On April 18,when 20-odd convicts assembled before Special TADA Judge G A Sanap,the judge asked how,in the absence of any document to establish their identities,the court could be sure they were not proxies. Farhana Shah,46,assured the court that she knew them all.
Not just the convicts names and their roles in the 1993 Bombay blasts,Shah knew every minute detail of their lives over the past two decades. In these 20 years,Shah has appeared as the lawyer for virtually every one of the 123 accused in the case.
I represented over 80 persons throughout the trial,and others as and when they needed me, Shah said. In the past 20 years,she has been on leave for only 80 days 40 days each when her two children were born.
The soft-spoken Shah began her career in law in 1991,shadowing her senior T H Sardar. All I did was carry law briefs from one court to another. Jobs that one does as a junior, she explained.
Nothing remarkable happened until 1993,Shah recalled until one day,judge J N Patel,then the designated TADA court judge,handed her a bunch of papers and asked her to defend one of the accused,Janu Kamlya Wedkoli. I could not say no. Patel sir was like a father-figure. I knew I had to take up the case, Shah said.
Wedkoli was discharged and was later made a witness in the case. He died in 1995. But there was no stopping Shah. From actor Sanjay Dutt to the Memon family,she represented all before the special TADA court.
In June 2010,she was again approached by Justice Patel,then a judge of the Bombay High Court. Her brief this time: to defend Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Kasab in the high court.
Of the 1993 blasts accused,Shah said: I lived in the area,I saw people mourning personal losses every day during the riots (that preceded the blasts). The motive behind the blasts was to avenge those losses. Most blast accused had lost their lifes savings and dear ones in the riots.
As the case graduated from one level to another,Shah matured to becoming an assertive counsel. As trust was built,she came to be addressed as Aapa elder sister. Nearly 90 per cent of her clients did not pay her. It was charity. While some could pay,some did not even have the money to travel to court. I paid for their lunch on many occasions, she said.
A rebel from the beginning,Shah married late,at age 31 and outside her conservative Khoja community. She proposed marriage to longtime friend Afzal Hussain Shah,an acupuncturist with G T Hospital. Afzal died in 2011. It was a loss that Shah has not been able to overcome yet.
The trial of a second batch of over a dozen 1993 blast accused,including deported dons Mustafa Dossa and Abu Salem,is still on. Shah is representing most accused in this group too.
Shah says she has both earned blessings and made enemies in her career. People assume I only appear for terrorists. I would get disturbed when people addressed me as a blast lawyer,now I have stopped reacting.
She faced threats both in the 1990s and when she was appointed Kasabs lawyer. I am just doing my job, she said. A lawyers job is to defend an accused.
Still,there are people that she draws the line at. She does not defend those accused of domestic violence,and those facing drug charges.