Security Fears, Unease Follow Indian Execution

By Rohit Wadhwaney
2015.07.30
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150730-IN-memon-620 Indian security personnel escort Suleman Memon (center) and Usman Memon (second, right) as they exit the Central Jail in Nagpur after their brother, Yakub Memon, was executed there, July 30, 2015.
AFP

Fear of inter-communal tension flaring in the wake of Yakub Memon’s execution prompted security measures across India Thursday, as controversy over use of the death penalty raged on.

Memon on Thursday became the sole convict ever sent to the gallows for the March 12, 1993 terror attack in which 13 explosions ripped across India’s financial capital of Mumbai, killing 257 people and injuring more than 700.

The Maharashtra state government released his body to relatives only after they agreed to stringent conditions for his funeral: they must hold it in Mumbai, their hometown, with no public procession, and release no photos or videos to the public.

Had they refused these conditions, his body would have been buried at the Nagpur Central Jail, where he was hanged at approximately 6:30 a.m. Thursday, jail sources told BenarNews.

He was pronounced dead at 7 a.m.

Memon was only the third person to be put to death in India during the past decade, according to the Associated Press. The other two had also been convicted of terrorism.

Pakistan connection?

Memon maintained his innocence right up till his execution, which was carried out on his 53rd birthday. He was accused of financing the attack and transporting explosives to the attack sites.

He was arrested in Kathmandu more than a year after the attack, which occurred when he was in Dubai. He and his family subsequently went to Pakistan.

Throughout his 21-year incarceration in Indian prisons Memon said he had returned from Pakistan only to expose those behind the bombings.

Upon his return, Memon told authorities that his brother, Tiger Memon, and underworld don Dawood Ibrahim had plotted the 1993 attack in connivance with the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) as retaliation for the demolition of Babri Masjid by a Hindu mob.

A riot that followed the December 1992 destruction of that mosque in Uttar Pradesh’s Ayodhya town led to some 2,000 deaths.

On the day of Memon’s execution, Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh told parliament that GPS data revealed that three gunmen who mounted a deadly attack in Punjab on Monday had crossed into the northwestern Indian state from Pakistan. At least 11 people, including the three gunmen in Indian army uniforms, were killed in the incident.

Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected Singh’s accusation.

“Pakistan condemns terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. Terrorism is a common enemy of both Pakistan and India,” it said in a statement. “To tackle terrorism, a cooperative approach is required. Blame game, and finger-pointing would be unhelpful.”

Death penalty debate

Hours before Memon’s scheduled hanging, the Supreme Court threw open its doors to hear a last-minute petition filed by his lawyers, who sought a 14-day stay on his execution. With two hours to go before Memon’s execution, the court rejected the petition.

While India’s Twitterati hailed the country’s “democratic greatness” – for allowing the final plea of a convicted terrorist to be heard in the dead of the night – activist and lawyer Shehzad Poonawalla questioned if this was just an “appearance of justice.”

“I am not saying Memon was innocent. He was guilty. But was he guilty enough to be hanged?” he told BenarNews, while questioning why the apex court on Wednesday had granted the assassins of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi a reprieve from death.

Quoting an Indian Law Commission report, Poonawalla said, “94 percent of death penalties in India are awarded to Muslims and Dalits.” Dalits occupy the lowest rung in the Hindu hierarchal system.

“Is this system fair? Even if Yakub Memon wasn’t a good guy, did he not deserve a fair system?” Poonawalla said.

All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi echoed Poonawalla’s words. He demanded that the government show equal fervor in bringing to justice perpetrators of the Gujarat riots in 2002 and anti-Sikh riots in 1984.

“Now that Memon is hanged, let’s see if Maya Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi are punished,” Owaisi told reporters in Delhi. Both Kodnani and Bajrangi were found guilty of leading mobs in the Gujarat riot to massacre hundreds of Muslims.

Alluding to the 1984 riots in Delhi that followed then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination by her Sikh bodyguards, in which over 3,000 Sikhs were killed, Owaisi said: “Will the killers of Sikhs in Delhi be punished?”

Dr. Bibhu Prasad Routray, former deputy director of the New Delhi-based National Security Council Secretariat, said if revenge was the Indian government’s strategy to snub terrorism, it might be flawed.

“The government is certainly trying to demonstrate a zero-tolerance policy on terrorism, although making death penalties an integral part of such a policy is erroneous. The reasons for such a stand, however, are understandable. Since the government's own counter-terror achievements have remained extremely limited,” Routray told BenarNews.

Last wish

As India was locked in debate, Memon was told to prepare himself for death at 5 a.m. Thursday, when the Supreme Court threw out his last-ditch plea for a stay of execution.

He expressed a desire to meet his 21-year-old daughter, Zubaida, jail sources said.

“Time was short. So we arranged for him to speak to her on the phone,” a constable at the jail told BenarNews.

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