Where Is Hemant Karkare’s Bullet Proof Jacket ?
By Subhash Gatade
16 November, 2009
Hemant Karkare’s family - his wife Kavita, his son and daughters and other near and dear ones - have slowly albeit silently come to terms with the fact that he is no more. Yes, there are occasions when his son takes out the laptop and scans the family album icon to see his father in various moods. There are few photographs he really loves to watch again and again, where his dad looks a different person and not the usual policewallah.There are times when his mother also joins him and every photograph reminds her of the beautiful days they spent together.
It is known that born and brought up in Madhya Pradesh, Karkare did his engineering (mechanical) in Nagpur and worked at the National Productivity Council and Hindustan Lever before making it to the IPS in 1982. An avid reader of books Hemant during his stint in the Chandrapur forests near Nagpur in 1991 took an interest in driftwood, discovered artistic shapes in them and converted them into wooden sculptures, making about 150 of them over a two-year period.
She still remembers how Hemant was contemplating leaving this job and joining some MNC, as he had slowly realised that he is not a fit person in the department. Of course, it had taken too long for him to realise this fact. Perhaps the twin pressures of undertaking an investigation in a professional manner and simultaneously bearing all those pressures from seniors and politicians had reached a limit. It was only in January (2008) that he had returned from a seven year stint outside the country working with Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and on his return was handed over the responsibility of Anti Terrorist Squad (ATS) in Maharashtra, which had earned lot of disrepute -especially in the eyes of the minority - for its functioning. The manner in which it had handled the Nanded bomb blasts ( April 2006) or Malegaon bomb blasts and also the bomb blasts in local trains (2007) had come under scanner. Perhaps the powers that be were keen that someone with a professional approach takes up the mantle and Hemant Karkare was found to be the ideal person for it. One can presume that there were strong political considerations behind this choice as the ‘secular’ image of the parties in power - at the state and the centre - had taken a lot of hit because of these mishandlings.
And Karkare demonstrated in a short span of time that he means business.
It was evident in the manner in which he led the investigations into the bomb blasts in Gadkari Rangayatan, Thane and Panvel (June 2008) and ultimately nabbed the Hindutva terrorists belonging to the Sanatan Sanstha and filed a few hundered page chargesheet against the accused in the stipulated time. Looking back it is clear that if the ATS would have been led by any other person who was less professional, it would have been impossible to expose the machinations of this ‘spiritual cult’ for whom ‘destruction of evildoers’ was part of ‘spiritual practice’. Although the main chargesheet against the accused did not contain names of the Sanatan Sanstha and Hindu Janjagruti Samity to which they belonged, he had promised in an interview that in a supplementary chargesheet this ommission would be corrected. It is a different matter that the day did not arrive.
Successful investigations into the Sanatan Sanstha affairs were followed by his meticulous work after the Malegaon bomb blasts (September 2008) wherein an explosive laden two wheeler was parked below the (now abandoned) office of SIMI, Bhikhu Chowk, Malegaon. Deaths of innocents in the bomb blasts that followed was routinely blamed on the Lashkar-e- Toiba and other ‘Jihadi’ organisations, without going into the details of the case. But once the case reached his office, he tried to look beyond stereotypes and saw to it that real culprits are apprehended.
Initially it appeared unbelievable but his untiring efforts exposed the sprawling network of Hindutva terrorists in the country which had saffron robed sadhus/sanyasin on the one hand army personnel on the other. Ranging from professionals to politicians owning allegiance to the Hindutva brigade, it had under its ambit a few wellknown faces of the brigade. It could be said to be one of the biggest operation undertaken by the Indian state against Hindutva extremism in the post-independence period and once its impact became known it infuriated many among them.
Kavita - Hemant Karkare’s wife - had learnt from newspapers that leaders of RSS,BJP, VHP and Shiv Sena were trying all possible means to decelerate the pace of investigations and were exerting lot of direct-indirect pressure on Karkare to go slow with the investigations. A few amongst them had even accused ATS of being on a witch-hunt and some had even demanded that ATS officers should be subjected to narco-analysis to establish their motives. L.K.Advani, BJPs Prime Ministerial candidate had even demanded a change in the ATS and an enquirty into the torture accusations made by the accused. All the top leaders of the BJP-Shiv Sena - who swore by the Indian constitution- had no qualms in declaring full support to the perpetrators and even arranging legal support for them.
