“The biggest challenge in (Ajmal) Kasab’s case was the secrecy. Former Deputy Chief Minister and then Home Minister R R Patil Sir was very emphatic about this. Given that right from the signing of the black warrant by the court, to transporting him from Arthur Road Jail in Mumbai to Yerawada Central Prison in Pune, where the hanging was to take place, to the actual execution, there were so many agencies involved, this was a huge task. And Yakub Memon’s hanging was just the opposite — we had to work with the spotlight on us,” said Meeran Chadha Borwankar, former Inspector General (Prisons), Maharashtra, who oversaw both the hangings.
Borwankar retired as Director General, Bureau of Police Research and Development, on Saturday. In an interview to The Sunday Express, Borwankar, the only woman IPS officer in India to have witnessed hangings, spoke about the two most challenging and controversial assignments of her career spanning 36 years — the hangings of Ajmal Kasab in 2012 and Yakub Memon in 2015.
“Kasab was in custody of ITBP at the Arthur Road Jail in Mumbai when we needed to transfer him to Pune for the execution. A Crime Branch team was handpicked to escort him. From the prison department, we sent an IG-rank officer, which is very rare, to lead this team. There was apprehension that he could be attacked on the way because some hostile nation didn’t want his part in the 26/11 operation to come out. The highway police was alerted that there was night VIP movement, and he was whizzed through the Mumbai-Pune Expressway without anyone knowing,” she said.
Kasab had to be kept at Yerawada for a day, further accelerating the tension over the information being leaked out. “The team which escorted him was put in quarantine for almost 36 hours, with their cellphones taken away. But surprisingly, one mediaperson did find out about Kasab’s transfer from Mumbai, and contacted Rakesh Maria (former Mumbai Police Commissioner) and R R Patil Sir. He just had information of the movement, not of the hanging. So, that evening, just to test if the news had leaked, I went to Pune SRPF campus where there was a function and the media was present. There were no questions put to me regarding Kasab, which was a big relief,” recalled Borwankar.
“Nevertheless, since this phone call had come to Rakesh and R R Patil Sir and they had both called me, I decided I would go to Yerawada earlier than I had planned. I didn’t want to take my vehicle because that could have alerted the media. So I sat behind my gunner on his motorcycle, wore a blazer over my uniform and reached the prison. The SP and DIG also came without official vehicles, and we stayed at the prison that night,” she said.
Asked about Kasab’s last moments, Meeran said all media reports on his “last words and wishes” were just speculation. “I don’t think Kasab even understood what was happening to him. He seemed dazed. We took him for hanging early morning on November 21. As per rules, the prison doctor and a magistrate, in this case the Pune Collector, were present. After the hanging, we performed the last rites as per his religion,” she said.
Asked if anyone came to claim his body, she said: “Nobody came. The Indian government had informed the Pakistan High Commission about his hanging, but they replied that he was not their citizen so they had nothing to do with it.”
Two-and-a-half years later, Borwankar, who was then ADG (Prisons), Maharashtra, was called again to perform a similar operation. This time it was the hanging of Yakub Memon, convicted in the 1993 Mumbai blasts case, in Nagpur in July 2015. Asked if this was a replay of what she had gone through earlier, she said: “On the contrary it was quite the opposite… In Kasab’s case, secrecy was priority. Here, the entire country was watching us.”
There was also a difference in the demeanour of Kasab and Memon, she said. “I had met Yakub two-three times earlier too. But when I went to Nagpur Central Prison for the hanging he told me, ‘Madam, don’t worry, nothing is going to happen, mujhe kuch nahin hoga (nothing will happen to me)’. I was amazed at his composure. We brought in the same team — the same DIG, superintendent and staff from Pune, and I must compliment them, they were perfectionists and tight-lipped. In Kasab’s case, I had decided to go inside the prison before schedule because I didn’t want the information to be leaked. Here also, I did the same, because I did not want to be seen in Nagpur,” she said.
Recalling the drama that surrounded Memon’s case, Borwankar said: “This case was very different because the family was very active. His cousins came and met me and said they would get a stay from court. I realised what they meant when the Supreme Court worked past midnight. So we didn’t know which way it would go. Early morning, we were told that his mercy petition had been rejected. Earlier, I had taken two-three rounds of the prison and asked Yakub, as per norms, ‘Yakub, aapne apna will kar diya kya? (Yakub, have you made your will?)’. He replied, ‘Haan Madam, kar diya (Yes, I have)’. And then I don’t know why, I just asked him, ‘apni wife aur beti ko kuch diya na (Have you given something to your wife and daughter?’. He said, ‘haan, wo toh meri do aankhen hain. Unhi ko diya. (Yes, they are my two eyes. I have given them only)’.”
“Given the sensitivity of the operation, it was decided that the post-mortem would be conducted inside the Nagpur prison, and then the body would be taken to Mumbai. I had just finished with the execution when I got a call from the Chief Minister’s Office, asking how the scene of the hanging had leaked and was all over WhatsApp. I was stunned, because we had taken all precautions… Later, I got to know there was a Hindi film where a lady officer is shown hanging an accused, and that clip had been circulated as Yakub’s hanging,” said Borwankar.
“In the last 30 years, there have been just three hangings — Kasab, Yakub and Afzal Guru. In the case of Afzal Guru, the DG (Prisons) at that time was a woman, but she did not remain present for the hanging, which was her right, as per the manual. In my case, when I was asked by the government to supervise the two hangings, I thought that when I had conceptualised the entire operation till the last detail, not to be present for the execution would be seen as a comment on my gender. People would say she couldn’t take it because she is a woman. In fact, I remember after Kasab’s hanging, people asked me, ‘didn’t you faint’. I did not want that to happen,” said Borwankar.