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26/11 Episodes: Senior cop relives fighting terrorists at Cama Hospital with injured eye


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On this date exactly, 13 years ago, 1990-batch Maharashtra-cadre IPS officer Sadanand Date had no idea that he would encounter the most challenging few hours of his career. It was just 15 minutes to 10 pm and he had just finished dinner at his residence. "I was thinking about hitting the bed when suddenly, my wife who was watching TV showed me news reports of firing at multiple places in south Mumbai," said Date, who realised that his night was far away from over.

Posted as Additional Commissioner (Central Region) of Mumbai Police which covers areas like Worli, Dadar, Sion and Byculla back then, Date changed back to his uniform and after calling his driver and person bodyguard, asked his boss and then Joint Commissioner (Law & Order) KL Prasad for instructions. "I was told to rush near CST station which falls under south region as there were multiple incidents of firing reported from there," recalled Date.

Date left his house at around 10 pm and reached the nearby Malabar Hill Police Station to collect automatic weapons and bulletproof weapons when he heard two blasts followed by a message that there has been an explosion at the (now old) US consulate building which fell under that police station’s jurisdiction.  "Though we went there to check the situation, nothing of that sort had happened," he said.

After moving towards Metro Cinema, which was less than a kilometre away from CST station, wireless messages informed about the attackers, who were active at the railway station, were now moving towards the Times of India building and then towards Cama and Albless Hospital.

"Cama Hospital was near to Metro Cinemas and therefore, I decided to leave my car and walk there. There were six other officers with me including two assistant police inspectors and one sub-inspector," Date said.

Date still remembers the ghastly image of two dead bodies at the entrance of the hospital. But it was only when an hospital staff came running, he learnt that the assailants had moved to the maternity ward at the fourth floor.

"It was around 11 pm when we reached there. After instructing an assistant sub-inspector to guard the entrance, we moved upstairs being led by the employee," said Date adding that nobody at that point of time had an idea that it was a terrorist attack.

Considering the hospital setting, Date emphasised extra caution to his team on their plan of action. "I told them that we would open fire only if we are fired upon and as we were entering the lift, another person ran towards us saying that the attackers were now at the terrace," he said.

After team reached the sixth floor, Date took the lead for his team of six and the hospital employee as he was the only person in a bulletproof vest. The team took the stairs to the roof and stopped just few steps away from the door.

"I thought it would not be proper to just barge in, and decided to check for a response and hence, I asked my men to search for something like a coin or keys that would make a sound. We eventually found metal clips that hold electricity pipes together and tossed them through the half-open terrace door," said Date, who had previously worked in Naxal-hit areas. 

In retaliation, a person guarding the terrace door fired from an automatic weapon which hit Date's operator Constable Sachin Tilekar, who was standing right next to his boss. "It was later learnt that the person who had opened fire was Ajmal Kasab while his other partner was Abu Ismail and the automatic fire had convinced me that this was a serious attack," Date said.

Since the team had only two carbines and their sidearms and were hence, in no position to directly engage with them, the team decided to block the stairs as it was the only exit from the roof. "After scouting for positions on the sixth floor, I informed the control room on our situation. A few minutes later, someone started coming down the stairs but the hospital staff who led us there informed us that he was his colleague," he said.

When Date told him to stop and raise his hands, the man signalled that there was the attackers were behind him and they couldn't be seen as they were crouching. "When I fired a warning shot above his head, then he came running and the attacker duo ran back to the terrace. It was later learnt during Kasab’s interrogation that he had warned that employee that the police would shoot at him if they suspected and he was forced to be their shield," he said.

When the man was debriefed by Date’s team, he informed that the duo carried modern weapons, and that they had several hostages including doctors. "As we were talking to the staff, a grenade was hurled towards the lift door from the staircase. It blasted 2.5 feet away from us and as a result Sub-Inspector Prakash More died on the spot, while the others were injured," he said.

But what hurt Date the most that many splinters of the grenade that pierced parts of his body, with one going behind his eye and hurt him severely. "Though my eye hurt the most, I had been hit almost everywhere including my knees and legs and I felt dizzy for a moment. But soon after I fired back, I was able to call and update the control room about our status," he added.

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The rest of the team was in no state to fire back as they were all injured and hence, Date told everyone except Constable Vijay Khandekar (who was unable to move) to leave and get their injuries treated. "I told the others to keep their weapons with me as I felt that they were not in a position to fire back and hence, if they go bac, they can bring additional reinforcements for me. I told Tilekar to inform the reinforcements that they should take another staircase to reach my position and not via the staircase which we were guarding," he said.

Date single-handedly started to engage with the terrorists who threw grenades in between and he fired back each time. The saga lasting for around 40-50 minutes. "At around 11:50 pm, a grenade landed and exploded near my foot and I had a blackout. When I gained senses, I sensed movement on the staircase. When I came out of my cover, I saw two armed persons walking at the landing between fifth and sixth floors," he said.

"I fired two rounds at them and then I realised that I had less ammunition and hence, walked a few paces to change my position. After the duo fired and threw a grenade at me, they went down the staircase leaving behind hostages, equipment and ammunition," he added.

During the investigation, it was learnt that one of Date's bullets had hit Ismail's torso and that Kasab felt that the police team that had arrived was large in number and hence he used a grenade to keep the cops away. "That explained why they didn’t come back at me," he said.

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Soon, Date informed the control room that the terrorists had left the hospital and were moving to a new location and asked for medical assistance for himself and the injured Khandekar who lay there alive but motionless.

"As I was lying there, I heard a long round of gunfire 10-15 minutes later. I assume that firing came from Rang Bhavan side near the hospital which led to the deaths of my colleagues Hemant Karkare, Ashok Kamte and Vijay Salaskar," Date said.

It was only at around 12:45 am that Date did receive help when he guided (now retired) ACP Sunil Temkar to his location. "Till that time, I had endured a lot of pain and gave my best in not becoming unconscious. One of Vipassana lessons has taught me was to observe pain as just pain and probably that kept me strong to check on myself and Khandekar also," said Date who received injuries in his eye and one each on his throat, chest, right knee and deep wounds on the left ankle. He was taken to Parel's KEM Hospital for treatment.

The extent of the injuries was so much that Date could start walking only after one month of the event. "It took overall six weeks for all injuries to heal and for me to rejoin duty though the injury to my left ankle was still not fully healed. After about 5-6 months, I was able to restart my running and rigorous physical activities," he said.

Date feels that the 26/11 attacks were the most challenging moments of his career and he carries these "moments of pain and memories of fallen colleagues". "However there is also a satisfaction that I was able to do my duty to the best of my ability and fear di not touch my mind," he concluded.

Presently posted as Commissioner of the newly-formed Mira-Bhayander, Vasai-Virar Commissionerate, Date was awarded the President's Police Medal for Gallantry for his bravery shown during the attacks.
 

(THE NEW INDIAN EXPRESS)