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Memories fade: 10 years after 26/11 Mumbai terror mayhem – Nov 26 is the 10th anniversary

Each year, on November 26, she invariably falls ill over my father’s painful death and his memory… She remains like that for at least 5-6 days. The entire family shudders every time the calendar changes to November.

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26 11 attacks anniversary

Mumbai, Nov 25 : Ten years after the dastardly Mumbai terror attacks, memories of the bloody mayhem seem to have faded in peoples minds like some horrible nightmare – but for survivors and families of victims the day still evokes dread.

Except for symbolic memorial services all over the city planned by VVIPs for photo-ops and the mandatory media coverage, there is barely any evidence of public emotion over those harrowing 60 hours which shook the nation’s soul.

Ten heavily-armed terrorists, sneaking in through the Arabian Sea, attacked multiple locations within a small geographical area, killing 166 persons — including Indian security personnel and 26 foreign nationals — and left another 300 injured, besides inflicting huge damage to public and private properties.

The toll on the nation’s collective social-political psyche was higher, but the scars have apparently healed.

“Whatever happened was very sad for the country. We remember the victims… But, all have moved ahead in life and think of a bright future,” said Rakesh Upadhyay, director at an ayurvedic pharmaceutical company.

He was among the millions worldwide who remained glued to the television during the November 26-28, 2008, terror attacks and watched the real-life drama live – and it unfolded like some unbelievable Hollywood disaster film.

“It was a massive national tragedy, we still feel bad about what happened, especially for the innocent victims. Now, it feels like a bad dream. Everyone is busy tackling major problems of daily life,” shrugged a middle-class housewife, Minakshi Baikar, adding how her son Atharva was a then a year-old toddler and is now 11.

However, Sharda Bhosale, 60-year-old widow of martyred policeman Balasaheb Bhosale (he was in the team that helped nab Kasab at Chowpatty) has yet to come to terms with his death, her son, traffic policeman Deepak Bhosale, said.

“Each year, on November 26, she invariably falls ill over my father’s painful death and his memory… She remains like that for at least 5-6 days. The entire family shudders every time the calendar changes to November,” Deepak told IANS.

As the day looms closer, dark memories of the attacks flicker alive, reminding people of how the extremists unobstrusively entered Mumbai to execute their sinister plans on a cold evening.

Alighting from a hijacked dinghy at a small fishing bay near Colaba, they divided themselves into groups of 2-3 and systematically went after their surgically-planned targets, catching everyone unawares.

So well-prepared were they with inputs and reconnaissance carried out by various accomplices, including Pakistani-American David Coleman Headley, that they melted into the crowds and walked around in a familiar manner in south Mumbai, reaching their destinations precisely.

They targeted the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, Hotel Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, Hotel Trident, Nariman House, Leopold Café, Cama Hospital, Wadi Bunder — all within a radius of barley 4-5 kms — while a bomb exploded at suburban Vile Parle in one of the taxis they had earlier hired.

Nine of the terrorists were gunned down in the combined security operations that included the Mumbai police, army and naval commandos, and other paramilitary forces who battled them for 60 hours as the city waited with bated breath.

In the wee hours of November 27, barely six hours after the mayhem started, one of the terrorists, Ajmal Amir Kasab (22), was caught alive following a fierce gun battle with the police near Chowpatty Beach, proving to be a significant achievement.

Kasab and his accomplice were speeding in a hijacked car towards Malabar Hill, where the Governor’s residence Raj Bhavan and the Chief Minister’s official residence — besides those of other VVIPs — are located.

An aggressive Mumbai police interrogated Kasab, investigated the matter thoroughly, and identified and named 35 accused directly or indirectly responsible for the 26/11 terror attacks. With the top police brass personally directing investigations, an air-tight case was made against Kasab — the sole terrorist nabbed alive.

Making doubly sure he would be convicted, the prosecution was handed over to a top criminal lawyer, Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam. With his rich experience in the case relating to the March 12, 1993, Mumbai serial blasts, he successfully directed the trial right from the Special Court in Mumbai to the Bombay High Court and finally the Supreme Court.

During the trial, in January 2010, the then Maharashtra Home Minister, R.R. Patil (now deceased), took the bold decision to order the covert burial of the nine slain terrorists. The location is still a mystery.

