Many things have been said in the last few days about the hanging of the 1993 Mumbai bombings convict Yakub Memon. Divisions in India’s society have been thrown out into the open and the last straw was when media reports published pictures showing thousands at Memon’s funeral. This was perhaps the first time in Free India’s history that a hanged convict was being given a tearful farewell by thousands, and ideologues have jumped to conclude hideous ideas about India and its society.
It’s important to know what the Yakub Memon debate truly is about. It all started when a leading media house published an article written by B Raman, the former counter-terrorism head of RAW who had overseen the operation to capture Memon. Raman, in his article, had explained why he thought Memon shouldn’t be hanged, pointing out that Memon had in fact mulled over surrendering to Indian authorities and on capture, had even asked his family members holed up in Pakistan to turn themselves in. Naturally, Raman’s article evoked much interest in the public. Many wondered if the man who nabbed Memon believed that the latter was innocent. Sections of the media, for one, did make it seem that way and many who turned up for Memon’s funeral on Thursday likely thought so too. Even educated citizens, regardless of religion, were misled by the representation of Raman’s views by sections of the media.
Some journalists went so far as to juxtapose the debate on the death penalty with the one on Yakub Memon. In the process, several people were ostracized for speaking in favor of abolishing the death penalty, regardless of whether they thought Yakub Memon was innocent or not. It seems strange that one can’t consider the fact that many of these commentators were simply calling for a debate on removing the death penalty from India’s law books, while simultaneously believing that India must be tough on terror.
What is most unfortunate about the misled debate on this issue is the communalization of it all. As it turns out, fundamentalists in both religious communities have misused the discourse to show that all Muslims were hurt by the hanging of Yakub Memon, or that Yakub Memon was innocent and wronged. Neither is true. The Indian Muslim community does not sympathize with terrorists (Muslims in Mumbai pointedly refused to bury the body of Ajmal Kasab in their graveyard), nor do they believe that they are under attack by the Hindu community, as is being insinuated by some fundamentalists.
Yes, thousands turned up for the funeral, but it is well possible that most of them were brainwashed by the misreporting and misrepresentation of facts into believing that Memon was wrongly hanged, even if he wasn’t entirely innocent. In fact, given the several misleading media reports that one has been reading over the last few days, such a conclusion doesn’t seem absurd at all. To generalize such pictures and in fact question the nationalistic character of India’s Muslims is preposterous.
As for Yakub Memon himself, he was found guilty by the judiciary after due process of law, and hanged. Memon was given a completely fair trial for over two decades. His mercy plea was heard by both the President and multiple benches of the Supreme Court multiple times. In fact, the Supreme Court opened its doors at 2 am for the first time in history in order to consider his plea for clemency one last time. To insinuate that Memon was wronged under the law is therefore ridiculous.
India has executed only 4 people in the last 15 years and the Supreme Court upholds less than 5% of death sentences that come to it on appeal (certainly, many Muslims have had their death sentences commuted too). The fact that the same system, after all due processes of law, decided after multiple considerations that Memon must be hanged clearly suggests that there was no illegality or arbitrariness.
As for Raman’s view on the case, the former RAW official never held that Memon was innocent. His version merely suggested that should India have dealt less harshly with Memon, the RAW might have succeeded in luring other terrorists from out of the ISI’s clutches (Raman noted that Memon was attempting to flee from the ISI). This might have been a strategic move, but strategy isn’t the domain of the judiciary; courts decide upon a case based on its merits and based on existing law.
A sensitive issue such as this needs to be dealt with responsibly by those of us in the media. Misreporting and misrepresentation causes much harm to society and provides ammunition for sinister elements looking to divide India for political gain. The Memon issue, in that sense, is a lesson to be learnt.