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To understand why thousands attended Yakub’s funeral, you have to recall the Bombay riots

The Srikrishna Commission report lays bare the deadly role played by the Shiv Sena and its leader, Bal Thackeray, in carrying out the violence that consumed the city in December 1992 and January 1993.

Somasekhar Sundaresan 

To understand why thousands attended Yakub's funeral, you have to recall the Bombay riots

Photo Credit: Arko Datta/Reuters
A Muslim family lived down the road from my school, operating an automobile repair shop. The shop was nothing but a single-storeyed wooden box that stored repair tools and doubled up as the family’s home. Munna, the younger of the sons from the family was rough in his manners – just like what any boy growing up on the street would be. His humour was brash but he had a confident laugh that made us clean uniformed school-going boys envious.

Then December 6, 1992, dawned. One evening, I saw a mob converge on Munna’s shop, throwing Molotov cocktails and other improved petrol bombs at it. His family’s belongings were pulled out and thrown into a bonfire in the middle of the road. That day, 23 years ago, was  the first time I felt real fear. I ran up to a police post to alert them.  The inspector asked two constables with nothing more than lathis to go back with me. I hurried ahead when one constable  with a worried look on his face said I could not simply complain and run away.  I should walk with them, he said. I have not seen or heard about Munna and his family since then.

Mumbai had experienced civil war. The city resembled Lebanon of the 1980s, with unofficial ghetto lines being drawn demarcating the areas of safety for Hindus and Muslims. Justice BN Srikrishna, a devout Hindu, was charged with conducting a judicial inquiry commission into the Mumbai riots of December 1992 and January 1993. An estimated 900 Mumbaikars had been slaughtered and 2,036 were injured, according to the official records. In March 1993, a series of bomb blasts killed an estimated 257 people and injured 713. Politicians from the Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata Party who had opposed the inquiry into the riots insisted that the Srikrishna  Commission’s work be expanded to also cover the bomb blasts to consider whether there were common conspirators in both sets of violence.

While one is entitled to one’s own opinion, one is never entitled to one’s own facts. Therefore, it is best to go by facts found by the Justice Srikrishna Commission about the riots and the blasts, as well as, by the criminal justice system right up to the Supreme Court, about the blasts.

The two protagonists

One hundred people including chartered accountant Yakub Memon were convicted of conspiracy to carry out the blasts. For killing 257 people, he was awarded the death sentence. Other key suspects and accused are absconding and have fled India.

As for the riots, there was no doubt about who the perpetrators were. They were themselves vocal about it.  But to come back to judicial findings backed by voluminous evidence:

“From 8th January 1993 at least there is no doubt that the Shiv Sena and Shiv Sainiks took the lead in organising attacks on Muslims and their properties under the guidance of several leaders of the Shiv Sena from the level of Shakha Pramukh to the Shiv Sena Pramukh Bal Thackeray who, like a veteran General, commanded his loyal Shiv Sainiks to retaliate by organised attacks against Muslims.

By the time the Shiv Sena realised that enough had been done by way of ‘retaliation’, the violence and rioting was beyond the control of its leaders who had to issue an appeal to put an end to it.”

Turning to the events of January 1993, the Commission’s view is that

“….. large–scale rioting and violence was commenced from 6th January 1993 ….. It was taken over by Shiv Sena and its leaders who continued to whip up communal frenzy by their statements and acts and writings and directives issued by the Shiv Sena Pramukh Bal Thackeray.

….. the thinking of Shiv Sainiks that ‘Shiv Sena’s terror was the true guarantee of the safety of citizens’, were responsible for the vigilantism of Shiv Sainiks. Because some criminal Muslims killed innocent Hindus in one corner of the city, the Shiv Sainiks ‘retaliated’ against several innocent Muslims in other corners of the city.”

 Cause and effect

In the words of the Commission:

“One common link between the riots of December 1992 and January 1993 and bomb blasts of 12th 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.

….Mahesh Narain Singh who was heading the team of investigators who investigated into the serial bomb blasts case…… also emphasises that the serial bomb blasts were a reaction to the totality of events at Ayodhya and Bombay in December 1992 and January 1993 and the Commission is inclined to agree with him.”

 Different outcomes

Bal Thackeray died in November 2012 – nearly 20 years after the violence. He was accorded a state funeral. The Indian national flag draped his corpse. The funeral march was covered live on national television. Tens of thousands thronged the streets to witness the mega event while the television anchors who gagged themselves or pilloried anti-capital punishment activists extolled the virtues of his life.

Yakub Memon was hanged on July 31, 2015, despite extraordinary effort from anti-capital punishment advocates.  The Supreme Court reconstituted benches, conducted overnight hearings and ensured that Memon’s appointment with death was kept by the Indian state. About 15,000 people are said to have attended his funeral. Media coverage of his funeral was banned by the police by a gag order, and the media obligingly complied. A sitting governor of a State tweeted that those who attend the funeral are “potential terrorists”.

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