All people know the same truth, our lives consist of how we choose to distort it. – Woody Alan.
So huge and devastating were the March ’93 serial blasts in Mumbai that the Memon family associated with it soon became notorious, edging out even the Kaskars ( Dawood Ibrahim and his siblings ) and other first families of Mumbai’s underworld. Suddenly Mustaq Memon, better known as Tiger, and his brother Yakub became bigger than Dawood and Anis.
But what really happened? Why did they carry out such an act of terrorism in the first place? What were their motives? Was it religious, or was it the strong antipathy towards Hindus that the borders of this country often have in common?
Tiger Memon was always known for his anger – something he’d inherited from his father, Abdul Razzak Memon, who was a prominent cricketer of his time, playing alongside greats such as Tiger Pataudi. Abdul Razzak Memon and his wife, Hanifa had six sons, all of whom were named after revered prophets, owing to their religious beliefs. To support the family, he also ran a workshop named Famous Engineering and Wielding in Mustafa Bazaar, Byculla, Mumbai but when it was not enough, his elder sons, Suleiman and Tiger quit their studies to take up odd jobs to pay the bills. While Suleiman was diligent and hardworking, Tiger never quite settled for a job, courtesy his temper.
Tiger wanted to be rich. Very very rich. And he wanted it quick. He wanted shortcuts. In the eighties, gold smuggling was the easiest and fastest way to make riches, and Tiger’s daredevilry and reckless temerity put him in the top rung of smugglers. Yakub, on the other hand, was very oriented towards academic excellence, and went on to become a top chartered accountant in the city. He went on to launch a chartered accountancy firm in partnership with a Gujrati Hindu, Chetan Mehta, and the firm, Memon and Mehta became one of the most reputed CA firms in the Mahim area. Yakub married and had a daughter. Suleiman and Ayub, the other brothers, also set up their businesses in Dubai, of where they became permanent residents.
Tiger and Yakub were poles apart in their attitude and demeanor. And even values. Tiger was arrogant and disdainful towards everyone while Yakub was not only educated but also very hard working. Yakub’s clients were mostly Hindus, but Tiger had a radical Jihadi mindset and did not mingle with other communities.
And then came the demolition of the Babri Masjid on Dec 6, ’92 and the widespread riots and communal conflagration in Mumbai. Everybody knew Tiger’s antipathy to Hindus, so a bunch of Hindu hooligans decided to punish him, teaching him a lesson in humility. They spared Yakub’s office but set ablaze Tiger’s office that he used as a front for smuggling and legitimizing black money. The demolition of the masjid did not affect him much, his Muslim brothers getting killed in the riots didn’t bother him a bit, but the destruction of his personal fiefdom made him furious and he swore revenge.
In retaliation, Tiger decided to annihilate the whole city – light up the very heart of India to avenge a personal massacre. But for that he needed naive and gullible volunteers who’d believe in his call and help in it’s execution. So, Tiger turned the vengeance drama into a religious battle. And once it became so, it wasn’t difficult for him to marshal support and money for the cause.
Tiger incited a communal frenzy and instigated the volunteers against the Hindus. His rage and vindictiveness resulted in the death of over 257 people with more than 700 people injured and devastation of thousands of families in the serial bomb blasts in the city on March 12, 1993.
The family left for Dubai on the insistence of Tiger, primarily because the riots had unsettled them but they had no knowledge about Tiger’s involvement in the upcoming blasts. Abdul Razzak memon was furious to have to leave Dubai for Karachi after the blasts. Tiger dragged the whole clan to Karachi and it dawned on the patriarch that Tiger had been used by Pakistan and as a pawn by ISI. Later, as Yakub revealed to the CBI officers interrogating him, his 65-year-old father picked up his walking stick and pounced on Tiger in full view of ISI agents and others, beating him black and blue until the stick broke and he was out of breath.
For days no one spoke to Tiger but it became clear within the family that they couldn’t stay in Pakistan forever. It was one thing to seek refuge there but a completely different other to stay there to be used as Pakistan’s arsenal against India. They decided to return to India against all odds.
In a remarkably audacious move, Yakub Memon collected a suitcase full of incontrovertible evidence against Pakistan’s involvement in the blasts, his own brother’s culpability and that of other big players such as Taufiq Jalianwala. Then Yakub hoodwinked the ISI. Under the pretext of visiting Dubai via Kathmandu, he also booked his return tickets on a Lufthansa flight just to complete the ruse.
In Kathmandu, where he was apprehended, he quickly confessed that he was not Yusuf Ahmad but Yakub Memon. So, as Yakub helped Indian agencies in sealing the fate of Pakistan and his brother Tiger, he expected clemency and compassion.
But he was rewarded with a death penalty – the only one of the 100 accused in the blasts to be sentenced to death after the Supreme Court cleared the way for his hanging.
For India, Yakub is just a symbol. It does not matter that he was not involved in the blasts and that the evidence against him was flimsy and consisted of retracted confessions. Since they didn’t get Tiger Memon, any other Memon would do. And Yakub, being educated, smart and suave, fitted the bill. It didn’t matter that they were shooting the messenger.
For 21 years, Yakub waited, hoping for reprieve – from politicians, from bureaucrats, from law enforcers, from the judiciary and from the public. Nobody cared. The crime was too big and somebody had to be hanged for justice to be seen to be done.
The Supreme Court of India commuted death sentences of all accused to life imprisonment save that of the man who helped India crack the serial blast case. Yakub Memon is set to hang tomorrow. Is this what we call a fair judgement?