Mumbai: It was considered the most clinching evidence in the entire trial of the Mumbai terror strikes of November 26, 2008, that ensured the noose for the sole surviving terrorist, Ajmal Amir Kasab, of the 10 who wreaked unprecedented mayhem in the country’s commercial capital for nearly 60 hours.
The testimony was provided by a minor Mumbai girl Devika N. Rotawan, 8, (then) — who took a bullet in the leg when Kasab and his associate opened fire inside the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus building that fateful night.
She, along with her father Natwarlal, was waiting to catch a train to Pune to meet her brother Bharat, 33.
“Suddenly, we heard some gunshots and loud booming sounds, people shrieking, crying, running helter-skelter. We were caught in the melee and the complete chaos… As we tried to escape, I stumbled, felt a numbing pain and blood oozing from my leg… I realized that I had been shot. I collapsed and was unconscious till the next day,” Devika, now 21, said recalling the chilling night of horror at the terminus.
Somehow, she was rushed to the Sir J.J. Hospital nearby where the next day, she underwent surgery to remove the AK-47 bullet lodged in her right leg.
Over the next six months, there were other surgeries on her leg and in the following three years it came to 6 operations which finally made her mobile and independent.
“She was very small… I lost my wife Sarika in 2006, and have two other sons. We cared for her despite great odds and little help coming for her education or future,” Natwarlal Rotawan told IANS.
“Those three years were bad… I initially shifted to my native Sumerpur village in Pali district (Rajasthan) where my father, brothers and other relatives cared for me. Soon, we had to return for the court cases,” Devika said.
Both daughter and father were not only the survivors of the 26/11 strikes but also the prime prosecution witnesses and it was finally their clinching evidence in their court sojourns in June 2009, that hammered the proverbial last nail in Kasab’s coffin’.
After exhausting all legal remedies under the Indian judicial system, Kasab was hanged (Nov. 21, 2012), but Devika had sacrificed her bubbly childhood, adolescence and next month will turn a 22-year-old woman, but still struggling on all fronts.
She somehow managed to complete her schooling from IES New English High School, Bandra East, limped her way to complete HSC from Siddharth College, Churchgate and is now pursuing her FYBA from Chetana College in Bandra.
“Initially we got around Rs 3.50 lakh as compensation, besides a medical aid of Rs.10 lakh We were promised a house under the EWS quota which has yet to materialize,” said Natwarlal.
“We have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, successive governments in Maharashtra… Modiji talks about ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’. What about Devika? My daughter challenged terrorists and Pakistan for our country… But we can only get to hear the PM’s empty promises,” he added bitterly.
“Her brothers Bharat, 33 and Jayesh, 26, recall the family’s onerous task of tending to their star kid-sister, often in deep pain, but restless.
“It involved taking her to hospitals at regular intervals, coaxing her to take medical doses, the trips to the high-security Special Court in Arthur Road Central Jail for the trial and her depositions, meeting the lawyers or police, going to government departments for her compensation, admission to colleges and other works…
“The police helped us immensely, we are grateful to them… Many times, they even carried little Devika in their arms for the court hearings. They felt our pain as they had lost many of their colleagues. But, the apathy of the politicians saddened us,” Natwarlal said.
On her future plans, Devika is firm on cracking the civil services to become an IPS officer. “It’s my dream for 12 years… I have not forgotten my tribulations. That would mean I have forgiven those terrorists. I will don the uniform and chase terror out of the country,” she adds softly, but resolutely, hinting at nerves of steel hiding her velvety demeanour.
“My daughter has shown the country what she is capable of… She has decided to dedicate her life for the nation… Now, the government and political leaders must keep their promises,” Natwarlal exhorted.