The rejection by the Supreme Court of a curative petition by Yakub Abdul Razak Memon, the only one sentenced to death for involvement in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts, marks the exhaustion of his >last judicial remedy . However, hanging him will be cruel and inhuman, for more than one reason. With the masterminds Dawood Ibrahim and ‘Tiger’ Memon, Yakub’s brother, remaining out of the reach of the Indian authorities, it will only give the impression that the lone man available among the many brains behind the ghastly act of terrorism is being singled out. The other 10 men who had planted the explosives were also handed down the death sentence by the Designated Court, but the Supreme Court commuted those to life. It said Yakub held a “commanding position”, as he made financial and travel arrangements for the other accused who later planted the explosives. He cannot escape the consequences of his role, but whether hanging him will be the appropriate punishment is something to be pondered over. The Memon family came under suspicion mainly because ‘Tiger’ Memon was the principal conspirator. They fuelled further suspicion by fleeing, and were later found to have travelled abroad on Pakistan passports. However, most of them, including Yakub, ultimately returned to India to face the legal consequences. In the overall circumstances of the case, it is certainly debatable whether Yakub Memon’s case would fall in the category of the “rarest of the rare” cases the Supreme Court itself laid down would merit the death penalty.
Yakub Memon’s impending execution on July 30 may not take place as scheduled, as he has shot off another mercy petition to the President. Under a landmark ruling in January 2014, the Supreme Court has humanised the way the state deals with death row convicts. In terms of that judgment, a convict cannot be executed for 14 days after the rejection of a clemency plea. An earlier mercy petition filed on his behalf by his brother was rejected by the President, but his own plea may have to be considered afresh. Taking into account the fact that in the last 22 years Yakub is the only one whose death sentence has been confirmed by the judiciary in the case, the executive itself can reduce his sentence to one of life instead of fuelling another round of litigation by rejecting his mercy petition. There will be an inevitable debate on how a man who played a significant role in the serial blasts, which left 257 dead and 713 people wounded, could be shown any mercy. Some will see the situation on merits, and others will voice their principled opposition to the death penalty. The only way to avoid this endless debate is to abolish the cruel and irreversible punishment of death itself.