The more things change in the great republic of ours the more they remain the same. Many had suspected it when Afzal Guru from Kashmir was quietly hanged and buried inside the Tihar Jail in February 2013, ahead of the general elections.
And now as Yakub Memon is being ready to be executed after 21 years on the death row, India’s Muslims are all convinced that they have become the favorite sacrificial animals of the nation to be offered from time to time at the altar of public opinion to propitiate the gods of democracy and hyper-nationalism. Yet another ritual killing to satisfy some perverse longing, as Sukumar Muralidharan put it.
In the blessed land where cows are sacred, the Muslim blood is seemingly the cheapest commodity — to be shed from time to time in frenzied communal bloodletting, staged killings by law enforcement agencies or in judicially sanctioned murders of innocent men by the state.
The Muslims have become the new Jim Crows of the 21st century, taking over the exalted status that the Dalits, the low caste Hindus, have enjoyed for thousands of years.
Else, how do you justify hanging up someone who came forward, of his own volition, to surrender in order to clear his name and that of his family when he had ostensibly been under no compulsion to do so.
After all, when terror struck Mumbai in the summer of 1993 killing 257 people, Yakub Memon and his entire family had been safely away from the long arm of the law, first in Dubai where they had been holidaying and later in Pakistan where they all fled for fear of reprisals. Yakub has maintained all along that he had no foreknowledge of and had no hand in the conspiracy leading to the Bombay serial blasts.
More important, the prosecutor failed to offer a single piece of credible evidence to prove that Yakub or his family had anything to do with the attacks, apparently masterminded by the Mumbai underworld don Dawood Ibrahim and his henchmen, including Ibrahim ‘Tiger’ Memon, the eldest of Memon brothers.
The only crime that Yakub Memon and his family could be accused of is the sin of being related to Tiger Memon, who remains ensconced apparently in Karachi.
A classic case of the guilt by association. Since Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Memon remain beyond the reach of the Indian law, let us hang and imprison for life whoever we have got and get done with it. As Yakub reasoned in his moving letter to the chief justice of India written five years after his surrender, “According to the prosecution if one member does any wrong, entire family … can be punished and society can be shown that the justice is being done. The main reason for implicating us in the case is that we were in relation (to) and association of the prime accused. Now to be in relation to anyone is not a crime… We do not deny our relation and association with Ibrahim Memon …as a relative and nothing more.”
Above all, Yakub, his wife, his young daughter who was months old when he returned and the rest of the family are guilty of believing in the rule of law and objectivity and ability of the country’s judicial system to deliver justice.
Yakub returned in 1994 believing there would be a fair trial. He was plainly wrong. The special TADA court decreed capital punishment for him because of his “position of dominance” and the “gravity of the crime.” Similar logic was invoked later by the Supreme Court in the case of Afzal Guru, citing ‘public sentiment’ although no direct, incriminating evidence existed.
Ironically, the top court, which has just rejected Yakub’s clemency petition, last year commuted the death sentence of 15 convicts in view of their long wait on the death row. The court reasoned: “Incarceration, in addition to the reasonable time necessary for adjudication of mercy petitions and preparation for execution, flouts the due process guaranteed to the convict under Article 21.” The same due process has been denied to Yakub.
If he is eventually hanged next week, in the words of Punwani, the disturbing message that India will be sending out is this: If you have committed a crime and have been lucky enough to escape, good for you. “If you are suspected of having committed a crime but want to return to India to try and clear your name, be prepared for the worst. Far better to spend your life in luxury.”
Yakub and his family came back to India, as he insists in his letter to the Supreme Court, to “wipe out the stigma attached to our name” and because they had “faith in our government and judiciary” to do justice.
Were they wrong to do so?
Ironically, Yakub brought hundreds of documents that not only proved his innocence but had been critical to building the prosecution’s case in the Bombay blasts case against Dawood and Tiger Memon. He cooperated with the investigating agencies and provided vital leads which have been acknowledged. By turning themselves in and bringing all that crucial evidence Yakub and his family hoped they would get a reprieve, if not total forgiveness.
How wrong were they!
In his petition to the highest court in the land pleading his innocence, Yakub talks about his ordinary, if mundane, life before the fate snatched everything away: SSC with 70 percent, then college in the morning and work during the day, graduation, post-graduation, four years of hard work to become a chartered accountant, and then setting up his own CA firm with a Hindu partner, Mehta and Memon Associates.
“We were doing very well...I was very busy. The purpose of giving this brief about myself is to bring home just one single point: “WHERE WAS THE TIME TO HATE?…” (upper case in the original).
Indeed, the notoriously enterprising clan that he comes from is known to do little else than excel at minting money. There is no time to hate. In the interesting times that we live in though, there are enough reasons and excuses to hate and discipline the tribe that Yakub Memon and Afzal Guru happen to belong to.
It matters little if they are indeed guilty of the crimes they are accused of. Their original sin is enough to condemn them forever. They are guilty until proven otherwise. Every time. And heaven forbid if anyone should bring up the original crime in the chain of events that may have led to the audacious March 12, 1993 terror strikes on the symbols of India’s economic might, the endless dance of death in Mumbai after the demolition of the Babri Masjid on Dec. 6, 1992. More than a thousand people, mostly Muslims, were killed in the pogrom.
Yet, as Jyoti Punwani points out, neither those who presided over the destruction of the historical Babri Masjid in full view of the world nor those found guilty of orchestrating the subsequent riots were punished, even though criminal offenses were registered against the perpetrators and two judicial commissions named and indicted specific individuals for both crimes. Among those named were at least 31 police officers, who were charged with “extreme communal conduct” against the minority community including lynching, rape and murder. None of them has been punished.
Nearly all the offenders in both events not only managed to go scot-free; some of them went on to rule the country as federal ministers. BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani, who charioted the Ayodhya rath yatra, even graced the high offices of the home minister and deputy prime minister!
What does it all prove? That greatest of democracies are not above succumbing to the hysteria of the mob and failing the most vulnerable and dispossessed in their midst.
There are various degrees of equality before law and your guilt, or lack of it, has nothing to do with your crime.