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Is Yakub Memon innocent? I don't know

Last updated on: July 22, 2015 18:25 IST

The various theories about the culpability/innocence of 1993 blasts accused Yakub Memon present him with a Rashomon moment, feels Syed Firdaus Ashraf.

 

Image: The destruction in Worli, south-central Mumbai, on March 12, 1993, a part of the series of blasts that rocked the city that day, for which Yakub Memon was sentenced to death. Photograph: Rediff.com

Some time in 1994, when I was visiting my journalism guru, the late M V Kamath, at his suburban home in Mumbai, he received a phone call after which he rushed to switch on the television.

A friend had called Mr Kamath to say that 1993 Mumbai serial blasts accused Yakub Memon's interview was being telecast.

Yakub Memon was being interviewed by Madhu Trehan, then of Newstrack -- the only interview with the man currently on death row, and who will likely be executed on July 30, his 53rd birthday.

During the interview, Yaqub Memon told Trehan, 'I have never spoken more than an hour in all my life with my brother (Ibrahim 'Tiger' Memon, the main accused in the 1993 blasts case).'

I was shocked at this revelation, but not Mr Kamath. "It is possible because there is a culture in many Indian families that the younger brother does not speak, or is not supposed to speak to his elder brother," he pointed out to me.

Yakub, a chartered accountant by training, was two years younger than 'Tiger' Memon.

The elder Memon was charged with being the main conspirator in the March 12, 1993 serial blasts in which 257 people died and over 800 people were injured.

After watching the interview, I asked Mr Kamath if he thought Yakub Memon was innocent. "I don't know," Mr Kamath said.

Twenty-two years after those horrific terror attacks, if someone asks me if I believe that Yakub Memon is innocent, my answer would be the same as what M V Kamath said to me that day. I don't know.

Memories of the 1993 blasts have stayed with me all these years not only because it affected the city where I was born, raised and live, but also professionally. I covered the blasts trial in Mumbai's TADA court for several years.

Through it all, I have always wondered if Yakub Memon deliberately dropped his bag containing his family's Pakistani passports at Kathmandu airport in 1994, knowing well that it would draw attention and he could be arrested.

If, as he says, he returned to his motherland as he was innocent, why did he not secure a written assurance from the P V Narasimha Rao government guaranteeing his future safety?

Nobody makes an oral deal with the government, right?

On March 11, 1993, a day before the serial blasts, Tiger Memon packed off his entire family, including Yakub and his wife Raheen, to Dubai from where they fled to Karachi with the help of the Pakistani establishment and its intelligence agency, the Directorate of Inter Services Intelligence.

Yakub Memon has always maintained that till the time he traveled to Dubai he had no idea about the blasts being planned, else he would have stopped his brother from carrying out the plot. It was only after he landed in Karachi a week later that he realised that Tiger was involved in the blasts.

According to the Central Bureau of Investigation, Yakub Memon was arrested at New Delhi railway station in August 1994. Yakub and his family, on the other hand, have always maintained that they willingly surrendered to the Indian authorities.

For me, Yakub Memon's case is a classic Rashomon moment where the truth is multi-faceted and is what you want to believe.

Therefore, my answer to the question 'Is Yaqub Memon innocent?' will always be: I don't know.

Is Yakub Memon paying for his brother Tiger Memon's crimes?

My answer remains the same. I don't know.

There are, however, unanswered questions about Yakub Memon's return to India. Why would a man living in comfort, as the Pakistan government's guest, want to return and surrender to the Indian authorities?

In Yakub Memon's own words -- in the Newstrack interview -- he says: 'I have come here to show the people who are behind the blasts and it is not the Memon family who is behind these things. I know who the people are behind it, I know the exact addresses and I know the Pakistani government's involvement. That is what I want to tell the international community.'

TADA court Judge P D Kode did not believe Yakub Memon. Judge Kode did not think Yakub Memon was innocent. Judge Kode sentenced Yakub Memon to death.

The Supreme Court later upheld the sentence. President Pranab Mukherjee rejected Yakub Memon's mercy plea. And on Tuesday, July 21, his curative petition was rejected by the apex court.

While covering the blasts case, I heard one of the men sentenced to death for planting the bombs exclaim when he heard the verdict: "Hum kare toh phanda, tum karo toh commission. (If we (Muslims) do it, we get the noose, but if you (Hindus) do it, you get commissions [of inquiry])."

This cynical view was a reference to the 1992-1993 Mumbai riots in which most of those killed were Muslim, but for which not a single person has yet been convicted. Unlike the Mumbai blasts which followed the riots and in which 100 accused -- almost all of them Muslims -- were convicted.

The man was reflecting the sentiment in Mumbai's Muslim areas that for those who murdered Muslims in the horrific 1992-1993 riots, the only punishment came in the form of the Srikrishna Commission of Inquiry.

The upright Justice B N Srikrishna was unsparing in his inquiry report, but not one of his recommendations was accepted by the 'secular' Congress-Nationalist Congress Party government that ruled Maharashtra for 15 years. And yes, 22 years later, not one person has been convicted for the terrifying Mumbai riots.

After 1992-1993, there have been scores of riots across the country. The trend has always been the same. No one is convicted when Muslim lives or property is harmed.

One of the main accused in the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots, Sangeet Som, a Bharatiya Janata Party legislator, has even been granted Z+ security by the government.

How will you interpret this action? To me, it means, the State -- regardless of who is in power -- cares two hoots for some of its citizens.

The one time Muslims secured justice was after the 2002 Gujarat riots. More than 100 people have been convicted for the murderous violence; most of the convictions occurred outside Gujarat, in Maharashtra, as the Supreme Court transferred the cases to the neighbouring state. 

The latest facts are deeply worrying. The home ministry's latest report (external link) notes that communal violence in the country has gone up by 25 per cent in the first five months of 2015.

The communal situation is so combustible that an eve-teasing incident can result in riots. As it happened in Jamshedpur (external link) a couple of days ago.

What is the solution, you ask me? How can those Muslims devastated by riots, get justice? My answer would be the same: I don't know. I really don't know.

In 2007, as I was leaving the TADA court, I met a senior lady reporter from a Urdu newspaper.

I asked her what she felt about Dawood Ibrahim's role in the blasts and about his claim to being a protector of Indian Muslims after the Mumbai riots.

"Dawood Ibrahim is in no way a protector of Indian Muslims. He has given Muslims a worse reputation than anyone else. He has put innocent Muslims on the path of violence for his own good while he leads a lavish life in Pakistan. But these fools, his foot soldiers, are languishing in jail."

"Dawood has not opened a single school or hospital for Muslims. The Muslim areas in South Mumbai from where he operated are as dirty as it once was. Those areas are stuck in a time warp whereas the rest of Mumbai has moved on."

"Dawood ne sirf apni aiyashi ki hai qaum ke naam par (Dawood has only enjoyed himself even as his community suffered). If you don't agree with me, prove me wrong."

This, I know, is the right answer.

Syed Firdaus Ashraf / Rediff.com