March 12, 1993 serial blasts in Mumbai mark another milestone of death and destruction in the city’s history
Mohan Bane, a photographer with Indian Express, was kick-starting his motorbike when he heard a deafening explosion on March 12, 1993. He saw people running helter-skelter and smoke billowing out of the Air India building adjacent to his office at Express Towers, Nariman Point here. That afternoon “there was chaos and when I was about to enter the Air India building, I saw a man come out dazed, his tie askew and his clothes torn.”
Mr. Bane had his wits about him and his photograph of this man, later identified as Colonel Nair by another journalist, was a picture worth a thousand words.
The mayhem — scattered bodies, limbs and blood, vehicles on fire — still haunts him. The whole area shook for a while and glass panes at Hotel Oberoi’s popular café were rattling, he recalls. Ironically, he was leaving to take photographs of a bomb blast reported at Century Bazaar at Worli when he was interrupted.
If the communal violence after the demolition of the Babri Masjid demolition on December 6, 1992 changed the city forever, March 12, 1993 would mark another milestone of death and destruction in Mumbai’s history as 12 serial blasts killed 257 people and maimed hundreds, some of them for life. Officially, 713 people were injured.
It was a day Vinayak Devrukhkar will never forget. His older sister, 19, and 11-year-old brother had gone to the Century Bazaar bus stop, never to come back. The powerful explosion there killed 113 people, many of them aboard a bus. Devrukhkar and his family lived in the Nehru Nagar slum, opposite the bus stop. The blast left a huge crater and body parts flew into the slum. The bus was a wreck of twisted metal. Years later, when a designated court handed down sentences to the perpetrators of the blasts in September 2006, Devrukhkar reacted with coldness. For him and others, who had lost loved ones, justice came too late. His life had changed forever and the memory of his siblings would often make him cry uncontrollably. He joined the Shiv Sena and worked with a former corporator. He felt that terrorism had to be fought politically.
A bhelpuri seller and a sandwich vendor outside the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) were among the many who were maimed by a deafening blast, the first to go off that fateful day at 1.29 p.m. Santlal Moriya has glass pieces embedded in the body and he lost his hawking licence after a prolonged stay in hospital. Though he set up shop after he recovered partially, he was always caught by municipal authorities since he couldn’t run fast enough due to his injuries. He and sandwich vendor Gilajit Singh, who had a stall opposite the BSE, kept hoping that the government would give them jobs, but none was forthcoming. Gilajit has had 120 stitches in the left leg and can barely stand. Today the BSE is a fortified place and all hawkers have been removed from its barricaded entrance and side.
As news of the blasts spread that day, the city shut down in fear. People were frantically searching for missing family members, while the morgues overflowed with bodies charred beyond recognition. In a departure from the norm, no post-mortem was conducted. Yet, the police achieved, what they called, several breakthroughs and the case made headlines every day after the infamous escape of the main accused, Tiger Memon, and his family from their house, just a stone’s throw from the Mahim police station. The main accused, Dawood Ibrahim, and many others are yet to be arraigned. After his extradition, gangster Abu Salem continues to be tried for his role in the conspiracy. Four members of the Memon family were among those convicted and Yakub Memon was awarded the death sentence while his wife Rubina got life term.
The designated Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act court at the Arthur Road jail had more than its fair share of attention thanks to the gravity of the case and actor Sanjay Dutt figuring among the accused. He was acquitted of terror act but convicted of possessing arms without licence in a restricted area. Huge crowds would gather near the jail to wave to their favourite star for days on end till his conviction in November 2006. Over 100 convictions, including 20 death sentences, were handed down by September 2006 at the trial presided over by designated judge P.D. Kode. The State appointed a relatively unknown lawyer from Jalgaon, Ujjwal Nikam, special public prosecutor, who went on to become a celebrity of sorts with his bulletproof car and regular “bytes” on television. Mr. Nikam played the same role later during the high-profile trial of Pakistani gunman Ajmal Kasab.
For the blast victims, life has been an act of sheer endurance. The most often quoted survivor is a former banker, Kirit Ajmera, who has been pestered almost every year to recall the moment he was stepping into the BSE when a bomb went off. Though suffered a right arm fracture, multiple rib fracture and a perforated lung, Mr. Ajmera has chugged on indomitably in the spirit of the city’s maimed bravehearts.