26/11 terror attack
'Only false promises to the common man'
Her husband, a CR employee, was shot dead at CST
On May 1, as the United States of America erupted with joy over Osama bin Laden’s killing, Ragini Sharma, 45, and her family were going through entirely different emotions. Ragini lost her husband, an assistant chief ticket inspector of the Central Railway, during the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai.
“Osama’s death is a good thing, but these people always have back-up plans. The end of Osama is not the end of terrorism,” says Ragini. She has closely followed the proceedings of the 26/11 case, which have evoked anger and disappointment in her.
“When Kasab was given the death sentence, people were dancing in the streets. But, what now? An appeal will be filed before the Supreme Court and then the President. Just take the example of Afzal Guru.”
She is infuriated that the main conspirator of the 26/11 attacks, Hafiz Saeed, is still at large. “The common man is nothing but a toy at the hands of the government. Where is the justice for us? When such things occur, tall claims and false promises are made. But nothing comes of them,” she says.
Ragini doesn’t see much hope for the future. “Here, even if a politician is attacked, it takes so long to deliver justice. So, what can we expect as common people?”
According to her, the most important thing now is to execute Kasab immediately. Calling it an open and shut case, she is puzzled by the delay in setting an execution date for him. His death, she feels, is very important to incite fear in the minds of terrorists and show them that their actions will have consequences.
Nevertheless, Ragini believes killing Kasab, or even capturing Saeed, is not going to root out terror. For that, she says, unity and international cooperation is the key. “An attack like 26/11 did not happen only from the outside. There were Indians who helped them.”
'Hang Kasab to deter other terrorists'
Watched his colleague shot dead by terrorists at the Oberoi-Trident
Over the past three years, Pradeep Bengalorkar, 53 – who watched helplessly as his friend fell to a terrorist’s bullet on November 26, 2008 – has become sceptical, cynical and sarcastic. “Osama didn’t know India was the safest place. Look how safe Afzal Guru and Kasab are. Everyone except Indians,” says Bengalorkar, a staff member at the Oberoi-Trident hotel.
“Kasab continues to enjoy protection from our system. He will appeal in the Supreme Court also and get all the legal aid. On the other hand, I am yet to receive the medal promised to me by the government for showing courage during the attacks,” he said.
Bengalorkar and his friend Jordan Fernandes were held at gunpoint by two terrorists at the Kandahar restaurant and were made to pour alcohol on tables and set them on fire. They poured wine instead of other spirits, which delayed the terrorists and allowed the guests to escape. While the terrorists shot his friend, they took Bengalorkar with them to find other hostages.
But, just as they were throwing a grenade, he escaped in the elevator.
He refused to take the medication prescribed by counsellors and resumed work within a month as he believed time was the best healer.
When asked if increased security in the city following 26/11 attacks makes him feel safe he said, “Executing Kasab is taking so long. There is so much protection for Kasab but police and politicians will not be able to protect citizens in a terror situation.”
Jayshri, his wife is less pessimistic. “India should act like the US. We must take strong measures. They should hang Kasab as soon as possible to serve as a deterrent.”
His daughter, Bhagyeshree, a Class 12 student, says India needs to go beyond punishing Kasab. “Hanging Kasab will not help. It was a failure of intelligence agencies. One needs to go to the root of the problem.”
1993 bomb blasts
‘The govt will never bring Dawood to book’
Was badly injured in the blast that rocked the Bombay Stock Exchange
For the past 18 years, 55-year-old Kirti Ajmera has been forced to remember, with gruesome regularity, the events of 1993. Remnants of the serial bomb blasts continue to stream out of his nose or ears or surface under his skin in the form of the glass pieces that had got embedded in his body during the explosion at Bombay Stock Exchange building.
