Kavita Karkare had become the face of the stoic widow, especially as her husband Hemant Karkare was killed in the terror attack of 26/11. As Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS) chief, he had become controversial for tracking the real culprits in the Malegaon blasts. It was the first time we would hear about saffron terror.
Today, as news of his widow's sudden death comes in, my mind is filled with sadness, even as I am aware of her changing position. When I wrote about it, I had felt another sadness — about the helplessness that prompts it.
While Ms. Karkare was sought to be cotton-wooled by the 'Enough is enough' brigade that discovered its superficial political moorings after their Taj hotel was attacked, she did not join in. It can be tempting, not due to natural greed but need for empathy to grab at any hand, even the gloved one, to hold on to. It must take immense courage and integrity not to even at the risk of being rendered alone.
In those initial days, she mourned but not with mere tears. She did so as the partner of a man who had a mission, and who did not get trapped in the ideology of the powerful. It must not have been easy to hold on to the legacy of one who exposed majoritarian terror. It is no wonder that Shiv Sena chief, the late Bal Thackeray, had opposed her.
The reason was something that would surprise anybody, given that the 2008 attack was an internationally broadcast event and made us global victims, like the US. Kavita Karkare publicly said there should be leniency in justice for Kasab on humanitarian grounds.
This would be shocking not only if you are a pro-death proponent, but also because it would make you unpatriotic. After all, Kasab was Pakistani. Indeed, Ms. Karkare was a sensitive person and one might not have liked her to decide on matters of the court. But, then, many were demanding death, which is also interference.
However, it wasn't so much her interest in ultimate justice that made her a source of discomfort for the establishment. She became an outspoken critic of the conditions under which the police worked. There was already discussion about how the ATS chief's bullet-proof vest went missing.
His widow did not keep quiet. When the Ram Pradhan Committee report on 26/11 exonerated the Mumbai Police, she said:
“If nobody had been at fault, I would not have lost Hemant. The chief of ATS died like a dog on the street, but nobody wants to take the responsibility. I expected this. Somebody had already told me that it was going to be a goody-goody report. Nobody wants to take responsibility. Everybody is giving clean chit to everybody.”
This was a bold stand that was to keep some people high up on edge.
Later, there was a slight change. She began talking about how Hindus were responding now to how Muslims respond when one of theirs is a suspect. This could be true, but she never mentioned it before. She also came out with "Hang Kasab". It was probably a culmination of the accumulated anger against the system that could not stop him from doing what he did.
She spoke against people politicising her husband's death.
I was upset with what looked like a volte face then and an infringement, for she had stood untarnished in intent even when it was difficult. It is this that I will remember her for. That refusing the compensation money offered by a man who hated Hemant Karkare and was from another state — the then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. The idealism lived within her, but wasn't confined.