Memon's hanging: Justice or betrayal?

The city of Bombay, as it was then called, was rocked by a series of bomb blasts on March 12, 1993. I was in the office of my seniors, Mr Ram Jethmalani and Mr Mahesh Jethmalani, at Nariman Point, during the lunch break from court. We heard the loud blasts and the first thing that we all did was to call our families and find out about the welfare of our kith and kin. Within minutes, we heard of a series of 12 bomb blasts in the city of Bombay. The financial capital of India was attacked and there was mayhem all over the city. We were all warned not to leave our locations, lest we suffer injury to our person and property. I ventured out of our Nariman Point office later in the evening to see the Air India building devastated. The Stock Exchange was bombed, so also many other vital locations in Bombay. The devastation and destruction was there to be seen. The only motive of the attackers was to cause untold misery to the innocent and unknown victims. Many lives were lost, a large number of citizens, innocent and of all religions, were the gullible victims. The timing of the blasts between 1 pm and 3 pm on a Friday made me believe that the perpetrators of the crime could be from the Muslim community, as the locations of the 12 bomb blasts were all away from the minority-populated localities and it was during the Friday prayers that these vital spots were targeted. We in our office did not realise that, one day, we would be defending some people in the same case.

Illustration/Uday Mohite
Illustration/Uday Mohite

Some time thereafter, I learnt from a constable, who used to be on security duty in our building at Worli, that the car which was used to transport arms and ammunitions was located at Worli and a breakthrough was likely in the case at the hands of DCP Rakesh Maria (as he then was). True to his words, the Crime Branch had made a breakthrough and seized a large number of properties in Bombay belonging to the Memon family, one of which was located near Sitladevi Temple which houses “Pinto Funeral Services”. I heard from my friends that some of the Memons lived in that building and were on the run. As the case unearthed all the gory details and horrific incidents, the city was agog with rumours.

On April 18, 1993, the Dutts approached the Jethmalanis and that is how I became a part of the team defending Sanjay Dutt in the Bombay Bomb Blast Case No. 1 of 1993. Sanjay Dutt was released on bail by an Order of the High Court on May 5, 1993, and so were four others along with him. We ended up handling the defence of Abu Azmi, S N Thapa, Mohammed Birya and a few others. The chargesheet pointed towards Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Memon with active support, help and planning from Pakistani elements. More than 175 persons were charged under the draconian TADA. There were stories of recovery of AK-47 Rifles, ammunitions and large amounts of RDX from various places, including Al-Hussain Building where the Memons lived. There were stories reported in the press of recoveries of large amount of AK-47 rifles, grenades, ammunition and RDX dumped in various parts of Bombay by unknown elements who were involved with the crime but wanted to wash their hands off. The trial was pending before the specially constituted TADA Court in Arthur Road Jail. In the midst of all this, there appeared a story that Yakub Memon was detained on August 4, 1994 at the New Delhi Railway Station with a trunk load of evidence pointing a finger at the active participation of the ISI and Pakistani elements. It was reported that he was arrested along with several Indian passports of Memon family members, Pakistani identities of all of them, video cassettes of the accommodation they were provided for in Karachi, and evidences of the shelter and protection given to Dawood Ibrahim, Tiger Memon, and other absconding accused, by the ISI. I as a criminal lawyer refused to believe that Yakub was in fact “detained” at the time, place, and the circumstances under which he was detained on August 4, 1994 at the New Delhi railway station! I was sure that there was a DEAL.

As the facts came trickling down, Yakub, in fact, was “detained” at the Kathmandu airport with all the evidence which would help the Indian authorities prove to the world that the entire operation was orchestrated by the ISI, which apparently was to avenge the demolition of Babri Masjid in December, 1992 and January, 1993. The Muslim youth were indoctrinated, trained and used to cause the holocaust on the Indian population. Yakub was further instrumental in causing the return of the entire Memon family from Karachi via Dubai, except Tiger, Ayub and his wife. I did not ever in my wildest dreams think that any family as “guilty” as the Memons would ever return to India unless there was a deal. They were “well-settled” in Karachi in a large mansion with “enough” money provided by the ISI and were “well” protected by the ISI.

On one of those days in the TADA Court, during the lunch break, I had an occasion to speak to Yakub. He is a well-educated Chartered Accountant, well-mannered and God-fearing. He swore to me in the name of his daughter and parents that he had done no wrong. He told me that if he or any of the members of his family were “guilty”, they would have never even thought of leaving Pakistan, where they were being well looked after, and returned to India. He told me that some members of his family were against his idea of returning to India. It was he who insisted that since all of them had done “no wrong”, it was time to return to India and prove their innocence. He further told me that after they reached Karachi, some Indian intelligence officers made contact with him and, thereafter, there were regular interactions with them in Pakistan and Dubai, which their family frequented. After a lot of time spent with the Indian officers, a deal was struck where he would smuggle out a lot of evidence showing ISI involvement and showing Pakistani participation at all levels. He would also return to India via Kathmandu, where he would be “detained” and brought safely to India. He would ensure that his entire family would approach the Indian Embassy in Dubai and swear their allegiance to India on oath and express their intention to return to India, being their homeland. He told me that as per plan, the entire story was put into reality, but the Indian government failed to keep up their assurance. That he had faith in “ALLAH” and that one day his innocence would be proved. He told me that various officers of the IB, RAW, CBI, and other counter-intelligence agencies had betrayed him and the Memon family. But for their assurance, he would not put his entire family in misery and bring in a daughter who would be known as a terrorist’s daughter. That he had the fullest respect for the judiciary in spite of all the misery and that one day he would be proved right. What is important for all of us to know from Mr Sen and other patriotic intelligence officers is what was Yakub doing from July 28, 1994, when he was detained in Kathmandu, till August 4, 1994 at the New Delhi railway station. The truth will be out one day and it would be too late to realise that Yakub would be dead and gone to hear the TRUTH.

When I spoke to NDTV on July 21, 2015 from Bangalore, I did not have anyone to support my version. I was not his lawyer. I was not defending any member of the Memon family. I was isolated. Then came in Mr. Raman’s article, written in 2007 for rediff.com, the very next day. Thereafter, an article written by M Rehman in India Today, reproduced in Indian Express. Then we have Mr Sen, CBI, SIT chief, who says that Yakub was indeed “induced” and made to return to India. Any word that is used — cooperation, inducement or any other — makes me believe that justice has not been rendered to Yakub by our criminal justice system. It is a travesty of justice that on a day when the Rajiv Gandhi killers have been declared to have been rightly given life imprisonment instead of death, we are still debating about the betrayal of the Indian intelligence agency in inducing an accused to return to India. It is for this sole reason that six other accused in the Bombay Blast Case No. 1 of 1993 who were at one time deciding to return to India from wherever they are, have decided not to face the betrayal. I do not know, if ever in the future, these agencies will be successful in “inducing” an accused to “cooperate” with them to return to India. Any other accused would have taken the route of surrendering in a Western country, with an extradition treaty with India, which abhors the death penalty, under proper legal advice. Dear Mr Raman, I wish you would have written your article in your life time and spoken the truth. RIP.

The writer is an advocate

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