The million-dollar question in India today is whether Yakub Memon will hang on July 30. Convicted in the 1993 Mumbai serial explosions, which killed about 350 people and injured over 1000, and condemned to die, Memon is now in a Nagpur jail (in the state of Maharashtra, whose capital, Mumbai, is also India’s most important financial and commercial hub) — where preparations have begun for his execution.
Memon is the only one of the 11 convicted in the undeniably inhuman bombings in the most crowded parts of Mumbai, who is slated to walk to the gallows. The sentences of the others have been commuted to life.
The two men who supposedly masterminded the blasts, Ibrahim Dawood and the brother of Memon, Tiger Memon, have not been arrested; they are said to be living between Pakistan and Dubai.
In what seems like a do-or-die eleventh-hour bid to save himself from the noose, Yakub Memon moved the Supreme Court — yet again — on July 23 challenging the “undue haste” in serving him the so-called black or death warrant “without following the due process of law.” The court will hear his plea on July 27.
In fact, a special court issued the black warrant at the end of April, much before Memon had exhausted all legal options, and the judicial writ reached him even as his curative petition to the Supreme Court was pending. The law is very clear on this: no black warrant till the man convicted to die has no more legal avenues to explore.
Such haste in the case of Memon indicates in no uncertain terms that the Maharashtra government (law and order is a state subject), run by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is bent on throwing the noose around him on July 30.
The order to execute Memon came despite strong representations for leniency. In an article written many years ago by the late B. Raman — a respected officer of the Research and Analysis Wing who helped Memon return from Pakistan in 1994 — and which was published by Rediff.com only the other day, he said: “I was disturbed to notice that some mitigating circumstances in the case of Yakub Memon and some other members of the family were probably not brought to the notice of the court by the prosecution and that the prosecution did not suggest to the court that these circumstances should be taken into consideration while deciding on the punishment to be awarded to them … In their eagerness to obtain the death penalty, the fact that there were mitigating circumstances does not appear to have been highlighted.”
Raman also wrote that Memon “cooperated with the investigating agencies and assisted them by persuading some other members of the Memon family to flee from the protection of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in Karachi to Dubai and surrender to the Indian authorities … The cooperation of Yakub constitute, in my view, a strong mitigating circumstance to be taken into consideration while considering whether the death penalty should be implemented.”
If Raman’s hitherto-kept-under-wraps article has added to the growing doubts about the severity and unfairness of the punishment being meted out to Memon, a statement by Asaduddin Owaisi, chief of the All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, alleging that Yakub has been given capital punishment because of his religion, has fuelled the fire.
Both Raman’s view and Owaisi’s outburst have merely added to the fears that India’s minorities had been harbouring against the BJP and its staunchly Hindu allies — a discomfort that has been growing since the rise of their influence in the political arena.
Persecution against religious minorities (notably Muslims and Christians) has been on the rise. In early 1992, Hindu mobs demolished the historic Babri Mosque in Ayodhya (state of Uttar Pradesh), saying that the land should be used for building a Ram (Hindu god) temple.
In 2002, hundreds of Muslims were butchered in the state of Gujarat as a retaliation for the murder of 59 holy Hindu men travelling by a train in the region. India’s present prime minister Narendra Modi was the chief minister of the state then, and he was blacklisted by the US and denied a visit visa for many years.
It is not just Muslims who have had a trying time in India. So have Christians. In January 1999, an Australian Christian missionary, Graham Stuart Stains, and his two young sons. aged six and 10, were burnt alive as they were sleeping in their station wagon in a village in the state of Odisha. Stains was accused of trying to convert the local population to Christianity.
In the years that followed, there have been many instances of churches being desecrated by radical Hindu groups, and Christian nuns being raped.
The America-based Human Rights Watch accused the BJP government of failing to stop atrocities on Christians. The organisation regretted that onslaughts on the community had increased since the party came to power.
Given this unease among India’s minorities, a fair deal to Yakub Memon could work wonders to restore the confidence of India’s minorities.
But the government appears mulish in its resolve to hang Yakub Memon.
Gautaman Bhaskaran is an author, commentator and movie critic, who has worked with two of India’s best regarded daily newspapers, The Statesman in Kolkata and The Hindu in Chennai for 35 years, and who now writes for the Hindustan Times, the Gulf Times and The Seoul Times.