Road to ruin

Published : Aug 10, 2007 00:00 IST

Hanifa, Tiger Memons mother, who was acquitted.-

Hanifa, Tiger Memons mother, who was acquitted.-

ABDUL RAZAK MEMONs family was like any other Muslim family that lived on Mohammed Ali Road in South Mumbai. Never well off, he and his wife Hanifa lived in a one-room tenement in an old, rambling building, where they brought up their six sons. Abdul Razak was the original owner of the name Tiger. It is said that he was a cricketer in his youth. He came to be known as Tiger in the neighbourhood after a match he played with the legendary cricketer Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, or Tiger Pataudi.

With the family always in need of money, the two elder sons, Suleiman and Mushtaq (who would later take on the name Tiger), began working at a young age. Mushtaq began his career as a clerk in the Memon Cooperative Bank in Byculla. He came in contact with the underworld dons Mustafa and Mohammed Dossa when his family moved to Mahim. They hired him as a driver.

According to reports, Mushtaqs rapid rise took place after he saved the wanted smuggler Yusuf Bhatti during a police chase. Bhatti rewarded him by taking him to Dubai. He became a gold carrier. He took over smuggling operations in Mumbai, eventually becoming one of the biggest dons in the city. It was at his lavish wedding that the community told his father that Mushtaq should now be called Tiger.

Following the 1992-93 riots in Mumbai, underworld don Dawood Ibrahim and other mafia chiefs recruited Tiger, who was well networked, to carry out the task of crippling Indias financial hub so as to make a statement to the world. Tiger plotted and executed the serial blasts in 1993. He arranged for the landing of arms and ammunition, had the men trained in India and Pakistan, and finally fixed the targets where the bombs would be placed.

The third son, Yakub Memon, was the brightest in the family. Educated in an English medium school and college, Yakub became a chartered accountant and ran several businesses. His success helped the family buy several apartments in the Al-Hussaini building in Mahim. Apparently, while Tiger took the illegitimate route to make money, Yakub preferred the straight road. Unfortunately for him, his loyalty to the family made him get into hawala transactions on behalf of his brother. Dubious monetary transactions found in his various bank accounts led investigators to believe that he financed the bomb blasts operation.

Younger brothers Essa and Yusuf were in their early 20s when the conspiracy took place. The other brother, Ayub, reportedly worked with Tiger and is now on the run.

On the morning of the blasts, Yakub along with his wife, Raheen, parents and brothers Essa, Yusuf, Suleiman, and Suleimans wife, Rubina, left Mumbai. After spending several months on the run, the family, except for Tiger and Ayub, returned to India. Yakub has always maintained that he wished they had never left India. He says they came back because the rest of the family was innocent.

There was a theory that the Indian government had struck a deal with the Memons since it was under severe pressure to catch the perpetrators. Come back and we will ensure a lenient sentence, this was the offer. But the entire family was arrested upon arrival in India. During interrogations, Yakub apparently gave out every single bit of information he had, including material to prove that Pakistan had supported the conspiracy.

For all his helpfulness, Yakub along with the other brothers and their wives were imprisoned. The wives got bail but the brothers have spent close to 14 years in jail. Yakub was allowed out once in 2001 when his father died. He has never been able to spend any time with his daughter, who was born a month after he was jailed.

Essa and Yusuf both suffer from psychiatric disorders. The court acquitted Suleiman. Yakub is reportedly suffering from depression.

Why the Memon brothers did not get a more powerful team to defend them has often been discussed in the courtroom especially if they are innocent. They fell out with the criminal lawyer Majid Memon after the defence arguments ended. Last year, when Yakub was convicted for his complicity in the blasts, he shouted at the Judge: For the past 13 years, we have seen innocent people labelled terrorists. Now we dont want anyone to protect us.

The familys flats in the Al-Hussaini building have been sealed. With most of her family in jail or absconding, Hanifa says she has little reason to live. If the Indian government has any information on Tiger or Ayub Memons whereabouts, it is not divulging it.

Anupama Katakam
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