The searing pain, profuse bleeding and shock of being hit by a bullet was drowned by an acrid smile on the face of a man just 20 feet away from her – this dark smile would not let Devika Rotawan, then 10 years old, sleep for days. Devika became the youngest witness to identify Ajmal Kasab, one of the 10 Pakistan-based terrorists who attacked Mumbai on November 26, 2008.
On the eve of the 10th anniversary of 26/11 attack, Devika rubs her right leg where she was shot by Kasab at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSMT). “I was in a hospital for around two months and underwent at least six surgeries over the years. My leg still gets numb as winter approaches, but I can walk without support now,” the 20-year-old told News Nation from her rented home in Bandra, Mumbai.
On November 26, 2008, Devika along with her father Natwarlal Rotawan and younger brother Jayesh was at CSMT to catch a train to Pune.
“It was around 9.20 pm. My brother had gone to a public toilet at the station when we sensed some commotion and then heard gunshots. Before we could realize anything, we saw people, many of them wounded, running and so did we,” Devika recalls.
One bullet hit Devika’s right leg. “As soon as the bullet hit me, I fell down. But before losing consciousness, I saw Kasab. He was right there smiling as he was firing indiscriminately on people. I will never forget that face,” she says.
The CSMT was the first place to be targeted by two terrorists -- Kasab and his associate Abbu Ismail – who were among the 10 gunmen sneaked into Mumbai through the Arabian Sea route and brought the business capital of India under siege for three days. Fifty-eight people were killed at the CSMT railway station in the indiscriminate gunfiring.
Devika was rushed to St. George Hospital, where doctors removed the bullet next day. She was then shifted to JJ Hospital where doctors conducted multiple surgeries. She remained in the hospital for more than a month.
In the beginning of 2009, the family shifted to its native village Sumerpur in Rajasthan. After a few months, Devika’s father received a call from the Mumbai Police who asked him if the father-daughter was ready to testify in a Mumbai court.
“In June 2009, we reached Mumbai. In the court, I had to identify Kasab out of three suspects present before me. I didn’t even hesitate for a minute to identify him. I was angry, furious. I wanted to slap him and ask him why did he kill so many innocent people,” Devika says.
In the court, Kasab sat near the judge with his head hung low. “His face was bereft of any expression,” Devika says, adding that her family had received several threat calls “from Pakistan” before they went to court to testify against the terrorist.
“Fearing backlash, our relatives had warned us against going to the court. Many even stopped talking to us. They thought if they remained associated with us they would also be susceptible to further attacks. In fact, many people even refused to rent us houses. When we had come to Mumbai to testify in court, we had no roof over our heads and so we had to spend the nights at the same the CSMT station which had taken so much away from us,” she says. Some people had even branded the girl “Kasab ki beti (daughter of Kasab)”.
Being identified as the girl who sent Kasab to gallows, however, only made Devika more determined to fight against crime. After completing school, she wants to study further and join the Indian Police Service (IPS). “I was happy when Kasab was hung (on November 21, 2012), but the mastermind of the attack should also be brought to book.”
‘We were stuck for three days outside Taj’
When Kasab and Ismail were causing mayhem at the CST station, merely two kilometers away four other terrorists – Shoaib, Umer, Abdul Rehman Bada and Abu Ali -- had begun to fire inside the iconic Taj Mahal Hotel.
“It was terrifying. I saw a man being shot right through his head as he was trying to escape from the hotel. Those terrorists fired six bullets at that person. He died on the spot. There were small children, women who were shot at. I will never forget that fateful night,” says Raj Trivedi, a digital marketing head at a private company in Mumbai.
Around 8.30 pm, Raj, then an under-graduate student, along with his three friends had stepped outside the Leopold Café after celebrating his 20th birthday.
“We had left the cafe after spending two hours and were walking towards the Nariman Point for dinner when some policemen stopped us and told to leave. We still had no inkling that Leopold Café had been attacked by some terrorists then,” Raj says. The café was attacked by two terrorists around 9.30 pm.
It was only when Raj and his friends had started to walk towards CSMT to take a local train for home that they came to know about the terror attack there.
“While one of our friends managed to take a taxi back home, we started to walk back towards the Gateway of India when we saw the right wing of the Taj Mahal Hotel being blown up. In the next moment, people had started to run for their life,” he says.
Raj and two of his friends were stuck in the area for the next three days as the place had been cordoned off by security forces. They were in shock and barely spoke to each other till the operation ended. The three had money but could not buy anything to eat as all the shops were shut, though locals provided them water and tea.
“It was like a war zone. We saw hundreds of rounds of bullets being exchanged by both sides – terrorists and security forces — and grenades explosions. In fact, a grenade had exploded just a few metres away from one of my friends outside the Taj. He suffered hearing impairment in one of his ears and now has to depend on a hearing aid,” Raj laments.
On November 28, when NSG commandos eliminated all the terrorists holed inside the Taj Hotel and other sites the three friends managed to take a train back home. “Even as I boarded a train from the piquantly empty CSMT station, I found it hard to believe that the siege was over. I remember looking around at every passenger with suspicion,” he says.
Since then Raj has not celebrated his birthday in Mumbai as he fears that terrorists might attack again on the 26/11 anniversary. This year too, he is traveling outside India ahead of his birthday.
“That incident had left a deep scar. I was the liveliest person in my friend circle before 26/11. Now, I became introvert. I had stopped going outside and meeting people. I lost many of friends because of that. The last time I cried was when I met my parents after reaching home on November 28, 2008.”
Raj’s two friends were so traumatised that they had to go through counsellings for months.
On the 10th anniversary of Mumbai terror attack, Raj remembers those bravehearts who fought the terrorists for 60 hours but also believes there are a lot to be done to make the city safer.