It was evident that Hemant was not the usual self. He seemed to be under tremendous pressure from all quarters. Some thirty six hours before his death, a few channels had even reported about death threats received by him from some anonymous caller. The caller had threatened him with dire consequences for his ‘witch hunt’ and had said that they would finish him within next two-three days.
When she expressed concern over this news he had just smiled and tried to distract her attention from this topic.
How could anybody could have premonition that death was waiting for him in the wings ?
Would it be correct to say that only his family members and other near and dear ones still bear the pain of his untimely demise ? Definitely not.
There are hundreds or should one say thousands of people for whom it is still difficult to come to terms with his loss. Not a day passes when people do not mention his name and remember him for the task he had undertaken as part of his official duty. Not a day passes when people wish he was still alive and could complete the work which had nearly shaken the rightwing polity in the country and helped save a community from further criminalisation and terrorisation.
Streets of Malegaon, a Muslim majority town in Maharashtra, had witnessed an unusal spectacle last year when a big public meeting was organised there to rename one of the busy streets in the city to commemorate his memory. The whole gathering was emotional when speakers after speakers explained how Karkaresaab - a noble Hindu by birth - singlehandedly and with a sense of purpose unearthed the conspiracy hatched by the top guns of the Hindutva brigade to organise bomb blasts in different parts of the country to stigmatise the community. People remembered how the same department had adopted a very cavalier attitude about the bomb blasts in the city on Shab-e-Barat ( Sept 2006) and despite enough evidence at hand did not go after the Hindutva links in the blasts. It is known that although the powers that be were compelled to order a CBI investigation into the whole case after tremendous pressure was put on them by different sections of people but that enquiry has not made much headway. Interestingly this fresh investigation was ordered only after the local police had already filed a chargesheet in the case.
Naturally till date some people from the city and adjoining areas - belonging to the minority community - were still languishing in jails, who have been accused of engineering the blasts they did not committ. Few of the accused like Nurul Huda were subjected to repeated narco tests - supposedly to extract confession from him. His moving appeal in Urdu about his plight was carried by few publications in the area.
Looking at the fact that Karkaresaab, as head of the ATS, was conducting a thorough professional probe into a terror network centred on Hindu extremist organisations, which tremendously helped the biggest minority in the country in challenging its stigmatisation, it does not appear surprising then that well meaning people are still not ready to believe the ‘official version’ of Hemant Karkare’s death. There is a strong feeling that there is something fishy in the whole matter, which the government does not want to divulge to the people.
In fact the probe, which was happening for the first time in sixty plus year history of independent India, had huge ramifications, some leading into military and bomb-making training camps and politicised elements in the army, others into organisations and political leaders affiliated to the RSS-BJP.
Reports about the incident which detailed the circumstances which ultimately led to his death, have further complicated the matter.
In a writeup ( The Mumbai Terror Attacks: Need For A Thorough Investigation, R.H., 08 December, 2008’ www.countercurrents.org) the author provides details of the inconsistencies in the reports about the incident.
“..The earliest reports, presumably relayed from the police via the media, said that Karkare had been killed at the Taj, and Salaskar and Kamte at Metro. If this was not true, why were we told this? And why was the story later changed? Was it because it conflicted with eye-witness accounts? Indeed, under the heading ‘ATS Chief Hemant Karkare Killed: His Last Pics’, IBNlive showed footage first of Karkare putting on a helmet and bullet-proof vest, and then a shootout at Metro, where an unconscious man who looks like Karkare and wearing the same light blue shirt and dark trousers (but without any blood on his shirt or the terrible wounds we saw on his face at his funeral) is being pulled into a car by two youths in saffron shirts..
