Courage quotient


SEEKING ACCOUNTABILITY: Slain ATS chief Hemant Karkare wife Kavita wants answers from the government on what went wrong on that fateful night of November 26, 2008 in MumbaiT

he digital photo frame unit sits  oddly on a mantelpiece stacked with medals and citations, including an Ashok Chakra posthumously awarded to Hemant Karkare in the wake of the November 26, 2008 attacks in Mumbai.

Lovingly loaded by his daughter with scores of photographs of the Anti Terrorist Squad (ATS) chief in better times and set to his favourite Hindi film songs, the photo display vainly tries to drown out what became one of the many defining images of that Wednesday night: of the ATS chief donning a bullet-proof jacket and a helmet only to be shot dead later.

Along with scores of others glued to the television screens that night, Kavita Karkare also saw that last visual of her husband. Only a few hours earlier he had been having dinner at home.

“It took at least two to three months before I went to the Cama Hospital site. I wanted to see how it happened and where. I took my sister-in-law with me and we tried to picture it,” says Kavita.

For her, the disconnect with reality is still difficult to come to terms with. Yet, barely a month after the death of her husband, Kavita Karkare resumed duty as a lecturer in Educational Sociology in a Mumbai-based B.Ed college, so as to finish the portions for the year and prepare the students for their forthcoming examinations.

Back to work

“I don’t know how I did it, but I had to go back and finish my work,” she says. Grateful that her students respected her privacy and refrained from referring to the death of her husband, she is pragmatic about civil society’s response.

About her husband’s sacrifice, Kavita says, “You can’t suddenly become a martyr. You can’t suddenly imbibe values of patriotism. It is the atmosphere at home and parental guidance that are crucial factors in shaping one’s value-system.”

Karkare’s father, Kamlakar Karkare, was a well known communist in Nagpur while his mother came from a family close to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Despite this marriage of people from opposing ideologies, the relationship was free of any conflict.
The parents, in fact, encouraged independent thinking . Karkare’s mother completed her education after her marriage and even Kavita was encouraged to take up a job and do her B.Ed.

“I worked in a bank earlier but since I always loved teaching, I fulfilled my dream of doing a Master’s in Education. I find teaching very satisfying,” she says.

Despite her reflective demeanour, Kavita does feel bitter about the fact that officers like her husband were sent into the field badly equipped — they had little information, no reinforcements and poor equipment.

Memories of a special man

Sitting in the living room of the official quarters she has permission to reside in for the next three years, Kavita points to the driftwood lampshades, a wall-clock and a coffee table —all designed by Karkare during his stint as Superintendent of Police in the Naxal-dominated area of Chandrapur in eastern Maharashtra.

According to her, Karkare had varied interests—from listening to old Hindi film songs or Marathi abangs to reading books, especially those on philosophy and science.

Discussing these books with his father is just one of the things her 17-year-old son  the youngest of their three children —misses greatly. “As victims, we are struggling to make sense of our lives,” Kavita says.

Kavita  is not unfamiliar with single parenthood. She had lived alone and worked in Mumbai while Karkare was deputed to Vienna  for over five years by the Research and Analysis Wing.

“Karkare was a liberal parent. He  believed that children must be given the freedom to take their own decisions and should be supported even if they made mistakes, while my own parenting style was more protective,” she says.

Kavita father, Narayan Deo, was Additional Commissioner of Police and she was, as she put is, well aware of  “the negative side of government service”. She harks back to happier times when her husband was working for a consumer goods multi-national. But Karkare was restless and wanted a more challenging job. Kavita didn’t want to discourage him from joining the Indian Police Service, something she regrets today.

Over the months, the attack has begun to fade from public memory but the victims of 26/11 are still haunted by trauma and loss. Kavita points out that all victims need help in some form or the other, and monetary compensation is simply not enough. She makes it a point to  meet other victims informally and talk to them. “They need help at every stage in their lives and there is no infrastructure or a social support system for them,” she observes. She has herself sought succour in spiritual studies and bi-weekly sessions at the Chinmaya Mission in Mumbai.

Her children are  her biggest support. “Yes, we do feel lonely and this loss has created a permanent vacuum in our lives. Everyone says women are more courageous but that is simply not true. It’s just that women are better survivors,” she says.

Women’s Feature Service

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