26/11 Terror Attacks: Martyred ATS Chief Hemant Karkare Was Brave in Life, as He Was in Death
One of the biggest issue that Karkare's death brought to light was that of 'faulty' bulletproof jackets, which allegedly could not protect him and resulted in his death on 26/11.
Police and mourners escort a vehicle carrying the body of Hemant Karkare, chief of the anti-terrorist squad, during his funeral in Mumbai on November 29, 2008. (Reuters)
"Occasions do not make a man either strong or weak, but they reveal what he is!" wrote a 21-year-old Hemant Karkare in his diary on 17 May 1975.
He didn't know it then that when such 'occasions' would arise later in his life, he would be revealed as a man of incomparable valour and extreme resilience. Karkare, who sacrificed his life serving as Mumbai's Anti-terrorist Squad chief 11 eyars ago during the 26/11 terror attacks, has been epitomised as the 'brave-heart' and 'daredevil' cop of India by domestic as well as international media. He was also awarded the Ashoka Chakra, India's highest peacetime military decoration awarded for valour, posthumously for bravely taking on the terrorists that fateful day.
However, despite the fact that his unfortunate death would forever etch his name in India’s history through his works and his life, Karkare has left behind a far greater and glorious legacy that few other top cops of India have achieved during their service years.
Karkare's daughter, Jui Karkare Navare, wrote a book recently titled 'Hemant Karkare -- A Daughter's Memoir', which is part-memoir, part character sketches of Kakare and retelling of his achievements by his friends and colleagues, and part his diary entries and to-do lists.
Through this book, readers are invited to piece together an intimate portrait of the man behind the uniform, who loved to carve out figurines from driftwood (a skill he learned during his posting in the Naxal dominant region of Chandrapur), was meticulous in keeping his diary, and maintaining his to-do list, but more importantly, someone who introspected about his actions and their impacts, and was a stickler for perfection while executing his duties.
Most chapters of Jui Karkare Navare's book begin with an old diary entry written by her father. For instance, on 26 March 1975, Hemant Karkare wrote in his diary:
I want to rise above the common herd but don’t know the way or how to. I am not interested in spending my life doing a simple job. I have the burning desire to establish my unique identity. I am not prepared to just go with the flow. There is very little opportunity to prove one’s unique prowess in the field of education. I must select some other field.
And, in another entry written on 20 October 1976, Karkare said:
Today was a good day. No one rebuked me. I could convince others. People listened to me. All these statements reveal that my day and my happiness depend on others. I am not self-contained. This is bad because I may have to bear severe shocks in life ahead. I should train myself to seek meaning and comfort from within.
Karkare did manage to find 'meaning and comfort' from within in his later years and stood unwavering in the eye of a political storm, during the Malegaon blast investigation, when he not only received criticism but also death threats. It was the first time that a Hindu extremist group was suspected of a terror attack, and the entire Right-wing brigade was vehemently against how Karkare and his team were interrogating and arresting suspects.
In fact, after his death, a former IG of Maharashtra, SM Mushriff, who thought that Karkare's death may have been a conspiracy, approached the High Court as well as the Supreme Court to open an investigation into his death, but both courts rejected his plea. Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, now a Bhopal MP, who was one of the suspects in the Malegaon case said that it was her curse which killed Karkare. She alleged that Karkare put her through unbearable torture when she was in custody although she was innocent.
Jui Karkare Navare, through her book, aims that the new generation remembers her father not just as a martyr but also as a brilliant, perfectionist policeman, who had served the country to the best of his ability.
One of the biggest issues that Karkare's death brought to light was that of 'faulty' bulletproof jackets, which allegedly could not protect Karkare and resulted in his death on 26/11.
In the preface of her book, Jui Karkare Navare writes:
My mother and younger brother went to Delhi to receive the (Ashok Chakra) award, handed over by Pratibha Patil, the then President of India. It was a matter of great pride for our family that Papa’s gallantry had been recognised. However, questions still plagued our family, especially my mother, about the questionable quality of the bulletproof jacket that Papa wore on 26/11. She filed a Right To Information application for details on its quality and in reply she was told that the jacket had gone missing!
Ultimately, the Mazgaon Metropolitan Court ordered the Mumbai Police to investigate the case of Papa’s missing bulletproof jacket. This was a sequel to the complaint of a Mumbai resident and social activist Santosh Daundkar. Yet, there was no action. After that, the official file which contained documents pertaining to the purchase of the bulletproof jacket also went missing. Not surprisingly, my mother felt so helpless that she channelised her wrath through a poem, which she had titled Hutatmayana Fashi (Hanging the Martyrs):
Do not make the mistake of becoming a martyr
Don’t make the mistake of becoming a martyr in this country,
You will be branded a headless chicken,
Foolish to have gone forward to save his countrymen.
Don’t make the mistake of becoming a martyr in this country.
Such will be the sophistries after your death,
That, prime investigative committees will blame you after your death.
‘Why were the bodies of martyrs lying on the road for 40 minutes?’
Do not raise such questions as the wife of a martyr in this country.
And please, do not commit the crime of becoming a martyr in this country.
No country subjects their martyrs to an alcohol test as ours did.
Do not try to understand the politics behind this.
‘Why did some officers run away from duty during that hour?’
Do not stand up bravely and point fingers their way.
The compensation for martyrs was talked about with sarcasm,
If that wasn’t enough, they reminded us of the Rs 15,000 they spent for the last rites.
Do not make the mistake of becoming a martyr of this country.
Murders are forgiven in this country;
The corrupt mingle amongst masses, with heads held high;
But when you become a martyr, you become a pariah.
Do not ever commit the crime of becoming a martyr in this country.
Should martyrs be hanged? Or should their martyrdom be kept alive?
You decide whether to keep aflame the torch that we have lit.
It was around this time, in 2009, that Navare decided to write this book on her father.
The excerpts from 'Hemant Karkare -- A Daughter's Memoir' written by Jui Karkare Navare, have been published with permission from The Write Place. The Write Place is an author paid publishing initiative by Crossword Bookstores Ltd. The book was unveiled on 25th November 2019, at Crossword Bookstore, Kemps Corner.
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