Outrage over Yakub Memon’s hanging

Muslims of India fear persecution and isolation

Outrage over Yakub Memon’s hanging
The hanging of Yaqub Memon, a convict in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts, has led to a debate that transcends the issue of his conviction by the court and subsequent justifications from the State and those who support its stance.

Yaqub’s story is a curious one as he “surrendered” before the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) that was investigating the case and presumably there was an “understanding” that he would get a better deal in return.

What is now clear after former Intelligence Bureau officer B Raman’s unpublished article is that his landing in India was not purely an extradition. His return surely helped Government of India reach a conclusion and implicate Pakistan for giving shelter to the underworld don Dawood Ibrahim, considered to be the mastermind of 1993 attacks. In return, Yaqub got the gallows.

Whatever the circumstantial evidence and the judgment, one does respect the courts and the wisdom of the judges. But his hanging has opened up the debate on different counts. Ironically, he is the third Muslim in a row who had been executed for “anti-India and terrorist activities”.

There are many more on death row with same charges, but no urgency has been shown and in case of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s killers. Tamil Nadu assembly went to the extent of passing a resolution to press for their release. Likewise, there are some from Punjab who are on the death row but have stayed away from the gallows so far.

What has emerged, as a grave concern, is the fear that persecution of Muslims has become a routine now and goes without questioning.

A strong section in the media, mostly TV channels, have been celebrating such events and asking for more without taking into view the fact that there was growing resentment against capital punishment worldwide.

Here, the hanging of Ajmal Kasab, Afzal Guru and now Yaqub Memon has vindicated the fears of most Muslims that they have been facing persecution for over two decades. Though there was no word of sympathy for Ajmal Kasab, who killed civilians in broad daylight and deserved the punishment, the point is raised as a matter of discussion when the events are unfolding in this fashion.

With Yaqub, the outrage was stronger in many sections of the Indian society as compared to Afzal Guru’s hanging in February last year. Perhaps Kashmir is disconnected from the rest of India and the realities have not reached the general public. There was a kind of endorsement of his execution, though some feeble voices resented it.

At that time too, the media was “celebrating the death of a terrorist” though the flaws in the judicial process had been pointed out from time to time.

Given the urgency to stop Narendra Modi’s march to Delhi, Congress hurried in sending him to the gallows and the most inhumane part was the denial of even a last meeting with his family. Eventually, it did not work, and Modi made it to Delhi to dismantle Congress.

In case of Yaqub, the Indian intelligentsia, some political parties, certain sections of the media and celebrities came out openly against his hanging. India’s most respected national newspaper ‘The Hindu’ wrote a strong editorial questioning the logic behind his hanging. Referring to the case, it wrote, “The President, under Article 72 of the Constitution, has the power to grant pardon, and to suspend, remit or commute sentences. To not exercise this expansive power in the service of mercy would be inhuman and unconscionable”. It recalled the hanging of Afzal saying, “In recent times, we saw the horrific judicial murder of Afzal Guru, who was hanged in secret without a final opportunity for his family to meet him, marking an unprecedented abandonment of morality on the part of the state”.

Over a hundred prominent people across India petitioned to the President to pardon Yaqub and it did raise questions on how justice was being administered selectively. Though it did not yield a positive result, the fact is that a discourse was shaped on the question as to why this man had to go to the gallows when he had compromised and had decided to return to India against the wishes of his brother as reported in the media.

India’s preeminent journalist Rajdeep Sardesai, who had taken a different line when Afzal Guru was hanged, too flashed a video editorial saying that the hanging was wrong. There were many strong voices that questioned the decision thus opening up more space to discuss the issue in terms of one community being persecuted.

The debate was further strengthened when Bollywood celebrity Salman Khan, who is a heartthrob for millions of people in India, had to withdraw his tweet in which he had questioned the hanging. Similarly the powerful, yet a lone voice of Indian Muslims Asaduddin Owaisi too received brickbats, even death threats, and someone declared a bounty on his head after he vociferously opposed the execution of Yaqub, only because he was a Muslim.

The questions raised over his execution were supported with the argument that the accused in the massacre of Gujarat Muslims, Malegaon blasts, riots in the aftermath of Mumbai blasts, and the demolishers of Babri Masjid got away scot-free.

“I would not have any problem in case Yaqub and someone involved in the Gujarat massacre and the demolition of Babri Masjid were hanged side by side,” said a commentator.

Without questioning the judgments and merits of the case, the outrage over Yaqub's hanging has raised new concerns about the isolation of India's Muslims, who did not hold back on venting their anger, and also brought into focus the anti-Delhi sentiments in Jammu and Kashmir, the only Muslim majority state in India.

The concerns over the manner the issue was dealt with, have in a way vindicated the sentiment in Kashmir that Muslims are not safe and are not treated with equality in India, even when it comes to delivery of justice. The Rajinder Sachar committee had taken the lid off the reality of backwardness among Muslims in India a few years back, but selective justice has pushed them further against the wall and made some of them potential stock for the new dimension of pan-Islamic militant networks.

The author is a veteran journalist from Srinagar and the editor-in-chief of Rising Kashmir