Opinions/Personal pieces

Long Live History, History is in the Making

India is celebrating. Celebrating the hanging of a “terrorist” who was part of the conspiracy that blew Mumbai twenty-two years ago.

Yakub Memon went down in history as a “terrorist”. But who was he actually? How did he bomb Mumbai, as was alleged? Did he do it alone?

Some people would say that he was arguably the most famous “terrorist” since he had an interview telecast on national television some twenty years ago just after his surrender-cum-arrest.

Yakub Memon was a Chartered Accountant before blasts rocked the city of Mumbai in March 1993. He had a sprawling business with his childhood friend Chetan Mehta. This was one thing that Yakub Memon was. Apart from that he was younger brother of Tiger Memon, who was accused of being a smuggler and was linked with Mumbai’s Mafia activities according to the police files.

In his interview Yakub had said that he had very limited interaction with his older brother Tiger Memon as they were always on the different page. He did not pay attention to his activities, as he was busy with his own business. He learned about the activities of Tiger Memon after reaching Dubai and then Pakistan where the Memon family fled from India just before the bomb blasts. He also said that he surrendered before the Indian authorities and was not arrested by them as was publicized in the media. He did so because he understood the gravity of the crime that was attached to his family’s name and he wanted to clear it. However, this was his account, which is obviously different from the Indian authorities’ account.

What is interesting is the gradual change that Indian agencies made in the status of Yakub Khan. They gradually established that he was the mastermind of the blasts. In the charge sheet filed after preliminary investigation he was mentioned as one of the collaborators in the bomb conspiracy while the mastermind was Tiger Memon. The evidence according to police narrative was circumstantial. Then, it was maintained by the agencies that he funded the bomb blast conspiracy and finally it was established that he was also the mind behind the planning, hatching and execution of the conspiracy.

For a moment, let us accept that he was all of what the Indian intelligence agencies established he was. Still several inconsistencies in the entire process of investigation, trial and punishment can be detected viewing them from various angles.

Let us first take the perspective of national security. One thing is clear from the magnitude of the bomb blasts that it could not have been the handiwork of just one or two people. It would have needed a team to execute that. In case he was the mastermind, then he must have been also the part of some chain leading to some organization involved in terror activities against India. Why could not then Indian establishment nab those organizations on the basis of information from Yakub Memon? Why did only Yakub Memon bear the brunt for the blasts when apparently there were many people involved in the execution of conspiracy? Why is the Indian establishment only involved in symbolic justice and not the real justice? In the recent years it has been seen for the third time now that one person was hanged to death and the case closed. No more information, no more investigation was carried out in those cases. It appears like it is this “one man-army” v/s Indian state in all those terror cases. It happened with Afzal Guru in 2001 Parliament bomb blast case. That case was riddled with glaring discrepancies, yet to satisfy the “collective conscience” of our country a person who might have been innocent was sacrificed. After that it was Ajmal Kasab, a Pakistani who was part of a gang of terrorists that attacked Mumbai in 2008. Interestingly, all other terrorists were killed and only he was nabbed alive by the Indian authorities. He was established as the mastermind of the whole operation very conveniently because he was caught alive. As if there could be no other mastermind. He was hanged to death in 2012. After that, the case was closed shut. And recently it was Yakub Memon. All the official narrations in the Mumbai bomb blasts 1993 indicated the major role played by Tiger Memon along with handful of other people. But Indian authorities failed to nab or convict any other accused.

This, then, can create a big loophole in the national security interests of the country. Does the Indian establishment not realize that by punishing the people who might not really be the perpetrators of any crime can lead to possibilities of retaliation against the Indian state and thereby keep the cycle of violence on? May be Indian establishment is not concerned about it because it is convenient for them too. If there is a constant fear of terror among the masses, it is helpful in keeping the common people divided so that there is less attention towards the misdeeds and shortcomings in the state policies.

Another perspective to look at this case relates to justice and how it should look like in a political system. Should justice be really pursued and delivered or is the mere appearance of justice delivered is good enough for a healthy political system? It took twenty-two years to convict just one person for the bomb blasts and fingers were raised at every step on that case. Such a long process in delivering the verdict mocks the very concept of justice. Further, questions have been raised about the rehabilitation of the blast victims to this date. In the course of justice for Mumbai bomb blast case of 1993 is the shadow of sectarian riots that took place two months before and took the lives of 800 people with destruction of livelihoods worth millions. There have been no convictions for those riots. How interesting is it that the riots that took place just two months prior and were targeted to kill Muslims did not shake the “collective conscience” of Indian state but the bomb blasts which according to Indian establishment’s own standpoint were in retaliation of the riots received far more media coverage and establishment’s attention.

