Yakub death penalty signals zero tolerance for terrorism
by Ashok B Sharma on 04 Aug 2015 2 Comments

One thing apparent from the recent execution of one of the masterminds of 1993 Mumbai serial blasts is that India intends to adopt a policy of zero tolerance towards terrorism. The long drawn out judicial process leading to the hanging of Yakub Memon was transparent and the accused had recourse to the best lawyers in the country to defend him to the very end. But the victims of terrorism had to wait 22 long years to get justice, the price of a democracy with an independent judiciary where justice may be delayed but not ultimately denied. The government of the day acted with firmness to execute the court order.


But the matter does not end here. Yakub Memon has sympathisers. His funeral drew a large crowd. The law enforcing agency was careful that the procession should be a silent one without any slogan mongering. Some opined that hanging one culprit would not render justice to the victims of the 12 systematically coordinated serial blasts that rocked India’s commercial capital on March 12, 1993, leaving 257 dead and over 700 injured.


Important culprits like Tiger Memon and Dawood Ibrahim have become fugitives and have taken refuge in Pakistan. According to some reports, Yakub was informally picked up in Kathmandu though his formal arrest was shown at New Delhi railway station; others say he surrendered and turned “approver” and, therefore, deserved more leniency. However, this alleged ‘deal’ was never brought before the courts at any stage by Memon’s own counsel – a point which became crucial in his last minute clemency pleas preceding his execution.


Terrorism is terrorism. It is an act of war against the state. A terrorist should be dealt with as such irrespective of caste, creed or religion. It is the government’s duty to apprehend terrorists and bring them to justice by all means, including extradition. Yakub’s sympathisers need to be dealt with understanding in such a way that it does not lead to eulogising the act of terrorism. Politicization or communalisation of terrorism is not in the interest of the nation. Talk of a Rajya Sabha seat for Yakub’s widow by an important political party amounts to politicisation of terror and giving a communal tinge to gain support from a particular community.


There is another fallout - the threat of cross-border infiltration from Pakistan. Terrorism in India is largely aided externally. A few days before the final verdict on Yakub’s hanging, terrorists infiltrated Gurdaspur district in Indian Punjab and attacked a police station. The state police and security forces took 11 hours to gun them down. It is pertinent to note that the terrorists took a new route to infiltrate – through the Punjab border and not through the usual Jammu and Kashmir border. The government has rightly sounded the alert in all border states.


As expected, Pakistan has denied any links with the terrorist infiltration in Gurdaspur district. But the GPS instruments carried by the terrorists prove they had infiltrated from across the border. If Pakistan intends to be sincere to the Ufa accord it should be ready for a meeting of national security advisers of the two countries to trash out this issue.


In the high decibel campaign for clemency for Yakub, a debate was launched for abolition of the death penalty. The advocates for abolishing death penalty argue that it is inhumane and its continuance is nor permissible in a civilized society. They say hanging a terrorist will not end terrorism. True, according to the United Nations report, about 160 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice and 98 of those have abolished it altogether. But India remains one of the 58 countries which still hands out the death penalty. It is to be noted that in many of these 58 countries, the threat of terrorism and insurgency is live, viz., China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, US, Sudan, Taiwan to name a few.


In India, it has been used it in the “rarest of the rare cases”. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, for every execution carried out 1,250 death sentences were commuted between 2004 and 2013. In this 10-year period, a total of 1,303 capital punishment verdicts were pronounced, 3,751 previous death penalties were commuted to life imprisonment and only three were executed. The executions included Dhananjoy Chatterjee in 2004 (convicted for the rape and murder of a teenage girl in Kolkata); Ajmal Kasab (2008 Mumbai terror attacks) and Afzal Guru (2001 Parliament attack). Comparatively, China had sent 1,718 persons to the gallows in 2008, US accorded death penalty to 52 and Saudi Arabia accorded death to 143 in 2007.


India has thus used the death penalty with extreme caution, and has followed an independent judicial process and a transparent system of commuting death sentences.


Some are trying to further politicize Yakub’s hanging and the 1993 Mumbai terrorist attack by attempting to root it in the demolition of Babri Masjid in December 1992 and the riots that followed. This does not stand the test of logic and cannot be an excuse for the 1993 terrorist attack which was a deliberate act of terrorism, aided and abetted by external forces.


India has much to learn from neighbouring Bangladesh. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina after assuming power set up an independent International Crimes Tribunal to try the criminals who sided with the Pakistani forces and massacred civilians during the 1971 War of Liberation. She has been particular in booking terrorists in her country and sent to death some terrorists including those of Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami. Brushing aside appeals from the US, EU and international human rights organisations, she sent prominent leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami like Abdul Quader Mollah, Muhammad Kamaruzzaman, and other to the gallows.


Recently, Bangladesh’s apex court has upheld BNP leader Salauddin Quader Chowdhary’s death penalty. If Bangladesh and India continue to take a firm and coordinated stand on terrorism, there is hope for peace in South Asia.  

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