Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Portraits of the unsung heroes

Portraits of the unsung heroes-
The Mumbai city faced one of the most horrific terrorist attacks in the nation’s history on 26th November 2008, many ordinary citizens, displayed extraordinary grace of bravery during the 26/11 Mumbai terror atrocities. Many times, they did so at considerable personal risk, performing acts of heroism that were not part of their job descriptions. Without their quick thinking and common sense, the toll of the attacks would most likely have been even greater than the 173 confirmed dead. Victoria Terminus, also known as Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (cst), is the 130-year-old railway station, which was littered with dead bodies and punctured windows with bullet holes.
Police Inspector colaba police station Deepak DholePolice Inspector Deepak Dhole served 23 years in the police force, on the night of November 26, 45-year-old Dhole, a police inspector from Colaba police station, was stranded on the second floor of the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel with eight others, including a police-sub-inspector, five constables, two hotel staff members and two SRPF personnel. A large portion of their floor was on fire. And, as its senior-most member, it was Dhole’s responsibility to lead the group to safety, even as they took turns carrying the body of a slain jawan. When he entered the Taj around 10.40 pm that night, Dhole was accompanying Deputy Commissioner of Police (Zone 1) Vishwas Nangre-Patil, DCP (Special Branch) and 12 others. Until 3 am, the team used the hotel’s CCTV control room on the second floor to monitor the terrorists’ movements and to convey crucial information to back up evacuations. But when a raging fire consumed the second floor, they were forced to give up their vantage point. However, on their way out, while the four people escaped, 10 others, including Dhole, were stranded.“We were constantly firing towards the upper floors to prevent the terrorists from coming down. They set fire to the sixth floor and threw grenades from above. As the fire spread, the CCTVs blacked out and we realised that our floor was on fire too,” says Dhole. “That’s when we decided to leave. But when we began moving in a line towards the nearest staircase, the terrorists rained bullets on us and our group was split.” Dhole was behind SRPF constable Rahul Shinde when the latter fell to bullets, forcing them to retreat. Cupping his palms under Shinde’s arms, Dhole began to drag his body, directing the others forward all along. When they come to a corridor completely engulfed in flames and weren’t sure how to proceed, Dhole showed his presence of mind. “After weaving our way through what seemed like an endless corridor, we reached a point where we could see a fire exit. However the entire patch of corridor leading to it was in flames. I saw a fire extinguisher ahead and that’s when I dropped the body and rushed to grasp it. With its help I was able to pave a thin path to proceed. We rushed ahead and found a fire escape,” says Dhole, his burn face injuries still healing.

Sub Inspector Kiran Bhonsle –
Armed With Just Pistols, Mumbai Police Saved Many-Using Poor Weaponry, Indian Police Took on Terrorists
The terrorists who attacked the historic Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus station in Mumbai were thwarted by a smattering of police officers belonging to the city's Railway Protection Force.Initially mistaking the sounds of firing for firecrackers, which are popular at many Indian celebrations, Bhosale recalled the moment when he realized that two gunmen were inside the station.
"I took up the pistol and took up some bullets" before heading toward Platform 1, he said. He said, "I suddenly saw two terrorists with AK-47 ... and I saw there were hundreds of people standing towards the opposite side of the station." “There were two options," he said, "whether I shoot on them or whether they shoot on me and I started sudden fire on them and because of this, they started fire on me."
Bhosale remembered seeing Kasav, 21, the night of Nov. 26 at the station. "Actually, he was just 50 to 70 steps from me, I saw he was having one AK-47 rifle in one hand and I understand that they are much trained, they were trained very well."
Moreover, he said, "they were smiling actually; they are very cool that time when they are firing on people ... on innocent people, ladies and children." In contrast, Bhosale had "a pistol," some bullets and a hefty dose of courage.
Many of those in the railway station, like Bhosale, would not even have worn a bulletproof vest.
"That was a sudden attack, we were not prepared for this," Bhosale said.

