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|September 26, 2002|
The Rediff Special/Josy Joseph
They are the unknown and unsung heroes, the few brave men who made a real difference in containing the massacre at the Akshardham temple in Gandhinagar, Gujarat: police officers who crawled into the temple to take on the terrorists in the middle of the night; commandos martyred even as they helped finish off the terrorists; temple volunteers whose quick reactions saved many devotees; and the ascetics who calmed the people and assisted the security forces.
Some of those who made a difference on September 24 and 25:
These are the men who serve in the Swaminarayan sect's most hallowed temple. These anonymous men from around the country -- engineers and others -- became heroes.
Atul: He was one of the first persons to spot the terrorists. When he questioned them for jumping over Gate Number 3, they revealed their weapons and fired at children playing on the ground nearby. Instead of running for his life, the brave Atul moved out of the terrorists' way and quickly alerted others on the intercom. This first alert was perhaps the single most critical factor in reducing the death toll. On hearing his warning, other temple volunteers quickly shut the doors leading to the main temple and to the different halls, thus cutting off most of the devotees from the terrorists. Atul is responsible for saving many lives.
Sanjay Khamar and Sanjay Kulkarni: Sanjay Khamar, a 30-year-old engineer doing volunteer work at the temple, and his friend Sanjay Kulkarni were working in the vast multimedia centre. Even as the alert was sounded, the terrorists barged into the adjoining hall, firing indiscriminately. The two Sanjays risked their lives by going up to the door, even as the terrorists were shooting out barely a few feet away. A stray bullet could have killed either or both of them. The Sanjays' brave act saved the lives of about 80 people inside the multimedia centre. Through most of the night, these two men kept the crowd inside calm and supplied them tea from their stock, while outside security forces battled the terrorists. Most of the devotees who were killed were in Hall Number 1, which adjoins the multimedia centre.
Kordsinh: He did not give his first name. A volunteer, he was at the main temple where about 100 people were praying when he received a call on the intercom alerting him about the terrorists. He quickly dragged the massive doors of the temple and locked them from inside, thus keeping the terrorists out. The door is a huge rosewood structure, nine inches thick, with a brass cover. The terrorists headed straight for the main temple and started firing at the door. One of the bullets pierced through the door, ricocheted against the floor and hit Kordsinh's leg. Security officers believe had Kordsinh not shown the presence of mind to shut the main temple door, the terrorists could have captured many of the devotees inside, leading to a long-drawn hostage crisis.
Despite the mayhem all around, they remained calm and kept a vigil over devotees all through the night. The information the swamis provided the police and the paramilitary proved priceless. Brahmavihari Swami and his colleagues briefed state police officers and National Security Guards commandos about the temple layout, using the help of a wooden model of the temple complex. Brigadier Raj Seethapathy, who headed the NSG team at Akshardham, acknowledged that the operation became "very easy" because of the brilliant briefing by the swamis.
Tragically, one swami, Parameshwar Swami was killed in the terrorist attack. He sustained injuries and breathed his last on September 25, when he was evacuated from the complex. His colleagues mourned in silence, and controlling their grief, issued a statement calling for peace, harmony and religious tolerance.
The Gujarat police were much maligned for their acts of commission and omission during the riots. But on September 24, the police officers and men redeemed themselves. They were at the temple as soon as the crisis broke, helped evacuate the injured, and also ensured that no untoward incident broke out in the state. Though the NSG finally ended the siege, the police provided able support during the commando raid, losing a man, Arjun Singh, in the process.
R V Brahmbhatt, superintendent of police at Gandhinagar, was present at the temple all through the crisis. When he was taking on the terrorists on September 24, he suffered a bullet injury in his hand. Undeterred, Brahmbatt was back in action a few hours later with one hand in a sling.
Gujarat Inspector General of Police V V Rabbari was with Arjun Singh when the commando raid began, and was barely a foot or two away from the latter when he was killed.
NATIONAL SECURITY GUARDS
The Black Cats from Delhi landed six hours after the siege began. They ended the siege without any major damage to the temple. In the operation, they lost a commando, Suresh Yadav, while five others suffered injuries. The team led by Brigadier Raj Seethapathy lived up to its reputation and returned to Delhi the next day, ready for another battle.
Design: Uday Kuckian
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