Vandana Sood is studying multimedia at Hunter College of the City University of New York. Her thesis project, The Taxi Takes on Terror, looks at public opinion on terrorism through a series of interviews shot in Mumbai taxicabs.
Worldfocus spoke with Sood about her experiences producing the videos.
Worldfocus: Why did you select the taxi as the venue for your reporting?
Vandana Sood: Taxis are a space where interesting interactions take place. Where else can you have a conversation between a driver and a diamond merchant, an IT professional and a washer man? The public yet contained environment of the taxi acts as a meeting ground for people from a diverse cross-section of society.
Taxi drivers represent the working class — the Indian common man, aam aadmi. On the other hand, passengers usually belong to more educated higher socioeconomic groups.
In India, the fault lines based on caste, class, education and creed run deep. Hence it is important to find spaces where it is possible to have a dialogue that overcomes such divisions — especially when the discussion is about terrorism, which does not discriminate amongst its victims and affects humanity universally.
Worldfocus: What has changed in Mumbai in the year since the terrorists attacks?
Vandana Sood: Mumbai is as resilient a city as ever, having faced decades of communal violence and bomb blasts. In a sense, not much has changed in this urban space where people have no alternative but to enter the same train station where armed terrorists opened fire indiscriminately last year. For most people, the attacks (known as 26/11) is ingrained in their psyches. But Mumbai is still in flux — as vibrant and chaotic as before.
In Mumbai, there was an initial burst of activism, which appears to have made way for a more cynical attitude, which is unfortunate. At the same time, there are fewer war cries heard after the initial calls for revenge against Pakistan.
The slow judicial proceedings for Ajmal Kasab, the lone captured terrorist, have led to complaints about the government’s lethargy and corruption. Most people hope that the Indian government has amended its security lapses and will be more prepared next time. The question is: can another 26/11 really be avoided?
Worldfocus: What did you see in the future for the Mumbai megalopolis?
Vandana Sood: The hard truth is that we will be hit again. The subcontinent has become a hotbed for several players like the Taliban, creating serious instability in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Indian government cannot deal with this matter in isolation but requires the cooperation of world leaders in formulating policies that do not have vested interests. As the financial center of a rising Asian power, Mumbai will have a shaky future in the world economy if these problems are not confronted.
– Ben Piven