Six years have passed since 26/11 (the terror attacks on Mumbai on November 26, 2008), the biggest terror attack India has ever witnessed. Still there is a feeling of sadness and anger among the people of India. The country cannot forget how the ten terrorists, entered and attacked the commercial capital of the country. Four important places in Mumbai were targeted and 183 people killed, over 400 injured. Members of security forces also lost their lives. The fiasco ended after 60 hours when nine out of 10 terrorists were killed and the 10th terrorist, Ajmal Aamir Kasab, was caught alive.
Undoubtedly, nobody can feel more pain than those who lost loved ones. But the people of the country today want to know, six years after 26/11, what we learned from the incident and what steps are being taken to avoid repetition of such an attack. The country also wants to know whether Pakistan too has learned from 26/11.
Among the dead were 138 Indians (including 17 policemen and NSG commandos) and 28 foreigners. The breakdown of the foreigners was as follows: four Americans, three Germans, two Israeli-Americans, two Israelis, two Australians, two Canadians, two French, two Italians, one British-Cypriot, one Dutch, one Japanese, one Jordanian, one Malaysian, one Mauritian, one Mexican, one Singaporean and one Thai.
In addition, nine of the ten attackers were killed and one was captured.
Twenty-seven other foreigners of different nationalities were injured in the terror strikes and were admitted to the Bombay Hospital. Hospital sources said the injured foreigners were from Australia, USA, UK, Germany, Canada, Spain, Norway, Finland, Oman, China, Japan, the Philippines and Jordan
On November 26, 2008, Harish Manwani, chairman, and Nitin Paranjpe, CEO, of Hindustan Unilever hosted a dinner at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel in Mumbai (Taj Mumbai, for short). Unilever’s directors, senior executives, and their spouses were bidding farewell to Patrick Cescau, the CEO, and welcoming Paul Polman, the CEO-elect. About 35 Taj Mumbai employees, led by a 24-year-old banquet manager, Mallika Jagad, were assigned to manage the event in a second-floor banquet room. Around 9:30, as they served the main course, they heard what they thought were fireworks at a nearby wedding. In reality, these were the first gunshots from terrorists who were storming the Taj.
The staff quickly realized something was wrong. Jagad had the doors locked and the lights turned off. She asked everyone to lie down quietly under tables and refrain from using cell phones. She insisted that husbands and wives separate to reduce the risk to families. The group stayed there all night, listening to the terrorists rampaging through the hotel, hurling grenades, firing automatic weapons, and tearing the place apart. The Taj staff kept calm, according to the guests, and constantly went around offering water and asking people if they needed anything else. Early the next morning, a fire started in the hallway outside, forcing the group to try to climb out the windows. A fire crew spotted them and, with its ladders, helped the trapped people escape quickly. The staff evacuated the guests first, and no casualties resulted. “It was my responsibility….I may have been the youngest person in the room, but I was still doing my job,” Jagad later told one of us.Elsewhere in the hotel, the upscale Japanese restaurant Wasabi by Morimoto was busy at 9:30 PM. A warning call from a hotel operator alerted the staff that terrorists had entered the building and were heading toward the restaurant. Forty-eight-year-old Thomas Varghese, the senior waiter at Wasabi, immediately instructed his 50-odd guests to crouch under tables, and he directed employees to form a human cordon around them. Four hours later, security men asked Varghese if he could get the guests out of the hotel. He decided to use a spiral staircase near the restaurant to evacuate the customers first and then the hotel staff. The 30-year Taj veteran insisted that he would be the last man to leave, but he never did get out. The terrorists gunned him down as he reached the bottom of the staircase.
When Karambir Singh Kang, the Taj Mumbai’s general manager, heard about the attacks, he immediately left the conference he was attending at another Taj property. He took charge at the Taj Mumbai the moment he arrived, supervising the evacuation of guests and coordinating the efforts of firefighters amid the chaos. His wife and two young children were in a sixth-floor suite, where the general manager traditionally lives. Kang thought they would be safe, but when he realized that the terrorists were on the upper floors, he tried to get to his family. It was impossible. By midnight the sixth floor was in flames, and there was no hope of anyone’s surviving. Kang led the rescue efforts until noon the next day. Only then did he call his parents to tell them that the terrorists had killed his wife and children. His father, a retired general, told him, “Son, do your duty. Do not desert your post.” Kang replied, “If it [the hotel] goes down, I will be the last man out.”
The assault, known as 26/11, scarred the nation’s psyche by exposing the country’s vulnerability to terrorism, although India is no stranger to it. The Taj Mumbai’s burning domes and spires, which stayed ablaze for two days and three nights, will forever symbolize the tragic events of 26/11.
During the onslaught on the Taj Mumbai, 31 people died and 28 were hurt, but the hotel received only praise the day after. Its guests were overwhelmed by employees’ dedication to duty, their desire to protect guests without regard to personal safety, and their quick thinking. Restaurant and banquet staff rushed people to safe locations such as kitchens and basements. Telephone operators stayed at their posts, alerting guests to lock doors and not step out. Kitchen staff formed human shields to protect guests during evacuation attempts. As many as 11 Taj Mumbai employees—a third of the hotel’s casualties—laid down their lives while helping between 1,200 and 1,500 guests escape.
Since 26/11/2008, our country has become more united across communities and regions.
A salute to all the brave men of the Indian Army, NSG commandos and the Police officers involved in the Mumbai encounter; while remembering the great deeds and sacrifice of our Soldiers. Our country can never forget the sacrifice of Cdo Gajendra Singh and Maj S Unnikrishnan of the Indian Army on deputation with NSG; who was killed while saving his friend – Cdo Rajveer Singh. The last words of the gallant officer were, “Don’t come up – I will handle them”
“If it [the hotel] goes down, I will be the last man out.”
26/11 is a day of retrospect, to look within ourselves and understand that Indian Patriots who died that day in Mumbai, died for India, Died for a cause, I salute the martyrs who laid their lives to save our motherland. May the souls of the brave-hearts rest in peace.
Can we all devote 2 minutes of our busy lives to the ones who lost their lives on this day, and pay tribute?