when a bunch of unknown 20-somethings held an entire nation to ransom and slapped us all out of our collective slumber. Shockingly, there was nothing we could do except live in disbelief, and post that, in denial. And today, exactly twelve moths later, we continue to be as befuddled and as helpless as we were on that dark and unforgettable night.
The night of 26/11.
The 60 hours of sheer terror. The shrieks of our souls. The death of our liberties.
Mumbai - and India - will never, never be the same again.
Today, let us take a moment from our lives and selves and remember.
Remember the mother who caressed her brave son's forehead as he lay in a tricolour-adorned coffin, prepared for his final departure from a nation that will forever be indebted to his 31 years of service to her. Remember Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan.
Remember the man who smilingly put duty above self, even as his wife and their two little sons were charred beyond recognition in an inferno that turned his world to ashes. Remember Karambir Kang.
Remember the men who fearlessly ventured out into a dark and dreadful night and took bullets in their chest, only to stop those bullets finding other innocent targets. Remember Hemant Karkare, Ashok Kamte and Vijay Salaskar.
Remember the lone braveheart who shielded an indebted nation from the crazed bullets of a frenzied beast, and captured one of them alive for the entire world to shame. Remember Tukaram Ombale.
Remember the little child whose world was taken from him without his knowing it, who still thinks his parents wait for him in a distant land, whose two-year-old heart could not understand how his life will never be the same again. Remember baby Moshe.
Remember the many lives that were placed on a precipice of danger simply to ensure the rest of us could breathe easier, those who put courage and grit to test and placed service before self, those who toiled relentlessly sans water or food to ensure the same for a billion other unknown people. Remember the NSG, the firefighters and the Mumbai Police. Remember the chefs, concierges and other staff at Taj, Oberoi and Leopold. Remember the announcers, porters and other staff at CST.
Remember the innocent persons who were indiscriminately mauled and butchered in a naked display of mindless violence, those who had no reason to die the way they did, those who were caught and killed in someone else's war. Remember the blood that painted a grotesque imagery on walls and flesh left to rot on the floors. Remember the screams of the victims, the pleas of their loved ones, the nightmares of those who waited, that dreaded phone call informing of grave injury or grim death. Remember the unspeakable pain of never seeing a loved one again, the unimaginable pain of lighting a funeral pyre. Remember the 189 dead and 329 injured of 26/11.
Remember the oily netas and babus who circled like vultures over the slain bodies, feeding their perverse fetish for the 'chair' from the blood that flowed on Mumbai's streets. Remember that they stay protected with the best security the nation can provide, while the very citizens they are elected to serve are exterminated like pests. Remember that not one of these 'powerful' people had the balls to venture out of the air-conditioned luxury of their hideyholes to witness the gory spectacle being played out. Remember that they could not provide our policemen and forces with even the basic necessities of combat - a weapon and bulletproof gear - and left them at the mercy of blood-thirsty AK47s.
Last of all, remember Ajmal Amir Kasab. Remember a boy turned into a beast, a mercenary on a cold-blooded mission of unfettered violence. Remember how a simple teenager was lured into a world that taught him nothing but hatred for others. Remember how this gun-toting horror casually target-practiced on innocent men and women and children, without the slightest regard to a human life. Remember that Kasab will be hanged to his death, but there are many more Kasabs still out there, waiting for their turn on this dangerously misguided journey to eternal damnation. We need to kill the terror and not merely the individual terrorist.
The capture of Ajmal Amir Kasab, the lone surviving terrorist of the 10-strong contingent that wrecked havoc on our very psyches, was a monumental instance amongst all the madness that prevailed. It has now turned into a mockery of our judicial system, and a reminder of how worthless our lives have become. At last count, an unbelievable 31 crore of government funds have been spent away to allow this 21-year-old to live out his whims and vagaries. He needs to be kept safe for all the vital information he can provide, no doubt on that. But why should that come at the expense of taxpayers' hard-earned money and due to an unnecessarily long-drawn trial? It has been a year since he was taken into custody, and the least we can do for the memory of 26/11 is to mete out the punishment Kasab deserves.
Incidentally, as TOI reminds me, today is also the day the Indian Constitution was officially adopted by our sovereign democratic republican government. The 26/11 incident remains an unseemly blot on the very ethos of this great document - liberty, equality and fraternity. It is an insult of the highest order to the founders of our freedom and our Constitution that today we are divided on every aspect imaginable - colour, caste, race, religion, gender, language, lifestyle and choices. And not just divided. We abhor, loathe, detest each other for the very diversity that we were once so proud of. We do not hesitate to hurt or even kill those who we see as even slightly different from us. We unleash terror in the name of god, disrupt any attempt at free thinking, disallow others their very basic right to choose their individual and unique way of living. As a nation so divided and a society so flawed, what chance do we then have at protecting ourselves from external forces that wish us ill? The enemy is within. The enemy is us. And the terror is far from over yet.
A year ago, there was immense outpouring of outrage and much dismay at the rotten 'system'. We grieved, we were horrified, we were very very angry. We ranted at being repeatedly betrayed by the very system meant to guarantee a safe day out and a sound night's sleep to each one of us. We felt a vulnerability we had never felt before, even though we have had a blood-splattered history of unspeakable oppression behind us. No place seemed to be safe enough anymore, no person or group or community could be spared. We shed tears and screamed abuses. We sat through candlelight vigils and gathered for peaceful protests. And then, we once more turned our backs on the 'system' and holidayed when we should have stayed back and voted for our futures.
Terror is not a partisan project. It is a national challenge. It is a question the terrorists have asked us. It is an answer the world expects from us. It is the ultimate test of how potent our anger is, of how we are a people of action and not words, of how there is much more to us than hysteria and jingoism. It is our reminder to never forget and not simply move on. Not this time. Never again.
26/11 is truly a wake-up call - not just for our porous security system, but a stark reminder of a disconnect between the average Indian and the India as a nation. That is the lesson we should have learnt last year. Neverthesless, we still can learn it. We need to fight for the right of every Indian to live with dignity. We need to fight against being taken for granted at every step - by the system, by the political clout, by each other, and by ourselves.
We need to ensure that we kindle a flame in our minds and hearts, not at India Gate or Jantar Mantar or the Gateway of India. The battle needs to be won in our own lives before it can be won across our borders. And who better than our all-encompassing, inclusive and pluralistic democracy to win it? We let down ourselves on 26/11, and we now need to truly convince ourselves that we mean it when we say "never again". That will be our true tribute to the martyrs and victims of 26/11, and a lesson for those who continue to harbour a thought of aiming for our soul again.
With the years, our memories will fade and our cries will silence out. We will move on to that which is less horrific and more comforting. We will, as we always invariably do, adjust. But it should never happen without constructive reforms in the very 'system' we have begin to loathe. We need to secure our nation. No, we needed that yesterday. Today, we need to meet our own eyes in the mirror, to acknowledge that deep down we know the fault lies within. We need to rise above our own ineptitude and bring the change we wish upon ourselves. We need to unite as a nation - a nation of individuals who are different yet whose hearts beat together. We must see each other as human first and Indian next, and nothing else thereafter. Only then we shall have truly moved on.
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