Saturday, February 17, 2018
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burning taj

The  ghastly memories of the deadly blasts that rocked Mumbai  and shocked the world five years ago on 26/11 cannot be easily forgotten.  The nation will continue  to seethe with anger over this act of unpardonable barbarity which was committed on  the cold night of Nov 26, 2008, when 10 heavily armed Pakistani terrorists brazenly entered Mumbai through the virtually unguarded Arabian Sea route.

Shortly  thereafter, they unleashed a brutal terrorist attack on several prime locations in south Mumbai spread over a four-five square km area, leaving the nation dazed and the world shocked.Only one of them, Kasab, was caught and hanged even though he was a mere dummy, the real perpetrators of the crime being still alive and kicking across the border  where their trial is deliberately being delayed on one pretext or the other.

To recall that night of horror means recapturing on our mental screen the visions of the   armed terrorists who launched attacks on a dozen locations in Mumbai. Their targets included two luxury hotels, a hospital, the railway station, a restaurant, and a Jewish centre.  As many as 159 people, both Indians and foreigners, were done to death and over 200 gravely injured. The deadly assault hurt our pride and  scarred the nation’s psyche because it exposed the country’s vulnerability to terrorism, even though security agencies kept on warning about the threats but claiming at the same time that all was safe. Those scenes witnessed by the world on TV screens still haunt us and it is difficult to erase from our memories the Taj Mumbai’s burning domes and spires, which stayed ablaze for two days and three nights-- forever entrenched in our minds as the symbols of the heart-wrenching tragedy of 26/11.

 They were all martyrs who shed their blood for the nation that night.
And how can we forget the sacrifice of Karambir Singh Kang, the Taj Mumbai’s general manager who, despite losing his wife and two sons in the fire continued to save others from the burning flames? His father, a retired army general, when informed of the family’s tragedy,  told him, “Son, do your duty. Do not desert your post.” And Kang replied: “If it [the hotel] goes down, I will be the last man out.” If the employees of the Tata-run Hotel showed such loyalty, Ratan Tata, the owner, was no less magnanimous and generous in reciprocating their gesture.
  All  employees including those who had completed even  one day as casuals were treated on duty during the time the hotel was closed.   Employee-outreach centres were opened where all help, food, water, sanitation, first aid and counselling was provided to 1600 employees.  Ratan Tata personally visited the families of all the affected  80 employees  and  asked them  as to what they wanted him to do. Full last salary and medical facility for life for the family and dependents was announced. All loans and advances were waived off – irrespective of the amount. Complete responsibility of education was assumed of children and dependents – anywhere in the world. Interestingly enough, even the other people, the railway employees, the police staff, the pedestrians who had nothing to do with theTatas were covered by compensation. Each one of them was provided subsistence allowance of Rs. 10,000  per month for six months.

The wounds might have healed but the scars are very much there. With the enemy planning sins anew both within and without the country the nation has to be on the guard because—as the Prime Minister warned the other day—the terrorists could be on the lookout for an opportunity to stage another act of savagery.  The solemn day, 26/11, has passed but I think any day is a good day, a solemn day to renew our pledge  to defend our freedom, our integrity and our democratic institutions by promoting the unity of minds and hearts. There is urgency in this appeal because  we don’t have ‘miles and miles to go’ to track the enemy. He could be close at hand.

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