Brave hearts

Published : Dec 19, 2008 00:00 IST

Acts of valour: Sandeep Unnikrishnan-AFP

Acts of valour: Sandeep Unnikrishnan-AFP

NUMEROUS heart-rending stories on acts of courage have begun to emerge as the details of the terror attacks in Mumbai unfold.

The most high-profile story has been that of Mumbais top policemen who were killed while fighting the terrorists. Maharashtras Anti-Terrorism Squads (ATS) chief, Hemant Karkare, died while leading a combat operation against terrorists near the Cama and Albless Hospital. Karkare was gunned down in his jeep. He died on the spot.

Assistant Commissioner of Police-East Ashok Kamthe and Police Inspector and well-known encounter specialist Vijay Salaskar were also killed in the same operation.

According to State Home Minister R.R. Patil, when the three officers heard of the firing at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. they armed themselves with automatic weapons, got into a jeep and rushed to take on the terrorists. Unfortunately, the terrorists proved much too lethal for them.

Fourteen policemen and one NSG commando, Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan, were killed in the combat operations.

Hemant Karkare was known for his discipline and sense of fairness. Appointed ATS chief in January this year, he was instrumental in cracking the September 2008 Malegaon bomb blasts case and bringing to the surface the militant activities of various radical Hindu groups in Maharashtra. An Indian Police Service officer who knew Karkare well said, His death is a huge loss to our force and society.

Ashok Kamthe was known for his courage and fearless ways. A close associate of his told Frontline that he was the common mans hero. I am not surprised that he died in combat, he said. He lived to protect people. Thats what made him a perfect policeman. A key member of the Mumbai Polices exclusive and somewhat controversial encounter squad, Vijay Salaskar is said to have killed close to 75 criminals.

Sandra Samuel, a cook at the Chabat centre managed to escape with two-year-old Zvi Moshe, son of Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka. Sandra was on the first floor when the terrorists entered Nariman House. She managed to barricade herself into a room without the assailants knowing of her presence, but her employers were not so lucky.

Twelve hours later, hearing the baby cry, she peered out and saw him sitting there while both his parents lay unconscious on the ground and another person in the room lay injured. Seeing no one around, she picked up the baby and ran down the stairs, and was escorted to safety by NSG commandos.

Once outside, she met this reporter and related her experience all the while saying, His [the babys] parents are unconscious. Please get help. She and the child were then taken away in an ambulance. The child is now with his grandparents.

The Rabbi and his wife were found dead by security forces when the siege ended.

An Italian chef, Emanuele Lattanzi, who worked at the Oberoi hotel, was the toast of the town for the courage he showed in going back into the hotel he had fled, for the sake of his six-month-old daughter Clarice. Lattanzi told the media that he was working in the kitchen on the night of November 26 when gunmen entered the hotel. He and his staff managed to get out, but he soon realised that his wife and daughter were still in the hotel.

He said he called his wife, but there was nothing he could do. After two days, his wife frantically messaged him saying there was no more milk for the child. After much pleading with the security forces, said Lattanzi, two soldiers escorted him to the room where he remained with his family. Of course, he had taken enough powdered milk with him. Later in the day, when the gun battle was over and the three militants in there had been killed, Lattanzi walked out carrying little Clarice and became an instant celebrity.

Vijay Banja, executive chef at the Taj Mahal hotel, clearly did not think about himself when he heard that terrorists had entered the hotel and were turning the place into a killing field. His colleagues who were with him say his sole concern was to guide his team out of the kitchen. He was the last to leave the main kitchen, but he did not make it he was shot fatally.

According to a close friend, Banjas funeral was packed with his colleagues, weeping uncontrollably. Many of them had been saved by him.

Lyla Bavadam and Anupama Katakam
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