"I was the one who told everyone that Kasab was only pretending to be dead," remembers head constable Vikram Nikam.
Popular Hindi film music plays in the background of the detection room at the D.B. Marg police station in South Mumbai. Fifteen of its officers and men were awarded the prestigious President’s police medal for gallantry on November 26, 2008. Assistant police inspector Tukaram Ombale, who was killed while grappling with the lone surviving terrorist Mohammed Ajmal Amir ‘Kasab,’ got the Ashok Chakra posthumously.
Assistant police inspector Hemant Bowdhankar and his colleagues enjoy the music while working but it has not been fun and games for them. On November 26, last year he was on night duty when at 9.45 p.m. he was ordered to go for bandobast at Girgaum Chowpatty. The rest is history. “I was the escorting officer for Ms. Ombale when she went to receive the Ashok Chakra from the President, and it was momentous for me. I was sitting right behind the VIPs too,” says Mr. Bowdhankar. Close to the first anniversary of the terror strike, he is busy giving interviews. He was one of two men who shot and killed one of the terrorists Abu Ismail and injured Kasab, whom they caught alive.
Mr. Bowdhankar, who now trains with more sophisticated guns, says things have changed since the terror strike. There are new combat vehicles and amphibians which can travel both on road and water, there is intensive patrolling along the seashore and deployment of more personnel. Forty-five-year-old Bowdhankar, who was training to be a chartered accountant, does not regret giving it up. He did his articleship for three years under his mentor Ravi Sawant. “My father, who was a bus driver, wanted me to be a policeman. He was a heroic figure for me. Once during a riot in 1968, he stopped a mob from setting a fire engine ablaze and drove it to the nearest police station. I wanted to be like him,” he says. In fact, after his heroics last year, the Institute of Chartered Accountants even felicitated him.
“That night we put the barricades straight across the road at the Chowpatty, usually we put it in a zig zag way. We did not want to take any chances,” he says. A beat officer handling routine crimes, Mr. Bowdhankar joined the force 17 years ago and is due for promotion. For a month after November 26, things went by in a blur. “We were in shock for a while and we also had to deal with the loss of a colleague but things have picked up now,” he says. That night he and sub-inspector Bhaskar Kadam had pistols, and the rest lathis.
At 16 minutes past midnight, the police team saw a Skoda coming towards them. “The headlights were so powerful we could not see the colour of the car,” recalls head constable Vikram Nikam. “We knew they were armed and we had very little protection but the uniform made all the difference for me,” he adds. On the wireless they could hear a “live commentary” of what was happening in the city. For Mr. Nikam, his 29 years in the force came to his rescue. He had the courage to face fire from Abu Ismail who was driving the car and then used his lathi to beat up a badly injured Kasab. “I was the one who told everyone that Kasab was only pretending to be dead,” he remembers. “My hair stands on end when I think of those few minutes. We did not give Kasab a chance later. It was unbelievable,” Mr. Nikam adds.
For assistant police inspector Sanjay Govilkar, that was a night he does not wish to remember. A bullet from Kasab’s AK 47 grazed his waist and he was in hospital for a few days. It was Mr. Govilkar who stopped the policemen from beating up Kasab as he lay there injured. All the adulation has not gone to his head. “Success is the journey not the destination,” he says. “I did my duty that day and we all worked as a team.” He had just finished his duty when he went home and saw the breaking news on television. “I was prepared for gangsters but I never imagined that we will confront terrorists directly one day,” recalls Mr. Govilkar, who was unarmed that night. “I always wanted to be a policeman and that day I was wearing my uniform, it gave me a unique courage.”
“I feel all this talk of Kasab and our heroics is enough. We should go beyond this and learn to come together and live as Indians,” he concludes.