Perhaps someone else also heard that Memon was given a schizophrenia diagnosis, because I did. Listening as I do, to many narratives of mental health issues, if there is one thought that comes to mind with Yaqub Memon’s death it is the mental health of a society in peril. The day he was hanged passed by in many a message, communication and social media conversations around the idea of justice- who should be given a death sentence, how can death of many people be avenged and whether death penalty really serves any purpose.
From the night before, when there was hope that it may be averted, I was unable to sleep, in thinking what could be the role of a voiceless person, like me, in this controversy. Perhaps we are not supposed to have an opinion, or at best the opinion could be confined to expressing it in feeble ways by writing on social media platforms or talking and discussing among our circles of influence, in which nobody discusses anything to learn better, but only to defend their point of view. Yet, I posted a message on my facebook wall- responses to which became a symbolic representation of social sentiments in a minuscule way.
There was naturally polarization among people who believed that it was the right thing to happen as a sign of justice and the other view that condemns death in any way, more so by penalty. As someone who is engaged in study of a social construction of individual and collective consciousness, I am intrigued by some of the arguments that came forth- the predominant being about avenging the death of the 257 people in Mumbai, in 1993. Any allusion to the Godhra riots or the anti-Sikh riots, in which most people have gone scot free, were meticulously averted by the people defending Memon’s death penalty.
Personally on two extremes of a tangent, I see suicide by an individual as well the acts of a terrorist, two portrayals of the same phenomenon- the phenomenon of an individual’s reaction to social injustice, which they are trying to deal at a personal level. In the former, the individual’s body is the target in the latter, it is the social fabric which is hoped to be impacted. In both cases, the penal and legal machineries are set in motion, commensurate with the scale of operation.
But perhaps what really troubles me is that though the terrorist (without going into whether in this case, Memon was really so) may have acted as a personal reaction to something disturbing him and a terror incident, his act of claiming justice for himself, when the State acts as a murderer, in what court of justice can I seek an explanation? Perhaps if a terrorist were given time, resources, a patient hearing and discussions, over time he would take another route to dealing with his frustrations. But what happens when a State, whose judiciary has repeatedly discussed this, tooth and nail fought every detail out, spent decades debating the case in all possible detail, comes to the same outcome as the terrorist came in a frenzy of emotion, or being ill-informed, or misled or whatever else we may call it? Who becomes the bigger terrorist?
As one voice says, death of Yakub changes a lot about India. For me, as a middle class person, it confirms that there is no certainty that justice will be awarded, just because the middle class has faith in it, the manner Yakub did. Else he would not have come back from Pakistan, against the views of his brother Tiger Memon. He hoped for justice, and scores of people hoped that his act of supporting the authorities would ensure he would be safe and get his due. His due was not the gallows. But in this social frenzy to see the gladiator go down, if one thing became clear, though claims in the name of justice for the dead civilians continued their rounds, it was that nobody who has links with a terrorist, even remotely (sibling, friend, friend, neighbor) need think they would get justice at the hands of the State. When it comes to being a terrorist, as compared to a person or a small organization, a state machinery has so much more at its disposal that its acts of terror will really be the biggest. And possibly the most cold blooded too.
One voice on my wall said with finality, ‘deterrent’. ‘To what?’ thought I. For sure, if I were to consider terror as a choice of profession someday, at least, I can never think of justice at the hands of a society that only wants to see the ‘terrorist’ dead, without ascertaining whether he was really one. So if I become a terrorist (even by remote association), be sure I will die and take a few down with me. I have understood that expecting justice has gone beyond me. That is my deterrent – there is no law which can save me, nor presidential pardon come my way. My only hope, since for now I am not considering a switch in professions, is that I never need to go knocking at the doors of law.
In the land of Gandhi, nobody can afford to walk in his footsteps, or be ready to meet his fate. That is the writing on my wall!