AS JUDGE P R Deshmukh of the Special Prevention of Terrorism Act court prepared to read out his verdict on the 2002-03 Mumbai serial blasts, a wiry octogenarian was seen darting out of the courtroom.
For a man who had funded the legal defence of the 13 Muslim accused, many expected Gulzar Azmi, head of the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind’s legal aid committee, to remain in court to witness the culmination of his efforts.
“I cannot stay in a courtroom when a verdict is pronounced. The tension on the faces of the accused and the breaking down of their families is something that I cannot witness,” said Azmi.
That day, nine of the 13 accused were absolved by the court of serious charges of terrorism. The icing on the cake for him, however, has been the discharge of nine Muslim men last month by a special court in the 2006 Malegaon case.
Paan on the edges of his mouth, the lungi-clad Azmi does not quite come across as someone who has single-handedly raised funds for the defence of at least 410 Muslims embroiled in 52 terror-related cases across India.
The nerve centre of his activities is a two-storeyed structure in the congested Imambada area of Bhendi Bazaar. The families of terror-accused and those who have been discharged on bail make their way through a lane, lined with goats and caterers cooking Mughlai cuisine, to seek Azmi’s help in legal matters as well as financial support.
Born in 1934, in Mumbai, Azmi has been associated with the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, a leading organisation of Islamic scholars, since the 1950s. He had served in various positions in the organisation which has undertaken several initiatives for the development of the Muslim community.
Azmi’s first tryst with the judicial process began in 1970 when thousands of Muslim weavers from Bhiwandi were arrested after the riots there.
“We had helped mount their legal defence. A lot of them were poor labourers who had come from far-off places and had been picked up by police,” Azmi said.
But Azmi himself had to face a personal tragedy in 2005 when his two sons were picked up under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act.
His sons Abrar, a perfume mixer, and Anwar, a construction site supervisor, were accused of having been associated with a criminal Faheem Machmach, extorting money on his behalf.
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“My sons were honorably acquitted after spending two years, eight months and 10 days in jail. The court even gave us permission to complain against the officers who had booked my sons,” said Azmi.