He reacts to the news of Osama bin Laden’s death with an anger honed by years of pain. He believes the death only highlights the Indian government’s ineptitude in dealing with the perpetrators of terrorism in the country. “The government will never bring Dawood and his aides [masterminds of the 1993 serial blasts] to book. The US government used all its might to root out Osama, but the Indian government will sit on the matter because they want to keep the flame burning. The 1993 blasts, as well as other national issues, are political trump cards laid out during elections by competing parties,” Ajmera says.
Raksha, 54, his wife, is even more bitter. She says the family has received neither justice nor compensation. “Crores of rupees are spent by the government on Ajmal Kasab’s security, but not a penny is offered to victims of bomb blasts,” she says.
On March 12, 1993, Ajmera, a sharebroker, was thrown metres away as the Bombay Stock Exchange building exploded just as he was about to enter. He was left with a cracked ribcage, glass shards in his lungs, ears, face and limbs, his left hand and one of his ears hanging from a single tendon and the right side of his face badly disfigured.
Over the years, Kirti underwent 40 surgeries. The family spent nearly Rs20 lakh on his surgeries, which left them with little money for other expenses. The surgeries have left Kirti with keloids, large reddish-brown lesions caused by an overgrowth of scar tissue.
The couple says the victims of Kirti’s ill health were their children – Ami, 24, and Rushabh, 23. “We could not give them the life they deserve,” says Raksha.
Ajmera and his family say Dawood’s death won’t bring them closure. “Executing him will not impact our lives. Justice will be done when the government protects its people and ensures help for victims of catastrophes.”
'No strong steps taken to get the culprits'
Lost a younger brother and older sister in blast at Century Bazaar
For Vinayak Devrukhkar, the one thing that impresses him about Osama bin Laden’s killing is the single-mindedness of the US. That’s because even 18 years after the serial bomb blasts killed his beloved younger brother Vasant and elder sister Shashikala, the main accused, Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Memon, are still free and believed to be in Pakistan.
“On every single anniversary of the serial blasts I speak to media persons. I even joined politics to find some answers, but there’s no hope. No criminal or conspirator is ever punished. Our government doesn’t take strong steps to get the real culprits. The criminals continue to live in comfort and the common man continues to pay the price.”
It is not just failure to get Dawood that bothers him. He mentions the Parliament attack case and Afzal Guru’s death penalty. “We have had several attacks in Mumbai and India after 1993. They will continue. Corruption levels are so high that we will neither be able to stop any attacks nor punish the guilty.”
Vinayak says his father slips into depression every time he is reminded of the blasts. “One never really gets over the death of one’s children,” he says.
After Shashikala, then 19, and Vasant, then 11, died in the explosion, Vinayak’s father quit his job at Jupiter mills out of depression. His mother started working as a domestic help. Despite financial pressures the family built a concrete room in place of their temporary hutment as his deceased sister had wished.
Disillusioned and angry, Devrukhkar says waiting for closure is futile. “The common man has no choice. Even if a bomb explodes in a train, I will take a bus to work at the end of the day I have to feed my family. The government and politicians will go on with their moneymaking scams. Terrorists will go on attacking.”
‘India needs to act now’
For Israeel Ansari, who lost six members of his family at CST railway station on November 26, 2008, Osama bin Laden’s death is a reminder of India’s incomplete tasks.
“We were happy to hear about Osama’s death. All terrorists, who attack innocent people, must be punished. Kasab has been caught but he must be hanged soon,” Ansari says from Danapur in Bihar.
Ansari left Mumbai for good a year ago and started afresh in Danapur as a Class IV railway employee, a job he got as compensation from the railways. His wife and five children are in his native village in Bihar.
He says after every terror attack, the Muslim community comes under scrutiny and is sometimes faced with hostility from society. “A terrorist does not have any religion. My elder brother was a devout Muslim. That did not stop Kasab from killing him.”
Now in his early forties, Ansari says living in Mumbai where his deceased elder brother started a small business is not an option. “Now I have to ensure that children of my brothers who died in the attack get an education. It was better to leave the city where I lost my family.”