With the execution of the only man sentenced to death for the 12 March 1993 Mumbai blasts, the families of the 257 victims, as well as those who were injured, must feel some sense of having got justice. The executed man wasn't an ordinary accused. He was a member of the infamous Memon family of Mahim, which had fled India two days before the attacks. The government couldn't get the mastermind of the blasts, Tiger Memon, who is safely ensconced in Pakistan, but they managed to hang his brother, who had chosen to return to India to face trial. Never mind if the evidence against Yakub Memon comprised just the statement of an approver and some confessions of the co-accused. A Memon was executed, two Memons are sentenced to life, and several other accused are in jail.
Some victims of the 1993 blasts have lamented that 22 years is too long a wait for justice. It is. But there are others too in their city who've waited that long, and still not got justice - the victims of the December 1992- January 1993 Mumbai riots.
This constant mention of the 92-93 riots in the discussion on Yakub Memon's hanging irritates many. This argument, they say, echoes the "action-reaction'' theory Narendra Modi used as Gujarat CM to justify the massacre of Muslims across the state, after the burning of 59 Hindus in the Sabarmati Express on February 27, 2002.
"In all three arenas of mass violence, the law didn't just take its own course, as the cliché goes; it was made to take a certain course."
Modi's justification then was as shocking as Rajiv Gandhi's statement - "When a big tree falls, the earth shakes" - made while 3000 Sikhs were being massacred in Delhi after Indira Gandhi's assassination. Yet, there's no denying that both statements reflected the reality. In Mumbai, too, one evil did lead to the other.
But there's yet another similarity, relevant in the context of Yakub's execution. In all three arenas of mass violence, the law didn't just take its own course, as the cliché goes; it was made to take a certain course.
Rajiv Gandhi got closure; his mother's assassins were either shot dead or executed, despite the questionable evidence against one of them, Kehar Singh. But the families of the 3000 massacred Sikhs still await justice. The Delhi Police replied last year to an RTI query that 27 accused have been convicted out of 622 arrested. Not one powerful accused Congressman has been punished.
In Gujarat, the Muslims accused of the Sabarmati burning at Godhra were arrested as terrorists and 31 of them sentenced nine years later, 11 to death. But the Hindus accused of killing and raping 790 Muslims (official figures cited in Parliament) kept getting let off -- until the Supreme Court stepped in to monitor the prosecutions. There the similarity between Mumbai and Gujarat ends.
In Gujarat, so far, 184 Hindus have reportedly been convicted. In Mumbai, despite a judicial commission whose findings became known across the country, there's been no closure at all. The conviction of the most high-profile accused, Shiv Sena leader Madhukar Sarpotdar (elected twice to the Lok Sabha after the riots) and two other Sainiks under Sec 153 A, was a landmark conviction, by a special riots cases court in 2008. Two such courts had been set up to appease Muslim rage that the 1993 blasts had led to convictions while the riots that preceded them had seen none. The Sarpotdar conviction was the first time any Sena leader was convicted for the riots, and the first time ever a politician was convicted for hate speech in Maharashtra. While Sarpotdar died soon after, the convictions of his two co-accused were upheld by the Sessions Court.
"[W]hen have politicians ever prosecuted Hindutva's warriors? It's always been activists who've moved court."
But in the popular imagination, Bal Thackeray remains the main figure of the riots. Justice Srikrishna held him responsible for the January 1993 violence against Muslims, but didn't recommend action against him, simply because there wasn't sufficient evidence to stand up in court. One crucial witness could have testified to having heard him give orders over the phone to kill Muslims; but Chandrakant Handore, Mayor of Mumbai during the riots, never broke his silence about what he had seen. He became a minister in 2004 in the Congress government - as clear an indication as any of the seriousness with which the Congress handled the issue of culpability in the 92-93 riots.
Indeed, the Congress's concern for justice for the riot victims has been conspicuous in its absence. Thackeray received protection from prosecution for his poisonous writings during the riots under Congress CM Sudhakar Naik and then under Sharad Pawar who took over as CM. It was under Pawar's regime that the police went after the perpetrators of the 1993 blasts with a vengeance. He obviously didn't think it necessary to instruct them to go after the 92-93 rioters. A total of 1358 cases, constituting 60% of all riot cases, were closed by the cops. The Srikrishna Commission found that in many of them, victims had provided names and sometimes even addresses of the accused, and recommended that they be re-opened. Exactly five were re-opened; all resulted in acquittal, thanks to a lacklustre prosecution.
Pawar's lieutenant, the former Shiv Sainik Chhagan Bhujbal, Home Minister from 1999 -2003 in the Congress-NCP government, made sure the 31 policemen indicted by the Srikrishna Commission for communal conduct, including murder of innocent Muslims, remained out of custody, even when the Supreme Court ordered action against them.
"Taking on bored PPs and venal cops isn't easy on your own. Abandoned by their communities, Mumbai's riot victims, both Hindu and Muslim, have wearily turned their backs on any hope for justice."
But when have politicians ever prosecuted Hindutva's warriors? It's always been activists who've moved court. Mumbai's activists and the lone lawyer representing the victims, Yusuf Muchhala, could get one CJI, Justice A S Anand, interested in ordering the state government to punish the cops. After him, as the government started producing mountains of documents as affidavits, the court lost interest.
Congress minister Husain Dalwai had once retorted that the Srikrishna Commission Report would only be implemented if there was public pressure. In the mass imagination, the riots remained a story of Muslims on the rampage after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, despite the Commission's widely publicised findings to the contrary. So there was no question of massive public pressure. Yet, a small group of Hindus and Muslims did keep up the fight.
In 2001, when a reluctant government was forced by the Supreme Court to charge former Mumbai Commissioner R D Tyagi with murder, the courtroom would be full during the initial hearings. By the time he and his co-accused got bail, most of the attendees had given up. Over the last 14 years, innumerable riot cases have been disposed of in empty courtrooms, with even witnesses not bothering to attend. The law has indeed taken its course.
Taking on bored PPs and venal cops isn't easy on your own. Abandoned by their communities, Mumbai's riot victims, both Hindu and Muslim, have wearily turned their backs on any hope for justice.