Qasab execution: Mumbai attack survivors react

Members of Bharatiya Janata Party celebrate hanging of Qasab in Mumbai on 21 November 2012
Image caption Some in India have been celebrating the hanging of Qasab

Survivors and family members have been reacting to the news that Ajmal Qasab, the only person convicted for the 2008 Mumbai attacks, has been hanged.

Mukesh Agrawal stays well away from Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus train station these days. Four years ago, he was working at his newly-opened restaurant in the food plaza when he came face-to-face with death.

"It was around 9:45pm [1615 GMT] and I was about to shut shop. I was near my cash counter when all of a sudden I saw people throwing grenades. I saw a man coming towards me holding something long in his hand. After that I didn't see anything."

Mr Agrawal was shot in the stomach and lost consciousness seconds later. In a coma for 15 days, he had to have parts of his intestine removed, and fragments of shrapnel remain in his armpit.

Closed-circuit TV camera footage revealed the man who pulled the trigger on him was Qasab.

At 0730 on Wednesday morning, after months of appeals, Qasab was hanged. The news has been a cause of celebration for Mr Agrawal, coming at the start of the Hindu New Year, which began last week.

"This is the best possible New Year gift one can get. It's a beautiful thing," he said.

"They caught him red handed, yet it took them this long to do this," he says, adding that the money which was spent on keeping Qasab in jail would have been better spent on providing support and assistance to victims like him.

'A deterrent'

Pakistani national Qasab was charged with mass murder and waging war on India for his role in the events of 26 November 2008, in which a series of co-ordinated attacks took place around the city, including at the busy and packed train station, five-star hotels and a Jewish outreach centre.

Image caption Actress Amrita Raichand says it's an important day for Mumbai

Kaizad Bhamgara was a few steps away from Qasab on that fateful evening.

The 23-year-old began that day by having drinks with friends at one of the city's most famous bars, Cafe Leopold.

"Suddenly intense firing began, so we ran to the nearby Taj Hotel. There we saw blood everywhere and people dying, so we got out, and ran to the train station to go home, only to find people being killed there too.

"We lay down at the station pretending to be dead on the ground. Only two in our group of nine survived."

Mr Bhamgara, who plans to celebrate Qasab's hanging with friends, says it has finally provided some closure on what happened.

He supports the use of the death penalty: "Something like this acts as a deterrent and as an example for people to know not to do things. I'm very happy with the death sentence, if one man kills another man, this works effectively to give justice," he says.

The attacks were indiscriminate - among those killed were locals and foreign nationals, the wealthy and the poor, and people from all religions.

"He showed no mercy on anyone, so why should we show mercy on him," asks Solomon Sopher, president of the Baghdadi Jewish community in Mumbai, who agrees with the punishment.

'A jubilant moment'

One of the targets on 26/11 was a Jewish centre in the city, Nariman House, which left Sopher's close friend Rabbi Holtzberg and his wife among the dead.

Many survivors and relatives of those who died have been frustrated at the Indian justice system, arguing that the death penalty could have been carried out earlier.

Businessman Dilip Mehta, who was trapped in the Taj Hotel for nine hours as the attacks took place, says it points to a failure in the Indian judicial system.

"It had taken way too long, and we'd almost given up hope, so the news was a jubilant moment," says Amrita Raichand, a TV actor who was at the Taj Hotel celebrating her birthday on 26 November when the attacks began.

She has been "jumping up and down in excitement, and emotion" at the news, but argues that the Indian government needs a fast-track system to deal with these kinds of cases.

"Taking revenge for all the pain was really important in this case. Terrorism cannot be treated on the same platform as regular criminals, we cannot have long processes to convict them."

Ms Raichand says the uncertainty over whether Qasab would be hanged also took a toll on the collective consciousness of the people of Mumbai: "The city came together on that day and almost everyone knew someone who died or was injured in the attacks, for the first time we were all directly connected. This is a very important day for Mumbai."

Bittersweet time

News that Qasab's life had ended was a shock and surprise to many. Some relatives, however, are sceptical about the announcement.

Image caption Kaizad Bhamgara lost seven friends in the attack

Bharat Waghela, whose brother Subash was shot dead during the attack, is not sure whether Qasab is even dead.

"I'm not sure whether this thing really happened or not - he might still be alive. It all happened without anyone really knowing," he said.

But most relatives simply welcome the news, even if it is a bittersweet time and serves as a reminder of their loved ones.

"I just broke down and cried because it brought it all back, it's a heartbreaking experience for everybody," says Kia Scherr who lost her husband and daughter in the attack.

They had travelled to Mumbai for a meditation retreat from the United States and were killed as they dined at the Oberoi Hotel.

"Qasab's death is a kind of closure that brings peace, after a lot of unrest in the city. Now it's time to move on," she said.

Ms Scherr forgives Qasab for his actions: "Forgiveness is a bridge to peace... It doesn't mean I'm not outraged but I'm not going to spend my life in anger and resentment."

That said, Ms Scherr does support the death penalty on this rare occasion. "It's just appropriate," she says.

Ms Scherr spends much of her time in Mumbai now and has set up a charity, One Life Alliance, to promote peace and positivity among people, following the attacks. She says she wants a good outcome from something so horrific.

For her and other victims of the attacks, the 26/11 anniversary, which is just days away, will always be a painful one, but the sense that someone has been finally held accountable for the deaths makes the sense of injustice slightly more bearable than before.