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Advocate Shahid Azmi, whose work centred on seeking to redress the injustices suffered by Muslim youth who were falsely implicated in criminal cases, was shot dead on 11 February in his Kurla office in Mumbai.

I am pained, the heart bleeds, when I hear what they have endured. But, in spite of all that, it will 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 Azmi ( 1977-2010)

11th February marks 11 long years of the assassination of Shahid Azmi. A crusader for justice, human rights, and a lawyer by profession, Shahid was murdered on the night of 11th February 2010 in his office in Kurla, Mumbai. Martyred at the young age of 33 Shahid was no ordinary lawyer. In his short-lived legal practice of 7 years, he had successfully secured the acquittal of 17 men framed in cooked up terrorist charges.

Shahid grew up in the suburb area of Deonar, Mumbai, and was an eye witness to the 1992 communal riots which followed after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. He had a front-row view of the barbarism and the torture that Muslims faced by the saffron mobs and police alike. This might have created a sense of anger and frustration in the Muslim youth including Shahid, and he found himself in Pakistan with a group of militants. This however didn’t last long and he returned back. He was later picked up by the police and charged with terrorism and related offenses based on a confession which he never gave! Sounds contemporary right? He spent around 7 years in incarceration, mostly in the Tihar Jail. This was the time when he completed his graduation from jail. His thirst for knowledge and love for justice made him join a law school after he was released of all his charges in 2001.

Mumbai Mirror–19 April 2006 Advt. Shahid Azmi near his office Photo–Deepak Turbhekar

Voice of the Voiceless

Shahid was no ordinary lawyer. In such a brief period, he emerged out as a defender of justice, democratic rights, and truth. He became the strong voice of the politically marginalized and the innocent Muslims who are falsely framed up in terrorism-related cases. Shahid represented every man he believed was innocent and a prey to the system which is entwined with a bias against Muslims. After completing his legal education he started working under Advocate Majeed Menon, but soon quit that and started his own practice. One of his first and remarkable cases was that of the 2002 Ghatkopar blast case where he got nine accused acquitted. He has tremendous contributions to the democratic process of delivering justice which needs sharp, dedicated, and brilliant minds like Shahid. In a world where lawyers are expected to be emotionally detached from their cases, there are lawyers like Shahid who are not only an exception to this norm but become the voice of the voiceless.

Shahid Azmi’s Chamber in Taximen Colony, Kurla. This is exactly where he was shot dead in the late hours of 11th February 2010. Photo: GX

Not A Bed of Roses

Shahid’s revolutionary life struggles and courage to defend the innocent Muslims languishing in jails was no cakewalk. Just like anyone who fights for a just cause against popular opinion, he too had to face the brutal consequences. He used to get dozens of death threats for he used to represent and support people who were declared terrorists in the eyes of the general public. In fact, in his last days when he was representing Faheem Ansari, an accused in the 26/11 Mumbai Attacks, the number of life-threatening calls and warnings he received were amplified which led to his murder. It is extremely important to remember that this was the period when bar associations across the country had prohibited their members from representing in terror related cases. For him, his profession was not just a way of earning a livelihood, it was way more than that. Having been in prison himself for framed up cases for several years, perhaps he knew what it feels like being in jail for being a Muslim, an innocent Muslim. I believe it was his life mission to represent and help those whom no one would. He was often labeled as a terrorist lawyer.

Words by Roy Black, an American criminal defense trial attorney, which inspired and motivated Shahid and he hung these words around his desk. Photo: A still from the Hansal Mehta’s film, ‘Shahid’

Martyr to the Cause of Justice

Shahid was killed. He was killed for his mission to provide justice to every individual he believed was innocent. Despite himself being a victim of the morally corrupt and rotten system, he did not maintain distance from it but decided to fight in a democratic and honest method. Why would anyone kill or even threaten and think about killing an individual like Shahid? Who was in love with the concept of justice and a gem for the democratic functioning for achieving it?

Don’t look at his murder as just another killing of an individual. His murder was a blatant effort to terrorize the idea of justice and silence the voices of those who live and die for the cause of justice. His murderers might have thought that the killing of Shahid Azmi will put a full stop to the people fighting for justice in the courtrooms and on the field. But that never happened. Shahid after his death, inspired countless youth, especially Muslims, to take up law as a profession and carry forward his legacy. His younger brother is one of those who has been a lawyer for many years and have been fighting the cases which Shahid couldn’t complete. After all, it takes than more than gun to kill a man!

We all owe a great deal of gratitude and respect to such defenders of our democracy. They sacrifice their social and personal life, keep aside their financial and professional aspirations for upholding our constitution and keep the fire burning for a democratic, secular, and an egalitarian India. An India where the word ‘justice’ holds some meaning.

Sahil Kazmi is a student pursuing B.B.A from Jamia Millia Islamia

Edited by: Nuzhat Khan

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.

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Written by Sahil Kazmi

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