Updated: July 29, 2015 6:07:11 pm
The night of the 1993 Mumbai blasts, the police got a brothel owner in Mumbai to call one of her clients. Tiger Memon answered that call, helping the police join the dots — all the way to Dubai and later, Yakub.
What Yakub was Held Guilty for
# Funding/financing the blasts
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# Arranging logistics for the accused to travel to Pakistan for training
# Transportation and preservation of explosives
In Mumbai’s Carter Road area stands a door that till date gets the maximum knocks. Strangers, men and women keep coming. Often, policemen ring the doorbell. Others are more discreet, just tapping on the door. Young girls looking for a job. Men looking to solicit. And then, a few others looking to remember. Everyone asking for a certain ‘Madam Roma Singh’.
Before the night of March 12, 1993, Roma was just another brothel owner, running the trade from her Carter Road apartment. Every Mumbai story changed after that night of the serial blasts, and so did Roma’s. But the story that is now racing to its final pages is that of Yakub Memon, the countdown to whose death has begun.
By late evening on the day of the blasts, the police had come across three crucial pieces of evidence, each leading to the other, in south Mumbai — an abandoned Maruti 800 at Worli, the registration details of which led them to the Memons’ Al-Hussaini building in Mahim, where the raiding team got the key to an explosive-laden two-wheeler in Katha Bazar.
So the investigators now knew the Memons were in it, but they were yet to put faces to the ‘masterminds’. Tiger, the most well-known of the Memon brothers until then, was among Mumbai’s prominent smugglers, but the latest evidence pointed to his role in something more sinister: India’s deadliest attack post-Independence that had left 257 people dead and 713 injured and destroyed property worth Rs 27 crore (Tiger was later chargesheeted as the mastermind along with Dawood Ibrahim). The police’s informer network got into the act and that led them to Roma’s Carter Road apartment.
A few minutes past midnight, Roma was summoned to the Matunga police station, where senior IPS officers Rakesh Maria and M N Singh were waiting to question her. A few hours later, she left the police station. That night, the police wanted to confirm what the travel agents had told them: that the Memon family had left the country. They only had to get Roma to tell them Tiger’s exact location and she did — with a phone call to Tiger.
It’s her phone call, the Mumbai Police says, that changed the direction of the probe, giving the investigators their first crucial lead on the movement of the perpetrators. “She had a few international numbers of Tiger’s and she called all of them. Finally, she managed to reach his Dubai number. Tiger answered her call but hung the phone after a long silence,” recalls a senior police officer who was part of the 1993 blasts probe. The damage had been done.
That night, as Roma spoke and made her calls, the script — complete with characters — began to take shape. She confirmed the name of the travel company that had booked the Memons’ tickets. “She then gave the names of three of Tiger’s close associates —Mohammed Shafi Zariwala, Mohammed Mushtaq Mossa Tarani and a man named Anwar. She had seen them with him,” recalls the officer. While Tarani’s death sentence was later commuted to life, the probe is yet to narrow in on Zariwala and Anwar.
In 1975, Roma, a Delhi girl, had taken a train to Bombay, hoping to land a role in Bollywood. But she had failed to get even bit roles and instead found herself in a brothel in South Mumbai where she fell in love with a man called Kishan, who allegedly supplied women to Dawood Ibrahim’s cartel.
By 1981, Roma and Kishan, now husband and wife, had started their own prostitution network and shifted base from their old house in Hill Road to the posher Carter Road flat, both in Bandra. Police officers say their old house was once the meeting point for all D-Gang members.
It’s somewhere around 1985 that Roma met Dawood’s brother Anees Ibrahim. Anees had come to India to attend his brother Iqbal’s wedding. “Her tryst with the underworld began,” says an officer who had Roma as his informer for a long time. In 1987, a few months before Anees fled to Dubai, he introduced Roma to Tiger Memon. “Tiger soon became a regular at her Bandra residence,” adds the official.
A police source says Roma soon became Tiger’s confidante and was privy to his businesses. “She was one of the few who Tiger rang up every day, irrespective of which part of the world he was in. Tiger even shared his Dubai number with Roma,” he says.
Of the many anecdotes the Mumbai Police shares about the two, one shows how Tiger was possessive of Roma.
Mustafa Dossa, a Dawood associate who is currently in jail and facing trial in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts, and Tiger were partners in a firm on Mohammed Ali Road in South Mumbai. Once, when Roma tried to reach Tiger on phone, Dossa is said to have picked the call and attempted to flirt with her. The word reached Tiger. The next day, the two had a heated argument at Roma’s house. “The two pulled revolvers and others had to intervene. That evening, Tiger called off his business dealings with Dossa,” recalls another officer.
Roma’s husband Kishan died in 2001. In 2003, she sold her Carter Road apartment and moved with her son and daughter to Delhi. “I was born in 1992 during the riots and I don’t know who Tiger is. We moved to Delhi in 2004 and my mother died in 2008,” Roma’s son, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Sunday Express on phone.
The present owners of her Carter Road apartment say that when Roma was selling them the house, she told them that it had been used for nefarious activities. “She was upfront about it and offered the flat at a cheaper rate. She kept saying that she had been getting threats from someone and was keen to wind up the deal as soon as possible,” says Rakshanda Memon, who lives at the Carter Road house with her husband and two children. “Even today people come looking for her and we have to tell them that she does not stay here anymore,” she adds.
There is no trace of Roma in the police’s records either. “A decision was taken not to include her name in the case,” says an officer. “She was the informer.”
If Roma gave Tiger Memon to the Mumbai Police, the story of his younger brother, the chartered accountant and the “intelligent” son in the family, will never be this straight.
Yakub has maintained that he surrendered on July 28, 1994. The CBI, which subsequently took over the case from the Mumbai Police, has maintained that they arrested him at the Delhi railway station on August 5 that year.
Whether he surrendered or got arrested, sources in the Mumbai Police say that if there is one person who helped Yakub make up his mind about returning to India, it was Iqbal Mirchi alias Iqbal Memon, slain underworld don and a close aide of Dawood’s. “During their Dubai stay, Yakub came in contact with Iqbal Mirchi and the two met on several occasions over dinner. It was during these meetings that Yakub expressed his desire to return to India.
Mirchi’s business partner, who was a government witness in a CBI case, knew a couple of officers and helped Yakub get in touch with the officials and a deal was sealed,” says a police officer.
Like Roma, the story of Iqbal Mirchi does not find any mention in the record books of the investigating agencies.
Over the years, the narrative has been that Yakub was intercepted at the Old Delhi railway station. That line now stands challenged by the revelation made by B Raman. The former RAW officer said Yakub was informally picked up in Kathmandu with the help of the Nepal police, “driven across Nepal to a town in Indian territory, flown to Delhi by an aircraft of the Aviation Research Centre and formally arrested in Old Delhi”.
Justice Pradeep Kode, the special TADA court judge who convicted Yakub in 2007, too had questioned that narrative in his order. “Since the search for Yakub was not effected at a place near where he was apprehended, it creates a serious doubt…,” he had said.
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