The Vicious CircleHow Yakub Memon got embroiled in the deadliest attack on Mumbai
- Dec 6, 1992 Babri Masjid in Ayodhya demolished
- Dec 1992-Jan 1993 Communal riots rock Bombay, 900 dead, mostly Muslims
- Mar 10, 1993 Memon family leaves for Dubai; third son Yakub, then 30 and a chartered accountant, has a practice with 200 clients
- Mar 12, 1993 12 serial blasts rock Bombay, 257 dead, 713 injured
- Aug 5, 1994 Yakub Memon shown as being picked up from New Delhi station; he claims he had given himself up in Nepal eight days earlier
- Jun 30, 1995 The special TADA court commences trial with J.N. Patel as the presiding judge; 123 accused, all charged under conspiracy, Sec 120-B of Indian Penal Code
- Mar 29, 1996 Judge P.D. Kode takes over as TADA court judge
- Jul 28, 1999 Yakub writes to the SC chief justice, seeks relief from “unbearable punishment”
- Dec 2, 2006 After examining 686 witnesses, TADA court finds 100 guilty, 23 not guilty
- Jul 27, 2007 The court completes verdict; 12 including Yakub get death, 20 given life sentences
- Mar 21, 2013 SC commutes sentences of 10 but confirms death penalty for Yakub Memon, saying “his commanding position and the crime of utmost gravity” warranted no less
- May 2014 President Pranab Mukherjee rejects Yakub’s mercy petition
- Apr 9, 2015 SC rejects plea, confirms death for Yakub
- Apr 29, 2015 Special court in Mumbai fixes July 30 as date of execution
- Jul 21, 2015 SC rejects curative petition filed by Yakub
Yakub Memon will be woken up at 3 am, asked to have a bath, hot water if he so desires, at 3.10 am, will be given his preferred breakfast at 3.20 am and will hang at 4 am. If it goes by this script, it could all be over by 4.30 am…the reports about how Yakub will hang till death on July 30, his 53rd birthday, speak of minute instructions, arrangements with an eye to the tiniest of details and zero ambiguity about the mechanics of capital punishment.
However, the same clarity and conviction is missing when it comes to several issues that Yakub Memon’s case throws up, right from the day of his arrest—was it July 28 or August 5? Was it an arrest or surrender? Was it outside New Delhi railway station or Kathmandu or was it somewhere else?—to his rejected curative petition last week.
As one enters the narrow lane—a stone’s throw distance from the Mahim dargah and the police station—to look for the infamous Al Hussaini building, where the conspiracy for the blasts was hatched, bombs made and assembled, and where the Memon family lived and perhaps still lives, an air of suspicion and quiet scrutiny hangs as heavy as the July rain clouds. Shop owners just outside the building say they don’t know where it is, who the family is. Until a teenager enthusiastically points it out; perhaps he has been doing so for the past several days—ever since the date for execution was announced and the media made a beeline to take that picture of the building.
The security guard says, mechanically, unhelpfully, “They have gone out and you can’t enter.” A homeless couple across the street is more animated. “Isn’t this the house of the guy who is being hanged? The same guy?”The same guy is the younger brother of Tiger Memon, said to be the mastermind of the serial blasts along with dreaded gangster Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar, and a fugitive since 1987.
On March 12, 1993, 12 explosions killed 257 people and injured 713 in the commercial capital of the country—five-star hotels, the Stock Exchange, Plaza Cinema, Century Bazaar, Fishermen Colony—all crowded areas, carefully chosen so that the RDX-laden bombs and grenades would inflict maximum damage.
The blasts were a perverted revenge for two nightmarish spells of communal riots that had gripped the city post-Babri Masjid demolition on December 6, 1992, with a total toll of around 900. Until the 9/11 attack in the US, it was the biggest terror attack on a democratic country outside a conflict zone. Undoubtedly it changed the city, but the city, displaying its characteristic spirit, was famously back on its feet the very next day.
“Yakub’s role was important in the conspiracy. He was looking after finances to fund the operation, was present at the meeting where the conspiracy was hatched in Dubai, was supervising it from Dubai and went to Pakistan later,” claims Ujjwal Nikam, the special public prosecutor in the case, categorically stating that Yakub had exhausted his options. “Even if he files another mercy petition, the Supreme Court has considered all the aspects in detail already,” says Nikam confidently (the grounds pertain to his arrest, his mental illness and delay in the trial and execution besides the illegalities involved in the issue of the black warrant.)
Lawyer Shyam Keswani, who represented him for the first few days after his arrest, claims the CBI had a different attitude in the beginning. “When I had gone to meet the CBI officer soon after his arrest, they asked me if I had filed a bail application for Yakub. ‘He has helped us so much, we cannot thank him enough’, the CBI officer had said then.”
