The Jains, silent heroes of Nairobi mall attack response
Sunday, September 29, 2013
Posted by: Parth Savla
by Agence France-Presse | Updated: September 29, 2013 08:25 IST
reposted from NDTV
Nairobi: As a jihadist commando sowed death and horror inside
Westgate mall last week, Nairobi's Jains became the silent heroes of the
days-long emergency effort.
The Jain community, whose small
Indian religion upholds non-violence as a sacred principle, opened their
doors at the onset of the attack on September 21 claimed by Somalia's
Al Qaeda-linked Shebab group.
As the crackle of gunshots filled
the air, the Oshwal religious centre just 100 metres (yards) away was a
haven where survivors, relatives, security forces and journalists were
sheltered, treated, counselled and fed.
"We have a lot of space and numerous parking places," said Bhupendra Shah, a senior member of the Visa Oshwal community.
On the Saturday the raid was launched, "I made a round, I saw soldiers and policemen standing, who where hungry and thirsty."
"We sent emails to request help, and donations started to arrive on Sunday morning," said Shah.
Within hours the Jains mobilised like an army and tapped into their formidable economic power.
brought gallons of juice freshly squeezed at home, a sporting club
donated eight vans packed with food, an industrial bakery and a top
retail chain gave tonnes of bread and water bottles.
have only 12,000 members in Nairobi, a city of four million with a large
population of Indian descent, but among them are the CEOs of Nakumatt,
East Africa's retail giant, and other top companies.On the
second and third days of the brutal siege, Oshwal volunteers served
around 15,000 meals inside their religious centre, an imposing ochre
building of Hindu architecture surrounded by sprawling grounds.
times a day, the red vests of the Red Cross, the green ones of the St
John ambulance service, the camouflage gear of the elite forces battling
the mall attackers, mingled in the queue.
bristling with assault rifles and journalists with cameras also got in
line for a plate of food, taking a short break as the siege dragged on.Serving
this exhausted crowd on the front line of one of the worst attacks in
Kenya's history were 400 Jain volunteers working in shifts to welcome
A first aid centre was set up in the underground car park to ease the burden on the city's overwhelmed hospitals.
Oshwal centre also made space available to teams offering psychological
counselling to traumatised survivors and bereaved families, or helping
people to report a missing person.'Do not kill, don't have anger'At
least 67 people, including children, are so far confirmed to have been
killed in the attack, that also left dozens wounded and 61 people are
still reported missing. "Jain is one of the oldest religions in
the world," Shah said. "Our religion says 'do not kill, don't have
anger', 'respect any form of life'."
Jainism is thousands of
years old, a religion whose philosophical roots date back to ancient
India and are inspired by the same principles of tolerance that
influenced Mahatma Gandhi.Most its followers are vegetarians or
vegans and some of them even refrain from eating roots and tubers in
order not to kill insects.Jain monks sweep the floor in front of
them and cover their mouths with their hands as they walk to avoid
stepping on or swallowing the slightest creature.The community is estimated at barely five million worldwide.
Conspicuously absent from the temporary crisis management hub set up at the Oshwal were the Kenyan government services."When you live in Kenya, (help from the government) is the last thing you ask. You have to rely on yourself," said Shah."Not a single person from the government came to ask what they could do."But
the Jains' efforts didn't go unnoticed, galvanizing good will among
other religious communities and in some cases even breaking down the
prejudice that permeates Kenya's complex social fabric."
important thing is that all Kenyans came together as one, as Kenyans,
people from all origins, all communities came to help," said Miten Shah,
another member of Oshwal's Jain community."I never thought the Indians could be so generous," a black African Kenyan who survived the attack said.A
week after the bloodshed, as the nation took stock and licked its
wounds, hundreds of people were back at the Oshwal centre for a marathon
ecumenical prayer vigil for the victims of the massacre.