My husband and others died fighting terrorists. The record must be set straight for posterity: Vinita Kamte

My husband and others died fighting terrorists. The record must be set straight for posterity: Vinita Kamte
My husband and others died fighting terrorists. The record must be set straight for posterity: Vinita Kamte
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Chitra Subramaniam | The News Minute | October 6, 2014 | 12.37 pm IST

Vinita Kamte’s husband Ashok Kamte was one of the three officers slain in the 26/11 terrorist attacks on Mumbai. Last week, KavitaKarkare, wife of officer Hemant Karkare, also killed in the attack passed away following a brain hemorrhage. Kamte speaks to Chitra Subramaniam, Editor-in-Chief of The News Minute about the injustice heaped on her husband and fellow martyrs, the political cover up and her demand that false testimony be corrected so posterity knows the facts. She also shares records of the Police Control Room that detail the contradictions between what the government said and what happened. Excerpts:

The 26/11 terror attacks on Mumbai seem far and near. What are your thoughts as Kavita is no more?

Mrs.Karkare’s untimely demise has been a huge loss to me. Not only was she like an older sister to me, she was equally concerned about all of us (families of 26/11) and I could turn to her for issues that would trouble us. She was a very sensitive lady who had the ability to put her thoughts beautifully through the medium of poetry. Her poems were a written reflection of what we went through and were heart wrenching (I believe that because of this ability to write beautiful poems she was named Kavita by Mr. Karkare after their marriage). She had the capacity to listen to everyone’s problems and help in whatever way she could. She would feel very strongly on the issues that the martyr’s families should get whatever was promised to them and that these benefits should also reach the families who died fighting in naxalite areas too.

It is more than a personal loss – she was a big support on the issues I had taken up with the system. 

How did she personally help you? You said she would carry letter to various government departments, never giving up?

After the 26/11 incident a lot of new government resolutions were passed. As these resolutions were new there was some confusion regarding their intent and the actual wording.To correct this confusion or flaws we drafted letters and Mrs. Karkare would personally along with Mrs. Salaskar (whose husband was also slain in the terror attacks) and others go to meet the Ministers and get the necessary changes made. It was because of her that these changes were made and had she not taken the initiative, there would have been no amendements. In fact Mrs Salaskar is trying to get her martyred husband’s promotion as the government resolution states that they would be considered deemed in service and get the salary as per their promotion.

On the personal front Kavita tai and Mrs.Salaskar were more vocal on a lot of issues. I was shy, not scared to speak, and they helped me overcome this. Besides, I also had strong support from my family and they walked every step of the way with me. Kavita tai always acknowledged the fact that had we not used the Right to Information (RTI) act to get to the truth and had it not been for the book "To the last Bullet” that Vinita Deshmukh and I wrote, the truth would never have reached the people.

How was she treated by the authorities in Mumbai? I believe she was asked to file an online request to meet the Chief Secretary of Maharashtra? 

I remember a recent incident where she wanted to meet the Chief Secretary of Maharashtra regarding her pension that was to start from September 2014. There are many government resolutions regarding pensions. The central government resolutions have clauses for central government officers who die fighting in action. The state has other resolutions. We noticed there was no clarity on these pension issues and the concerned officers themselves were not aware of these rules. So, she decided to meet the Chief Secretary to clarify this as Mr. Ombale’s family too was not getting pension for almost a year. When she called to take an appointment she was told to file an online request and cite the reasons for the appointment. She was deeply hurt .But she was an amazing lady. She did not dwell on this hurt and continued writing letters to various departments on the pension issue.

She also felt strongly that all families of Martyrs’ who lived in Mumbai should be invited for the Flag hoisting ceremony held on August 15 and January 26. In Pune I always received an invite for the Flag hoisting ceremony. It means something to us, it is important. 

She also fought for Constable Ombale’s wife’s pension. Tell us this story.

Constable Ombale was the one who caught Ajmal Kasab alive before he (Ombale) was killed. His family was receiving the government salary as per rules and regulations. However, the salary stopped (correctly so) in 2013, on the day he would have retired and the pension should have started immediately. However, they did not receive any pension for almost a year as there was no clarity on this issue. The clerical staff was confused as to what pension should be given to the family, so no decision was forthcoming. When the process for Mrs Karkare’s pension was taken up, she took up Mr. Ombale’s pension issue and it was resolved immediately. They received their earlier dues and the pension issue is now streamlined. 

Take us through some of the most difficult moment for you in the cover-up and what helped you to continue when all seemed lost?

There were a lot of contradictions in the Cama Hospital incident from the police officers themselves. The most difficult moment in the cover up was that they ought to have told the truth, their fellow officers had died fighting terrorists. They decided to keep quiet about what happened, and some chose to feed the media with lies. All that we were asking was that the truth about what happened at the Cama hospital be told. It was frustrating having the minister come home and make insensitive statements. I knew that my husband Ashok always used the wireless set for communication. It appeared that after he reached the lane there was no communication with the Control Room. This was highly unlikely so I studied the Control Room call log records and realized from the recording that the happenings in the Control Room transcripts were made three days after the incident. The timing on the compact disc has the recording in an hours, minutes and seconds format. The written transcripts match every where in timing. However, close to the Cama Hospital around 12 midnight the police are not able to explain why there is a difference of 6 minutes in the transcript and compact disc. 

