Bombs turns India's festive season into tragedy

By Anirban Roy
Saturday, October 29, 2005; 6:57 PM

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - As dusk fell, fairy lights came on and the mosques filled for prayers, deadly bombs turned three of New Delhi's festive markets into tangles of charred bodies, severed limbs and shattered shops in minutes.

The sound was deafening, even among the cheery chaos and popping firecrackers of the peak festival season.

Many of the victims were women and children, brightly dressed for their last big night out to shop before the Hindu Diwali, or festival of lights, on Tuesday and the Muslim Eid al-Fitr that marks the end of Ramadan later in the week.

The blasts hit Sarojini Nagar and two other markets as millions crowded into the brightly lit streets and bazaars. Officials said more than 50 people were killed and scores injured, some suffering severe burns.

"I have never heard anything like this before. We just ran," said laborer Ram Saran, dazed and barely able to talk, squatting near the blackened debris and bloody clothing close to the scene of one of bombs.

"I saw a completely charred body ... they must have carried 20 bodies away," said shopkeeper Manish Saxena at Sarojini Nagar, one of Delhi's biggest and most popular markets, where the rich rub shoulders with servants and the poor in the crowded lanes.

"I saw injured people, women, running away from the scene, many of them without clothes," said Bobby, a passerby at Sarojini. "I counted 22 badly burned bodies, including children."


Firecrackers, whose the noise and smoke blanket the night sky for days leading up to Diwali, littered the ground at Sarojini, along with smashed up fruit, torn bunting and broken glass. Acrid smoke filled the air.

A visibly upset Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who rushed home from an official visit to Kolkata, said the attacks had been deliberately coordinated to create maximum fear and havoc at a special time of year for all Indians.

"My heart grieves for those who have lost their loved ones," he said at his home, wearing his trademark light-blue turban.

"These are dastardly acts of terrorism aimed at the people of India. These terrorists wish to spread a sense of fear and suspicion among our peace-loving people."

For Hindus, who make up more than 80 percent of secular India's 1 billion-plus people and the Muslims who account for more than 13 percent, this is normally the equivalent of Christmas for Christians.

Diwali marks a new beginning and the triumph of good over evil for Hindus, but some local media have already dubbed this "Black Diwali."

"There was a huge sound," said Sunita, who lives not far from where Ram Saran sits on the ground in Paharganj, a bustling area in central Delhi crammed with stalls, restaurants and cheap lodges filled with foreign backpackers.

"I saw many people lying on the ground. I saw a child's arm cut off and somebody else's brain smashed out. It was very bad. Very bad," she added.

Parvinder Singh, searching for his brother and sister-in-law who were on their way to Paharganj, shouted frantically into his mobile phone as he headed for the closest hospital.

"I have seen their burned scooter -- I don't whether they are dead or alive," he said, before running off.

(Additional reporting by Palash Kumar, Y.P. Rajesh and Shailendra Bhatnagar)

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