On March 12, 1993, when a series of 13 bomb blasts rocked Mumbai, I was in Khandala, enjoying a well-earned holiday with my friends. We had just taken our 12th Board exams, and needed to unwind. While exploring the natural beauty, I received a call from my father, who was in Delhi. He asked me to return home, immediately. It was strange because we were supposed to leave for Mumbai in the evening for two days. Sensing my alarm, he revealed one of the most disturbing news I have ever heard.
I will para-phrase: “Bombay has been hit by terrorists. Multiple bomb explosions have brought the city to a standstill, there is chaos and fear on the streets. Get back home, now!”
This was around 22 years ago. Today, I see the matter more clearly, I have better understanding.
Following a series of appeals, the Supreme Court of India rejected Yakub Memon’s final appeal on July 21, 2015. He is currently scheduled to be executed by hanging on July 30. While Yakub Memon, prime accused in the Mumbai blast case, did not plant and trigger the bombs himself, he facilitated the game-plan.
Meanwhile, Salman Khan is very unhappy. He has tweeted multiple times his displeasure at the prospect of Yakub Memon hanging. He has implored Tiger Memon to have a heart and stand up for his brother. He has urged him to be a man respectful and protective of his brother… People who are pushing for Yakub’s death are angry at Salman Khan’s supposedly anti-Indian tweets. But it doesn’t matter to Salman what such people think.
According to Indian intelligence, Memon financially assisted his brother Tiger Memon and Dawood Ibrahim in planning and executing the bombings. Memon allegedly handled Tiger’s funds and also funded the training of 15 youths who were sent to Pakistan to learn the art of handling arms and ammunition.
There is no doubt that Yakub’s guilt has been established. He must pay for the deaths of over 250 Indian people. But is the price death? No, considering the mitigating circumstances that eventually led to his arrest, and his conduct during the years behind bars.
The purpose of any punishment is to ensure that the crime is not repeated. It is supposed to act as a deterrent. It is intended to rehabilitate a criminal, to transform him and send him back to the mainstream. But what about cases where a criminal or a terrorist realises his guilt, accepts it with shame, and wilfully cooperates with the authorities for atonement? Should such social deviants be sent to the gallows?
Yakub is a patient of schizophrenia and has suffered under it for two decades. His medical condition alone should have been enough to influence the judges against awarding death sentence.
B Raman, former Additional Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, who was also responsible for the entire operation that led to his arrest, died a disturbed man. Until his death in 2013, he believed Yakub did not deserve to be hanged. As someone who was privy to ground realities, his words cannot be taken lightly. He was extremely troubled to see the trickery and deceit by officers of the investigating agencies, in the Mumbai courts and in higher courts, that he was once part of. Prime Minister Narsimha Rao personally directed the operation and knew of the tactics involved.
Mr Raman believed that while the country is above all else for the Indians, it can demand respect only by honouring its promises. The intelligence agencies, which represented India, gave its commitment for a fair trial. It was incumbent upon them to honour it, even if the person involved was Yakub Memon!
Mr Raman argued, ‘By bringing back Yakub Memon, the Indian State strengthened its standing.’ Actual culprits like Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Memon are at large, hiding in Pakistan, under the protection of the ISI, but we don’t do enough to bring them back to justice. Instead, we make a case of Yakub by putting him to the gallows.
Yakub Memon should be treated differently, he should be looked at from a different prism. He helped India appear as heroes because they managed to get their hands on Yakub, someone who was under Pakistan’s protection.
According to Mr Raman, the prosecution played a dirty hand. They wilfully withheld certain mitigating circumstances, they were not brought to the Court’s notice. Those circumstances, if made public, could have influenced decision making. The prosecution was only desperate for a quick death penalty and in their haste, chose to keep the Court in the dark about some crucial information.
No judge in this world will award death sentence to a man who took the initiative to surrender, and provided a suitcase full of information that vindicated most of India’s claims that Pakistan had a hand in the bomb blasts.
Yakub returned a changed man
In July, 1994, Yakub was casually picked up in Kathmandu, with the help of the Nepal police. He was driven across Nepal to an Indian territory, flown to Delhi, formally arrested in Old Delhi, and taken into custody for interrogation. The rest is history… 22 years of hard time, only to end up dead!
Why did he leave Pakistan so early after the blasts? Like Tiger and Dawood, he could have chosen to remain in hiding in Pakistan. There was no threat to his life there, the Indian forces couldn’t even fathom the idea of doing a covert operation to do a ‘pick up’ job in a hostile country. They had everything they needed. Yakub Memon, though, remained disturbed.
He arranged a secret journey from Karachi to Kathmandu to specially consult a relative and a lawyer. He wanted to know if it was advisable to surrender to the Indian authorities, his family included! He reportedly shared with his relative how he had begun to feel uncomfortable with Pakistan’s infamous Inter-Services Intelligence. He wanted to surrender to the Mumbai Police. He was strongly advised against taking such steps, and was asked to leave for Karachi at the earliest. Before he could board the plane, he was picked up on suspicion.
He cooperated. He even convinced members of his family to somehow escape the eyes of ISI and fly to Dubai and surrender to the Indian authorities. He became willing to reveal every information at his disposal, thereby helping the authorities answer many puzzling questions. He remained under lock & key for over 20 years! These are strong extenuating circumstance that ought to have been taken into account by the Courts.
Yakub deserved death only if one took into account his conduct before July 1994. But if one also considers, and one must, the post 1994 era, the case for death would have a weak foundation.
We don’t need to make an example just for the sake of it. Allowing Yakub to live, but behind bars, would have been the right thing to do. But I do not wish to stress the matter furthermore, lest the Supreme Court takes it as a contempt of court.