A court had found Yakub Memon guilty of complicity in the Mumbai blasts and other courts had reaffirmed the verdict. Of that there can be no doubt.
People might argue about whether he deserved the death penalty or whether he was being hanged in lieu of his brother Tiger or whether India was reneging on some kind of deal it had made with him for his cooperation in the investigation. And others might be opposed to capital punishment simply on principle.
But that does not change, or even challenge, the guilty verdict delivered on Memon.
That is why the images of thousands of mourners bidding him farewell is a disquieting one, even as it remains their right to do so. A report in the Indian Express talks about mourners coming from Kurla, Malad, Jogeshwari, Mumbra and Kalyan, by train, motorcycle and car. “I’ve worked here for 30 years,” said the florist inside Bada Qabrastan. “Aisa manzal pehle nahin dekha (Never seen such a sight before).” To accommodate the swelling crowd there were two sets of funeral prayers – one at the Mahim dargah and one at the funeral ground. The police allowed that but refused to allow Memon’s face to be uncovered for one last glimpse.
The whole affair seems to be have been conducted with restraint and dignity on all sides, without naarebaazi (slogan shouting), but it still leaves an uncomfortable question hanging, if one can use that word.
Whether there was valid reason to commute his sentence or not, did Yakub Memon deserve such a hero’s farewell?
The Memon family’s involvement in the 1993 bomb blasts is not really being disputed. Usman Majeed, a militant turned MLA in Kashmir tells The Telegraph about meeting Tiger Memon in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. He says he asked Tiger why he carried out the blasts. Tiger told him that he was “emotional” after some weeping Muslim women came to him, carrying a tray of bangles and asked him to wear them for sitting idle after the riots. If the Mumbai blasts were a reassertion of Tiger Memon’s wounded masculinity, Yakub was hardly the Vibhishana of the story, harbouring a moral disagreement with his brother’s actions from the get-go. Yakub did flee the country. Courts did find him guilty of having organised the complicated financial dealings that distributed payments to the accused. By saying that apart from Tiger, no other member of the Memon family was involved in the blasts, he might have hoped he could get the rest of the clan off the hook, but that is another matter.
Even S Hussain Zaidi’s book Black Friday: The True Story of the Bombay Bomb Blasts, while saying Yakub Memon’s return “paid rich dividends for the CBI” in terms of adding up to “significant confirmation of Pakistan’s involvement”, still says Yakub had, by his early thirties, acquired the reputation of being a “criminal” albeit “the best read and smartest criminal that the Bombay police had ever known.”
Perhaps many see Yakub Memon not so much a hero but as a victim of double standards. Let us note that double standards do not mean Yakub is innocent, just that others accused or convicted of terror crimes have eluded the death sentence. Over 900 died in the 1992-1993 riots in Mumbai and many more in the 1984 riots around the country but their perpetrators have largely escaped justice. But the images of a sea of Muslim mourners feed into an impression of two Indias, each caught increasingly in its vicious circle of victimhood. In a column in The Telegraph, Swapan Dasgupta writes, “The theme of Muslim victimhood is a recurrent theme of the pro-clemency lobby, to which has been brought the alleged perfidy of the Indian intelligence agencies.”
Dasgupta assails the likes of Hyderabad MP Akbaruddin Owaisi for openly suggesting “Indian justice is discriminatory and targets Muslims while leaving Hindu communalists to escape either unpunished or with lesser sentences.” But had the Srikrishna Commission reports on the riots resulted in the punishment of their own, maybe that could have defanged and silenced an Owaisi. Dasgputa is silent on that score and complains that those arguing against Memon’s execution are "packaging" the Mumbai blasts as “a political act of retribution”. They were indeed an act of “retribution” but that does not justify them in any way just as the US misadventures in the Middle East can never justify 9/11.
Dasgupta misses, or ignores that point. Just as the sea of mourners at Bada Qabristan misses, or ignores the larger message that a martyr’s goodbye for Yakub Memon sends out to the rest of the country. Both are entrenched in their own sense of righteous victimhood. Thus, one bitter mourner tells IE, “The blast victims are calling it justice. But look at Bada Qabrastan, and tell me if this looks like closure. Or the start of something.” That sounds like another ominous turn of the wheel of the vicious circle.
Pratap Bhanu Mehta writes in his column about the intellectual logjam created by this. “That is why ‘shame on Indian judiciary’ is a politically self-defeating response to the bloodcurdling ‘hang Yakub’,” he writes. Courts, he says, can make grievous mistakes, “but taking away from them a presumptive legitimacy will leave us unprotected in every respect” even as a “cowardly but Talibanesque hounding of anyone who disagreed with the hanging” is “postmodern equivalent of a medieval lynch mob.”
This means that an event like Yakub Memon’s funeral runs the danger of being read as Je suis Yakub Memon moment. That does great damage because on one hand, it confirms the worst stereotypes of one side of a treacherous Muslim “other”. As if on cue, Tathagata Roy, the governor of Tripura has tweeted, "Intelligence shd keep a tab on all (expt relatives & close friends) who assembled bfr Yakub Memon's corpse. Many are potential terrorists."
Intelligence shd keep a tab on all (expt relatives & close friends) who assembled bfr Yakub Memon's corpse. Many are potential terrorists
— Tathagata Roy (@tathagata2) July 31, 2015
On the other hand, it does nothing to address the grievances of those who feel shortchanged by the state. If there is anger and frustration from the victims of the Mumbai riots who have not had their "closure" yet, that is not what comes through in the images of the sea of mourners for Yakub Memon. Instead, it attaches the sense of victimhood to the wrong symbol – a man convicted of terrorism.
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Updated Date: Jul 31, 2015 22:49:27 IST