Preparing for what would be only the second execution in India in the last 15 years, the hangman in Pune’s historic Yerwada jail did not know who was being brought to his gallows.
Amidst airtight secrecy, on Wednesday morning 7.30 am, Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving gunman of the Mumbai massacre of 2008, was hanged to death – five days before the four-year anniversary of what is termed the most potent terror attack on Indian soil since Partition.
His personal journey from his rustic village in Faridkot, Pakistan, which he left half a decade ago in 2007 as a troubled 25-year-old, to the gallows in Pune, where he stood as a hardened militant responsible for taking some 166 lives, may have left a near-indelible mark on relations between Pakistan and India.
Senior police officials say Pakistan-born Kasab’s last and only wish was that his mother be informed of his hanging. According to authorities, Kasab’s body has been buried inside the Yerwada jail compound.
Judge ML Tahaliyani, who conducted the Mumbai attack trial, said in his sentence: “He (Kasab) should be hanged by the neck until he is dead,” adding that he had lost his right to “humanitarian treatment.” President Pranab Mukherjee had rejected his plea for mercy earlier this month.
“His execution is a fitting tribute to the victims of the Mumbai attacks,” Maharashtra Home Minister RR Patil announced to reporters in Mumbai.
Kasab had been lodged in Mumbai’s Arthur Road prison ever since his arrest and was whisked out of his heavily-guarded cell in the intervening night of November 18 and 19, a senior police official said on Wednesday. According to the officer, except the jail superintendent, deputy jailor and doctor, no jail authority was informed about the identity of the accused being brought in to Yerwada where he was to be hanged in full secrecy.
“Jail authorities were only told that a high-profile accused is being brought to Yerwada. His identity was not revealed. Kasab was lodged in an isolated egg-shaped cell guarded by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel,” the official revealed.
So clandestine was the entire affair that even the hangman was not informed about the identity of the accused till the last minute. “We had told the hangman that he is to execute the death penalty of a terrorist. The identity was revealed to him only few minutes before the execution,” the official said.
Built by the British to house those arrested during the freedom struggle, Yerwada jail’s walls are already replete with history, including the incarceration of Mahatma Gandhi for several years.
The 25-year-old reportedly ran away from his poverty-stricken home and a strict father with whom he had quarrelled for not being able to afford new clothes for Eid.
After a process of radicalisation upon leaving home – on Eid day in 2007 – Kasab and his friends signed up to become members of a militant organisation, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), and are said to have been trained at the Markaz Taiba. He later also is said to have received training in Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
According to some newspaper reports, LeT chief Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi had offered Kasab’s parents Rs150,000 for his services in the carnage in Mumbai.
Kasab, along with nine others, became partner in a meticulously-planned terror attack on November 26, 2008, after they left Pakistan and entered Mumbai via sea. The group split up into pairs and stormed two luxury hotels – Taj Mahal and Oberoi Trident – the CST station, a Jewish religious centre, and Leopold Cafe in south Mumbai.
Case not closed
While Kasab may have been hanged, the matter is far from over. Both in India and Pakistan, the larger conspiracy behind the Mumbai attack continues to be the subject of a probe four years after the massacre.
Another militant Abu Jundal, who is also lodged in an Indian jail, has reportedly confessed that it was indeed LeT leader Hafiz Saeed who had trained Kasab. The Indian government’s plan was to bring Kasab and Jundal face to face to be interrogated together.
Whether Kasab was hanged after this meeting, and whether the interrogation took place still remains unknown.