Later we were given two accounts of the killings where the venue is shifted to a deserted lane without cameras or eye-witnesses. The first account is by the lone terrorist captured alive, claiming to be A.A.Kasab from Faridkot in Pakistan and a member of the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba. ..According to the police, Kasab claimed he and Ismail had killed Karkare, Salaskar and Kamte.
The other account is by police constable Arun Jadhav. According to him, Karkare, Salaskar, Kamte, a driver and four police constables including himself were driving down the alley from VT to the back entrance of Cama (barely a ten-minute drive) in their Toyota Qualis to check on injured police officer Sadanand Date when two gunmen emerged from behind trees by the left side of the road and sprayed the vehicle with bullets, killing all its inmates except Jadhav.
These accounts raise more questions than they answer...”
And now it is learnt that the bulletproof jacket worn by Hemant Karkare at the time of the terrorist attack has gone missing. This has raised serious questions on the manner in which evidentially materials were preserved.
The normalised sounding atmophere in and around the small family of Kavita Karkare does not stop mind from hovering over questions related to his sudden death allegedly at the hands of the terrorists.Why was he instructed to handle the terrorists merely with two senior officers - another Indian Police Service officer Ashok Kamte and Vijay Salaskar - and without any back-up for him. It appears incredible to her that her husband - who was then head of the Anti-Terrorist Squad at the time of his death and received few death threats because of his exposure of the Hindutva terrorist network- had asked for a back up and had to wait for 40 minutes but no one was sent.
In one of the most publicised photographs of Hemant Karkare, which captured some of the last moments of his life, he was shown wearing the bulletproof jacket at CST ( Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus), Bombay and leaving the van and when his body was found, the bulletproof jacket was missing. In fact, Karkare’s wife Kavita had to file an application under RTI to know the status of the jacket. Despite wearing a bulletproof jacket, (as it was reported ) Karkare received three fatal bullet-injuries ‘in chest’ which put a question mark over the efficacy of these jackets to provide safety in the wake of such terror attacks.
"When his body was found, the bulletproof jacket was missing...even at the hospital...I filed RTI application a few months ago asking where the jacket was but the reply I got was that it is missing..," Kavita Karkare told PTI in an interview. She had also added "If a back-up had been sent as soon as Hemant had asked for it, then Kasab and the other terrorist could have been nabbed at Cama lane itself...,".When asked what her next course of action would be, if any, she said it was for the people to take the matter further.
Slain officer Ashok Kamte’s wife Vinita , too, had complained of reluctance to share details of wireless transcripts when she had filed an RTI in the matter. She had alleged that there was discrepancy in records maintained by the police which led to suspicion that the records could have been tampered with.
A layperson can understand that the revelations regarding the RTI query about the ‘missing bulletproof jacket’ would further strengthen the petition over the efficacy of bulletproof vests filed by Mr Santosh Daundkar and which is coming up in the High Court. An examination of Karkare's vest would have revealed if the jackets were indeed of inferior quality as suggested by the petitioner.
The said petition before the high court mentions the point that there were 16 violations of Store Purchase Manual and Maharashtra Public Records Act while procurring those 110 bulletproof jackets in 2002. And during the hearing of the case, the government said that the file had gone missing.
There is no doubt that the missing bullet proof vest gives further credence to the argument that there was something amiss with Karkare’s death and without reinvestigating the case it would be difficult to reach the kernel of truth.
It would also clear the doubt how Karkare died ? Whether he died because of bullets fired on the chest or bullet injuries on his neck.It is worth noting that Dr Bhalchandra Chikhlikar of the Grant Medical College had testified during 26/11 trial that Karkare had sustained five bullet injuries, but had not specified the location of wounds. As reported in the Times of India ( 13 Nov 2009, ‘Karkare’s bulletproof Jacket picked from rejected lot, Anil Singh) the said PIL filed by Mr Santhosh Daundkar “..[c]ontains excerpts of Chief Minister Ashok Chavan’s interview with an English TV news channel in which he said Karkare died because of bullet wounds to the head and neck and not to his torso.”
