In the public narrative around Yakub Memon’s fate, a narrative that gets shriller by the day as the date set for his execution nears, two strands often get entangled. One is his role in the March 1993 serial blasts conspiracy and the appropriate punishment for the crime. The other is the equivalence between the blasts and the riots that preceded it in December 1992 and January 1993, in the weeks after the Babri Masjid was demolished.
Yakub Memon is as guilty of injuring the city that he grew up and lived in as the courts have held him to be. The March 1993 serial blasts shook Mumbai, then Bombay, to the core. His part in that conspiracy has been established. Whether he will hang to death for it or escape the gallows now depends, once again, on a Supreme Court bench.
That he is the only convict sentenced to hang, that he could be paying the price for being the key conspirator Tiger Memon’s brother, that there might have been a plea bargain which the authorities did not honour in later years, or that capital punishment has no place in a civilised democracy are issues that have found vociferous support on either side of the debate.
It is the other strand of the narrative that is disturbing, to say the least. Those who support Yakub-must-hang position are quick to justify that the riots are a different matter, they are not as serious as the blasts and did not lead to the blasts, bringing them into this debate over Memon’s death sentence is pointless, and worse, it could reopen old wounds. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The causative link was firmly established by the Justice Srikrishna Commission that inquired into both the events. Here’s what the Commission says in chapter 6: “Tiger Memon, the key figure in the serial bomb blasts case, and his family had suffered extensively during the riots and therefore can be said to have deep–rooted motives for revenge. It would appear that one of his trusted accomplices, Javed Dawood Tailor alias Javed Chikna, had also suffered a bullet injury during the riots, and, therefore he also had a motive for revenge”.
Further, “apart from these two specific cases, there was a large, amorphous body of angry, frustrated and desperate Muslims keen to seek revenge for the perceived injustice done to and atrocities perpetrated on them, or to others of their community, and it is this sense of revenge which spawned the conspiracy of the serial bomb blasts. This body of angry, frustrated and desperate Muslims provided the material upon which the anti–national and criminal elements succeeded in building up their conspiracy for the serial bomb blasts” (Page 45, para iii).
The facts are clear: 257 killed, 713 injured and Rs 27 crore worth (at 1995-96 prices) property damaged in the serial blasts; 900 people died or went missing in the December and January riots in police firing, stabbing, arson, mob action and private firing, and 2,036 were injured besides countless others rendered homeless and without livelihoods, according to the Commission.
The blasts were swiftly investigated, the 100-plus accused tried in a special court which handed out convictions and 11 death sentences. The riots were probed only by the Commission, victims had to struggle to even register FIRs after years whereas the policemen indicted by the Commission were promoted and politicians of all ideologies got away without so much as a scratch.
Indeed, the two horrific events in Mumbai’s recent history cannot be compared: the riots left behind a bloodier trail and no major conspirator or abettor has paid for it yet. The pursuit of justice in these two events for the last 22 years has been highly selective. Yakub Memon’s case – especially his impending walk to the gallows should he walk it – is but a signifier of this selectivity.