Mumbai attacks stun ex-pats

Jackson Heights business leaders and elected officials, including Council Speaker Christine Quinn, U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley, Assemblyman Jose Peralta and Councilwoman Helen Sears, observe a moment of silence at a ceremony Monday for the victims of the Mumbai terrorist attacks. Photo by Christina Santucci
By Jeremy Walsh

Sorrow and condemnation filled the thoughts of South Asians throughout Queens in the wake of last week’s terrorist attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai that claimed more than 170 lives.

In Jackson Heights, whose 74th Street commercial district is known as Little India, the local merchants association gathered with elected officials at the Delhi Palace restaurant Monday night for a prayer service. Visitors lit candles in memory of those killed in the attacks.

“Our heart is filled with grief and shock,” said Shiv Dass, former president of the Jackson Heights Merchants Association and member of Community Board 3.

“These new realities must make Americans cautious,” said U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), noting the terrorists reportedly singled out victims with American and British passports. “But India has confronted terrorism since its birth and must now redouble its efforts.”

Crowley also called for restraint until it is clear who planned and carried out these attacks, which the Indian government has blamed on terrorist groups with links to Pakistan.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) praised New York City’s diversity at the prayer meeting.

“What the terrorists don’t understand is community, a sense of oneness of people who are so different in a number of ways,” she said. “There will be no attack that is strong enough to break our bond.”

Hindus flocked to the Hindu Temple Society of North America in Flushing Sunday to pray for peace and hear Mayor Michael Bloomberg issue a short statement on the attack.

Punit Singh, a native of Dehli eating lunch at Dosa Hutt next door , said news of the attack disheartened him.

“You forget sometimes what people are capable of, the hate they can have in their hearts,” he said. “It’s terrible. A sad day for India.”

But for many anger accompanied the sadness.

“This section of people who commit this kind of heinous acts are of a different breed,” said Dr. Uma Mysorekar, president of the Flushing temple, in an interview Friday. “It just shows that they have no concern for human life. Whatever they think they want to prove to this world, they have surely failed. They have only showed that they are out for no one but their own self.”

“We area alarmed by reports of foreign groups being involved,” said Jackson Heights Merchants Association member Kanu Chauan. He called on the Indian government to investigate fully.

“They should be punished wherever they are from,” said Bobby Kumar, Nassau chairman of the state Independence Party, who also urged people to continue traveling to India.

Ten gunmen stormed locations in the city popular with foreigners, including two luxury hotels and a Jewish community center. Police and the military fought with the terrorists for three days before capturing one and killing the other nine.

Dass said people in the South Asian enclave around 73rd and 74th streets were concerned even if they knew no one in Mumbai.

“We are all worried,” he said. “If it happened in Mumbai, it could happen anywhere.”

Subhash Kapadia, owner of the electronics and travel goods shop Sam & Raj on 74th Street, has four brothers and a sister who live in Mumbai. His youngest brother lives a mile away from the Taj Hotel, where terrorists held hostages for days, he said.

“I called him up,” Kapadia said. “He said, ‘There was bombarding going on, but I’m all right. People are very scared here. Things are out of control.’ ”

Kapadia, born in Mumbai, said he had never seen anything like the Nov. 26 attacks.

Mukesh Patel, who has run East West Electronics on 74th Street for 24 years, said he has several friends who live in the nearby town of Ville Parle.

“We called, they are all fine,” he said. “We feel so sorry because a lot of innocent people lost their lives. … Their families are going to suffer financial crisis.”

He said the state-mandated curfews for civilians were lifted after the first day.

“These were young kids,” Patel said of the terrorists. “What they did was unexpected and hard to believe. It was like a nightmare.”

The South Asian community in Queens may reach out to the families devastated by the attacks. Patel said the Jackson Heights Merchants Association would meet to consider sending some sort of aid.

While the borough’s South Asian community condemned the attack, news also emerged that a young Brooklyn rabbi and his wife had been killed by the terrorists.

“Our hearts go out to the Lubavitch community, and to the many New Yorkers of all different religions and ethnicities who have been affected by the attacks,” Bloomberg said in a statement. “We will continue to pray for all of them, for all the people of Mumbai, for an immediate end to the violence, and for the release of all hostages.”

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jwalsh@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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