Death row: clerics are reluctant to perform Yakub Memon's last rites
As Maharashtra prepares to execute Yakub Memon on 30 July, authorities at the Nagpur jail, where he will be hanged, have a difficult task at hand: to find a cleric to conduct the death rites.
Yakub has been convicted of his role in the 1993 Mumbai serial bombings and sentenced to death. His last appeal against the death penalty, a curative petition, was rejected by the Supreme Court on Tuesday.
Now that he has to hang, the state has to arrange for Yakub's Namaz-e-Janaza. That would require a Muslim cleric.
"As part of arrangements, we have started looking for a maulvi to perform last prayers for Yakub," said a senior home department official. "But, as of now, no one has agreed to do the job."
Their reluctance could stem from various reasons: several influential seminaries have issued fatwas prohibiting burial prayers for any person associated with terrorism. The edicts were meant to send a message that the Muslim community as a whole condemned terrorism.
Been there, done that
The state, however, has faced this difficulty before, and overcome it. In 2012, when 26/11 attacker Ajmal Kasab was secretly hanged in Pune's Yerwada Jail, the authorities reportedly brought a cleric from outside Maharashtra.
"It was with great difficulty that a Muslim clergyman was roped in to perform the last rites for Kasab. The department assured the maulvi his identity will be kept secret. Even today, no one knows who performed the last rites," the official said. "The same procedure will be followed in Yakub's case as well."
A cleric, however, will be needed only if Yakub's body is not claimed by his relatives. According to a prison official, the jail manual doesn't require the presence of clergy at the hanging. "Only the death warrant issued by the court is needed for execution of any convict," the official said.
"In case the family does not claim the body, then we will need the maulvi to perform the last rites," the official added.
Though most of Yakub's family, including his brother and co-accused 'Tiger' Memon, left India after the blasts, he still has relatives here. "Many of his family members are very much here," a source in the Mumbai Crime Branch said.
Going by precedent, however, the state may not hand over Yakub's body even if his family wants to take it.
In 2012, when Ajmal Kasab was hanged, the authorities reportedly brought a cleric from outside Maharashtra
In February 2013, the central government had refused to hand over Afzal Guru's body to his family, fearing it would spark unrest in Kashmir. Guru was hanged, and buried, inside Delhi's Tihar Jail for his alleged role in the 2001 attack on the parliament. In Kasab's case, nobody was said to have come forward to claim his body.
Yakub's fate, meanwhile, has intensified the debate on death penalty in India. Senior lawyer Majid Memon said the death sentence doesn't deter terrorists. "I don't want to comment on this particular case. But a person who is handed down the death sentence is seen as a martyr by those involved in anti-national activities," he said.
To ensure Yakub's execution doesn't create unrest, the police has increased vigil in sensitive areas, especially in Mumbai and Nagpur.