By Mosarrap H. Khan
As the tamasha of late night court proceedings unfolded, I had a sense of déjà vu. A blood-thirsty nation would have to be satisfied.
Yakub Memon must be hanged.
He was a conspirator during the Bombay Blasts. He had taken lives. We must have his life. Once the date of hanging was decided in advance, there was very little chance left.
Yakub ran a successful chartered accountancy firm with a Hindu, a Mehta. What could have drawn him into this plot for revenge? Did Yakub Memon feel angry when he saw hundreds of people killed, displaced, terrorized, and traumatized by the goons of Shiv Sena and other right wing groups?
Let’s hang on for a moment to the supposition that Yakub was directly involved in plotting the blasts. But since he had managed to escape to Karachi, along with his family, why did he return?
If he was apprehended in Kathmandu while he was traveling on a Pakistani Passport, despite carrying several Indian Passports, how was he brought to India without formal extradition procedures? Even at the level of common sense, it appears one can’t simply be flown into India if one were traveling with a Pakistani Passport and held in Nepal.
New emerging reports suggest that the whole family, including Yakub Memon, might have been brought to India from Sharjah. That makes the circumstances under which Memon returned all the more murky.
Our tight-lipped intelligence bosses on TV debates would like us to believe Yakub wasn’t happy in Pakistan and wanted to return to India for justice. Puzzling. Was he so naïve to believe that if he returned to India, without an assurance of his life, he would be let off? It is one thing not to be happy in Pakistan and it’s quite another to return to face the Indian justice system knowing full well the punishment that awaited him. Something just doesn’t add up. Just doesn’t. Or was he convinced that his involvement, if any, was really minor and wouldn’t warrant his life?
I am no legal expert. I am not sure if these ‘mitigating factors’ of a supposed formal or informal deal between Yakub Memon and the intelligence agencies were presented in the court. I don’t want to get into the technicality if the bench hearing his curative petition was rightly or wrongly constituted. These are questions of legal nuance.
When the late night court session rejected his final petition, I felt numb. Old wounds resurfaced.
When Babri Masjid was demolished, I was studying in the twelfth and lived in Uttarpara, a suburb of Kolkata. My landlord was Hindu and his son was my age. Rumors of riots started floating around us. At one moment, people told me five heads had been cut off in Liluah, an industrial area, a few kilometers from Uttarpara. Next moment, we heard so many Muslims have been butchered in Kolkata.
I felt a sense of terror I have never felt before or after, despite my landlord’s assurances. As a teenager, too young to comprehend the full import, the only thing I knew was that my life was in danger. Any moment the mob would come and kill me. Finally, my parents managed to take me home. I felt safe again.
But I have never felt settled since. Our innocence was stolen. The sense of security was destroyed and I knew I never fully belonged to India and never would. I would have to try harder to belong.
As a 30-year-old, caught in the middle of the devastating riots in Bombay, what might have Yakub felt?
Those who caused havoc during the Babri demolition and during the riots are now ruling the country. The same forces have caused another devastating riot against Muslims in Gujarat.
These wounds would be hard to heal.
That’s why when our liberals claim ‘a human being’ has been hanged, it just doesn’t cut it.
When the Hindu fanatics outside Nagpur Central Jail shouted, “Musalmaan ko maaro” (Kill the Muslims), they seemed to utter the truth.
Yakub’s hanging is an attempt to teach India’s Muslims a lesson. Otherwise, the Home Ministry would have advised the President for a last moment reprieve.
If Yakub Memon’s hanging was merely the execution of a terrorist, why didn’t the killers of Rajiv Gandhi and Beant Singh hang? Why did Maya Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi get bail despite murdering hundreds, no less heinous than Yakub’s act?
Let’s face it. In hanging Yakub, the Indian state has once again proved Indian Muslim lives are more expendable than others. The Indian state would teach Muslims a lesson. It’s a pure masculine performance of the state. In this, the centrist and the right-wing governments use the brutal state power in a similar fashion.
Let me reiterate, Yakub Memon, a MUSLIM, was hanged. He just happened to be a human being. He just happened to be a convicted terrorist. That’s purely incidental.
We don’t hang animals. But through spectacles, we turn a Muslim convict into a caged animal, as we saw on that night.
After 1992, a Muslim teenager’s life could have taken two distinct turns: S/he could have felt guilty about being Muslim or could have felt further alienated from the mainstream society. In fact, in the aftermath of Babri Masjid demolition, Muslims have felt more defensive and retreated into a mental ghetto, often by increased physical ghettoization.
After Yakub’s hanging, these old wounds would return afresh. How could one deny Asaduddin Owaisi’s contention, which is a reflection of discontentment among Muslim youth in the country, that Muslims never got justice for the loss of lives and trauma caused during communal riots, specifically after Babri demolition?
Yakub’s hanging would further push Muslim youth to think in sectarian terms. Perhaps that’s what the Hindutva forces in the country want. The Hindutva forces are determined to consolidate support at the institutional level. If the first stage of bloodlust during riots allowed it to come to power, in the second stage the Hindu-majority government is employing the state machinery to institutionally consolidate a Hindu vote-bank by punishing Muslims through state power, while allowing riot perpetrators to get away with softer punishment.
Yakub Memon was, it appears, the happiest when his daughter passed her SSC. He wanted to see her wed. A daughter, he had hardly seen after her birth. Did the 1992-93 riots have no role in denying him this wish?
Who would return the youthful innocence of millions of Muslim teenagers like me who lived their formative years in the shadow of Babri Masjid demolition and the riots that followed?
To whom was justice served by taking Yakub Memon’s life?
Certainly, this was no justice for Muslims in India.
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