190428 abhinav and navroop chari
Dubai-based Indian couple Abhinav and Navroop Chari Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: How does one deal with so much hate? This is the question Dubai expat Abhinav Chari had after he returned to the UAE from Sri Lanka.

He and his wife, Navroop K. Chari, had just escaped the horrific Easter bombings that took place in the island country.

The Dubai-based manager at a health insurance firm and his wife were in Sri Lanka for a business trip. They were staying at the Cinnamon Grand hotel, one of the eight places where the bombings took place.

A few hours after landing in the UAE, on April 22, in a touching Instagram post, he wrote: “How do you move forward from here? Personally, this really hits me hard as I witnessed the Mumbai attacks back in 2008 and now this. How do you deal with so much hate, how do you recover?.... How do you prevent further hate?”

Personally, this really hits me hard as I witnessed the Mumbai attacks back in 2008 and now this. How do you deal with so much hate, how do you recover?

- Abhinav Chari

While speaking to Gulf News, Chari recounted: “On Easter Sunday, we went to church. In the middle of the service, the priest made an announcement, requesting people to leave the church premises. He said they had received reports about bombings in other churches and asked us to exit calmly. Everyone did.”

The gravity of the situation had not yet struck Chari. He said: “After we left the church we got into a taxi to go get some breakfast because that is what we would normally do after Easter mass. We started noticing a commotion on the roads and decided it was better to go back to the hotel. When we reached there we saw everyone out on the lawn. We thought it was just some sort of security protocol. But soon we got to know this was much more.”

In the restaurant of the very hotel they were staying at, a bomb had gone off where the Easter Sunday breakfast buffet was being served. Many people had lost their lives.

Soon there were ambulances at the entrance of the hotel and bodies were being taken out.

While Chari tried to remain calm and think straight, the situation was too much for his wife.

His wife Navroop told Gulf News: “It was too soon to know anything on the news or social media, we still hadn’t registered the scale of the incident. I could not believe what was happening in front of us. It was all like a movie. I saw the ambulance come in ... I saw the bodies being taken out. I saw the blood. It was too much and I could not believe it was real.”

I saw the bodies being taken out. I saw the blood. It was too much and I could not believe it was real.

- Navroop K. Chari

The anxious 33-year-old just wanted to get back to her room. She added: “Once we got to the room, from our balcony we could see the commotion. Finally, only when I watched the news and saw that other churches and five-star hotels had been targeted, did it sink in that this was huge. We felt the attack was not something that was planned at a local level. It was something at an international scale.”

She added: “Our family and friends who knew we were in Sri Lanka started calling us to check if we were safe. I realised how lucky we had been to escape the blast. But, at the same time, I felt sad for those who had become victims of the hate crime. So many familiar faces that we had probably met during our stay there... the hotel staff.”

Navroop was panicking but said it helped that her husband was calm. Even though Chari couldn’t believe the sequence of events that had just unfolded, his focus moved to get in the room and making sure the passports were safe. His next step was to find the next available flight to the UAE.

Chari, who grew up in Dubai like his wife Naroop, told Gulf News that he has travelled out of the UAE only twice. Both times, he witnessed horrific hate crimes that were essentially religious terrorism. While his Sri Lanka trip was the latest, the first such experience was in Mumbai, India in 2008.

He recalled: “I was in Bombay in 2008 studying for medicine. It was a horrible five- or six-day ordeal.”

He was referring to the 2008 Mumbai attacks - a group of terrorist attacks that took place in November that year, when 10 members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, an Islamic terrorist organisation based in Pakistan, carried out a series of 12 coordinated shooting and bombing attacks, lasting four days across Mumbai.

He added: “It resulted in an increased sense of hate against the Muslim community in Mumbai. Even in our friends’ circles, I noticed Muslims were being excluded. And generally, they were being looked down upon.”

Why so much hate?

Chari said: “It becomes a vicious circle. How is it benefitting the community? The same thing is happening in Sri Lanka now.”

Also read

He added: “Imagine, you are in a place of worship, it is supposed to be a safe place. How do you go back to work or to the restaurants you normally go to, not feeling safe.”

He recalled: “I keep a beard and in Mumbai, I have been asked, ‘Are you a Muslim?’, before I got an accommodation to stay. And in India – now this Hindutva. How do you move forward? You regress as a community.”

Navroop said: “In Dubai, we are so secure, we never have to think about safety.”

In Dubai, we are so secure, we never have to think about safety

- Navroop K. Chari

Abhinav Chari stated the basic principle of tolerance that is much needed in the world. He said: “We need to understand that every human being is different. I am different, you are different. We need to respect these differences and be tolerant. We have to respect others’ beliefs.”

He asks: “What did that individual sitting in church, praying, do to deserve such a fate? What did that person sitting in a restaurant having his breakfast do to become a victim of your hate?”

Chari in his Instagram post wrote: “Although Mumbai attacks were against Indians and the Sri Lankan attacks against Christians, both of which I identify with very closely; I will not stand for ‘revenge’ or ‘retaliation’, no matter who claims responsibility for these attacks. We all need to individually pursue peace. Only then can it pass on to a community or a country level.”