Indian Elis react to news of Mumbai attacks

Parmeet Shah ’11 was vacationing in Florida with high school friends last week when he received a startling text message. Their hometown was under siege from terrorists.

Shah, who went to school just a few miles from the site of the brazen attacks in Mumbai, India, said he and his former classmates glued themselves to the television to receive any information about what was going on at home.

“I’m glad I was here,” he said. “Everyone in the city is so shell-shocked.”

The surprise attacks came less than two weeks after University President Richard Levin announced the launch of Yale’s most ambitious international initiative — with a $75-million price tag — to bolster ties with emerging economic power India. And while administrators say their plans to develop curricular programs in Indian studies will not be affected by the attacks, students from India said they are still in horror over last week’s events.

Since most students from India do not travel home for the week-long Thanksgiving break, an ocean separated them from their friends and family and the terrorist attacks that assaulted the southern portion of the city with grenade and machine-gun strikes. While students said they were fortunate to only be watching the attacks on television rather than in person, of the eight students from Mumbai who were interviewed for this article, all said they knew at least one person who was killed or injured in the assaults.

Varun Purandare ’11, who lives nearby the sites of the attacks, said two of his friends’ fathers and one of his high school teachers were among those killed.

“She was running out of the hotel and they just shot her,” Purandare said of his teacher. “Her husband hid behind a pillar. He stayed with her body for three hours before he was rescued.”

Another student, Shashwata Narain ’12, said her friends in Mumbai narrowly avoided being caught in the middle of the attack. On Wednesday night, when the siege began, they had considered dining at Leopold Café, a favorite tourist spot that was attacked by the terrorists.

Many students said the victims they knew were mostly caught in the Oberoi hotel and Taj Mahal Palace and Tower. Uzra Khan ’12 said she frequented the hotels’ restaurants most Sundays when she was at home, as did many locals.

“My friends and I would be eating at all these places,” she added. “It was weird seeing them on TV.”

Soon after the attacks, students from India received an e-mail message from Monica Weeks, an advisor at the Yale Office of International Students and Scholars, inquiring about the safety of the students and their family members and offering support to affected students.

University Vice President and Secretary Linda Lorimer said the Yale administration “rallied immediately” to help out faculty, students or alumni in Mumbai. But when all was said and done, the University did not receive any information of students who were present or directly affected, said George Joseph, the assistant secretary for international affairs.

Back in the United States, on campus and elsewhere across the country, Yale students from Mumbai called one another for support during the break. In interviews this week, many Yale students from India said that the unprecedented nature of this attack — lasting for days in a wealthy location of the city — made it different from other incidences of terrorism that India has seen.

“They generally bomb public transport, but they never go in the private zone,” Shah said of the escalating terrorism attacks India has recently experienced. “This time it was really different and they targeted the kind of people that had a lot of power and money.”

But students who plan on studying abroad in India next semester are surprisingly calm in light of last week’s events.

Mark Iscoe ’10, who plans on studying abroad in Delhi next semester through an independent program pre-approved by the Yale study-abroad office­, said he is not too worried about studying in the country as police forces are more vigilant now about security measures. Iscoe said he had a conference call regarding the program in general, along with safety issues, with officials from the program and other participants last night.

“They said they are paying close attention to the warnings in the area,” Iscoe said. “They are following the government guidelines. Everything is still on, and they will assess if anything changes.”

As of Monday, India is not on the State Department’s list of approximately 25 countries deemed “dangerous or unstable” for study abroad students. The University uses this list — along with warnings from the travel-assistance organization MEDEX — as a guideline for determining where it forbids University-sponsored student travel.

Despite the attacks and his sympathy for members of the Yale community who may have been affected, Levin said the University has no plans to alter any of the curricular programs designed for the India initiative.

“I do not think that the Mumbai attacks will diminish enthusiasm, either at Yale or in India, for the promising initiative we announced two weeks ago,” Levin said in an e-mail message. “We will continue our efforts to build a strong faculty presence in the study of India and to provide more opportunities for our students to learn about India.”

A memorial service for the Mumbai attack victims is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday at 5:15 p.m. on Cross Campus.

Paul Needham contributed reporting.

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