This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Youth Ki Awaaz. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

The 26/11 Attacks Took A Part Of Mumbai Away From Me… Forever

More from Youth Ki Awaaz

By Rohit Khilnani:

I’m born and raised in Mumbai and am proud of my city. I fight when people crib about the traffic, space, weather and so on. No bitching out my city to me!

As a reporter, I have covered the Ghatkopar bus blast in 2002, the cloudburst of 2005, the train bombings of 2006 and just when I thought all this reportage had made me tough, I witnessed and covered 26/11.

I must say, I am lucky to not to have lost any loved ones in the attack. I suffered the least because I had no friends or family inside the Taj or Oberoi on that fateful night of 26 November 2008. I covered the siege from outside, I can’t even imagine what it must have been like for the people who came face to face with those terrorists.

Yogita Limaye (now my wife) and I were reporters in CNN-IBN’s Mumbai bureau, I covered entertainment and she did the sensible stuff, covered news. It all started when we were having dinner at Jai Hind Café in Lower Parel, both of us were almost done with work. She was on the evening shift when the news of gunfire in South Mumbai broke.

Initially, it was unclear what had happened, so she being the reporter on duty went to the Chattrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) to check. When she reached CST, she could hear gunshots, the terrorists were not far from her. The thought still crosses our minds as to what if the terrorists had seen her while they were crossing the over-bridge after gunning down people at CST? She was right there.

I, meanwhile, had no time to check on her because I rushed to The Oberoi Trident in Nariman Point, as reports of gunfire from other locations started coming in.

It feels weird, because normally people run away from such spots, they ensure their loved ones are safe and nowhere close to the places under attack. And we were doing exactly the opposite. We choose to go where there is trouble, that’s our job, we enjoy the adrenaline rush.

This was the first terror attack of its kind and most of us reporters knew that we would have a story to tell, if we lived through it. Fact is that journalists live in denial, even in the most hostile situations, we always think, “There is no way, we will be killed. No, that’s not going to happen.”

I covered the 26/11 Mumbai attacks for 3 consecutive days outside the Oberoi Trident. Till then I had never heard what a bullet shot sounded like, but that day, all I heard were gunshots and even grenade blasts. Every time there was a blast inside the hotel, the ground outside would shake and we would just hold each other’s hands.

After about two hours of standing outside the hotel and waiting for something to happen, I heard some crime reporters talking about two terrorists being chased in a Skoda car. So my cameraperson and I drove off in our office car and were stopped at Chowpatty by the police. As I got off the car, I saw a few Mumbai police constables battling it out with two terrorists using their lathis, one of them was Kasab.

The terrorists were taken away in a police van and the location was cleared within minutes, so we rushed back to the Oberoi hotel. The cops standing there told us that they had just killed two terrorists, they didn’t know Kasab was alive.

On reaching Oberoi, which is at the other end of the same stretch on Marine Drive, we were told to be careful of police vans, as some terrorists had hijacked a police van. So we were all hiding behind trees and OB vans.

When I looked up at the hotel in front of me, I could see people standing close to the windows, they were frantically waving asking for help. But nobody was in a position to help them, I wondered what it must be like to be in those rooms. You cannot dare to step out and if anyone knocks on your door, you don’t know if the person wants to save your life or take it!

The next morning, NSG commandos went inside the hotel but the gruesome attacks went on for another day! The following morning we saw choppers heading towards Colaba, they were going to Nariman House, another building which terrorists had attacked. That was the only spot that was not cleared, by then both the Oberoi and Taj Mahal hotel were scanned and cleared by the NSG. By the third day I was drained out, not physically but mentally.

The impossible had happened, terrorists were home, amongst us in my city. Over the next few days, I heard so many stories of horror and sadness about and from people who had lost their loved ones. The papers were full of obituaries, pictures of young and old, all who died that very day from a bullet fired by the terrorists. The front page of newspapers were filled with photos of bodies and blood.

This photograph of a cop helping a senior citizen walk out of CST littered with luggage, pairs of slippers and the blood of the dead, moved me to tears.

For me, the most disturbing element of the 26/11 attack was the CCTV footage from the Taj and Oberoi. It looked like you were watching a video game, the only difference being that these were real people getting killed and that was real blood. How casually the terrorists walked inside the hotel and how calmly they fired and threw hand grenades, it was shocking.

Life in Mumbai changed after that day and everyone says the city moved on. Of course it will move on because life has to go on. But we did pay a price. I realised that much later. We go through baggage screenings and checks before entering a five star hotel in our own city, of course it’s for our safety but this didn’t happen before 26/11/2008. I haven’t enjoyed a meal at a five star since then. Once I am inside, all I think of is the carnage. I look out for exits, what if terrorists enter right now, which side should I run? This thought definitely crosses my mind.

When I enter the Taj Mahal lobby, I shut my eyes for a second and think of that day. This place was a battlefield; dead bodies and bullet shells covered the floor. I open my eyes and everything is normal, everyone is busy but I cannot forget that day. I visited CST recently to meet the PRO, I stopped and saw hoards of people rushing to catch their trains back home. I shut my eyes and I see all these people dead. The images and memories are no further away than yesterday.

Have I moved on? I don’t know. My friends advised me to take some help to forget about the incident, but it’s impossible to forget or maybe I don’t want to forget it. It’s important for me to not forget that day because it was a real day when humans killed other humans and walked over their bodies. They didn’t even spare the Labrador guard dog inside the Taj lobby and in my books that’s an awful thing to do.

A lot of cities have been attacked over the years, New York, Mumbai, Karachi, Paris, Mali etc. We see similar scenes on the news, similar photos in the newspapers and stories of horror and sadness. Every time a city is attacked, I remember 26/11. The story is always the same, only the city changes.

26/11 took a part of Mumbai away from me… forever!


This article was first published here on The Quint.


Image source: Manoj Patil/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
You must be to comment.

More from Youth Ki Awaaz

Similar Posts

By Anshul Abraham

By Aditya Lakshmi

By Uday Che

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below