Finally, two years after the 26/11 carnage, on May 6, 2010, Kasab was awarded the death sentence, and the nation heaved a collective sigh of relief.
Exploiting the legal privileges granted in a democracy like India, Kasab challenged the verdict right up to the Supreme Court but was dismissed at every level. Even the President of India rejected his mercy petition.

Terming it as the “greatest challenge of his legal career”, Nikam said “full justice has still not been done” to the innocent victims as the main conspirators remain under the protection of Pakistan. Even as the trial continues there, Islamabad remains furtive and argumentative and doesn’t give credence to the evidence submitted to it by India.

“As long as extremists like Hafeez M. Saeed and Zaki-Ur-Rehman Lakhvi are not punished, neither Pakistan nor India can be considered free of terror. On the Indian side, the 26/11 trial continues with Abu Jindal and the deposition of Headley,” Nikam told IANS.

Later, on the quiet and cool morning of November 21, 2012, Kasab was hanged inside Pune’s Yerawada Central Jail and his body disposed off somewhere on the jail campus. The exact location remains unknown.

Not surprisingly, all the legally tenable actions post-26/11 by India, including the disposal of the terrorists’ bodies, Kasab’s hanging and his last rites, evoked no international opposition, barring some stray murmurs in Pakistan.

With the experience of 26/11 as a grim lesson, security was boosted on all fronts — terrestrial, coastal and maritime — and the outcome is that Mumbai is scarred but safer.

(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at [email protected])

Analysis

YouTube testing new video recommendation format: Report

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San Francisco, Jan 16 : Google-owned video sharing platform YouTube is testing a new video recommendation format that displays blue bubbles on the screen with relevant keywords and related topic suggestions, facilitating easier browsing, media reported.

“The screenshots obtained show these blue bubbles just underneath the video player showing more specific video recommendations,” The Verge reported on Tuesday.

The video-sharing platform is currently testing the feature with some users on its main desktop page as well as on the mobile app.

For sometime now users have been complaining that the videos recommended on the side on YouTube’s interface often have little to do with the current video, making recommendations a point of contention for the platform.

“It’s unclear if the videos that populate from the new recommendation bubbles will face similar algorithmic issues that YouTube’s recommendation feed currently suffers,” the report added.

There has not been any word from YouTube as of now on the working of these blue bubbles and whether or not they will roll out the test feature to a bigger group in the coming months.

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Analysis

2002 Gujarat riots: Judge P.B. Desai ignored evidence, says activist Harsh Mander

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Harsh Mander

New Delhi, Jan 9 : Special SIT court judge P.B. Desai “ignored evidence” that former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, who was killed in a mob attack in Ahmedabad’s Gulberg Housing Society during the 2002 riots, did all that was possible within his power to protect Muslims from the “rage of the mob” and instead echoed the position of then Chief Minister Narendra Modi that his killing was only a “reaction” to his “action” of shooting at the mob, says human rights activist Harsh Mander.

He says that “the learned judge”, who retired in December 2017, overlooked statements by surviving witnesses that Jafri made repeated desperate calls to senior police officers and other persons in authority, “including allegedly Chief Minister Modi”, pleading that security forces be sent to “disperse the crowd” and rescue those “against whom the mob had laid a powerful siege”.

Mander, who quit the IAS in Gujarat in the wake of the riots, makes these observations in his just released book, “Partitions of the Heart: Unmaking the Idea of India”, published by Penguin.

The 66-year-old activist, who works with survivors of mass violence and hunger as well as homeless persons and street children, goes on to quote the late journalist Kuldip Nayar to establish that Jafri had desperately telephoned him, “begging him to contact someone in authority to send in the police or the Army to rescue them”.

Mander says Nayar rang up the Union Home Ministry to convey to it the seriousness of the situation. The Home Ministry said it was in touch with the state government and was “watching” the situation. Jafri called again, pleading with Nayar to do something as the mob was threatening to lynch him.

In the chapter titled “Whatever happened in Gulberg Society?”, Mander contends that Jafri did everything within his power to protect “those who believed that his influence would shield them from the rage of the mob”. Mander says Jafri begged the mob to “take his life instead” and in a show of valour went out “to plead and negotiate” with the angry crowd.

