PRAKASH KARAT Thursday, July 30, 2015
Rapid Action Force deployed at Memon’s family residence at Mahim.
NEW DELHI: The execution of Yakub Memon is a miscarriage of justice. There is no other way to describe the hanging of a man when there were strong mitigating circumstances to commute his sentence. Yakub Memon was certainly guilty of a crime – involvement in the conspiracy which led to the heinous bomb blasts in Mumbai which took the lives of 257 persons. But his role and the nature of the offence did not warrant capital punishment. The ends of justice would have been served if he had been awarded a life sentence, just as the ten others whose death sentences were commuted to life.
Yakub Memon was singled out for disproportionate punishment because his brother Tiger Memon, the main conspirator along with Dawood Ibrahim eluded the law. Yakub Memon was prepared to return from Pakistan and cooperate with the authorities. He provided valuable information and evidence as to how the ISI in Pakistan assisted the conspirators, a fact attested to by a former senior intelligence officer, the late B. Raman. The Supreme Court dismissed the revision petition disregarding these mitigating factors. The three-member bench of the Court also rejected his curative petition, overruling the procedural errors raised by Justice Kurian Joseph in the earlier two-member bench.
The President of India could have exercised the powers accorded to him under Article 72 of the Constitution to supersede the judicial verdict and commute the sentence. It is unfortunate that this was not done.
The last execution before Yakub Memon was that of Afzal Guru in March 2013. The secret way in which he was hanged and the violation of his rights showed that the execution was politically determined. Even the Supreme Court’s decisions on appeals on the death penalty have been inconsistent and marked by the views of the individual judges who constituted the bench. In 2014 the Supreme Court commuted the death sentences in some important terrorist cases. The three persons convicted in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case which was a major terrorist attack, got their sentences commuted to life imprisonment. Soon after, Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar who was sentenced to death for a terrorist blast, also got his sentence commuted to life. In both these cases, there was strong political backing for commuting their sentences in Tamilnadu and Punjab respectively.
The fact is since 2004, in the past eleven years, only three convicted persons have been hanged. If we exclude Ajmal Kasab, who was a Pakistani national, the other two are Muslims, Afzal Guru and Yakub Memon. This has reinforced the perception that Muslims get targeted in the criminal justice system and are judged by a different standard, something the likes of Owaisi use to heighten communal feelings. The blood lust displayed by the BJP, Shiv Sena and others with regard to those accused of terrorism is selective. We are seeing how cases involving Hindutva terrorism – Ajmer Sharief, Malegaon and Samjhauta Express blasts – are being scuttled with official connivance. Leave alone the death penalty, it is doubtful if any of the Hindutva terrorists will be convicted even.
Yakub Memon’s fate underlines the need for the abolition of the death penalty, a demand which the CPI(M) has been making. Capital punishment is arbitrary. The “rarest of rare” doctrine is interpreted subjectively by individual judges. The bulk of those who are convicted on the death penalty are poor and who belong to the socially oppressed sections according to a study by the National Law University, Delhi. 75 per cent of those who are death row convicts are economically vulnerable i.e. the poor, 75 per cent belong to the backward classes and minorities. Many former judges and jurists have come out against the death penalty. It is necessary to mobilize public opinion and the political parties to support the removal of the death penalty from the statute books. The CPI(M) will actively work towards this end.
(Prakash Karat is the former general secretary of the CPI(M) and one of the signatories