The hanging of Yakub Memon drew unexpected intention at the last moment when it had become abundantly clear that he had to go to the gallows. His case in the Supreme Court was pressed hard, in unprecedented hearings lasting till dawn two hours before he was actually hanged. The Court can be appreciated for having given the maximum opportunity of right to hearing considering the importance of life. Similarly, lawyers pleaded the case for Yakub till the last moment because they considered human life to be important and are basically against the death penalty. They also had a feeling that injustice was taking place in the matter as State authorities were not discharging their function by prosecuting the other set of culprits who had provoked the Memon brothers to kill innocent people. The efforts of these lawyers were to save one life. They deserve respect.
At the same time there is a class of people who had reasonable grounds to believe that Yakub was targeted because he was a Muslim. There is another group of politicians who wrongly tried to give an impression as if this entire issue was of last one year and everything was being done in a hurry.
The Supreme Court had dismissed the appeal of the convicts in March 2013; first round of review petitions was dismissed in July 2013 and ultimately the first mercy petition was filed through Yakub’s brother which was rejected in April 2014. After all this, because of a judicial pronouncement in September 2014, all death row convicts who had not been executed by then were entitled to open court hearing in review applications. Accordingly, Yakub filed a fresh review application which was heard in open court and dismissed in April 2015. The Curative Petition was then dismissed in July 2015.
Hence from the conviction by the TADA Court to the confirmation of the conviction by the Supreme Court and dismissal of mercy plea by the President, all these events took place during the previous regime. Obviously many politicians from the party that was then in power, now projecting themselves to be great sympathisers, had better opportunity to raise their voice at the appropriate time. Certainly that would have served the cause in a much better way than by now agitating the issue sitting in opposition. These are the people who, when they were in power, had shown different and much more arbitrary attitude while hanging Afzal Guru. Even his dead body was not handed over to his family members.
The issue of targeting Yakub because he was Muslim could be partially correct. The bias is largely attributable to the political class, the investigating agencies and in many cases, the attitude and the way of functioning of the trial courts. In the higher judiciary, that bias is not grave. It’s a bit surprising that the largest minority community, despite making the grievance of a particular nature in this entire episode, did not come forward to take a view on the issue and place their viewpoint in Court or in media.
It is further shocking that from such a large number of advocates of different ranks at the Supreme Court Bar belonging to Muslim community, no one was found in the front row to agitate the issue. Why should Muslims leave their grievance unattended or leave them upon the shoulders of people like Mr. Prashant Bhushan, Mr. Raju Ramachandran, Mr. Yugmohit Chaudhary etc. These lawyers are not fighting the case because the convict was a Muslim. They value human life, follow certain principles and are principally against the death penalty.
The victim of bias by the investigating and prosecuting agencies in communal violence cases has also been the Sikh community. We have seen the fate of cases relating to the 1984 violence against Sikh community. There also the man guilty for killing the then Prime Minister was hanged. The Sikh community, thereafter, came with concerted efforts to fight the political and justice system and one can see the result in that the killer of Beant Singh, the then Chief Minister of Punjab, was saved from the gallows.
It is sad to see that, for whatever reason, the grievances of the Muslim community are not being articulated strongly by Muslims, neither before the courts or before society at large. Muslim scholars, lawyers and activists should have come out and spoken in clear terms about what they thought was the grievance of the community at large in this particular matter or in other issues with larger ramifications concerning them. The trend in the Supreme Court has been that many a time on such issues, lawyers belonging to the Muslim community who can serve genuine causes, though few in number, have not shown interest in pleading such cases.
The number of Muslim prisoners is disproportionate in different prisons across the country. Obviously, there are many who are there because of a prejudiced police system. In Maharashtra alone, there were 25 per cent Muslim detainees who did not have access to defense lawyers. The Muslim community, at larger level, needs to think seriously as to why they have not been able to generate such people who can come forward to take up these issues and why those who are there are reluctant in taking up those issues which they feel should have been placed strongly.
This article appeared in the Print Edition of The Statesman on 06th August, 2015