Two Hangings And A Funeral

Over eight thousand people attended the funeral of Yakub Memon in South Mumbai. The Mumbai police had enforced a complete media blackout on the orders of its Commissioner, and therefore no photographs or videos of the funeral were broadcast. Many people had come from afar, driving or taking trains to the venue. The Memons are a prominent family in their area, and apart from relatives and friends attending the last rites, there were thousands who had no connection to them, and had came to pay their respects.

A lot has already been said about Yakub Memon and the circuitous route he took to his final resting place. In the eyes of many Muslims of Mumbai and the rest of India, the man died a hero. In their opinion, Muslims were being pushed into a corner after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, and thousands had died across India during that winter of massacres, hundreds of them in police firing. A famous case in Mumbai, in which no death or life sentence was awarded to the perpetrators, involved the killing of Muslims by the Mumbai Police at a well-known mosque in Dhongri while they were praying. It was the blatantly communal role that the Police played in the riots that is said to have driven the Muslim-dominated underground in Mumbai to plot revenge. Many Muslims say that the day after the blasts, their lives changed, forever.

Yakub may have been involved, but under the circumstances surrounding his participation and his crime, the fact that he had cooperated with and aided the authorities in their investigations, and the fact that he had spent 21 years in prison till the day he was taken to the gallows, his hanging was nothing short of blood-thirsty mob violence, and by no means justice. The Hindutva Brigade, ever so eager to divide India and see the violent end of Muslims, rejoiced. Yet, despite him being a convicted terrorist, Yakub’s body was returned, his family was allowed to give him a proper burial in its own graveyard, and mourners were allowed to participate.

Such decency was not accorded to Afzal Guru, whose family was not allowed the mandated last meeting and came to know of his hanging on February 9, 2013 through the media, and whose body has not been returned. Perhaps, because, like Ajmal Kasab before him, India never considered Guru to be an Indian in the first place.

The last three persons hanged in India were all Muslim. Greater crimes than those they had been convicted for have been committed, by Hindus, but the justice system of India has shown itself incapable of finding enough evidence to hang Hindus or Sikhs in the past few years. This is a dangerous precedent. The ‘rarest of the rare’ seems to be ‘reserved for Muslims only.’

For a nation that prides itself on its democracy, its functioning constitution, and an ‘independent’ judiciary, this system of justice is hypocritical. A known rioter, who brags about having raped Muslim girls, roams scot-free, but a young Muslim man has to spend fourteen years in jail before being acquitted of the crime he had been sentenced for. ‘Moral principles’ have been eroded, power lies in the hands of forces who have used religious symbolism to polarise the people of India, and a dangerous level of communalism has overtaken the common man’s understanding. The situation is worrisome. India is on knife-edge, and, if not handled with caution, another riot is always around the corner.