MUMBAI: India on Tuesday marked the fifth anniversary of militant attacks on Mumbai with memorial services and prayers as victims recounted the three days of carnage that left 166 people dead.
Government ministers and relatives of victims laid wreaths at a memorial in south Mumbai dedicated to police and security forces killed trying to stop the gunmen during 60 hours of bloodshed in 2008.
Ten militants arrived by sea on the evening of Nov.26 and carried out a massacre at luxury hotels, a railway station, cafe and Jewish center as terrified civilians tried to escape the bloody assault.
Live television footage was beamed around the world as commandos battled the gunmen, before authorities finally regained full control of the city three days later. About 300 people were injured.
Devika Rotawan was 10 years old when she was shot in the leg as the militants raided Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminal firing indiscriminately at people.
“My life was peaceful before the attacks… it is not the same now. Though my leg has recovered, it still pains when I run or walk for a long time,” Rotawan, who turns 15 next month, said.
“The memories of the attacks as still fresh… each time I go to the CST station, I get the shivers,” said Rotawan, who wants to join the police force after finishing school.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and top police officers laid floral tributes at the memorial along Mumbai’s Marine Drive — just a short distance from the spot where the sole surviving gunman was captured.
“At that time we did not know of the gravity of the situation,” said assistant police inspector Bhaskar Kadam, who won a medal for his role in battling the militants.
Kadam killed one of the militants and was part of the police team that captured the surviving gunman Mohammed Ajmal Kasab as he tried to flee in a stolen car — an encounter that left his colleague dead.
Kasab was hanged last November after a lengthy trial for his role in the attacks.
Both New Delhi and Washington blame the attacks on the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba.
India has pressed Pakistan to bring the alleged masterminds of the attacks to justice. Pakistan charged seven men in 2009 over the attacks and has started a trial there, but says it needs to gather more evidence before proceeding further.
Lawyers for the seven Pakistanis said Monday the case against them “lacks evidence” and claimed the Indians only had themselves to blame for the slow progress.
On Tuesday security was strengthened at the places, which came under siege, including the landmark Taj Mahal Palace hotel, which will hold its own private memorial service.
On the eve of the anniversary, the author of an acclaimed new book on the tragedy warned that India failed to learn the lessons from the assault.
Adrian Levy, whose book “The Siege” highlights striking failures in India’s response to the attacks, said he feared security had barely improved since then.
India’s Hindustan Times newspaper also questioned the city’s security and pointed to still “fraught” ties with Pakistan despite efforts to improve relations between the two rival neighbors.
State Police Chief Sanjeev Dayal however rejected the concerns, saying “we are better prepared to take on such attacks in the future.”
“On this day, we are re-dedicating ourselves to serving the nation and society.”