Twenty two years in jail, probably not many besides Yakubâ€™s family and his lawyers cared to visit him in jail. His trial was conducted peacefully in the state of Maharashtra. During this entire period, Indian Muslims were mostly indifferent to the plight of Yakub. He was given a death penalty by the trial court for his role in the 1993 Bomb Blasts, and Maharashtra High Court and Supreme Court upheld his sentence. When his brother applied for a mercy petition on Yakubâ€™s behalf, President of India rejected the mercy plea on 11th April, 2014. On 30 April 2015, Maharashtra Government issued a death warrant setting 30 July, 2015, as the date for Yakub’s hanging. Yakubâ€™s lawyers then filed a curative petition before the Supreme Court on 22 May, 2015, which was rejected on 21 July, 2015.
Till 21st July 2015, the entire duration of Yakubâ€™s 22 years of incarceration was as uneventful as that of any other convict. Again, the Indian Muslims were wholly disassociated emotionally or otherwise during this entire process. In the last few years, two major death sentences have been carried, that of Ajmal Kasab and of Afzal Guru. Besides a handful of activists who campaign against death sentence, no one wanted to touch Ajmal Kasabâ€™s case even with a ten foot pole. In case of Afzal Guru, there was some heart burn, especially in Kashmir. However, since Afzal Guru was secretly hanged by the Congress Government and even his body wasnâ€™t handed over to the family, the protests and violence were mainly limited to Kashmir and especially in Afzalâ€™s town.
However, the endgame in Yakubâ€™s case played out very differently than the aforementioned two executions. Ever since Sheela Bhatt of Rediff.com disclosed the unpublished 2007 article written by B. Raman, former head of the counter-terrorism division of RAW, all hell broke loose. The relevant excerpt from B Ramanâ€™s article is as follows:
“The cooperation of Yakub with the investigating agencies after he was picked up informally in Kathmandu and his role in persuading some other members of the family to come out of Pakistan and surrender Constitute, in my view, a strong mitigating circumstance to be taken into consideration while considering whether the death penalty should be implemented.â€œ
After this article came out, many people started feeling that there was some quid pro quo between Indian agencies and Yakub. B Ramanâ€™s assertion that â€˜Promises made by serving officers is not negotiableâ€™ and that there should be a â€˜consideration whether the death penalty should be implementedâ€™ was the main reason for this suspicion. When media houses started publishing about the plethora of information that Yakub had supplied to the investigative agencies including audio tapes and video tapes which conclusively proved Pakistanâ€™s and ISIâ€™s hand in the Mumbai bomb blasts, the suspicion that there was a â€˜dealâ€™ between Yakub and the Indian investigators deepened among many. And thus started the troubling questions as to whether it was ethical to give Yakub the death sentence or not.
Meanwhile, once the curative petition was rejected by the Supreme Court on 21st June, BJP and its online supporters started a high pitched campaign as to why Yakubâ€™s hanging is necessary and how it sends a â€˜strong messageâ€™ to terror operatives who target India. The fact that, all events leading upto this date, right from the bomb blasts to Yakubâ€™s alleged apprehension happened during Congress regimes did not matter to those were chest-beating. Nor did it matter that it was a Congress supported President who had rejected Yakubâ€™s mercy petition. Bhakts were delirious that their idol Modi was acting â€˜toughâ€™ against terrorism. Under the guise of attacking Yakub, many of BJPâ€™s online supporters made their usual unsavoury comments towards the Muslim community. BJP’s online sena did their very best to vitiate the present situation.
July 30th had been decided as the day of hanging. Yakubâ€™s lawyer rushed to the Supreme Court stating that certain procedural requirements werenâ€™t followed in the curative petition. A two judge bench delivered a split judgement. While Justice Kurian Joseph stayed Yakubâ€™s execution till further orders, Justice AJ Dave disagreed with Justice Joseph and passed contrary orders.
By this point of time, main stream media was covering Yakub extensively. Activists who are against capital punishment were also at their loudest. There was hope in the air that Yakub may just escape the gallows. At the same time, the citizenry was completely polarized, those who were against the hanging and those who were for the hanging.
Chief Justice of India, Justice HL Dattu, constituted a three bench panel to hear the case again. The case was to be heard on 29 July, 2015. Meanwhile, Yakub rushed a fresh mercy petition to the President. The new bench ruled against Yakub on July 29th concluding that there was no issue with the curative petition and Yakub should be hung the following day. Like clockwork, Maharashtra Governor also rejected the pending mercy plea just as the Supreme Court judgement was delivered. The new mercy petition was forwarded to Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). MHA, quite predictably, decided against granting Yakub Mercy and Rajnath Singh personally went to Rashtrapati Bhavan to intimate MHAâ€™s decision to the President. Following MHA advice, President Pranab Mukherjee rejected Yakub’s final mercy plea.
In a sudden turn of events, various senior lawyers of Supreme Court who fight for a variety of civil liberty issues approached the Chief Justice of India at 2:30 a.m. with the plea that Yakub should be given atleast 14 days of notice after his plea was rejected to approach the court according to the jail manual rules. A lot of commotion ensued with news channels running the entire chain of events live and concerned people glued to their TV sets till unearthly hours to find out how this eventually unfolds. People were told that Supreme Court is going to open at that late hour to deliberate upon the latest plea. This was the last upswing in the see-saw of emotions that had been seen over the past week or so. Again, there was hope that may be, just may be, Yakub would get a temporary repreive.
As it happened, the Supreme Court was opened past 3 a.m. and the same bench of 3 judges who had heard the plea earlier in the day were given the job to do so again. They summarily rejected this new plea and ordered that the hanging of Yakub should continue as scheduled at 7 a.m. However, by the time this judgement was issued, it was close to 5 a.m. The realization that Yakub would be hung within 2 hours caused great despair to those who were hoping otherwise. Concerned people neither had great faith in political parties or the investigative agences. However, they had some faith in the judiciary which was shattered.
Yakub was hung as schedule and his body was flown to Mumbai. According to various news reports, over 8000-10000 people attended his final procession. Before July 21st, pretty much most of the country was detached from this case and by July 30th huge sections of the society were emotionally involved in the case. The last 9 days witnessed a see-saw of hope and despair in legal battles. During this period, while on one hand there were many revelations about how Yakub had helped the investigative agencies, social media and main stream media discussed as to how Yakub’s death sentence was a one sided affair with likes of Maya Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi who are convicted of equally heinous crimes are out on bail for long periods of time and how no justice was done in the 92-93 Mumbai riots which saw 900 deaths and just 3 convictions. All this caused many among the minority community to feel that justice has been selective and partial, that Yakub was a victim of this lop-sided justice system. And finally, the midnight drama at the Supreme Court of India was the biggest dampener for those who were hoping against hope.
Those who turned out in 1000s for Yakub’s funeral procession weren’t doing so because they supported an act of terrorism, but because they collectively felt that, increasingly, the Muslim community is not just being denied justice, instead being actively targeted. They turned out because Yakub for them became the face of injustice. And that is how a terror convict became a martyr. Had Yakub spent rest of his life in jail and died a natural death, his burial would have seen only those people who had been invested in his case â€“ his relatives and close friends. But thanks to our investigating agencies, judiciary and political parties like BJP, Congress and AiMIM, Yakub, a terror convict, became an icon.