India

How the Nairobi attack has shaken Kenya's Indians

People of the Jain community hold candles during a 24 hour prayer session for the victims of the Westgate Shopping Centre attack on September 29, 2013 in Nairobi, Kenya.
Image caption Tens of thousands of people of Indian origin live in Kenya

Some 67 people were killed and many injured after al-Shabab militants attacked the Westgate centre in Kenya on 21 September. A number of those killed were people of South Asian origin. The BBC Hindi's Nitin Srivastava reports from Nairobi.

A packed weekend for Nehal Vekaria had begun with a cooking competition at the upscale Westgate shopping centre in a posh part of Nairobi, favoured by the expatriates.

On Sunday, 22 September, the 16-year-old daughter of Indian immigrants planned to go to her school for a ceremony in which she was to be chosen as the deputy head girl.

When the militants stormed into the mall on Saturday and began firing indiscriminately, Nehal called up her father and told him that she, along with a friend, were hiding on the rooftop.

That was her last call.

Repeated attempts by her parents to contact Nehal failed. After six hours, her father received a call from a Nairobi hospital asking the family to come and identify her body.

"When I dropped her at Westgate in the morning, she promised to be back home soon. It never happened. She was such a bright student and wanted to pursue accountancy as a career," says Parbat Vekaria, her father.

Image caption Nehal Vekaria was killed in the attack

Nehal was among an estimated 15 people of Indian origin living in Kenya who were killed in the attack. Four Indian citizens working in Kenya were also killed.

A substantial number of more than 90,000 people of South Asian origin living in Kenya are Indians, and they wield considerable political and economic power.

Many of them arrived here in the early 19th Century. They worked as traders, farmers and on the railway system that the British were building in east Africa.

Today, Indians living here are mainly engaged in construction, metal and retail businesses. Some work in banks. They also own vast tracts of farmland in the countryside.

But the attack on the shopping centre has shaken them.

"There is considerable fear among people, especially of Kenyan Asian origin as more than 20% of the shops in Westgate were owned by Indians," says 56-year-old Bahadur Janmuhad Amlani from India's Gujarat state. He migrated to Kenya in 1992 to start a business.

"People are afraid to come out of their homes. Even my business of selling household Indian goods has taken a hit. But things will get back to normal soon."

Chetna Pathak, a homemaker who lives in Nairobi's Parklands area next to Westgate, says she heard the sound of gunfire from the shopping centre for three days.

Ms Pathak says though people of Indian origin are apprehensive after the attack, they are "inseparable from the Kenyan social fabric".

"I don't believe that only Indians or any community was singled out by the attackers. And even if they were and even if they are shaken, we are as much a part of this society as any other Kenyan," she says.

Image caption Mr Amlani says there is "considerable fear" in the Indian community

Meanwhile, authorities in Kenya have been quick to realise that the Westgate attack may affect the morale of the hundreds of thousands of foreigners in Kenya.

Former prime minister Raila Odinga was the first to react after the attack in which people of several nationalities died.

"There is an attempt to divide Kenyans along religious lines. We are bound to be united irrespective of religious differences and no such attempt to divide will be successful," Mr Odinga said a day after the attack.

Kenya's Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku has assured that Kenyan Asians or other communities are "as safe in this country as anywhere else in the world".

Muljibhai Pindolia, president of the Kenyan Hindu Organisation, says the attack is "a terrible loss not only for business but for all those who have lost their lives".

"The government has to beef up security, not only for us but for every Kenyan."

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