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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 36, August 29, 2015

On the Hanging of Yaqub Memon

Monday 31 August 2015, by Humra Quraishi


The following lines were written just before Yaqub Memon’s execution. It is being published now as its contents have not lost their validity.

Why am I writing for the second consecutive week on Yaqub Memon? Perhaps, because the more I’m hearing television debates and those fiercely charged discussions out there in the open on his proposed hanging, I feel its relevant to focus on those thoughts hitting ever so persistently.

Foremost, why is it that in the midst of our supposed developed state we are dragging this entire debate, for and against the hanging, along the Hindu-Muslim format. After all, he is a human being who deserves justice. Nothing but justice.

Why is it that Right-wing brigades are crying hoarse, as though awaiting for that proposed hanging to take place... Why that underlying excitement, that unhidden enthusiasm, that zest to see Yaqub Menon executed ...hanged to death! These reactions are disturbing.

In these last few days I have been also hearing many throwing up query after query, along the strain—why is it that only ‘some’ or ‘few’ are punished; other culprits who have committed equally brutal crimes/planned pogroms/encoun-ters are left untouched! Why these apparent double-standards? Why these apparent biases and discriminations? After all, you have a whole list of crime-doers-cum-rioters-cum-killers-cum-destroyers, accused in the 1992 Babri Masjid demolition-cum-rioting and as well as in the 2002 Gujarat pogrom, yet none them hanged! Why is it that the likes of Babu Bajrangis and Maya Kodnanis and Amit Shahs are not severely punished! This when these characters more than terrorised a section of the population and with that dragged along dents and destruction of the worst kind.

Another aspect which looms large is — what remains of a man once you imprison him for life, languishing he sits in solitary confinement? With that, he is anyway half dead! Nothing much remains of him! Hanging him could be a mere formality or that formality ridden gesture which should or could be avoided. Read volumes authored by several of the jailed and their accounts are un-nerving. The imprisoned, perhaps, die a thousand deaths every single day.

Read senior journalist Iftikhar Gilani’s My Days in Prison (Penguin), lawyer activist Nandita Haksar’s Framing Geelani, Hanging Afzal—Patriotism in The Time of Terror (Bibliophile South Asia), Kashmiri woman activist, Zamarud Habib’s Prisoner No 100—My nights and days in an Indian Prison (Zubaan), Mufti Qayyum’s recently published book, I am a Mufti and I Am Not Terrorist (Jamiat Ulema).

There are some other disturbing underlying facts and factors—why is it that 53 per cent of the total prison population in the country is that of Dalits and Tribals and Muslims! This does not tally with their overall population percentage.

And the picture gets compounded as the jails are over-stuffed with undertrials. Roughly put, 75 per cent of the jailed population of the country are undertrials... Also, in these recent years I have been meeting parents of young men who had been picked up by cops/agencies, for interrogation and then disappeared. Never to return. I have met parents from Malegaon and Hyderabad and Ahmedabad and from villages of Rajasthan whose sons have been illegally picked up by the local police. The Kashmir Valley has a long list of 10,000 disappeared young men.

In fact, the late film-maker Shubhradeep Chakravorty’s documentary, After The Storm, focuses on several young Muslim men who had been sitting jailed with terror charges till finally acquitted from the various courts. Acquitted but they are ruined—ruined reputations and health and bitter hopelessness around.

If you were to read these two publications—Communal Riots: The State and Law in India, edited by Iqbal Ansari and published by the Institute of Objective Studies, and Omar Khalidi‘s Khaki and the Ethnic Violence (Three Essays Collective), facts hit. To quote Khalidi, ”Most of the intelligence agencies and paramilitary forces in India do not mirror the diversity of the national population ...for example in 1993 the Union Minister of State for Home confirmed that there has not been a single Muslim in RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) and IB (Intelligence Bureau) personnel ....Much the same is the story in the para-military forces. Assam Rifles, India’s oldest paramilitary force is composed primarily of Gurkhas—both foreign Nepalis and domiciled. Even though Assam is nearly 30 per cent Muslims, few Muslims are found in the Assam Rifles ...”

Finally, focusing once again on the very crux—If the terrorist takes life, then should the state come down to his level and also indulge in the same? Tit for tat! Killing for killings! Brutality for brutalities! Death for deaths! With that, what’s the difference between the civilised state and a wayward citizen?

Can there be a superior way out of handling those striking terror? A more civilised way out? Perhaps, the first step in that direction would be to halt executions. No more hangings. For if even one innocent is hanged we’d have to hang our heads in shame.

Instead of hanging the accused make, him till parched fields of the malnourished dying farmers and with that save lives and livelihoods.