Maruti Phad driver
I can recognise him anywhere, says eyewitness to top cops’ killing. Phad was one of three eyewitnesses to the encounter in which terrorists killed three top police officers. “I remember his face well. If he comes before me, I will definitely be able to recognize him,” says 32-year-old Maruti Phad. A driver for Bhushan Gagrani, Principal Secretary (Medical Education) for the last ten years, Phad is one of the three eyewitnesses to the encounter in which terrorists killed three top police officers.
Late on November 26, Phad received a call from Gagrani asking him to report to the Mantralaya. Although he was aware that there had been a shooting at CST station and the Taj and Oberoi hotels, Phad was not worried at the time and decided to set off. “I knew there was trouble at CST station and at the two hotels, so I decide to avoid going past the railway station and make my way through Metro Theatre assuming it to be safe. I had barely reached the main road when they attacked,” says Phad. In a white Honda City, Phad was driving out of the back lane of GT and Cama hospitals towards the main road when the two terrorist — later identified as Ajmal Kasab and Ismail Khan — appeared and started shooting.
According to Phad, the duo walked from St Xaviers college footpath and took the Rang Bhavan lane. They started firing as soon as they Phad in his car at the entrance. “The first bullet hit my hand over the steering wheel. I immediately ducked, got in reverse gear and central-locked the car. Then in my crouched position, I slowly drove backwards while they continued to fire. The second bullet hit my hand again, and the third missed my head by a whisker,” says Phad.
In the blind firing, Phad also received a bullet in his back which he removed with his hands. When his tyres burst, he decided to feign death by slipping to the floor of the car and positioning his bleeding hand over his face. “They came and looked through the window. Assuming me to be dead, they disappeared. There was complete silence for about ten minutes. Then I heard the sound of the police car. I raised my head to see if I could get help,” recalls Phad.
As he looked up, Phad saw the two terrorists hiding behind bushes near an ATM as the police Qualis approached them. Soon, the duo started shooting at the police vehicle. The police retaliated in kind. “I saw them fire at the police car and waited to see what was happening. One of them was injured. When the firing from the Qualis stopped, they got into the police vehicle and passed by me before they turned towards Metro,” said Phad. Knowing that his family was worried sick, Phad later called home from the hospital to say that he was safe. He may have spared them some worry that day, but Phad has lost the ring finger on his right hand and his middle finger severely damaged. Doctors have not yet told him if he will be able to drive again.

Pratap D.Kargopikar – deputy chief fire brigade
The Mumbai Fire Brigade has worked in dozens of major post-calamity rescue operations, but dousing fires even as terrorists constantly rained bullets and grenades on them was a first. “There were some pretty scary moments while we were fighting fires at the Taj Hotel. On 27th November night when we were in a cage trying to rescue guests, we saw one of the terrorists carrying a gun”, said Pratap D.Kargopikar – deputy chief fire brigade.
And, while they rescued over 750 men and women from the Taj, Oberoi and Trident hotels over 48 hours, they received severe criticism for one incredible delay: While fire engines reached the Oberoi within minutes of the attack, it was nearly another three hours before they reached the Taj, where the terrorists had set the sixth floor on fire. They got a call at 1 am on Thursday stating that there was a fire at the Taj. Within minutes, we reached with fire engines. There was no delay in responding to the call.
At the Taj, seeing the firemen spraying water, one terrorist hurled a grenade in the direction of fire officer. But they had not fully removed the pin of the grenade. It did not explode. One bullet also punctured the tyre of a fire engine. “There were people banging on the windows. We couldn’t just stand looking at them,” said Kargopikar. Starting with breaking windows are asking guests to do so, the first batch of seven firemen climbed up to the top floor where hostages were banging against the windows. Six hundred people were rescued from the Taj within the first 24 hours, another 150 from the Oberoi/Trident, where the first floor lobby was set on fire.

Head constable Jullu Yadav
Head constable Jullu Yadav, 52, originally hails from Benaras but has lived in Dombivili all his life. "My main regret is I could not kill the terrorists," said head constable Jullu Yadav, who was given Rs 10 lakh by railway minister Lalu Prasad at a RPF function. Although Jullu Yadav was unarmed that night when terrorists attacked CST station in Mumbai, he took the rifle of another policeman and opened fire engaging the heavily armed terrorists for a while. Stunning CCTV footage recovered from the night of the attack at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus where arrested terrorist Qasab and his fellow conspirator Mohammad Ismail Khan killed 57 people. "I was posted around platform 3 and 4 manning the evening crowd when suddenly I heard screams as passengers ran helter-skelter. I shouted at the passengers asking them what has happened and someone said there was firing." He said that within a moment the platforms were empty.
"I closed the exit gates and for the first time saw two of the terrorists, one of them being Ajmal Amir Iman aka Kasab ,loading their weapons sitting in a corner.""I asked an armed sepoy at a distance to fire at them but he remained motionless, perhaps taken by surprise," said Yadav, evidently the cynosure of all eyes at the investiture ceremony.It was then that his bravery came to fore. The constable, in service for 30 years now, snatched the .303 calibre rifle from the sepoy and confronted them. However, Yadav's weapon was no match for their guns as the two terrorists surrounded him from both ends and started firing at him. Yadav took cover behind a wall.

