A Little Memory Can Go a Long Way

Rioters in Bombay, January 1993. Credit: Sudharak Olwe

Rioters in Bombay, January 1993. Credit: Sudharak Olwe

It is the silences that attend media coverage of Yakub Memon’s impending execution and not the Shiv Sena’s aggressive calls for his hanging that hold a mirror to Indian democracy most clearly. Leading national dailies carry photos of mangled bomb blast sites and interview those affected, as if to justify the imposition of the death penalty; none ask why other victims must continue to suffer silently the indignity of watching their attackers go scot-free.

The 1993 blasts were a heinous act of terror that came at the end of an equally heinous set of communal killings that tore Bombay apart in December 1992 and January 1993 but you would be hard pressed to find any mention of this context in any reporting of Yakub Memon. Memon is indeed guilty as charged and nothing can justify his involvement in the bombings. For the benefit of Indians under the age of 30-35, however, the media ought to have provided the background to the 1993 bombings: the destruction of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, the celebration rallies held by the BJP and Shiv Sena in Bombay, the complicity of the Bombay police and the Congress-led Sudhakarrao Naik government in the targeted killing of Muslims, the subsequent appointment of the Srikrishna Commission, and its indictment of the Hindutva forces and police involved in the 1992-3 Bombay riots. This background is essential not in order to lessen the guilt of Memon but to remind us of the other crimes that are crying out for punishment.

That the government itself felt there was a connection between the mob terror and bomb terror of that period is shown by the extended terms of reference given to the Srikrishna Commission: to explore whether the 12 March 1993 blasts had anything to do with the 1992-93 riots.

The Srikrishna Commission concluded:

“One common link between the riots of December 1992 and January 1993 and bomb blasts of 12 March 1993 appear to be that the former appear to have been a causative factor for the latter. There does appear to be a cause and effect relationship between the two riots and the serial bomb blasts. …

“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 had deep rooted motive 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. 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 other members of their community and it is this sense of revenge which spawned the conspiracy of the serial 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.” (emphasis added)

The Bombay bombings are a cruel reminder of what can happen when state institutions fail to protect citizens from violence (or worse collude in the violence) and then deny them justice as well. Till justice is even-handed, coming down as heavily on the perpetrators of crimes against minorities, adivasis and dalits, as it does on individuals from these communities when they commit crimes, it will always be justice denied.

When Teesta Setalvad is harassed and persecuted for taking up the cases of the victims of the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 while those who committed the crimes are out on bail, what message are we sending? When the National Investigation Agency fails to seriously prosecute cases of terrorism involving Hindutva extremists, when files involving Hindutva terrorists conveniently disappear from a Jammu police station, will the cause of ‘justice’ really be served by hanging Yakub Memon but not even ensuring a day’s prison for others?

If the Indian state cannot be trusted to deliver justice, B. Raman’s revelations – and the CBI’s admission that Yakub was ‘induced’ to return to India – tell us it cannot also be trusted to keep its word. The interlocutors who secured IAS officer Alex Paul Menon’s release from the Maoists realised this when no ordinary adivasi was released in exchange despite the government’s promises; now any insurgent who wants to surrender or negotiate will think a hundred times before trusting the Indian government. Yakub Memon’s hanging will not help India find closure. Terror cannot be fought by the state selectively honouring its commitments, least of all its obligation to provide justice regardless of who a victim is and who the perpetrators are.

Nandini Sundar is a Professor of Sociology at the Delhi School of Economics and a security analyst.

  • Antonio Teodori

    Great article.

  • Vivek Shukla

    Going by her logic, Gujrat riots, which were caused by burning of 57 men/women/childrens alive, had a valid reason. Why her community of liberal harp on gujrat 2002 riot, why dont they applied same logic there

    • Nadeesh Garg

      She is not even justifying it. She is comparing the burning of the train to the riots that preceded the Bombay blasts, and that in the same way we should deliver justice to the Memon family, we should to the Hindutva terrorists from Gujarat, those who led the massacres. But that is not happening. This hanging seems like a hasty and politically motivated (in terms of “Who’s the boss around here”) decision.
      Good article.

    • Toady Modi

      If you read carefully she does not mean it was ‘a valid reason’. She suggests that in order to end the cycles of violence justice needs to be even handed and not communally selective and majoritarian. The exact opposite of what you are trying to impute.