“When he realised that no one in authority would come in for their protection, he also did pick up his licensed firearm and shoot at the crowd…,” Mander notes, describing it as the “final vain bid” on behalf of Jafri to protect the Muslims in the line of fire.

The author notes that in describing Jafri’s final resort to firing as an illegitimate action, the judge only echoed the position taken repeatedly by Modi, who had given an interview to a newspaper in which he had said that it was Jafri who had first fired at the mob.

“He forgot to say what a citizen is expected to do when a menacing mob, which has already slaughtered many, approaches him and the police has deliberately not responded to his pleas,” says Mander.

He says that it was as if even when under attack and surrounded by an armed mob warning to slaughter them, “and with acid bombs and burning rags flung at them”, a good Muslim victim should do nothing except plead, and this would ensure their safety.

Ehsan Jafri’s wife Zakia Jafri, according to Mander, was firmly convinced that her husband was killed because of a conspiracy that went right to the top of the state administration, beginning with Modi. The author notes that the court, in its judgement running into more than 1,300 pages, disagreed.

“It did indict 11 people for the murder but they were just foot soldiers,” observed Mander.

He further says that the story the survivors told the judge over prolonged hearings was consistent but Judge Desai was convinced that there was “no conspiracy behind the slaughter” and that the administration did all it could to control it.

“Jafri, by the judge’s reckoning, and that of Modi, was responsible for his own slaughter,” he laments.

Mander also argues in the book that recurring episodes of communal violence in Ahmedabad had altered the city’s demography, dividing it into Hindu and Muslim areas and Gulberg was among the last remaining “Muslim” settlements in the “Hindu” section of the city.

He says that Desai also disregarded the evidence in the conversations secretly taped by Tehelka reporters, mentioning that superior courts, according to Desai himself, have ruled that while a person cannot be convicted exclusively based on the evidence collected in such “sting operations”, such evidence is certainly “admissible as corroborative proof”.

“But he chose to disregard this evidence, not because there was proof that these video recordings were in any way doctored or false but simply because the Special Investigative Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court of India chose to ignore this evidence,” says Mander.

According to Mander, the Tehelka recordings “certainly supported the theory that there was indeed a plan to collect, incite and arm the mob to undertake the gruesome slaughter”.

The SIT was headed by R.K. Raghavan, today Ambassador to Cyprus. Mander contends in the book that just because the investigators did not pursue Tehelka recordings in greater depth, Desai concluded that the “recordings cannot be relied upon as trustworthy of substantial evidence and establish any conspiracy herein”.

In the book, Mander takes stock of whether India has upheld the values it had set out to achieve and offers painful, unsparing insight into the contours of violence. The book is now available both online and in bookstores.

(Saket Suman can be contacted at [email protected])

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Analysis

Number of suicides highest in Army amongst three services

In the Air Force, the number of suspected suicides was 21 in 2017 and 19 in 2016. For the Navy, these numbers were 5 and 6 for 2017 and 2016, respectively.

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Ajit Doval

New Delhi, Jan 7 : The number of defence personnel committing suicide was highest in the Army amongst the three services in the last three years, data shows.

In 2018 alone, as many as 80 Army personnel are believed to have committed suicide. This number is 16 for Air Force and 08 for the Navy, Minister of State (MoS) for Defence Subhash Bhamre told the Rajya Sabha in a written reply on Monday.

In 2017, the number of Army men who are suspected to have committed suicide was 75, while in 2016 this number was 104.

In the Air Force, the number of suspected suicides was 21 in 2017 and 19 in 2016. For the Navy, these numbers were 5 and 6 for 2017 and 2016, respectively.

In his reply, the Minister said that various steps have been taken by the armed forces to create healthy environment for their officers and other ranks.

“Some of the steps include provision of better facilities such as clothing, food, married accommodation, travel facilities, schooling, recreation etc and periodic welfare meetings, promoting yoga and meditation as a tool for stress management, and training and deployment of psychological counsellors,” the reply read.

It said mental health awareness is provided during pre-induction training.

Besides, institutionalisation of projects “MILAP” and “SAHYOG” by the Army in Northern and Eastern Commands to reduce stress among troops has been done.

A helpline has also been established by the Army and the Air Force to provide professional counselling.

IANS

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