Basically, I want to end all speculation about what happened that night. I want people to know that the police force is largely a law and order force. I want people to know that a large chunk of the force does not have weapons and those who have them have not fired for a long time. There are very few with any expertise. 

There were questions in the media as to why the three officers went, was the hierarchy flouted etc. etc. The officers were not wrong – they could not send the constables and most of them admitted to us that they were scared. On the other hand, nobody asked why three Joint Commissioners of Police, all Indian Police Service (IPS) officers of the same rank, chose to stay in the small Control Room despite the fact that there was a threat to the Commissioner of Police’ office where it is housed? Why didn’t anybody ask why three IPS officers were together at the same spot in the Taj when it was been attacked? 

Nobody mentioned that after the officers were shot the terrorists were in the lane for 7 -8 minutes, they walked down the street, a police vehicle passed the terrorists and the vehicle in which officers were shot - yet why did the vehicle not stop or report to the control room that the officers were shot and that the terrorist were in the lane?

What were you told when you produced the RTI evidence?

When I produced the RTI evidence before the state Chief Information Commissioner (CIC), all that the police officers would say that it was a minor mistake. They could never explain why this mistake happened only in the Cama hospital incident as before and after the incident all timings match.

How do you explain the apathy towards families of martyrs?

I must mention here that our biggest support has been people, society and friends. As regards our own police department, I have nothing much to say. 

Where is your case now? What kind of support have you received? 

The State CIC has ordered a judicial inquiry into the incident. I have no idea what the government has decided. As for support, other than my family, there has been none from any quarter. 

Why do you think there was such a huge cover-up? Who was to gain from it?

We believe the cover-up was done to cover-up lapses on their part. Not anyone in particular, but many who did not respond would have been exposed. Many benefited from the cover-up. They knew there would be an enquiry so they started working on the cover-up and that is truly shameful. 

What action would you like to see now? 

Basically what we want is that the observations in the Ram Pradhan Committee report on the Cama hospital incident be expunged as they are contrary to the actual documents that exist as well as facts. The committee has made three observations which are absolutely false and incorrect. This report is for posterity and we do not want to live with these erroneous observations. 

For example, the report says the following (according to the Marathi translation of the report):

a)That the officers on the ground according to Mr. Rakesh Maria were not giving any information about their strategy to the Control room (pt 3.33 of the Marathi translation of the Ram Pradhan Committee report). This is wrong as Mr. Karkarehad made three calls to the Control Room explaining the strategy that he wanted to adopt and that he also told the Control Room that this has to be coordinated so that there is no cross firing between their own men.He also described the nature of the attack that was going on. No senior officer, in spite of there being three of them in the control room, all of Mr. Karkare’s rank, choose to coordinator talk or respond to Mr. Karkare directly.

b) The second observation in the report is that they went and stood before the terrorist and got shot. What did the committee think? Let me assure them that nobody in their right sense will go and stand before a terrorist to get shot.

It is interesting to note how the commission has not even considered the documentary evidence before them.
i) The terrorist Kasab says in his narco which is available on Youtube that I was shot at injured by the officers in the vehicle.
ii) The State Home minister reads out in the assembly that it was Ashok Kamte who fired and injured Kasab.
iii) The Central Home minister reads out in parliament that Kasab was injured here.
iv) WitnessPhad says that I saw Kasab’s weapon fall when a bullet hit him when he went to lift his weapon he again got hit.

c) So how does the Committee make such a ridiculous observation?

i)The report says that the Officers IT APPEARS decided to go to the front door of Cama to enter from there. Now on what basis has the commission concluded this?. The Commission mentions that Tilekar,Dates constable came and told the Officers that Date was injured. But the committee cleverly does not mention that Ashok took his jammed weapon and uncocked it. It does not mention that with the sound of opening of the gates the terrorist fired or threw grenades towards the officers which Ashok retaliated by firing back. It does not mention that Kasab said that we were told that Mumbai police did not have AK 47 , however that the kind of firing that was returned they thought a professional team was going to enter and hence needed to run from there immediately. In that hurry they left a pouch on the terrace. We do not even know what calls were exchanged between the officers and the Control Room as they appear to be have been deleted.

ii) Constable Jadhav the lone surviving constable in the vehicle says that this decision was taken in a hurry. He has changed his version so many times that the court also had doubts about his testimony. Very conveniently the committee has relied on this part of the statement. Constable Jadhav had himself told us that on reaching the beginning of the lane they got a message about a red colour car, it was decided that Mr.Salaskar would take to the driver’s seat. He also told us that after we were shot at, the terrorist went walking down the lane. Just then a police vehicle came in our direction, I thought they would stop but they went past us. The committee does not mention this in their report. 

So we want the three observations made by the Ram Pradhan Committee Report removed. We want facts to be recorded, for posterity, for our children. Is that too much to ask?

Access the documents here

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