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A Little Memory Can Go a Long Way

Rioters in Bombay, January 1993. Credit: Sudharak Olwe

It is the silences that attend media coverage of Yakub Memon’s impending execution and not the Shiv Sena’s aggressive calls for his hanging that hold a mirror to Indian democracy most clearly. Leading national dailies carry photos of mangled bomb blast sites and interview those affected, as if to justify the imposition of the death penalty; none ask why other victims must continue to suffer silently the indignity of watching their attackers go scot-free.

The 1993 blasts were a heinous act of terror that came at the end of an equally heinous set of communal killings that tore Bombay apart in December 1992 and January 1993 but you would be hard pressed to find any mention of this context in any reporting of Yakub Memon. Memon is indeed guilty as charged and nothing can justify his involvement in the bombings. For the benefit of Indians under the age of 30-35, however, the media ought to have provided the background to the 1993 bombings: the destruction of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, the celebration rallies held by the BJP and Shiv Sena in Bombay, the complicity of the Bombay police and the Congress-led Sudhakarrao Naik government in the targeted killing of Muslims, the subsequent appointment of the Srikrishna Commission, and its indictment of the Hindutva forces and police involved in the 1992-3 Bombay riots. This background is essential not in order to lessen the guilt of Memon but to remind us of the other crimes that are crying out for punishment.

That the government itself felt there was a connection between the mob terror and bomb terror of that period is shown by the extended terms of reference given to the Srikrishna Commission: to explore whether the 12 March 1993 blasts had anything to do with the 1992-93 riots.

The Srikrishna Commission concluded:

“One common link between the riots of December 1992 and January 1993 and bomb blasts of 12 March 1993 appear to be that the former appear to have been a causative factor for the latter. There does appear to be a cause and effect relationship between the two riots and the serial bomb blasts. …

“Tiger Memon, the key figure in the serial bomb blasts case and his family had suffered extensively during the riots and therefore can be said to have had deep rooted motive for revenge. It would appear that one of his trusted accomplices, Javed Dawood Tailor alias Javed Chikna, had also suffered a bullet injury during the riots and therefore he also had a motive for revenge. Apart from these two specific cases, there was a large amorphous body of angry frustrated and desperate Muslims keen to seek revenge for the perceived injustice done to and atrocities perpetrated on them or to other members of their community and it is this sense of revenge which spawned the conspiracy of the serial blasts. This body of angry frustrated and desperate Muslims provided the material upon which the anti-national and criminal elements succeeded in building up their conspiracy for the serial bomb blasts.” (emphasis added)

The Bombay bombings are a cruel reminder of what can happen when state institutions fail to protect citizens from violence (or worse collude in the violence) and then deny them justice as well. Till justice is even-handed, coming down as heavily on the perpetrators of crimes against minorities, adivasis and dalits, as it does on individuals from these communities when they commit crimes, it will always be justice denied.

When Teesta Setalvad is harassed and persecuted for taking up the cases of the victims of the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 while those who committed the crimes are out on bail, what message are we sending? When the National Investigation Agency fails to seriously prosecute cases of terrorism involving Hindutva extremists, when files involving Hindutva terrorists conveniently disappear from a Jammu police station, will the cause of ‘justice’ really be served by hanging Yakub Memon but not even ensuring a day’s prison for others?

If the Indian state cannot be trusted to deliver justice, B. Raman’s revelations – and the CBI’s admission that Yakub was ‘induced’ to return to India – tell us it cannot also be trusted to keep its word. The interlocutors who secured IAS officer Alex Paul Menon’s release from the Maoists realised this when no ordinary adivasi was released in exchange despite the government’s promises; now any insurgent who wants to surrender or negotiate will think a hundred times before trusting the Indian government. Yakub Memon’s hanging will not help India find closure. Terror cannot be fought by the state selectively honouring its commitments, least of all its obligation to provide justice regardless of who a victim is and who the perpetrators are.

Nandini Sundar is a Professor of Sociology at the Delhi School of Economics and a security analyst.

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