Thursday, 02 February 2023

Shatarup Ghosh

The busy streets of Mumbai came to a halt few days back as the last rite of Yakub Memon saw a major turn up of people. Though the identity of every single individual is not known to anybody, by looking at the pictures of the procession, one can easily make out that most of the people present there were Muslims by faith. Without even wasting a single a minute, the R.S.S. started circulating some of those pictures on social media, claiming it to be the ultimate proof of Muslims in general being ‘affectionate towards terrorists’. Shri. Tathagata Roy, veteran BJP leader of West Bengal and the present Governor of Tripura went ahead by not one, but quite a few steps to make a ridiculous comment that all of those attending Yakub Memon’s burial are ‘potential terrorists’. What the disciples of Nathuram Godse conveniently chose to forget was that this was not the first time that India saw people thronging the funeral of a condemned individual. Three years back, the same old streets of Mumbai saw flood of people grieving the death of Bal Thakrey, the man who orchestrated the killing of hundreds of people during the Mumbai Riot; the only difference being that three years back the colour of the procession was saffron.

But at that time not a single sane person thought or stated that the people who gathered in Bal Thakrey’s funeral could be ‘potential rioters’. Majority of the people who assembled then were the ones whose wrong beliefs and regressive consciousness had made Bal Thakrey appear as ‘Hindu Hriday Samrat’ to them. Disciples of Godse would always try to propagate these wrong beliefs. But the job of the left and progressive forces in the society is to try and fight the forces of regression to cultivate the culture of scientific values and ideas in the minds of people and in the society as a whole.

Jawaharlal Nehru wrote in his autobiography that while communalism of the minority is easy to be recognized, communalism of the majority can often take the camouflage of nationalism. And what we are seeing today in the events that are taking place surrounding the capital execution of Yakub Memon is the exercise of this very concept of aggressive nationalism.
There are many who believe that capital punishment is too primitive an idea to exist in modern human society. Several opine that Yakub Memon, not being the main conspirator in the bomb blast incident, did not desrve death penalty. Again, many including B. Raman, the former RAW officer who took Yukub Memon under custody, believe that since he surrendered and provided valuable information and evidence to the investigators, it should have been considered as mitigating circumstance to exempt him from capital punishment and be given life imprisonment instead . But one thing is clear. In case of Yakub Memon the debate was between death and imprisonment till death. The debate was never between death and acquittal. So to say that all those who are criticising the hanging are actually in favour of giving safe passage to terrorists, is a characterized effort by the saffron brigade to spread deliberate falsehood.
However, in spite of all the debates, what apparently remains true is that Yakub Memon was a man involved in terrorist activities. He was a participant in a heinous act of crime against humanity that killed hundreds of people. He was no holy soul on earth whose mortal remains has to be grieved upon by thousands of people. And here perhaps lies the most important of the questions that this entire episode has raised before us. Then why did we see what we saw? Why did the streets of Mumbai get flooded that day by thousands of people, who are as ordinary citizens of this country, as anyone else?

What we all know is that the Mumbai Bomb Blast in 1993 was a reaction to the infamous Mumbai Riots that happened in the previous year. And this is not a theory that has been put forward by the leftists or anyone else. Rather it is a specific conclusion that has been laid down in the report of Justice B. M. Srikrishna Commission that was formed by the Government of Maharashtra to investigate into the Serial Bomb Blast. However, the responsibility to show the reaction to the riots did not lie with Yakub Memon and his aides. What they did was an act of terrorism. The responsibility to react lies with the government. The responsibility of bringing the rioters to book lies with the judiciary. In one word, it is the duty of the state to prevent riot at every corner of the country and to ensure suitable punishment to all those who architect riots, irrespective of their religious identity.

23 years have passed since the banks of the Arabian Sea witnessed one of the worst communal violence of 20th century, where more than 900 people got killed and thousands injured, majority of them happening to be from the Muslim community. Today if someone who had lost his or her kin in the riot stands up and asks, how much longer he or she will have to wait to get justice; the answer doesn’t seem to be ready with the state.

And the question is not only of the personal emotion of someone who has been a direct victim in the riots. Outside that ambit, there remains a vast section of the population for whom uncertainty is created everyday by the series of events, as they unfold. When the demolisher of Babri Masjid becomes the Deputy Prime Minister of India, when the main perpetrator of Mumbai riots is given state funeral, when a person climbs up mounds of dead bodies in Gujarat to hoist the tri-colour from the ramparts of the Red Fort, the creation of this uncertainty becomes inevitable. That these people might ever get punished for their crimes seems to be a bizarre idea.

Within two years after the riots, BJP-Siv Sena alliance got elected to form the government in Maharashra, riding on their electoral promise to ‘safeguard the Hindus’. The first thing that they did after assuming office was to throw away the Srikrishna Commission report into the dustbin. The commission had recommended action to be taken against policemen whom they found guilty of facilitating the riots. Every such policeman was exempted by the government and some were given promotions as well! And Bal Thakrey, who was supposed to be landing of in jail for perpetrating riots, became the de facto chief minister and supreme controller of the government. And the survivors of the riots had nothing to do but to watch these developments with sigh of helplessness.

Justice B. M. Srikrishna, while commenting on the treatment of the riots and blasts cases in an interview published in the Indian Express on 1st August, ’15 has categorically stated that, “It is distressing that instead of being looked at as incidents of crimes, the two sets of acts got dealt with disparately depending on the communal inclinations of the state apparatus.”
It is natural for a person, who has directly or indirectly been affected in any incident of crime, to possess a subjective opinion about the nature of intervention of the state. But when someone who has been serving at the highest level of integral state machinery like the judiciary complains of “state bias”, it underlines the fact that something is horribly wrong with the way the system has been functioning.

A small piece of statistics might attest the apprehension raised by many like Justice Srikrishna on the role of the state. In the Mumbai Bomb Blast incident where 257 people got killed, 100 have been convicted and one has been served capital execution. And in the Mumbai riots where more than 900 people died, only 3have been convicted and the punishment ordered for the convicts was one year of imprisonment.

It is because of this one sided approach of the state that several people lose their faith in the system. Some get driven to believe that sooner or later they will be facing atrocities as well. No one is there to save them. And the state is not going to ensure them justice. From this disillusionment towards the system takes birth one kind of panic and insecurity that makes the Yakub Menons messiah in the eyes of some people. “The state did not punish those who killed my child. Rather, they were given gun salutes. May be the path that Yakub Memons took was wrong. But at least they had taken my revenge”. This way of thinking has devastating consequences for the society. But century old wrong beliefs on one hand and relentless build-up of fear and insecurity on the other hand shall force some people to think this way. So whether one likes it or not, if the role of the state characterise bias, the Yakub Memons will become ‘icon’ for some people in the society. The darkness on earth will get deeper.