Tribute to the heroes of 26/11

Tribute: The 26/11 heroes who laid their lives for Mumbai

26/11, a date remembered in infamy, forever etched into India’s consciousness. An attack so brazen, that a country was left reeling in shock for days afterwards. But amongst the chaos, there emerged stories of incredible heroism in the face of terror, where it proved that despite the best attempts of those who would seek to destroy it, the spirit and nobility of humanity would always shine through.

Assistant Sub- Inspector Tukaram Omble:

Ex-Army man Tukaram Omble was a casualty of the Mumbai attacks, giving his life to ensure the survival of his men and the capture of the sole, surviving gunman, Ajmal Kasab.

Omble was on duty on the night of the attacks and was ordered into position on Marine Drive, following the attack on the popular Leopold Café nearby. Minutes after taking up his position, he and his team engaged the terrorists, who were attempting to make their escape in a hijacked car. Omble reportedly gave chase to them on his motorcycle, armed with only a lahti.

As the attackers approached a barricade, Omble maneuvered his motorcycle to force the attacker to swerve and hit the dividers. With the terrorists distracted, Omble charged them down and attempted to wrestle Kasab's weapon from him. During the struggle, Kasab managed to fire of several rounds which struck Omble in the abdomen. Collapsing, Omble used his body as a shield to prevent his team being shot. He managed to hold onto the gun and bought enough time for his colleagues to kill the other terrorist in the car and capture Kasab alive, thereby saving their lives and the lives of countless others.

Assistant Sub-Inspector Tukaram Omble was posthumously awarded the Ashoka Chakra, India's highest peacetime gallantry award for his services to the nation.

Hemant Karkare, Vijay Salaskar & Ashok Kamte:

The head of Mumbai's anti terrorism squad, Karkare is regarded as a legend in the Mumbai police force, forging a reputation as being extremely honest and forthright. Formerly a member of India's Research and Analysis Wing, Karkare was the lead investigator in a number of high level cases, including the 2008 Malegaon blasts, which alleged the involvement of Hindu extremist groups. This placed him under severe criticism from various political parties, who claimed that the investigations were flawed.

On the night of the attacks, Karkare was at his residence when he was informed about the attacks at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. He immediately left for C.S.T with his bodyguards and driver to take charge of the situation there. On several news channels, he was shown donning a bullet proof vest and helmet, in preparation for leading the counter attacks on the terrorists.

C.S.T was found to be deserted as the terrorists had moved on to the Cama and Albless Hospital, near the Azad Maidan police station. Relocating there, Karkare teamed up with SPI Vijay Salaskar and AC Ashok Kamte.

SPI Vijay Salaskar was a renowned encounter specialist who was the head of the Anti-Extortion Cell in Mumbai. He was reportedly responsible for the killing of 75-80 criminals. Amongst his most famous cases, was his pursuit of the former Mumbai don, Arun Gawli, currently an MLA.

AC Ashok Kamte was a highly decorated police service officer who was also an accomplished athlete, who had represented India in the junior power lifting championships in Peru in 1978. Kamte was renowned for being an excellent negotiator in crisis situations and for being a secular officer, equally loved by Hindus and Muslims alike, as evidenced by the huge turn out for his cremation.

At the Azad Maidan police station, the officers boarded a Toyota Qualis, and in the company of four constables, proceeded to the hospital. Five minutes into their journey, they were ambushed by two gunmen with AK-47's, who poured fire into the men trapped in the Qualis. The three officers were killed instantly, despite their protective apparel, and the constables at the back where helpless as the bullets flew into them. Constable Arun Jadhav, the sole survivor of the attack, was helpless to do anything as the terrorists dragged the dead and dying men out of the car while he lay wounded on the road.

Following their deaths, all three men were awarded the Ashoka Chakra in recognition of the sacrifices they had made. However, in recent months, controversy has arisen over the deaths of the officers, with media investigations alleging that the protective equipment given to them was substandard and barely usable. A proper investigation has not been launched due to the mysterious disappearance of Karkare's 'bulletproof' vest, which has led to suspicions of improper conduct by the higher powers and suppliers.

Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan:

The major was a member of the elite National Security Guards, within the Indian Army. A popular officer, he was known for his bravery and determination in the face of overwhelming odds. During Operation Vijay in Kargil, Major Unnikrishnan led a team of six soldiers in establishing an observation post 200 meters from the enemy, while coming under direct fire.

During the Mumbai attacks, Major Unnikrishnan was the team commander of 51 Special Action Group commandos, who were deployed at the Taj Mahal Hotel to flush out the terrorists hiding in there.

Locating the terrorists on the third floor, the Major led a team of 10 men into the hotel, where the found the men holed up in a room with women being held as hostages.

In the ensuing firefight, one of the commandos was hit and severely wounded, Major Unnikrishnan arranged for him to be evacuated before continuing onwards, regardless of his own safety, chasing the terrorists, who had fled to another floor. In the encounter that followed, he was ambushed and shot in the back, succumbing to his injuries.

His funeral was held with full military honors in Bangalore, where thousands lined up to pay respects to the soldier who had paid the ultimate sacrifice for his country. However, his funeral unwittingly caused further controversy, with no representative from the Kerala government present. Attempting to save face, Kerala Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan and Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan called on the Major's family. However, his father refused to meet them and asked them leave, sparking off a war of words between him and the Chief Minister, which invited further criticism and controversy. Major Unnikrishnan was posthumously honored with the Ashoka Chakra.

Rajan Kamble, Nitin Minocha and Karambir Kang:

The three are all members of the staff of the Taj Mahal Hotel and are credited with saving the lives of hundreds of guests.

Karambir Kang is the General Manager of the hotel, who personally supervised the evacuation of hundreds of guests and staff, to ensure that as many lives were saved as possible. What makes this feat even more remarkable is that Karambir did all this, while battling the grief of losing his own wife and two young children in a fire on the sixth floor of the hotel, at the start of the attacks.

Nitin Minocha is a sóus chef at the Golden Dragon restaurant at the Taj. He is believed to have saved over 200 people from death, by leading them to The Chambers and to safety. During the evacuation of the guests, he helped organize the staff and ensure that guests were protected as they were removed from the building. During this, he was shot twice in the arm, with one bullet shattering the bone, and six other employees lost their lives in the terrorists' attacks.

One of the slain was Rajan Kamble, a member of the hotels maintenance staff, who selflessly gave his life to save a Mangeshkar couple. During the evacuation, as the terrorists attacked, the gunfire lead to panic amongst the guests, and Kamble ushered his group back into The Chambers, shielding them with his body. He was shot in the back, with the bullets perforating his intestines, leaving him to bleed to death. The Mangeshkar couple, doctors themselves, did everything they could to save him, trying to staunch the blood flow and push the intestines back into place with makeshift bandages and bed sheets, but he succumbed to his injuries.

These are just a small number of the people who risked their lives over those three days so that others could live. There are dozens of stories of unspeakable bravery and courage that have yet to be told or even uncovered. But as time goes by, more and more stories are being uncovered, ensuring that India never forgets the events of one of the darkest days in its history. The sacrifices made by these ordinary people are poignant reminders of the truth in the words of an unnamed survivor, 'love is stronger than terrorism...' truly is.

Source: India Syndicate


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