Mumbai Attacks Anniversary: Victims and Cops Speak Out

Mumbai anniversaryHandout
Sabina Sehgal Saikia was killed at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai, India, the night of November 26, 2008 when terrorists attacked the hotel.

On the anniversary of last year's terrorist attack on Mumbai, the city's police are on special alert, and the survivors still struggle with their grief and anger.

More than 170 people were killed in last November's assault that riveted the world as 10 Islamic militants invaded a busy train station, a Jewish cultural center and the historic Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, which burned for days as Indian commandos hunted down the last of the terrorists.

Only one of the terrorists, 21-year-old Pakistani national Ajmal Ali Kasab, was captured alive and is on trial in Mumbai.

But for many of the people caught in the crossfire on that day, the grim anniversary is a time for very personal and often private reflection.

Santanu Saikia lost his wife, Sabina Sehgal Saikia, a well-known food critic and journalist, and a mother of two children, in the attacks. She was a guest at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel the night of Nov. 26, 2008, when gunmen stormed the hotel, killing guests and staffers indiscriminately.

Tonight, Saikia is holding a recital by the Indian classical vocalist Ustad Rashid Khan, followed by a dinner in his wife's memory to be attended by family and friends.

"Food and music were her two great passions," Saikia said. "She would have wanted us to remember her like this, with joy."

"There is no other way to take this other than with equanimity and fortitude," he said. "I have told our children that we can forgive Kasab. Sabina was a victim, not a target. It will be the greatest gift if they emerge unscathed from this."

Sabina left behind a daughter, Arundhati, now 14, and a son, Aniruddha, now 12.

But every day is difficult, Saikia acknowledges. "They are seeing a counsellor. I know my daughter grew up overnight when she lost her mother. My son still won't speak about it. They feel her absence, but I think they have her spirit."

Still, he said, "There was never any anger [about the attacks]. Death does something to you. ... Anger won't get Sabina back, the bitterness will only consume us.

"What I do feel is a huge sadness at losing her, and [at the fact] that she isn't around to see the children grow up, to take pleasure in them."

Mumbai Police: We Now Have Better Guns, Training

The Taj -- an iconic hotel where much of the three days of terror and heroism played out -- does not plan to hold any public events to mark the anniversary.

A spokesperson for the Taj said there would be "internal multifaith prayers and a staff meeting [...] but these are very private."

"The entire hotel team has moved on and do not want to relive those moments," a spokesman said.

The Jewish center, Chabad House, which was the site of furious fighting between terrorists and Indian commandos, is continuing to seek donations to fund its rebuilding.

People from around the world donated $850,000 to a fund set up for 3-year-old Moishele Holtzberg, an Israeli child orphaned in the attack on Chabad House, and saved by the quick thinking of his Indian nanny, Sandra Samuel. Moishele and Samuel are now in Israel with his grandparents.

Sub-inspector Kiran Bhosale, one of the railway police officers who shot Kasab, told ABC News that the attack has prompted changes in policing.

Bhosale's beat, the historic Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus station, was one of the places attacked by terrorists last November.

At the time, Bhosale told ABC News how he and a handful of railway police officers armed with only pistols fought against terrorists armed with AK-47 assault rifles.

"They are firing with AK-47, and I have a pistol. The range is different, the capacity is different. We need weapons," he said then.

Today, Bhosale said more officers have been assigned to patrol railway stations. They have been given "better guns," and "the government has helped us, providing us with more training on how to deal with different terrorist threats."

It's not just police who have changed their ways.

"Passengers have also become much more alert," Bhosale said, "coming to us any time they see an unclaimed bag or something suspicious."

Mumbai Bomb Squad on Special Alert for Anniversary

In the aftermath of the attacks, Bhosale was given an award of $10,715 by the government. "Even now, people come up to me, recognizing me from TV coverage," he said.

"They come to shake hands, bring their kids along, say thanks," he said, sounding slightly awed by the attention.

"I have so many letters from people," he said, "but I am just doing my job, same job as I was doing last year."

His words are echoed by sub-inspector Sachin Gavde of the Mumbai Police Bomb Squad, who was part of the team that found and defused five bombs planted by terrorists around Mumbai last November.

"Our strength has increased in terms of manpower. We have new equipment and machines like mobile vehicle scanners (to check for car bombs)," Gavde told ABC News.

"After the Mumbai attacks, the Bomb Squad has set up 13 different teams, and we have beefed up security," he said.

"We are on special alert, carrying out daily checks on vital installations around the city," Gavde said, concerned about possible attacks by terrorists to mark the one-year anniversary.

The bombs found last November were the most advanced yet seen in India, and Gavde said that the Bomb Squad has not come across such sophisticated bombs since then.

But he said, "We are keeping a close eye and trying to learn what we can from the bombings taking place in Pakistan."

Meanwhile, new revelations about the attacks continue to embarrass the Indian government.

In an interview aired Wednesday on the Indian TV channel NDTV, the country's Home Minister P. Chidambaram apologized to Kavita Karkare, the widow of Hemant Karkare, the chief of the Anti-Terrorism Squad, who was killed during the November assaults.

Karkare said authorities misplaced the bulletproof vest worn by her husband the night he was shot by terrorists. In the aftermath of the attacks, there were allegations that the vest worn by Karkare was faulty, but its disappearance makes it impossible to know if that was in fact the case.

"It is being said that my husband, Ashok Kamte and Vijay Salaskar got killed as they went into the operation blindly, but the truth is they kept asking for reinforcements and help for 40 minutes, which they never got. For 40 minutes, their bodies were there on the road while the terrorists' bodies were rushed to the hospital. They have spent Rs 22 crore [$4,760,400] on preserving the bodies of the nine terrorists. But they couldn't be careful enough to preserve my husband's bulletproof jacket," she said.

In his interview, Chidambaram said it was shoddy to have misplaced the vest, adding he could only apologize for the lapse.

Mixed in the somber reflections is a hint of determination.

"I don't think people are frightened [of another attack]," Bhosale told ABC News. "They are just more alert."

And if there is another terrorist assault on Mumbai, Bhosale said, "We are ready to fight back."