Episodic justice: on the Mumbai blasts sentencing

There can be no closure for Mumbai blasts victims as long as Dawood is out of law’s reach

September 09, 2017 12:02 am | Updated December 03, 2021 04:53 pm IST

The serial blasts that rocked Mumbai on March 12, 1993 , occupy a special place in the history of terrorism in India. Planned abroad and executed with chilling precision in a dozen chosen spots, the crime altered the country’s understanding and perceptions of security; it inflicted near-permanent damage to inter-community relations in society; and more importantly, it warranted resolute action to render justice to the 257 people who died and over 700 people injured in the blasts. But then, justice in India is slow and episodic. More so when it involves the logistical challenge of trying a large number of suspects and apprehending conspirators living abroad. The trial that began with the accused available at that time took about 14 years to end, with a hundred suspects being convicted. One of them was hanged in 2015 , while 28 are serving life terms. With Abu Salem being extradited from Portugal in 2005 and a few others subsequently arrested, a second trial began in 2007. This week two more have been sentenced to hang, subject to the Supreme Court’s confirmation, and two sentenced to spend their life in jail. One has been acquitted , another given a 10-year term, while a third, a key conspirator, died a few days after being found guilty in June. Few would disagree when the trial court says punishment must be proportionate to the depravity and gravity of the crime and taking a lenient view would weaken the fight against terrorism. Misgivings, if any, may turn around the fact that the trial took place under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, which allows confessions made to senior police officers to be admissible evidence.

The outcome of the second trial has few surprises. With the conditions of his extradition prohibiting the death penalty, Salem has been handed down a life sentence despite playing a major role in the conspiracy by facilitating the transportation of arms and ammunition. In the normal course, the prosecution would have asked for the death penalty for him too. There seems to be some controversy over Salem getting a life term, which is for the duration of one’s remaining life, as India had assured Portuguese authorities that he would not be sentenced to a jail term beyond 25 years. Such a condition is binding on the executive, and at some stage the government may have to commute the life term and ensure that his imprisonment does not exceed this limit. Convictions at the end of the trial in heinous crimes usually leave one with a sense of satisfaction that the justice process has been successfully completed. In this case, the end of the trial may mean only a sense of partial closure to the families of the victims. As long as Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Memon, the main brains behind the serial explosions, remain out of the law’s reach, they have a right to expect a third trial.

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