While the alleged acts of omission and commission in the purchase of bulletproof jackets - as claimed by the PIL - demand separate enquiry, at face valued it demonstrates the callousness of the higher ups in the department towards lives of their own people. Video clippings of Karkare donning the jacket on 26/11 clearly showed that it left a substantial part of his upper chest uncovered. Nobody bothered to note this design of the bulletproof jackets violated the specifications of the Defence Research and Development Organisation that they should stretch from the neck to the groin.
The PIL also makes a disturbing claim that the jacket worn by Karkare “..[w]as among a lot of 110 rejected first as sub-standard and bought later from same supplier without tests..... The petition says that the police commissioner’s office broke the rule by not testing the jackets before the purchase. In fact, the rule says that for very important and expensive goods, 100 percent inspection should be done from independent organisations.” (Times of India, 13 Nov 2009).
As the petitioner has been told - in response to his RTI query - the file pertaining to purchase of these jackets was not traceable and hence it was not possible to give any information, it would be further difficult to apportion blame to concerned officials who supervised the purchase of the jackets.
It is a different matter their callousness, indifference or connivance in procuring ‘substandard’ jackets. might have proved to be the main factor in the deaths of many of their own colleagues during the terrorist attack.. ATS chief Hemant Karkare happened to be one amongst them.
It is being rightly said that bulletproof jacket worn by Karkare - which stands missing ‘officially’ - would be able to throw light on the circumstances which led to his death.
But one also needs to look at the other related aspects of the case - which pertains to the the people/formations who were behind him forcing him to scuttle the probe and which had caused him lot of agony. Police officers who knew him well have reported how he “[w]as a disturbed man in the days leading to his death because of endless attacks on him over the Malegaon bombing probe.
Former Mumbai police chief Julio Ribeiro and retired police officer Sudhakar Suradkar both said that Karkare was not his usual self near the Cama hospital while going to take on terrorists on Wednesday night.
Calling Karkare a "rare officer", Ribeiro said that in the brief period he had known him, he could see that Karkare was "troubled with attacks on him by political parties".
..Hindu activists blasted Karkare for arresting an army officer and a Hindu ascetic, accusing the officer of anti-Hindu bias.
Added Sudhakar: "During the morning walks I often met Hemant. He seemed quite disturbed and hurt. Perhaps he was under mental stress. Unfounded and false implications had rattled him leaving him disillusioned."(DNA, IANS, Sunday, November 30, 2008 15:19 IST)
The Express Reporter who did a story the very next day of his death (Karkare’s response to a death threat: A ‘smiley’, Y.P. Rajesh, Posted: Thursday , Nov 27, 2008 at 1637 hrs, Indian Express) also provides the details of the pressure brought on him for cracking the Malegaon bomb blast case.
...That Karkare was affected by this was apparent when we met at his office on Tuesday to get an update on the probe, less than 36 hours before he was killed. The Indian Express has decided to break the confidence of what was an off-the-record conversation in an attempt to highlight the anguish of the investigators over the currents in which the Malegaon probe was getting caught as well as the larger debate over the politics of terror.
“I don’t know why this case has become so political,” was one of Karkare’s first comments. “The pressure is tremendous and I am wondering how to extricate it from all the politics.”
Was the pressure telling on the investigation, what with someone who could be the next prime minister of the country questioning the credibility of the ATS?
“Of course,” was the answer. “We are being very very careful. In fact, when we want to question a suspect and if he or she has any Hindutvawadi connections, we make sure once, twice, thrice, that we have enough reason and evidence to even question. Normally it is not like that. We are able to freely question anyone we suspect.”
It did not forget to share the spirit with which Karkare faced all these pressures
The previous evening, hours after our meeting, TV channels had ‘breaking news’ that he had received a fresh death threat from some unidentified caller, apparently in connection with the Malegaon probe. An Indian Express reporter SMSed him asking him if this was true or if he had anything to say. His reply: just a smiley.
It was worth noting that reporter from ‘Tehelka’ also discussed the last days of Karkare emphasising the pressures brought on him by the ring leaders of the Hindutva brigade.
