India vs New Zealand: Nearly a year after, Christchurch still coming to terms with Mosque attack
“One of New Zealand’s darkest days” would be a year older in little over a fortnight from now but the wounds it inflicted on the country’s second most populous city are still raw despite the people’s resolve to “Stay Strong”. Whether it’s Mohammed Hussain, Barkat Bati or Martyn Rivett, the terror attack on two mosques last year is something that evokes a sense of horror and fear. It was March 15 last year when an alleged white supremacist Brenton Tarrant went on a gun rampage at the Al Noor Mosque, killing 51, as people offered Friday prayers.
New Zealand were locked in a Test series with Bangladesh at that time and the visiting players had a narrow escape as it had left the mosque just minutes before the massacre. Amost a year later, the words “Kia Kaha”, painted on colourful pebbles spread across the garden path of the mosque, easily grab attention. Abdul Rauf, a mosque regular, offers translation for the Maori expression.
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“It means ‘Stay Strong’. People from all races and religion painted pebbles with some message for all those who lost their lives that day,” Rauf, a Hyderabadi, whose son works in an IT company, said. The mosque, which is located opposite Hagley Park, the venue for the second India-New Zealand Test starting Saturday, can be missed given the line up of houses down the Deans Street.
“Who would have thought something like this would happen. My brother came to offer his Friday’s namaz and was shot dead,” another mosque visitor Barkat Sabi’s eyes well up as he speaks about his younger brother Matiuallah, 55, who lost his life in that terror attack. “There was one woman, who was in the room where women were offering their prayers. When gunshots were heard, she was told her husband was shot and she rushed and the assailant shot her.
“Her husband was only injured,” Barkat recalled as he pointed towards the main prayer hall and the narrow entrance where Tarrant engaged in bloodbath. Even after one year, there is no visible security at the Mosque. “It causes inconvenience,” Rauf explained.
“There are Indians, Pakistanis, Afghans, Bangladeshis, Somalians, all come for prayers and individual frisking takes a lot of time,” he added. There are, however, CCTV cameras installed in one of the prayer rooms and the feed sent to the Christchurch police station, which tracks each and every movement. Taxi driver Hussain spoke of how he saved himself that day despite being close to the incident.
“I had just dropped a passenger near the Mosque and would have gone for afternoon namaz. I heard gunshots and blood-soaked people coming out. I hid inside my cab, for how many hours? I don’t know,” Hussain remembered. Business policy advisor Rivett, a British-born New Zealander tells an interesting fact. “You know police in Christchurch police don’t carry arms. Their revolvers or automatic rifles are in the car. It’s a philosophy that police should be unarmed which would help them create a fearless society,” Revitt said.
“The city was under lockdown and my elder son, who was participating in an inter-school competition, was locked in a school for hours due to the security situation,” he added. But New Zealand, as a society, showed grit next Friday with a mass prayer meeting at the Hagley Park. Both Barkat and Revitt agreed that it depicted New Zealand’s inclusivity.
“That was a good thing that they did. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern attended it. The government has done a lot. Scars will take time to heal but people have moved on,” said Barkat, who is of Afghan descent but also has business in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk area. Revitt said he took his whole family to that prayer meeting.
“I was not the affected party but I wanted to be there and believe in the values of this country. This is a small country and you don’t have people who would lift you after crisis. You have to get up and start your life. That’s New Zealand,” he said.