“But later they claimed that their own investigations led them to Delhi railway station, that they had asked him who he was because he looked suspicious, following which he was arrested. The truth is otherwise. They found him in Nepal because he wanted to appear before the government of India and clear his name. They have not come clean. Nepal is an independent country, did anyone inform their government?”“How could he have come without any assurances? Abu Salem got it in writing, Yakub didn’t. If your starting point is falsehood, then how can you believe what has come subsequently? And now they want to hang him…” says Keswani, incredulously.
Yakub’s arrest is officially recorded on August 5, 1994, his brothers and parents returned later—on August 25— and his wife, Raheen, who had by then just delivered a baby, was arrested on September 5. Why would they return one after the other unless the government had given them some assurance?
Legal experts say it may have been naive and gullible on the part of the young chartered accountant to take possibly a middle-level police officer’s word at face value. “There must have been a middleman and there have been reports but he didn’t have any evidence,” says one.
In an Indian Express report dated October 24, 2007, TADA judge P.D. Kode (see interview) was reported to have criticised the CBI for its arrest theory. “In a stinging criticism of the CBI investigation in Yakub’s case, the judgement says, ‘…in real life a person cannot be said to have appeared to such a place (Delhi) from the air. It is also absurd that the investigating agency would not have carried out the investigation regarding the said aspect.’ The fact that the CBI could not collect any evidence on from where Yakub reached Delhi ‘clearly exposes the falsity of the prosecution claim’,” the report read.
There are many who believe that he is being hanged as a substitute for his brother, Tiger. There are others who believe that it was impossible for anyone to “not know” what was happening in your own household, more so when a conspiracy is being hatched for serial blasts in the city. However, what matters is evidence before the law.On that too, enough debate has been generated over the years about the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, now repealed, under which the Memons were charged. The act made provisions for convictions as long as the prosecution could secure confessions of the co-accused. In this case, two approvers helped build the case. The confessions were later retracted (see judge Kode interview). The Memons never confessed.
Material evidence of a vehicle registered in (brother Suleiman’s wife) Rubina Memon’s name and scrutiny of their flats, which yielded empty cartons from Pakistan and stains of RDX on the walls, was there before the court. He was sentenced to death for conspiracy under Section 120-B of the IPC.
In a letter to the SC, while shifting the blame to his brothers Tiger and Ayub, Yakub claimed he was innocent and had full faith in the judiciary. He was also suffering from mental illness, the letter claimed. That is what lawyers defending him are most concerned about. Yakub, like his brother Yusuf, is said to be schizophrenic. He has also been treated for ‘depression’ for many years, say lawyers who have represented him at different stages in the past 20 years.
“Yakub Memon has been suffering from schizophrenia for over two decades. Several reports by state-constituted medical boards have confirmed this. Under medical jurisprudence, schizophrenia is recognised as a serious condition. Secondly, under Indian law it is clearly mentioned that a person with mental illness can’t be hanged. So Yakub’s execution cannot be carried out,” says Yug Chaudhry, lawyer and rights activist who has represented Nalini (convicted in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case).“Many international conventions and our own Supreme Court stand is that a person who is sick, mentally or physically, or is pregnant shall not be hanged. The media should go and investigate how he has been given a ‘fit’ certificate for the execution to happen,” says another senior lawyer. A doctor who has inspected him in the past, on condition of anonymity, says two or more of his family members have been treated for schizophrenia. However, judge Kode rejects the claim of his mental illness. Nor has the claim cut any ice with the Supreme Court and President Pranab Mukherjee.
Even as it may seem that most options before him have been exhausted, some lawyers are still hopeful of him getting relief. “Reformation is always a ground for mercy, if the courts and the government were to take into consideration,” says Yug Chaudhry about Yakub, who has since his imprisonment acquired two Masters degrees and is reportedly a model prisoner at Nagpur central jail.
“The main option before Yakub is to challenge the rejection of mercy petition on the very limited grounds mentioned in the SC judgement in the Shatrughan Chouhan case (undue delay in disposal of mercy petitions, mental illness, and solitary confinement as supervening grounds),” says Anup Surendranath, director of the Death Penalty Research Project, National Law University, Delhi. Yakub has filed a mercy petition before the governor since the previous one was filed by his brother. His defence lawyers have moved the SC to get a stay on the execution, currently planned for July 30. The new petition says the death warrant is illegal because it didn’t follow proper procedure, having been issued before he exhausted all legal options available to him, which is against the rules.Lawyers and anti-death penalty activists have pointed out that announcing the date for hanging smacks of an unexplained rush to hang him. “Jab tak zindagi hai tab tak hope hai. How did you commute Nalini’s sentence? Was it a less heinous offence? Riots are a fact and can you please tell me how many of those people were caught and hanged? They have forgotten his positive role in the investigation (that allowed the agencies to establish Pakistan’s involvement). This hanging smacks of communalism, nothing else,” says an indignant Keswani.
Chaudhry concurs. “I am sickened at the prospect of the hanging. It is being done in the name of all of us, the people, and yet there is no unanimity on this issue.” And while his mercy petitions and preparations for his hanging run parallel, his family—brother, daughter and wife Raheen are camping in Nagpur to see him and spend time with him, not knowing when their last meeting would be.