‘Saamna’ the mouthpiece of Shiv Sena and other Hindutva publications had been carrying on a vilification campaign against him since it became known that he would not yield to any pressure. These organisations had even called for a Bombay bandh supposedly to expose the ‘witch hunt’ against the Hindus at the hands of ATS. And the terrorist attack and death of Hemant Karkare immediately changed the situation. If Karkare was villain for them the previous day, he became a ‘martyr’ the very next day for sacrificing his life during the terrorist attack.
Narendra Modi, who had accused Hemant Karkare of being a ‘desh drohi’ a traitor - a few days back , which can carry a death penalty in India- had no qualms in going to visit the bereaved family with an offer of financial assistance.
It was a different matter that Kavita, the indomitable life partner of Hemant Karkare, who was witness to the turmoil in her husband’s life for pursuing call of his duty without prejudice towards anyone, not only refused to meet ‘Hindu Hriday Samrat’ Mr Modi but also declined to take any financial assistance from him.
The missing bullet proof jacket, the ‘officially missing’ file pertaining to the purchase of the jackets, the non-availability of back-up van to a senior officer of his rank -at the time of emergency-, the contradictory reports which emanated about the incident and the pressures wrought on him from all sides and ‘lack of clarity’ about his actual cause of death - bullets in the torso or in the neck - even one year after the death, all these aspects of the case definitely add to the confusion about the case. And it becomes clear that for the powers that be it would be further difficult to brush aside all those people who have the audacity to still question, challenge the official version of the case.
Does not people have a right to know how a senior officer of his rank died ? Whether he died because of bullets fired from an AK 47 or 9 mm bullets fired from a revolver/carbine? In fact, his post mortem report needs to be made public..
Mystery behind his ‘missing jacket’ also needs to be revisited. Fact of the matter is that he was wearing the jacket and it ‘disappeared by the time that the corpse got to Sion hospital.’
Can it be said that this aspect it is inconsequential in this case as is claimed by a section among police fraternity? Definitely not.
It is also being said that some hospital staff might have removed it by mistake. Imagine any high profile death, the body reaching the hospital and the hospital staff engaging in removing/disposing things of the victims body. Definitely sounds unbelievable. In any such police case, the staff knows that crucial evidence can be lost if proper care is not taken.
Lest truth becomes a first casuality while investigating the Mumbai 26/11 terror attacks it is of utmost importance that a separate commission of inquiry is instituted to investigate the death of Hemant Karkare and his colleagues.
Interestingly there have been groups/individuals who have raised similar demands earlier itself. Ex-servicemens’ association of Mumbai demanded a thorough probe by a special investigation team under the supervision of the High court into the suspicious death of Hemant Karkare and to bring to book the real culprits and the brain behind the conspiracy. (Pudhari, Kolhapur, 17 Dec 2008). A public interest litigation was also filed by an advocate in the Mumbai high court claiming that since as head of ATS he had arrested workers of some Hinduist organisations, they might have had a hand in the killing. The high court also while disposing of the petition directed the investigating agency to investigate into the death of Karkare taking into consideration the concerns of the petitioner (Pudhari, Kolhapur, 19 Dec 2008) [Quoted in ‘Who Killed Karkare ?’ - S.M. Mushrif ]
Unless and until a thorough investigation is done doubts will linger on.
Not only people from Malegaon but from rest of the country - who yearn for secularism and democracy - would continue to look at the official version with scepticism. People would continue to believe that his death was part of a grand conspiracy hatched at higher level where he was eliminated taking advantage of the terrorist attack in the city.
They would continue to think that he was eliminated for investigating the terror network led by the Hindutva brigade which spanned the RSS, the IB and its affiliates within the military and security apparatus. His exposure of the fact that Samjhauta Express blast was the handiwork of Abhinav Bharat, his attempts to expose the links of Pravin Togadia to the Samjhauta Express blast and other blasts in the country in recent times and deciphering the connecting links between different terror attacks in the country, proved costly to him.
It is possible that all these ‘post facto rationale’ are rubbish and Karkare was killed by the terrorists themselves. But it would be necessary to prove it.
The powers that be cannot just hide behind empty slogans of patriotism.
When people demand answers it is definitely not a wise move to target them as traitors.