Why Kolkata’s civil rights organizations and radical mass organizations preferred silence over Yakub Memon’s hanging in gallows ?

August 12, 2015

By Ranjit Sur

Why did it happen ? Not a single civil rights organization or radical mass organization in Kolkata organized any meeting or rally protesting Yakub Memon’s hanging in gallows before or after the hanging. No, not even the well established civil rights organizations. But the scene was different in other cities. But Kolkata based organizations preferred silence. Why ?

One may question from whom did you expect a protest meeting or a rally condemning state sponsored killing. No, not from traditional left party sponsored organizations. Its true, CPM has changed its stance over capital punishment in general. But this opportunist party preferred not to hit the streets on this issue because of electoral politics- fearing a majority backlash. Their ideologues in Delhi made noises but their Bengal counterparts kept silent because they would have to face the question over their role in Dhananjay Chatterjee hanging case in Bengal a few years back. Until and unless they apologize for that they will have to shy away. But to attract Muslim votes their ideologues were speaking against the hanging of Yakub Memon. They are, as usual, trying to satisfy both the camps.

But to be honest, I expected a befitting protest from the civil rights organizations and the organizations belonging to the radical left – as they prefer to be identified. All variations of Maoists, Marxists- Leninists or even the Trotskyites. But my hope or expectations were belied. Kolkata – the Michhil Nagari – the City of Rallies – observed no rally protesting Yacub Memon’s hanging before or after the incident. Not a single organization representing students, youths, women, working class or public in general preferred to hit the streets. No meeting, no convention has been held yet demanding abolition of capital punishment. No symposium demanding punishment for rioters of Mumbai in the years 1992-93 –‘ the immediate CAUSE of 1993 blast ‘. Actually, all the Kolkata organizations kept mum while rest of the cities in India organized protests, more or less.

As a civil rights activist, I cannot say much about the reason of silence of the political organizations. But their politics is reflected in civil rights organizations too. So, there may be an inter-connection between the silence of the civil rights organizations and silence of the political organizations. Why the radicals kept silent ? Two reasons came to my mind. Firstly, most of these organizations do not support abolition of capital punishment in principle. It is possible that the memory of abundance of capital punishment in the history of so-called socialist Russia, socialist China or in other socialist states haunt them. Even in the area of their dominance they are known to use capital punishment. So this ideological-political stance kept them silent to an extent. Their theoreticians could not convincingly differentiate between capital punishment in a class divided society and capital punishment in a classless society or capital punishment in the areas of on-going war. Secondly, a good section of their leaders and members have remained essentially Hindu. It is possible that they are heavily influenced by ideological campaign of War on Terror. The world wide anti-muslim campaign based on activities of Taliban, ISIS or Boko Haram has heavily influenced their middle class cadres. In absence of experience of class struggle or ideological training these organizations dared not hit the streets over Yakub Memon’s hanging till death. In Nagpur Central Jail where Yakub Memon was in custody before hanging, Maoist prisoners observed a hunger strike in protest of Yakub’s hanging order. But nothing of that sort was heard in Bengal. Theoretically, all Leninists and Maoists criticize the Indian rulers for discriminating against the minorities. But in case of Yakub’s hanging I found not a single statement from Maoists, not from any level of their organization, not even from their highest body! Do they think Yakub was not discriminated against ? So, many mass organizations who on many issues try their best to organize mass movements, organizing processions, meetings or conventions, preferred not to do anything opposing Yakub’s hanging in gallows. They were afraid of being branded as terrorists or supporters of terrorism . They failed to grasp the nature and importance of this ‘political hanging’ and thus failed to expose the real face of Indian state. One may even wonder whether the radical left felt a compulsion for exhibiting patriotism/nationalism on this issue considering the all pervasive media propaganda in favour of the hanging, and the dominant parties posing this as a nationalistic issue.

Civil rights movement in West Bengal is heavily influenced by Maoists and Marxists-Leninists . Many of the leaders and members of this movement are former activists of this or that left organization. So it is possible that ideological stand of Maoists and Marxist- Leninists naturally influence their activity. But that cannot be and is not the only reason of silence of civil rights organizations over Yakub Memon issue. Are functionaries of civil rights movement too ideologically Hindu influenced or are influenced by propaganda of War on Terror or are they afraid of state backlash considering a not too strong mass base ? Demanding abolition of capital punishment is a long standing issue of the civil rights movement throughout the world. In Kolkata we have a good experience of movement against Dhananjay Chatterjee’s death sentence. Yet, Kolkata failed to respond this time. Why ? Time and situation demands explanation.

Some of the greater issues need to be discussed further by the experts. Yakub’s hanging was not the hanging of a criminal or a rapist. It gave a knee-jerk to the entire society. Many more larger issues were and are involved in the whole act. What does the Government really want to do capitalizing on the hanging at this juncture of time? The questionable role of judiciary also requires scrutiny. Realization of demand for punishment for the people responsible for Mumbai riots, Gujarat riots and even Delhi riots is needed. Time demands a sincere role from the civil rights movement in India. The silence of Kolkata’s conscience is very dangerous and painful. Let us have a sincere introspection to rectify our mistakes.

Personally, as a civil rights activist of Kolkata, I express my sincere apology for my failure to organize protests over Yakub Memon’s political execution.

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