30 July 2015 turned out to be such an eventful day. Yakub Memon was hanged to death a little before 7 am in the morning in what was one of the most closely watched and debated issues that have lasted more than a fortnight. Television channels recorded every move of his lawyers and his family and indulged in such animated conversation on their 9 pm debates, as if it were a circus. Yakub Memon, 53 was accused of aiding his brother, Tiger Memon, in killing 257 people and injuring hundreds others in what was the first major terrorist attack that rocked India and Mumbai in 1993.
30 July 2015 was also a day when our former President, Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was laid to rest in his hometown, Rameswaram. It is ironic that on the same day when Kalam undertook his final journey, Memon was hanged. Kalam strongly opposed the death penalty, saying that one cannot take away a life that God gave. Even when he left office, Kalam left behind a number of pending mercy petitions, including that of Afzal Guru. Memon’s hanging, contrary to popular perception, does not bring a closure to the 1993 blasts case, nor has justice been served. The Indian state has still not been able to bring Tiger Memon, Dawood Ibrahim and several others who were responsible for the attacks to stand trial. We are fooling ourselves if we believe that by hanging Yakub we have sent a strong message or that we have achieved a significant victory in the 1993 blasts case.
The question here is, does death penalty, whether it is for rape, murder or a cowardly terrorist attack, serve any purpose, or act as a deterrent? It is not a question of activism or targeting one particular community or politics. In rape cases, it certainly hasn’t tackled the problem. Nor has it deterred any terrorists, since on 27 July 2015, three terrorists stormed the Gurdaspur district in Punjab, took over a police station and killed a senior police officer and six other people. And this after we gave capital punishment to both Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru. The issue is how do you deter terrorists who have come with a predetermined mind to butcher innocent people and also themselves? Capital punishment is a barbaric and inhuman act, especially if it is executed in a hurried manner and with a vengeance. The media and the judiciary who are the stakeholders of society should not get swayed by public opinion, but should dig deeper. For example, Sanjay Dutt, who was also accused of similar offences like the possession of illegal arms in the same 1993 blasts case, was let off lightly with just five years’ imprisonment. How was Sanjay Dutt any less culpable than Yakub Memon? Yakub Memon’s hanging was a media frenzy, where every move of the judges, lawyers, and the public prosecutor was deciphered and dissected and judged on its morality. Even before Yakub Memon was hanged, the media had decided that he deserved nothing except death. This trend is dangerous and interferes with the due processes of law. However, what needs to be lauded was the Supreme Court’s late night hearing of Yakub Memon’s plea, which shows its resolve to listen to a man who was to be hanged the next morning.
I am not here to debate whether Yakub Memon did in fact cut a deal with the CBI or the degree of his involvement with his brother, because television channels would do a better job of it. What is important is that justice for one inhuman act cannot be ensured by committing another one. Justice has a meaning only when it is granted to all and cannot be given by hanging an individual. If the government is really serious of giving justice to the 1993 blasts victims and their families, then let them get Tiger Memon and Dawood Ibrahim to India and stand trial. Let these two not laugh at us from their secure hideouts in Pakistan and Dubai. What about the victims of the 26/11 attacks? It is common knowledge that the terrorists who were shot dead in Mumbai after a three-day operation, were just the executors of the act. The real masterminds continue to live in Pakistan, enjoy state protection and threaten us from time to time. We have got into the habit of settling for the existing options that we have, rather than trying to bring the masterminds to stand trial.
Although Yakub Memon is now dead, what his case has shown is that not many of us believe in the death penalty as the best form of punishment. It certainly is not a deterrent, rather another barbaric act. We need to understand that “an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind”.