Yakub Memon, a former accountant convicted of a support role in the 1993 terrorist attack in Mumbai, was executed in India early Thursday despite a flurry of last minute clemency hearings. India deployed 35,000 police on the streets of Mumbai to avoid violence and street protests.
Mr. Memon was convicted in 2007 for his role in the Mumbai bombings, which left 257 people dead, though part of the controversy surrounding his case is that he played a smaller role in the blasts as a fundraiser while those chiefly responsible remain at large.
The attack on the financial hub helped seal a period of communal hatred between Indian Muslims and Hindus that had started in earnest a year before when Hindu mobs bused into Ayodhya, in central India, destroyed the Babri Masjid, a mosque that by legend was built atop a Hindu temple 454 years earlier.
The mosque attack brought months of deadly riots across the nation with 900 people killed, most of them Muslims, and it marked the rise of popular Hindu nationalism, as the Monitor reported this week.
Some 180 million of India's more than a billion people are Muslim.
Memon, hanged on his birthday, had become a recent symbol for civil society groups that promoted better multi-ethnic relations and that opposed the death penalty. As Memon's case picked up steam and controversy in the media in India, the Muslim community argued that Memon is a scapegoat and that his hanging was being used as a tool by the ruling Hindu nationalist government, which the community claims is biased against Muslims.
While India has put more than 1,000 people on death row in the past decade, the nation has actually executed only three, the BBC noted Thursday.
Sashi Tharoor, a former UN undersecretary and a high-profile member of India’s parliament, tweeted today after the hanging, which took place in the city of Nagpur, that, “There is no evidence that death penalty serves as a deterrent: to the contrary in fact. All it does is exact retribution: unworthy of a government.… Cold-blooded execution has never prevented a terror attack anywhere.”
Indian prosecutors described Memon as the “driving force” behind the bombings, whose targets included the Indian stock exchange. But for years he was a pale shadow in the case compared with his brother, Tiger Memon, and with Dawood Ibrahim, a top underworld crime figure in Mumbai, both of whom were accused by Indian investigators as the “masterminds” of the terror.
The New York Times noted Thursday that the controversy over Memon
even embroiled Salman Khan, one of India’s biggest movie stars, who on Sunday posted a series of messages on Twitter that seemed to imply that Mr. Memon was being hanged for the crimes of his older brother, Ibrahim (Tiger) Memon, who prosecutors say is one of the masterminds still at large. “Brother is being hanged for Tiger,” Mr. Khan wrote.
"For many Mumbaikars, Yakub Abdul Razak Memon’s hanging Thursday was justice that was a long time coming," writes one blogger in the Wall St. Journal.
By coincidence, Memon's hanging comes on the same day as a state funeral for one of India's most respected scientists and a former president of the nation, AJP Abdul Kalam, a leader in the Muslim community. Mr. Kalam, 83, who died Monday while delivering a speech on science, helped pioneer India's rocket program. As president of India, he was known as a chief advocate of social charity and benevolence and was a champion in India of abolishing the death penalty.
His funeral in Tamil Nadu was attended by thousands and presided over by Indian prime minister Narendra Modi.