12/mumbai-arundhati-roy.
2008. The Guardian. November 28. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/nov/28/mumbai-terror-attacks-international-response.
n.d. Wikipedia. Accessed November 25, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_Mumbai_attacks.