Yakub Memon’s hanging appears to this author as if one man was hanged for the crimes of all others and all others were forgiven in lieu of punishing one. There was no justice done at all. It was delayed and it lacked focus.

Last but not at all least, the third perspective on this case is the debate around capital punishment. What did the Indian establishment achieve by delivering a death sentence? Could the Indian state barter the security and safety of its citizens from terrorism? Or was it merely to satisfy the rage of masses by flaring exponential revenge emotions? Does hanging of Yakub Memon calm down the hatred and distrust that people have developed in general for each other because they belong to different communities? In my opinion certainly none of the objectives were achieved. What bewilders anyone is the shortsightedness with which the Indian establishment declares anyone criminal and punishes him or her. It looks like there is desperation to declare just anyone a criminal and especially a person who belongs to a religious minority or marginalized caste. It is always easier to subjugate the members of that community more which is oppressed systemically. All the statistics collected from across the world show that capital punishment does not act as a deterrent for committing heinous crimes. So what is the use of capital punishment? What kind of score does the state want to settle? A state has to be the source of highest levels of morality and ethics in dealing with a life. Mercy and appreciation have far more positive impact on the mental structures of a person and society at large.

People are not born as criminals but the circumstances – social or political conditionings that lead them to do the acts of crime. In democracy people chose the establishment to provide a healthy structure to the politics and society of the country. However, the Indian establishment falls short all the time in securing the rights of marginalized sections. The Indian state, rather than providing a vision for a safe and healthy society, is involved in fanning fear and hate in the society. Abolishment of capital punishment is a step toward making of a civilized society and polity but India has decided to fall short whenever faced with the opportunity to rise. The Courts of India passed one verdict in Yakub Memon’s case but History would pass another verdict. Long Live History, History is in the making.

Now only buffalo “Keema and Nihari”: Beef “Cow-slaughter” banning starts in India

First Gujarat, then Maharashtra followed by Haryana and now many more states are going to follow the suit. Cow slaughter for the purpose of meat or leather is banned in these states. This banning fashion raises several questions of political, social, religious and philosophical significance. I would like to use this space to raise some of those questions:

  1. Can government(s) in a democratic country decide what people should eat?
  2. What kind of political mileage Bharatiya Janata Party and organizations those are associated with it culturally and ideologically trying to gain?
  3. Mumbai High Court states, “Do not make religious issue out of beef banning”, but Maharashtra Government has done precisely the same. Therefore, why not to consider beef banning as a political tool to achieve religious polarization?
  4. Which kind of “Hindu culture” will be preserved with the ban on cow slaughter?
  5. Can beef eating become criteria for deciding who is “Hindu” and who is not? If so, then what procedure will be taken to oust those Hindus from Hinduism who eat beef?
  6. Does ban on cow slaughter subtly promote racist political ideology and extends beyond human lives to animals?
  7. Is banning cow slaughter a planned political move to blow the economy of poor Dalits and Muslims, who happen to be involved in slaughtering business more than any other communities?
  8. What makes cow sacred over other animals? Those who practice vegetarianism because they consider killing animals for food consumptions as a sinful act, how can they justify other animals are not as sacred and deserve same kind of treatment?
  9. How economically viable is the option of founding cow shelters?
  10. What will happen to cows after they will stop producing milk?
  11. In a country with huge deficit of fodder for livestock, how will be fodder for large-scale domestication of cows in cow-shelters meet out?
  12. Is the crime index of India going down, that the BJP governments are finding ways to raise the crime index of the country by bringing matters of livelihood, food habits, personal choices of religious practices and marriages under the ambit of crimes?
  13. From criminalizing religious conversion, to having inter-religious marriages, to ban on certain food habits, reading habits, artistic expression etc. isn’t it like creating monoliths in the name of preserving Indian aka “Hindu” culture?

Some interesting articles on recent beef banning campaign that has taken off in India:

Beef ban is an attempt to impose upper-caste culture on other Hindus: Kancha Ilaiah

(Courtesy: Scroll.in)

Maharashtra’s Beef Ban: By Jyoti Punwani (Courtesy: EPW)

Beef ban and the death of protest (Courtesy: Rediff.com)

Beef ban: In a first, 3 people booked for allegedly slaughtering calves in Maharashtra (Courtesy: The Indian Express)

Don’t make a religious issue out of beef ban, says HC (Courtesy: The Indian Express)

Cow Mad in India (Courtesy NY Times)

Selling the Sacred Cow: India’s Contentious Beef Industry (Courtesy: The Atlantic)

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