For some Indians, latest bombing brings sense of déjà vu

Suleman Sultan, a survivor of a blast almost identical to the recent attack in Hyderabad, says the government's response is following the same old script. 

Jitendra Prakash/Reuters
Hindu priests lift up an oil lamp as they perform an evening prayer ceremony for the victims of the explosions which took place in Hyderabad on Thursday, on the banks of the river Ganges in the northern Indian city of Allahabad February 24.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited today the southern city of Hyderabad, the scene of a double bombing on Thursday. The deadly attacks echoed another double blast six year ago here, as well as a long string of terrorist incidents around the country, most of which remain unresolved and have upended the lives of ordinary people. 

Thursday's bombs ripped through the crowded Dilsukhnagar area in quick succession killing 16 people and injuring more than 120. The city, including the volatile Old City area, has been peaceful since the blasts.

“I am happy that people of Hyderabad have refused to be provoked by this nefarious incident,” said Prime Minister Singh while speaking to the media. 

The plaudits, however, are not flowing as freely in the other direction, with Indian citizens and the media expressing weariness with the repetitive urban bombings over the years and the government's inability to solve and stop them. 

While in Hyderabad, Singh visited a hospital to meet with survivors of the blasts. He had announced earlier a compensation of 200,000 rupees ($3,700) to relatives of the deceased and 50,000 rupees ($900) to those severely injured in the attacks from the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund. The chief minister of the state of Andhra Pradesh, where Hyderabad is located, also announced additional compensation of 600,000 rupees ($11,900) each for the families of those killed in the blast, and assured that the government would bear the expense of the treatment of those who were injured.

This is déjà vu for Suleman Sultan, a victim of one of the 2007 bombs that went off in a snack bar in Hyderabad.

“They gave me 200,000 rupees [$3,700] and took care of my treatment for five months in a hospital,” says Mr. Sultan. “I guess, that is all the Indian state can offer its citizen, right?” he smiled a painful smile. Sultan's lower body is paralyzed after shrapnel from the bomb damaged his spinal cord. He had returned from Australia a few days before the 2007 blast and was very happy to have landed a job as a telecom engineer. He could not take that job and the mostly immobilized 28-year-old now must be supported by his father and younger brother. 

Sultan used to be edgy and irritable immediately after his surgery, he snapped at many a reporter, he confesses. He has mellowed down, says his mother. “So much so, that my talkative child remains silent most of the time,” she adds.

It is customary for Indian authorities to offer compensation to high-profile victims of crime, disasters, or terrorism. But the money often cannot repair the damage done, and attention to victims and their cases wanes quickly. 

Like Thursday's attacks, the two bombs in 2007 ripped through crowded civilian areas – an amusement park and a snack bar – within a span of five minutes. The explosive materials (ammonium nitrate and RDX ) used were the same in 2007 as the recent blasts.

Even though several people were arrested immediately after the blasts in 2007, no one has been convicted yet. The slow pace of investigation has frustrated the victims.

“Now you will hear the police saying similar things they did at that point. The conspiracy theories, the arrests, the acquittals will all take place and there will be more blasts again in a few years,” Sultan says.

Sultan’s prediction saw some truth on Sunday as newspaper reports pointed fingers at several possible suspected terrorist groups, notably the Indian Mujahideen, a banned terrorist organization. According to unnamed investigators in several newspapers, Indian Mujahideen’s co-founder, Yasin Bhaktal, is the main suspect. Mr. Bhaktal has been named almost every year in a terror attack in the country since 2007, but has always managed to escape.

"We have footage from the camera [at the blast site] which we are analyzing," said Hyderabad Commissioner of Police Anurag Sharma while speaking to media on Saturday. "We have not arrested anyone in this case. We are examining all types of evidences," he added.

“We are all Muslims, why don’t they understand that?” asked Sultan, as the group that is suspected of planting the bombs in 2007 was a Bangladesh-based militant group. As for the government, he asks: “We want to live peacefully, and if we expect that from our elected representatives what is wrong in that?”

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