      • Jay Dee

        Hey, You are right about punishing everyone equally. So why did the congress govt not do it? are you saying that they are anti-minority too? and do you remember any riot where perpetrators were punished? 1985? 1992? Remember it is easy to piece together evidence of a meticulously planned bombing than participation in a mad riot. The level of proof required in our judicial system is quite onerous. Even then, The only one I remember where a rioter was punished is 2002 where Kodnani got 28 years in jail.

        • Toady Modi

          and that is precisely why Teesta is being hounded by the Modi government. and Kodnani is out on bail.

          • Jay Dee

            To give bail or not is not gov’t prerogative, it is the courts decision. Hounding of teesta is petty I agree but not everybody is a Christ or Buddha to turn the other cheek.

          • Toady Modi

            There is no government interference in police investigation, the legal process and the CBI is absolutely free! That is why judges Himanshu Trivedi are resigning Gujarat.

    • Vidooshak

      I think what she’s trying to point out is context and the complexity of these relationships. It’s not a tit for tat

    • GDM

      She’s not talking about “valid reasons”, she’s talking about punishing everyone equally. Try to read thoroughly, digest, and think before you spew a half-baked comment.

    • Anish Kurup

      The logic is not hers but of a commission headed by a very distinguished person. And the logic which she puts forward by citing these observations and anecdotes is that as long as the state does not grow up to fulfill the mandate entrusted upon it by a marvellous constitution it’s arguments and acts claiming delivery of justice can hardly be taken seriously. Justice should be for the sake of justice and for how that idea should evolve in judiciary in the form of judgements and set precedents and in the mind of the lay men and collective conscience of the society, keeping in mind the well being of a pluralistic society and not to satisfy the shortsighted surge in emotions of any section of the mass that by sheer luck has a greater share in the noise of the day.

    • Abhinav

      No, going by her logic, those who burned the train should be hanged, as should those who massacred Muslims in Naroda Patiya, not selective justice. What she is pointing out is that it is often only members of one community that are accorded punishment while the others go unpunished. Again *OFTEN* not all the time, sometimes justice is served to all as well, but rarely.

  • Suraj

    Exactly I too agree with what the write wants to say. Just I fail to understand why this angle for Mumbai Terrorist attack and not a similar thinking for Gujarat riots. I have read many supporting articles for Teesta Setalvad and the riot victims. I also don’t deny that what happened in the riot was wrong. But do we look at the underlying reason. Burning some one alive is the worst form of death and that was given to 57 individuals that too only Hindus. Mr. Secular and pseudo liberal writer I would request you to write an article with the same tone and reasoning for Gujarat riots. Else we will understand that u are writing this article out of some compulsion and you are not practicing what you want to preach here.

    • Prashant Kumar

      Its true that burning 57 kar sevaks alive was very gruesome but does it justify avenging it on thousands of people who had nothing to do with that arson other than that they came from the same community. Why they could find out the real culprits and punished them???

  • Ajit Bhandari

    ?Yakub was induced” That was a good tactic.A promise to criminals is not binding.

  • Dayanand Nene

    I fail to understand the mind-set of the writer and her ilk as to why they are hell-bent to criticizing the hanging of a convicted anti national terrorist..?

    • rahil

      they are not hell bent on cricticising. they are questioning the inequality meted out . yakub should die. so should others. got that sir ? Get those involved in the mumbai riots to be hung. Those terrorists of Maharashtra are roaming free.

    • Toady Modi

      I fail to understand the mindset of those who love hanging as though their life depended on it.

    • Junglee

      Mr.Dayanand, the article does not question the fact that the convicted man was a national terrorist. Instead, I believe, it wishes to question why is the death penalty is usually awarded to people from the minority. Also the writer wishes to throw light on cause for such extreme actions by the sentenced individual.

  • Gautham

    Any person who is found guilty of warring a war against the nation (terrorism) has to be hanged. It is the law. Capital punishment is awarded in cases deemed “RAREST OF THE RARE”. The Mumbai blasts, the assassination of Indira Gandhi, The nirbhaya rape cases. They are all classified as rarest of the rare. And the law is not Biased against any religion or minority. Blasts were caused by a Muslim. Indira Gandhi was assassinated by a non Muslim. Nirbhaya was molested by non Muslims too (as far as I know). So.. Dear author.. The law is not biased. If you are the one who caused a disturbance in the nation you will be punished. If I was the one who did it, I would be punished. The only complaint I have is that… The system is TOO SLOW.

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