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04 August, 2015

Vengeance in garb of justice

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The hanging of Mumbai serial blasts convict Yakub Memon last week has brought to the fore the issue of administration of justice, with particular reference to use of the death penalty.

“Ultimately, justice has been delivered to all the victims of the 1993 Mumbai blasts,” said Bharatiya Janata Party Secretary Shrikant Sharma. Congress party spokesman PC Chacko echoed his sentiments but added “full justice” would come only when Tiger Memon and Dawood Ibrahim, the prime accused, were punished.

“Justice according to law has been done,” said former Supreme Court judge BN Srikrishna, revealing an understanding of the concept of justice which was missing in the politicians’ comments. The cases relating to the blasts and those relating to the communal riots that occurred earlier were “dealt with disparately, depending on the communal inclinations of the state apparatus,” he added.

Justice Srikrishna who held a judicial inquiry into the riots had found a causative link between the two events. The Memon family had suffered extensive damage in the riots.

The justice-has-been-done refrain of the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress seeks to camouflage the cycle of violence and vengeance of the past quarter century in which the former was an active participant, along with its Hindutva ally Shiv Sena, and the latter was an ex post facto accessory.

The chain of events started with the demolition of Babri Masjid at Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh cadres on December 6, 1992 in the presence of BJP chief LK Advani.

Justice Srikrishna said a spontaneous peaceful protest by incensed and leaderless Muslims in Mumbai quickly degenerated into riots. He attributed part of the blame to the provocative slogans raised at celebratory rallies organised by Shiv Sena and BJP. Later, Hindu mobs, influenced by the communal propaganda of Shiv Sena leaders, including its supremo Bal Thackeray, resorted to large-scale violence. 

Sudhakarrao Naik of the Congress was the Chief Minister when the riots broke out. The blasts occurred after Sharad Pawar took over from him.

When the SS-BJP combine came to power, the government disbanded the Srikrishna Commission. BJP Prime Minister AB Vajpayee asked the SS Chief Minister to reinstate it.

The riots and police firings to quell them left 900 dead. Of them, 575 were Muslims and 275 Hindus. While in power neither the SS-BJP combine nor the Congress pursued the riot cases vigorously.

In the only riot case that resulted in conviction, three SS men, including Madhukar Sarpotdar, MP, were given one year’s rigorous imprisonment. Sarpotdar was immediately granted bail and died two years later without going to prison.

The 13 explosions left 257 dead and more than 700 injured. Damage to property was estimated at Rs 300 million. The prosecution said the blasts were plotted by underworld don Dawood Ibrahim and carried out by his associates including Tiger Memon.

The entire Memon family slipped out of Mumbai to Karachi, where Dawood is believed to be living under ISI protection. Tiger’s brother Yakub returned later, professing innocence, and provided the authorities with information on the roles of Dawood, Tiger and the ISI.

Members of all communities suffered in both the riots and the blasts. The media identified blast victims of one community who kept asking for justice. No riot victims of any community were paraded. Thus, in public discourse, justice became synonymous with vengeance.

In 2006, the trial court awarded the death penalty to 12 persons, including Yakub. As the case moved to higher courts, the others got relief and Yakub became the only one to be hanged.

Yakub’s final hours were marked by high drama with three Supreme Court judges sitting twice, the last time around 4am, three hours before the time set by the trial court for his hanging, to dispose of petitions filed by him or by others, including some eminent citizens, on his behalf. They really did not have to go without sleep. They could have followed the standards practice of staying the execution until the petitions were disposed of.

Unable to view the last acts of the drama as triumph of the rule of law, Anup Surendranath, Deputy Registrar (Research) at the Supreme Court quit the job to focus on the Death Penalty Research Project at the National Law University, of which he is the Director.

Why did the apex court judges feel so bound by the time-frame set by the lower court that they sacrificed sleep to honour it? There is no ready answer to the question. -- Gulf Today, August 4, 2015.

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