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'Karkare believed that we need to stand up for our rights'

Suman Guha Mozumder | December 12, 2008 09:51 IST

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Trial lawyer Naresh Gehi once took on the Federal Bureau of Investigation when the agency jailed an Indian American because his name and date of birth matched with those of a suspected terrorist. Gehi tenaciously fought the case against the FBI and eventually got him freed.

Gehi, who felt that it was his duty to fight for justice, didn't charge his usual fees for the case.

And Gehi credits Mumbai Anti-Terrorism Squad's slain chief Hemant Karkare [Images] as the inspiration behind his fighting spirit. "I must tell you, whatever I am today is because of Karkare," Gehi told, recalling his association with the policeman.

The story goes back to 1992, when Gehi was a student of the New Law College in Mumbai, of which Karkare was an alumni. Karkare, who was then a deputy commissioner of police, used to come to the college to judge legal debates.

Gehi recalls how Karkare used to encourage the students to think big and to do something for the betterment of India. He also encouraged Gehi, who was a good student and later became a gold medalist in his subject.

"At that point of time in my life, I did not feel I was a very bright or a very good student, but he was the kind of man who could motivate you and make you feel that you are very good," Gehi said.

Things changed forever for Gehi, thanks to a chance dinner meeting with Karkare a year later, at a Chinese restaurant.

Gehi, who has received the best lawyer's award from NYC, vividly remembers every detail of that evening. He was sitting in one corner of the restaurant when he noticed that a man was looking at him. "Initially, I couldn't recognise him but suddenly, I realised that this was none other than the 'Great Hemant Karkare'. Before I could say anything, Karkare called me over to his table and asked me to join him for dinner," Gehi reminiscences.

He would never forget the fact that Karkare, who had met him casually a year ago, not only remembered him but called him by his first name. "I said, man, this guy has such a powerful memory," Gehi recalled.

During dinner, Karkare talked about the plight of the police department and told Gehi what young people like him could do for India and its people, so that the country can progress.

"I still remember his words. 'He said people need to stand up for their rights. The problem in India is that people are very docile. Change needs to be brought about in India. He also said, in a polite way, that the political spectrum of the country was not very good and that politicians are responsible for a lot of the problems, in the sense that they do not allow the police force to do good things," Gehi said.

"He said that anytime the police want to do something, the politicians get involved.  He talked about the doctrine of separation of powers that would keep politicians, whether in states or at the Centre, focused on lawmaking and not encourage them to call policemen and municipal officers, telling them what to do and what not to," Gehi recalled.

"Basically, the conversation centered on what young people like us can do to improve India's situation," Gehi said. "I took his advice absolutely seriously and because of him I am what I am today," he added.

Gehi, who is a community activist in Long Island, said that the meeting with Karkare has left an enduring imprint on his life.

"Hemant's advice was that the role of an intelligent man in society is to put a certain amount of his or her time for the betterment of Indians, wherever they may be. At the dinner table more than 15 years ago, it was a learning experience for me. I do not want to talk about myself, but whatever I am doing today besides my profession is all due to Hemant.  These things (the fighting spirit, the desire to do things for the betterment of the community) came to me after I met Hemant, who really inspired me. People forget that change begins from you," Gehi said.

Gehi could not control his tears when he heard that his idol had been shot dead by terrorists during the terror strike in Mumbai last month.

 "I have always regarded him as a genius. It was the saddest thing in my life to hear about Hemant's death. It was a personal loss for me. I lost a man who mentored me and I have lost a man who was one of the best guys in my country," Gehi said.

Gehi is planning to raise money in the US for 'a brave police officers fund', to honour those officials who gave up their lives during the terror attack on Mumbai.

"I have decided to give a certain amount, but I do not want to talk about my contribution. That is not important. I am trying to call one of the police officers to find out how we can help. As far as  the size of the fund is concerned, it depends on people here and India. We are going to start the initiative right after the mourning period is over. I do not want to tell you how much we would be able to raise eventually. After all, I am not a politician. I am trying to get things done to honour those brave policemen," Gehi said.

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