11 Feb 2023 3:04 PM GMT
"I’ve died a hundred times and if death did come knocking, I would look it in the eye", said Late Shahid Azmi, who was shot dead on this day in 2010 in his chamber. In his practice of about seven years, Azmi fought numerous cases and represented those whom he believed were wrongly accused in several high-profile “terror cases” in Mumbai. In his short span of around seven...
"I’ve died a hundred times and if death did come knocking, I would look it in the eye", said Late Shahid Azmi, who was shot dead on this day in 2010 in his chamber.
In his practice of about seven years, Azmi fought numerous cases and represented those whom he believed were wrongly accused in several high-profile “terror cases” in Mumbai. In his short span of around seven years, Azmi got around 17 acquittals, quite a remarkable number in his short span of practice, considering the delay in our criminal trial system.
One of his initial cases was the Ghatkopar Bus Bomb Blast in 2002, when Arif Paanwala, who was arrested under Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) was acquitted along with eight others, due to lack of evidence, by the court; this eventually led to the law being repealed.
Being a defence criminal lawyer is not a safe arena when you have to defend those who are already being tried by the society and media in parallel. In the memory of Azmi, a movie was also made as his biography which narrates all the incidents which made him “Shahid Azmi”. The prime motivation behind his fight was the wrongful incarceration he himself suffered. One who has experienced injustice will fight for justice with more intensity and bravery.
Azmi spent around 7 years in Tihar jail after he was charged under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Prevention Act for his alleged involvement to kill politicians, but eventually he was acquitted by the Supreme Court.
In one of his few public interviews, he shared his feelings for the victims of blasts. “I am pained, the heart bleeds, when I hear what they have endured,” he said. “But in spite of all that, it’ll never be easy for me to see an innocent being sent behind bars or to the gallows only because the crime alleged was a bomb blast.”
Shahid was very inspired and guided by the words of Roy Black, an American civil and criminal defence lawyer. Roy once said that “by showing me injustice, he taught me to love justice. By teaching me what pain and humiliation were all about, he awakened my heart to mercy. Through these hardships, I learned hard lessons. Fight against prejudice, battle the oppressors, support the underdog.”
Even today, there are people who have been accused and jailed for years and the condition of our legal aid is known to everyone around. The first step is to make legal aid an important facet of the profession, because whenever one hears the word, without any thoughts, it’s pro-bono. We need more lawyers like Shahid who can selflessly give aid to those who are suffering jail due to lack of resources to afford legal services.
It was in my law school that I discovered Shahid Azmi’s contribution to the criminal justice administration and following which I watched the movie. He is, and always will be remembered as one of the best lawyers this country ever had.
Even after 13 years, no one has been convicted yet for the murder of Shahid Azmi. A report by Newslaundry states that in August 2017, charges of murder and criminal conspiracy were framed against four men. The charges were against five people initially, but gangster Santosh Shetty was let off in October 2014. Recently, the Bombay High Court has lifted the stay on the trial in the murder of Azmi who was shot dead in his Kurla office in 2010.
While speaking on the Unlawful Activities Act of 2004, Azmi said: “Har wo fikr. Har wo khayal jo hukumat ke sayasi fikr ke khilaaf jaata hain, wo UAPA of 2004 ke tehet gurm hain, har ek aesi fikr rakhne wala dehshatgarj hain" (That every concern. That every thought, which is against the concern of the government, is a crime as per the UAPA Act, 2004. Every person having such concern is a terrorist).
Even after years of his death, his family still has hope in the system, in the judiciary, that the killers of Azmi will be held and punished.
“It’s been eight years but there isn’t a day that goes by when we don’t remember him. We are grateful we are not alone while doing this. Several programs are held throughout the country in his memory.” Said Azmi’s brother
(Areeb Uddin Ahmed is a lawyer based in Delhi and he often writes on various legal issues. He tweets at @Areebuddin14)