CST railway announcer Vishnu Zende
Just before 10 p.m., when Vishnu Datta Ram Zende heard a loud explosion and saw people running across the platform, he gripped his microphone and calmly directed a panicked crowd toward the safest exit. The station, Victoria Terminus, it turned out, was suddenly under attack, the beginning of a three-day siege by a handful of young, heavily armed gunmen. “Walk to the back and leave the station through Gate No. 1,” he chanted alternately in Hindi and Marathi, barely stopping to take a breath until the platform was cleared. No sooner, gunmen located his announcement booth and fired, puncturing one of the windows. Mr. Zende was not hurt. "It was perhaps the tone of my voice which made the passengers escape from the rear gate, which I was urging them to take instead of coming towards main hall where the terrorists were shooting," said Zende. CST railway announcer Zende was given Rs 10 lakh by railway minister Lalu Prasad at a RPF function.

Mohammed Tofiq Shikh Chotu the Chai wala (tea seller)
Mohammed Tofiq Shikh also known as chotu chaiwala of chhatrapati shivaji station (cst) railway station, was serving tea on platform no-8 & 9 the day terrorists attacked the cst railway station. Terrorists had fired randomly on the long distance train passengers where he was saved thrice by 3 bullets just passing by. Chotu the Chai wala at CST helped transporting the injured to St.George hospital. While walking away a tear rolled on the lad's cheek; he saved many lives.

vilas shinde contract based coolie
vilas shinde cst railway station contract based coolie who sustained a bullet injury- "It was the time when everyone leaves Mumbai. The station was packed." "Two young men opened fire, one here, the other over there," he said, pointing at the local train platform in front of him and the mainline platform further on. "It started with a grenade then AK-47s. I hit the deck with the customers. Five people were killed immediately. About 80 people died in total," he added.

Leopold cafe Stewart Sandesh Mali
Leopold cafe Stewart Sandesh Mali 28 years old was eye witness to the terrorist attack on Leopold. He was serving the customers suddenly firing started & he hide under table.7 customers & 2 Stewarts died in this 26/11 attack. He was lucky to survive; he saved himself by diving behind the chairs and tables, from where he got perhaps the view of the attack. At about 9:40 p.m., dinner at the Leopold was interrupted with a minute-long volley of gunfire and the loud bang of an exploding grenade. The gunmen never entered the restaurant, said leopold cafe stewart Sandesh Mali. They stood outside and casually opened fire, sending waiters and customers running for the kitchen or ducking below their tables, according to the Leopold staff. The gunmen then walked down a narrow street to the back entrance of the Taj hotel, where they then terrorized guests and hotel staff for more than two days. Restaurant staff took two days to mop up the blood and bits of scalp from the floor. Zoroastrian priests in white robes came to bless the business with burning sandalwood. The first customers were served on Dec. 1, just 48 hours after the siege of the Taj hotel was over.

DCP Zone1 Vishwas Nagre Patil
DCP Vishwas Nagre Patil, accompanied by two police constables and two SRPF constables, stormed the Taj Mahal Hotel and engaged the terrorists holed up inside the Taj in a fierce gun battle during the first couple of hours of the 60-hour-long siege that started on November 26. With no bullet-proof jackets, they held fort for four hours till the soldiers from India’s elite Marine Commandos force took over. "We did not want to give them any chance or any time to cause further damage. Our reaction time was just 15 minutes,” Patil says.
At 2202 hrs IST on November 26, Patil’s team cornered the four terrorists in the North wing of the hotel. In the heavy gun battle that ensued, they injured one terrorist, following which the terrorists started lobbing grenades from the upper floors. While one SRPF constable was killed, one other along with two police constables was injured with severe burns on their faces.The police team, meanwhile, started monitoring the CCTV footage from its control room and that's how they tracked the terrorists on the sixth floor of the hotel.
At 0300 hrs IST the next day, the DCP, another senior police official, and two Taj staffers Nausher and Puru reached the Taj ballroom and evacuated dozens of people with help of the fire brigade.After the 26/11 terror attack, Mumbai Police has been criticised for being ill-equipped and understaffed, but the CCTV footage shows that the policemen were not short.

Ruksana Jehangir Tomboli -(toilet money collector )
CST railway station toilet money collector eye witness Ruksana Jehangir Tomboli, 45 yrs-CST railway station toilet money collector. CST toilet money collector wants nothing for the extra work she had to do. She worked all night to wash the blood. And she needed seven to eight gunny bags just for the shoes and slippers. Ruksana Jehangir Tomboli eyewitness said that one of the terrorists hurled a grenade right into the middle of the waiting hall, leaving scores dead or badly injured. "Most passengers sitting in the waiting hall could not even move to safety, it was so sudden,'' she said.

Sweeper Ranjana Dilip Ahire
Sweeper who sustained a bullet injury-Ranjana Dilip Ahire, 35 years. Ranjana Dilip Ahire, who had been present on Wednesday night, said, "The men entered from the GPO side and reached the main waiting hall for long-distance trains near platform 13. After that, it was mayhem as they sprayed bullets indiscriminately,'' she said.

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