In the corridors of the city civil and sessions court at Fort in Mumbai, Rohini Salian is a name known to all, her reputation created over three decades of practice.
Salian has handled a number of high-profile cases as chief public prosecutor for the state of Maharashtra and fetched many convictions.
She spent nearly ten years running the public prosecutor’s office in the court until she quit in 2007 saying that she was “fed up”. This was before the late Hemant Karkare, then ATS chief, reportedly convinced her to take up the 2008 Malegaon blast case as special public prosecutor.
She was the public prosecutor in the 1992 J J Hospital shootout case in which fugitive gangster Dawood Ibrahim’s aide Subhash Thakur was sentenced to death, the 7/11 blasts of 2006, the Sara-Sahara shopping complex case in which Dawood Ibrahim’s brother Iqbal Kaskar was acquitted, the extortion case against Dawood’s sister Haseena Parkar, and eventually the 2008 Malegaon blasts in which she successfully opposed the bail plea of Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur but had to move the high court after a special MCOCA court ruled that the stringent Act did not apply in the case against a “Hindu extremist” organisation.
The acquittal of eight accused booked under POTA in the 2002 Ghatkopar bomb blast, however, was one setback to the prosecution led by Salian and the Mumbai police.
She also defended a prime accused in the alleged gangrape of an American student in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, in which all the accused were let off by the court.
In 2011, she secured the conviction of six persons for raping 11 mentally challenged minors in an orphanage at Kalamboli, Navi Mumbai.
While she switched to private practice as a defence lawyer, she continued to argue for the National Investigation Agency and the government of Maharashtra as special public prosecutor.
Salian’s energy and attitude belie her 68 years. She believes that to take on hardened criminals, one has to speak their language. A lawyer who worked with her on a sensitive case once said, “Once an accused told her, ‘You are a woman but you have no heart’. She retorted immediately, ‘Who said I am a woman?’ In court, she told him, ‘I am a lawyer first. I leave my womanhood at home’.”
Hailing from Mangalore, Salian is also a skilled painter. She lives with her siblings in Colaba. She has often been compared to Ujjwal Nikam, the Maharashtra government’s choice for special public prosecutor in several high-profile cases including the 26/11 terror attack and the Shakti Mills gang-rape of 2013.