THE CRAMPED 10 feet X 6 feet box where the accused sat at the far end of Court No. 54 presided over by Judge G A Sanap was where all eyes were fixed Friday morning. Sitting in the dock were the seven men who faced charges carrying a maximum penalty of the death sentence. During the over two hours that they were in the dock, their concerns ranged from the banal — the solitary ceiling fan and its leisurely speed had at least one accused annoyed — to the emotional. At moments when the men couldn’t hear the judgment being pronounced, there were confused looks on their faces. In the end, a sense of shock was palpable across the stand, the only exception being Abdul Qayyum Shaikh, who blew kisses across the courtroom at his acquittal.
The day began with tense moments as four of the seven accused — Mustafa Dossa, Abdul Qayyum, Taher Merchant and Karimulla Khan — who are lodged in the Arthur Road jail sat waiting from 11 am. Abu Salem, Firoz Khan and Riyaz Siddiqui — lodged in Taloja jail — were brought in late. With only one ceiling fan in the stuffy room, the men were sweating profusely. At 11.40 am, with no sign of the trio still, Dossa was heard asking a security staffer: “Woh teen sample kahan hain (Where are those three samples)?” The men also seemed amused when a Labrador, part of the Bomb Detection and Disposal Squad, was brought into the courtroom as part of the security drill.
Around 11.50 am, Salem and the other two accused came to the courtroom. Given the well known rivalry between Salem and Dossa — it was a scuffle between them at the Arthur Road jail that led to them being lodged in separate prisons — they sat at two farthest corners of the dock. By the time the judge came in around 12.20 pm, the nearly 40 feet X 20 feet courtroom was filled to capacity with lawyers, policemen, officers of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and journalists. After calling out the names of the accused, who all wore sombre looks on their faces, the judge started reading out the judgment. The accused could be seen craning their necks to listen. The judge began with Dossa who was pronounced guilty. As the judge paused for a drink of water, Dossa sat down. The judge went on to announce the conviction of the other five accused. When it was the turn of Qayyum, who had by then already asked policemen a couple of times if his name had been announced, the judge said he had been acquitted.
A smile broke out across Qayyum’s face, as he raised folded hands and thanked the judge. A police security guard told him: “Tu chhoot gaya (You got off).” “Not guilty,” Qayyum replied, smiling ear to ear. Taher Merchant, one of the six convicts, shook Qayyum’s hands. Hardly able to contain his joy, Qayyum blew kisses in the air to those he knew in the courtroom. The other accused, a more worried lot now, waited to meet their family members before they would be bundled back to the prison to wait for next week when the quantum of sentence will be announced.
Convict Riyaz Siddiqui seemed to have mixed feelings about the verdict. While he was convicted under one TADA section, he was acquitted of the major charge of criminal conspiracy. Siddiqui, dressed usually in a kurta-pyjama and known for his shayari, could be seen tearing up after his sentence was announced.