Nail bombs or irregular water-supply. Which would you choose?

1999

People in London are used to bomb scares, and also the occasional bomb explosion, courtesy of the IRA (the Irish Republican Army). If you travel on the underground rail network, security alerts are common, and you will not find rubbish bins on the trains or at the train stations for fear that the IRA will put explosives in them.

But the two 'nail' bombs that exploded in London in the past few days were different from the usual IRA bombs (a 'nail' bomb is exactly that a bomb which contains large nails, with obvious results). The first exploded in Brixton, a part of London with a predominantly Afro-Caribbean population. The second one went off in Brick Lane in east London, where there is a high percentage of Bangladeshi immigrants. In both explosions, many people were badly injured though luckily no one died.

The fact that the bombs went off in areas with large immigrant populations appeared to indicate that the attacks were racist. Several extremist groups claimed responsibility. One of these groups, Combat 18, said that the next target is the Southall area in London, which has a large Punjabi and Sikh population.

A few days before the first nail bomb attack, another group, the White Wolves, had sent a message to a black MP (Member of Parliament) in east London saying:"Notice is hereby given that all non-whites and Jews must permanently leave the British Isles before the year is out. Jews and non-whites who remain after 1999 has ended will be exterminated when the clock strikes midnight on 31/12/99. The White Wolves will begin to howl. You have been warned. Hail Britannia."

Of course, such letters are often issued by cranks and other fringe organisations. However, these threats can turn into something horrifyingly real, as the bombs have proved. Although such attacks are rare - we wouldn't be living abroad otherwise - we know that they do happen. And even when an attack is not part of a bombing campaign, it could just be localised, isolated instances - for example when you are apprehensive that you might get picked upon for being "different" in a train compartment late at night. There is always this extra sense of insecurity that we carry around as NRIs (or even naturalised citizens), being "foreigners".

So while reading this, you are probably thinking that yes, this is "our" problem as we are foreigners. But in a letter to the editor of the Guardian newspaper, this reader put it best: "As a white mother of a black infant, I find your [the newspaper's] suggestion that 'racist bombs are a black issue because non-white citizens are in the firing line' is beside the point. The bombs are the people who are planting them may well be racists. The issue ultimately is our right to live peacefully in a multicultural society."

Of course, the situation where a racist attack is taken to be everyone's problem, not just that of the minorities alone, is an idealised one. But in the meantime, we will have to continue measure the risks of living abroad versus the problems of living back home. Worry about where the next nail-bomb is going to explode or worry about whether there will be no water-supply again today?!

- Chetan Dhruve in London

The views of this column are the author's own, and do not necessarily represent the views of NRI Online.

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