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'Hang Yakub': How intolerance played out on Twitter

The triumphalism over the hanging, or rather the tamasha, was not limited to Nagpur only. It was all over the social media clustered in hashtags like #YakubHanged and #IndiakaInsaf.

analysis Updated: Aug 02, 2015 16:28 IST
Abhishek Saha
Twitter reaction on Yakub Memon

Activists-of-Hindu-Sena-burn-photographs-of-1993-Mumbai-blasts-convict-Yakub-Memon-in-New-Delhi-Memon-was-hanged-to-death-at-the-Nagpur-central-jail-after-the-Supreme-Court-rejected-his-final-plea-in-a-dramatic-legal-tussle-AFP-Photo

As the Supreme Court rejected Yakub Memon's final plea in the early hours of Thursday and authorities prepared the gallows , a chest-thumping crowd gathered outside the Nagpur Central Jail and clicked selfies to celebrate the hanging of the lone 1993 Mumbai blasts convict.

Television journalist Rahul Kanwal, reporting from outside Nagpur's prison, wrote, "Very unfortunate for execution to be turned into a tamasha by voyeurs."

The triumphalism over the hanging, or rather the tamasha, was not limited to Nagpur. It was all over social media, clustered in hashtags like #YakubHanged and #IndiakaInsaf.

Vociferous posts demanding Memon's hanging to those ridiculing him did the rounds on Twitter. And most of these posts never considered any of the questions raised either on Memon's crimes or on the provision of death penalty.

http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/popup/2015/7/1607Yakub.jpg

Social media experts say Memon's hanging is the first prisoner execution in a digital-savvy India where every socio-political event is commented upon vociferously by users from across the political spectrum every day. (HT File Photo)

One user, @TheRainPoet, wrote, "Happy B'day Yakub! Hope you liked the gift. #YakubHanged."

He was referring to the fact that Thursday was also Memon's birthday.

Another user, @vpsunrise, posted, "#IndiaKaInsaf Those who are trying to protect Yakub Memon are Desh Drohi. They should also be punished."

Social media experts say Memon's hanging is the first prisoner execution in a digital-savvy India where every socio-political event is commented upon vociferously by users from across the political spectrum every day. The conversation on Twitter was not as politically charged when Parliament attack conspirator Afzal Guru was hanged in 2013 and Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Kasab in 2012. Today, the battle of hashtags ensues over political issues, with social media teams of political parties quickly floating one to counter another.

"Well, it has been quite predictable actually, the BJP supporters I follow on Twitter were all equally loud about why Yakub should hang. Some even suggested that the lawyers who are defending Yakub should meet the same fate," said online activist Pratik Sinha, who runs the Facebook and Twitter page The Truth About Gujarat.

"Many also came out against the very concept of capital punishment."

The jingoistic demand and celebration for hanging a convict raises the question that should a death of either innocents in a bomb blast or a convict become an occasion for a celebration? And that too when there have been conflicting reports and statements about the convict's involvement in the crime. Is it right to be so bloodthirsty when authorities, crucially related to the matter, have raised serious doubts regarding Memon's execution?

Even as Memon was finally hanged at 7am on Thursday after a number of last-minute pleas to stay the execution were rejected, debates raged on whether he should have been hanged.

Hours before Memon was hanged, Mahatma Gandhi's grandson Gopalkrishna Gandhi appealed to President Pranab Mukherjee to spare his life.

Gandhi's appeal came after 300-odd prominent citizens from different fields – including noted lawyer Ram Jethmalani, BJP MP Shatrughan Sinha, Mani Shankar Aiyer of Congress, actor Naseeruddin Shah, filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt and others – wrote to the President, requesting him to show mercy to Memon.

However, the most compelling argument made against Memon's death sentence was by former RAW official B Raman in an article written in 2007. In his piece originally written for online news portal Rediff, Raman, who headed the Pakistan desk in the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), had argued that Memon did not deserve a death penalty. The piece, which was published recently, said Memon deserved leniency because he had assisted investigating agencies and brought his family back from Pakistan.

Another such voice was that of Congress MP and author Shashi Tharoor.

"We must fight against terrorism with all the means at our command. But cold-blooded execution has never prevented a terror attack anywhere," wrote Tharoor after the new of Memon's hanging broke.

Just like Dhananjoy Chatterjee's hanging in 2004 for the rape and murder of an 18-year-old girl has not stopped rapes.

But will those who are celebrating Memon's execution ever pay heed to such dissenting voices? Or will they put them in the trash bin? Will they ever logically think about capital punishment and its effect on the society?

The Supreme Court judgment on awarding capital punishment to Afzal Guru in the Parliament attack case said, "The incident, which resulted in heavy casualties, had shaken the entire nation, and the collective conscience of society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to the offender."

After Guru was hanged, Booker prize-winning author Arundhati Roy's reaction was a telling one.

"Now he has been hanged, I hope our collective conscience has been satisfied. Or is our cup of blood still only half full?" she had asked.

Unfortunately, as Memon faced the gallows, the cheerleaders of the country's "collective conscience" went on with their after party and severely mocked and criticised anyone who dared challenge Memon's trial and death sentence.

The question which Roy asked, is still unanswered.

(Views expressed by the writer are personal. He tweets as @saha_abhi1990 )

Read: Yakub Memon timeline: How the Mumbai blasts case progressed

Why Yakub Memon’s hanging diminishes the Indian State

Full coverage:Yakub Memon Hange