December 06, 2021

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26/11 special: ‘Survivors say they are prepared for the worst, now’

26/11 special: ‘Survivors say they are prepared for the worst, now’


It has been 13 years since the terror attacks in Mumbai orchestrated by Lashkar-e-Taiba left 166 people dead and 238 injured. In what way did the attacks change the state’s politics? Are we prepared to handle disasters better? How does 26/11 still loom over our lives? We examine these questions and talk to the survivors.

Dr Gautam Bhansali, a consultant general physician practising at the Bombay Hospital in Marine Lines, had a dinner planned at the Masala Kraft restaurant in the Taj Hotel to ring in his fourth wedding anniversary on November 27, 2008.

He finished his hospital round and called his wife to come down from their residential quarters in the hospital building. As Bhansali walked towards the casualty ward, he saw several patients in a pool of blood with multiple injuries.

“The first victim I spoke to had a gunshot injury in the abdomen. He worked in a canteen at the CST railway station,” said the 43-year-old who worked as a clinical associate at the time. Within minutes, dinner plans were scrapped and Bhansali got to work. “I pitched in to start intravenous drips, suture wounds to stop bleeding, move patients from Emergency Room to Intensive Care Units (ICUs) and operation theatres,” Bhansali said.

The Bombay Hospital has a 145-bed ICU ward, of which 62 beds were vacant on the night of November 26. All operation theatres began humming with activity. “Patients were coming in with severe bleeding and fractures. We first started with giving them intravenous fluids and blood transfusion and simultaneously preparing those who were in need of emergency surgeries. Some of the patients had so much blood loss that their haemoglobin levels had dropped to two points,” Bhansali said.

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The hospital admitted nearly 114 patients over the course of that long night. At least 46 major and minor surgeries were carried out in those hairy hours as the city came under siege.

In the middle of the chaos, doctors began receiving news of an attack on Cama and Albless Hospital, a mother and child facility near CST. Ajmal Kasab and his partner, Ismail Khan, attacked the hospital after leaving behind a carnage at the CST station. Ashok Kamte, the additional commissioner of Mumbai police at the time, died during a gun fight that ensued near the hospital. His body was eventually taken to the Bombay Hospital. Kasab was eventually apprehended at Girgaum Chowpatty after the duo tried to escape — he was the lone terrorist caught.

With little information coming in, rumours began spreading. “Many of us got calls that the terrorists were now targeting hospitals,” Bhansali recalled. Bombay Hospital authorities alerted their security and decided to check all vehicles and patients entering the premises. “We were worried that a terrorist may come in pretending to be a patient.”

“It was the scariest experience of my life,” Bhansali said. “The 26/11 terror strike prepared me for the worst disasters,” he said.

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‘Waiting for government to respond to my plea’

[email protected]

It has been 13 years since the terror attacks in Mumbai orchestrated by Lashkar-e-Taiba left 166 people dead and 238 injured. In what way did the attacks change the state’s politics? Are we prepared to handle disasters better? How does 26/11 still loom over our lives? We examine these questions and talk to the survivors.

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Devika Rotawan is the youngest survivor of the Mumbai terror attacks of November 26, 2008 and was a key witness to identify Ajmal Kasab, the lone gunmen among 10 who held the city under siege 13 years ago.

She was nine at the time. Today, the 22-year-old is preparing for the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) examination, whilst also nursing her aged father .

She’s also fighting to secure a roof over their head.

“I still hope that the government will allot me the house, as was promised to me,” said Rotawan while on her way to a doctor, taking her aged father for a routine check-up, who is currently battling a viral fever.

Rotawan, who is pursuing a graduation in Sociology from Chetana College, Bandra wants to become a civil servant, was barely nine year old at the time of the attacks.

She was at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus station, waiting with her family members to catch a train to Pune, when two terrorists — Kasab and his partner Abu Ismail Khan — opened fire, and began to hurl grenades at passengers inside the terminus.

Rotawan said that on the day of the attack, her father and she were waiting on the platform while her brother bought tickets. “That was when all hell broke loose and bullets started flying in the air,” she said.

As soon as the two started running, a bullet hit Rotawan’s right thigh. As she fell, she caught sight of Kasab who was firing indiscriminately. Writhing in pain, she soon fell unconscious and woke up several hours later at St George Hospital. Over the following two months, she underwent six operations on her leg, and it would be another six months before she could leave the bed and walk.

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However, when the Mumbai police Crime Branch officials asked her to testify in court against Kasab, she agreed immediately. Soon after the trial started in April 2009, Rotawan walked into a court room and pointed towards the Pakistani Lashkar-e-Taiba operative, identifying him as the one who was shot her and others at the station.

While she recuperated, many state and Central government officers visited her; many promised that the government would allot the Rotawans a flat from the economically weaker section (EWS) quota, as there was no earning member in the family.

Her father could not work because of a condition in his lumbar region. He was not injured during the attacks, but he was an eyewitness too.

Last year, during the Covid-19 pandemic induced lockdown Rotawan family was on the verge of being evicted from their rented premises at Subhash Nagar in Bandra east. In August 2020, Rotawan approached the Bombay high court and wrote to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray.

In October last year, the HC directed the state government to consider her plea, but nothing has happened so far.

“I can’t forget the day when those terrorists unleashed havoc on Mumbai, but now my struggle is to get a house. I do not know what will come of the court case, but we are waiting for the government to answer my plea,” she said.

Doonited Affiliated: Syndicate News Hunt

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