By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)
NEW DELHI/MUMBAI â€“ Within less than a fortnight, 12 convicts have been sentenced to death for their role in March 12, 1993 Mumbai serial blasts, in which about 250 people were killed and more than 800 injured.
The capital punishments, awarded in Mumbai by a special court of Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (prevention) Act, need to be ratified by the Supreme Court. Known as TADA, the act was formulated by the Indian government in 1987 against the backdrop of terrorist violence in Punjab. Following criticism by various human rights organizations and political parties, the act was allowed to lapse in May 1995. However, it was allowed to remain in force for cases initiated earlier. The 1993 blast-case falls in this bracket. The majority of the ones found guilty and charged in this case are Muslims. All the ones awarded capital punishment are Muslims. The special TADA court is soon expected to wind up its round of sentencing as 96 of the 100 found guilty from the 123 people initially charged have been handed out sentences.
Tiger Memon and underworld don Dawood Ibrahim, accused of masterminding the blasts, are among the 35 prime accused still at large. Yakub Memon, Tigerâ€™s brother was 12th person to be sentenced to death by Judge Pramod Kode (July 27). Three other members of Memon family have been given life sentences. These include Yusuf and Issa Memon, two other brothers of Tiger, and Rubina Memon, wife of another brother for helping in planning the blasts and storing arms, ammunitions and explosives.
Despite one of the most long-drawn trials nearing its end, questions are being raised at capital punishments having been awarded with such alacrity. India is one of the few countries where capital punishment still prevails. While 40 people were executed between 1975 and 1991, there were no executions between 1995 and 2004.
The temporal linkage of Mumbai blasts cannot be de-linked from demolition of Babri Masjid (Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh) on December 6, 1992 and the accompanying riots in which more than 2,000 people largely Muslims were killed. Though the defense lawyer argued that the Mumbai serial blasts were to revenge the demolition of Babri Masjid and the related riots, the judge rejected the argument. While announcing the first death sentences in the case (July 18), Kode said that there was no evidence to show that convicts had been affected by the demolition or the riots. Kode said: â€œOn the contrary, it has been found that these acts have brought unnecessary disgrace to the Muslim community, which has contributed to nation building.â€ â€œA criminal has no religion, his only religion is criminality,â€ the judge observed.
With due respect to the judgeâ€™s observation and decisions, without raising objections against the same, explanation has been sought on why has little action been taken on the Justice Srikrishna report. Justice Srikrishna was appointed by the government on January 25, 1993 to investigate into communal riots in Mumbai following Babri Masjidâ€™s demolition. In its report, submitted on July 4, 1997, the Srikrishna Commission held several police officials and Shiv Sena leaders for encouraging and actively participating in the riots.
The general opinion is that Mumbai serial blasts may not have taken place if the country had not witnessed riots related to demolition of Babri Masjid. In this context, if blast-convicts are being handed punishment, why are those responsible for demolition and accompanying riots being spared and why have they been spared TADA? The latter include prominent figures, the former Joint Commissioner R.D. Tyagi, Madhukar Sarpotdar (then a Member of Legislative Assembly) and Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray. As per the Srikrishna report, Tyagi, Inspector Deshmukh and Inspector Lahane were guilty of unnecessary firing resulting in death of nine Muslims in the Sulaiman Bakery incident. While Tyagi was discharged in April 2003, others were exonerated and discharged. It has also been revealed that sub-Inspector Nikhil Kapse was promoted despite being guilty of killing six innocent persons. Unlicensed guns were found in possession of Sarpotdar, who could have been charged under TADA, but he was not.
Several Muslim leaders called on Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh last week (July 24) and raised questions regarding those found guilty by Srikrishna report being spared punishment. As expressed by All India Muslim Personal Law Boardâ€™s senior secretary, Abdussattar Yusuf Sheikh: â€œThe entire episode has left Muslims feeling that justice is out of bounds… This is the time to act fast. Some blast convicts have got capital punishment whereas those who killed innocent Muslims are free.â€
Observing that no action has been taken till date on Srikrishna findings, the edit of an Indian daily (The Times of India, July 28) points out: â€œMany people have cited this inaction on the part of the government as evidence of discrimination against Muslims, especially now that guilty verdicts are being handed out in the blasts trials.â€ â€œThe government certainly owes us an answer regarding its apparent failure to act with visible determination on the report,â€ the edit says. â€œSrikrishnaâ€™s recommendations need to be implemented irrespective of the outcome in the blasts case. Even if all the accused in the blasts case were to be acquitted, the guilty named by the riots panel should face action,â€ according to the edit. Raising a similar question, the headlines of a special report in Hindustan Times (July 27) read: â€œMumbaiâ€™s Festering Wound — The killers are walking free.â€ The subheading states: â€œMany 1993 blast convicts have asked the trial court why the state has not implemented the findings of the Srikrishna Commission. With the trial (TADA) coming to a close, their question is reverberating through the city.â€