Mumbai

‘Papa strove hard to make changes in society’

On Hemant Karkare’s 65th birthday, his daughter narrates some lesser-known tales of the martyr’s heroism

I am penning down my thoughts as a humble tribute to Papa on what would have been his 65th birthday. I keep thinking of all the birthday parties that he organised for me with lots of balloons, festoons, entertainers, unique cake designs and birthday songs — he planned each minute detail himself.

Papa celebrated his father’s 61st birthday in 1989 in Thane by booking a hall and inviting all our relatives and close friends. A priest performed puja to commemorate the occasion. Papa always made it a point to celebrate the birthdays of all elderly people in our family. On February 11, 2006, he celebrated his uncle Dinkar Rao Laghate’s (his mother’s sister’s husband) 75th birthday in Gwalior. Papa had just returned from Vienna at that time. His uncle was delighted to see him and proudly introduced him to all the guests. Papa specially got Jeevet Sharada Shatam (may you live a hundred years) written on the cake and made a small speech which he ended with ‘Tum jiyo hazaro saal, saal ke din ho pachas hazaar’.

‘Papa strove hard to make changes in society’

My grandparents had passed away long before 26/11, but on that fateful night, when Mr. Laghate got the terrible news, he was overwhelmed with the thought that his nephew, who so lovingly wished Mr. Laghate live for a thousand years, was snatched away when he was only 54.

Following his heart

A mechanical engineer from Visvesvaraya Regional College of Engineering, batch of 1975, Papa started his career in the private sector, working with Hindustan Unilever. He left his well-paying corporate job to join the Indian Police Service in 1982, as he realised that his heart lay in serving the nation. Papa started his career in the districts of Nanded, Bhusawal and Akola, and then in Mumbai held posts in the Crime Branch, Anti Narcotics Cell, Economic Offences Wing and Anti Corruption Bureau. He was posted as the Superintendent of Police in Naxal-affected Chandrapur and his work to alleviate the Naxal problem was recognised at the highest levels. Papa received the President’s Police Medal for distinguished service from former prime minister A.B. Vajpayee for his investigation into the hijacking of flight IC 814 to Kandahar. He was also the alternate permanent representative of India to the United Nations in Austria from 1999 to 2006.

‘Papa strove hard to make changes in society’

Papa held very critical posts throughout his career but never lost sight of the oft-neglected components of society. He always tackled problems at the grassroots. In 1989, Papa participated in a campaign, Drug Fight 89, as part of which he toured municipal schools to lecture the students about the importance of education. Papa knew that simply nabbing drug peddlers was not the solution, ensuring that the youth are not led astray was the first step. He also partnered with social workers and sent addicts to rehabilitation centres.

The right path

In 1991-92 when Papa was posted in Chandrapur, the common man found it very difficult to live as Naxals had wreaked havoc. Local petty criminals took advantage of this situation and came to the fore. Papa had given strict instructions to his staff to ensure that there should be emphasis on getting the youth who are attracted to the path of crime back to mainstream society rather than dumping them in prison. Papa found employment for some of them in local coal mines. These young men, who were saved from leading a path of crime, remember him for life.

During his tenure at Chandrapur, Papa scoured the interior villages and asked the children who they would like to be when they grew up? “Shekhar anna,” they answered. Shekhar anna was the Naxal leader. Papa was disappointed that the children thought of Naxals as their role models and engaged a team of translators and interpreters to start a dialogue with the villagers. He convinced them that all their problems could be solved through proper channels. He gained the villagers’ confidence and showed them that the police were their true friends and not the Naxals.

Around the same time, a series of murders occurred in Mahakali Chowk in the red light district. Papa visited the crime scene with his team and saw many small children in tattered clothes playing there. He immediately started thinking about these children. “Whose are these children? What kind of upbringing are they receiving? What about their education?” he wondered. He discussed these issues with Pundalik Sapkale from his team and entrusted him with the responsibility of enrolling these children in a school. These children, if properly educated, could become contributors to society rather than going astray. Papa strove hard to make changes in society as he knew simply nabbing criminals would not yield results. He always thought of the social angle as he was a very sensitive and thorough man.

People are aware of his supreme sacrifice on 26/11 for which he received the Ashok Chakra posthumously. I also want to shed light on his commitment to solving the problems of the most neglected people, those who are shunned by society. Papa incorporated into his vision and planning the elements of society who are shunned by all — drug addicts, petty criminals, children of prostitutes, youth on the verge of dropping out from municipal schools and children from the interior districts of Chandrapur. Papa’s outreach took all of them into account as he knew that steering them in the right direction should be the first recourse, rather than punitive action. He believed that spreading awareness and education is the strongest weapon with which one can combat the menace of crime and terrorism. It is this vision and belief that distinguished him from the rest.

Overcoming grief

For the first time, 11 years after his demise, I paid a visit to the memorial at Marine Lines on November 26 this year and laid a wreath as a tribute to the martyrs. My eyes welled as I saw Papa’s name written on the plaque along with those who gave their lives for the nation. I feel very proud to be the daughter of such a brave man. Jai Hind.

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Printable version | Feb 22, 2020 7:27:29 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/papa-strove-hard-to-make-changes-in-society/article30281222.ece

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