By Anna Gustafson
Hundreds of people who gathered at Flushing’s BAPS Shree Swaminarayan Mandir Temple Sunday wiped away tears during a ceremony to honor the lives lost in last week’s terrorist attacks in Mumbai. With their faces in their hands, many silently rocked back and forth while listening to Queens lawmakers and Indian leaders call for American residents to rally behind India in the wake of the violence that rocked the country’s financial capital last week.
“After Sept. 11, the whole world opened its heart to America, and now we must do the same for India,” U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told the hundreds of people gathered at the ceremony.
Many of those attending wore all white, the color of mourning in India, and several said the attacks were an assault on a country where they grew up and still have family and friends living there.
“We need to pray to have the strength to get through this, but the good thing about Mumbai is the people are very strong,” said Aditi Bhagat, a Queens Village resident who has family, none of whom were hurt in the attacks, in Mumbai, a city on India’s west coast that is home to more than 13 million people.
Bellerose resident Bhakti Mamtora, who also has relatives in Mumbai, said Indians were still in a state of shock over the 60-hour terrorist siege, during which 10 armed gunmen stormed the city. Mamtora said that since the attacks began, she has surrounded herself with friends and family, who have all been praying for peace.
The present spiritual leader of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, a national Hindu organization, Pramukh Swami Maharaj, condemned the terrorism, but said “we strongly feel that violence is not the answer to terrorism.”
“We encourage people around the world, and especially in Mumbai, to stay calm and at peace,” he said.
Queens lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills), expressed anger at the attacks and, in a veiled reference to Pakistan, said “if there is a place anywhere where terrorists are, and that country cannot find a way to stamp them out, we’ll do it for them.”
Though Indian officials have not explicitly blamed the Pakistani government for the attacks, there is reported evidence that groups within Pakistan were involved in the attacks that killed a young Brooklyn rabbi, Gavriel Noach Holtzberg, and his wife, Rivka Holtzberg.
Ajmal Amir Qasab, the single captive gunman, is a Pakistani citizen, and according to the Associated Press, gunmen made phone calls to a number in Karachi, Pakistan’s capital, during the attacks.
City Councilmen James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) and John Liu (D-Flushing) echoed Weiner’s sentiments. Liu called for Americans to “go back into our communities and preach unity and understanding.”
“We cannot let these cowards who looked to divide us let them divide us,” said Liu, who represents Flushing, where one of the city’s largest congregations of Indian-Americans live.
U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Hauppauge) and Weiner said they were planning to vote for increased funding to India to help the victims’ families, and Israel said he plans to propose a U.S.-India counter terrorism package when he returns to Congress.