Calm convict

Print edition : August 21, 2015

Yakub Memon. Photo: PTI

“OH my lord—forgive this man for he knows not what he does. Let me out of this place,” shouted Yakub Memon when the judge, P.D Kode, read out his death sentence on July 26, 2007. Eight years since the sentence was given, the memory of the otherwise calm Yakub Memon losing his composure and rushing out of the courtroom is still very vivid for reporters who had sat through the trial day after day.

“In cases of conspiracy, even if you do not commit the act you will be held liable for conspiracy if evidence proves you are involved in the planning,” said the judge before declaring the death sentence. The courtroom was not just shocked by Yakub’s outburst but by the severity of the sentence. There was hope, said lawyers: he will appeal in the higher courts and hopefully his mercy plea will be accepted.

Unfortunately, the odds were stacked against Yakub. Nothing went in his favour and he eventually paid for his brother’s crime with his life.

During the trial, Yakub, who was accused of being an “archer” or “mastermind” of the 1993 Mumbai serial bomb blasts, would sit quietly in the special Terrorism and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) court set up in Mumbai’s Arthur Road jail. He rarely reacted and hardly spoke to anyone, let alone the reporters who filled the courtroom. From time to time, he interacted with his lawyers and his brothers. A short, bearded man of average build, Yakub was always neatly turned out, dressed in a simple white shirt over jeans or trousers. His expression was stoic while listening intently to arguments, and as soon as the proceedings were adjourned he walked quietly out of the courtroom back to prison.

According to police sources, Yakub, before his hanging, no longer resembled the dark-haired man who appeared in the TADA court or the photographs on television. He had lost weight, his hair and beard had turned grey, making him look much older than his 53 years. He wore a skullcap, which he never did during the trial years.

Lodged in Nagpur jail’s faansi (hanging) yard, where prisoners on death row are kept, Yakub was apparently a model prisoner. Informed sources say he was polite and courteous and led a quiet existence. He was a voracious reader and knew the Indian Constitution, the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and the Jail Manual inside out, say police officers connected with the case. A qualified chartered accountant, he acquired a degree in English literature and another in political science through the Indira Gandhi Open University while in jail. From time to time there were reports that he had gone into deep depression, but these could not be corroborated as prisoners in the faansi yard were only allowed limited interaction, mostly with their lawyers.

Yakub was the third of six brothers. His family was typical of the many Muslim families who live in the one-room tenements on Mohammed Ali Road in South Mumbai. Never very well off, his father, Abdul Razzak Memon, struggled to make ends meet but somehow educated all his children. Yakub was considered the brightest of them. He went to an English medium school, and then to Mumbai’s Burhani College for his undergraduation, and eventually became a chartered accountant.

It was Yakub’s success as a chartered accountant that took the family out of the one-room apartment into the upmarket Al-Hussaini building in Mumbai’s Mahim area. It was also reportedly his success that helped the family buy several apartments in the building.

While Yakub went from strength to strength, running not just a legitimate accountancy practice but diversifying into other businesses (including a travel agency), his older brother Tiger Memon, named after Tiger Pataudi because of his cricket prowess, got sucked into Mumbai’s underworld and became a feared don who carried out Dawood Ibrahim’s work in India. As is typical of mafia families, the Memons were both revered and feared. “They gave a lot to the community,” said one mourner.

Yakub’s loyalty to his family reportedly got him into hawala transactions on behalf of his brother. It is not clear whether Yakub understood the enormity of what he was involved in. It is unlikely that he did not. Other than the fact that he fled the country with his family just before the blasts, it was the many dubious transactions just before the bombing found in his various bank accounts that led investigators to believe that he financed the blasts.

Media reports from those years say that other than Tiger and Ayub, the rest of the Memon family did not want to live as fugitives and appealed to the Indian government to allow them to return to Mumbai. Yakub allegedly cut a deal with the authorities to turn approver in the investigation. To many of the reporters who covered the 1993 blasts trial, it seems unbelievable that a man they once saw every day for months on end, a man who lived in the hope that the state would weigh his case in a balanced manner and spare him the noose, has met his end in the gallows.

Anupama Katakam