Special Reports

Film on the lawyer who chose to defend the ‘imaginary terrorists’

New Delhi: A film on Shahid Azmi, the lawyer who was working to defend a person falsely accused in the 26 November 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai but could not do so because he was shot dead in his office at the young age of 32 years, is ready for screening at the Toronto International Film Festival to be held this month (September).

The film is produced by Anurag Kashyap and Sunil Bohra and directed by Hansal Mehta and the role of Shahid is played by one Raj Kumar Yadav who acted in some earlier film. The film itself is named ‘Shahid’. Shahid Azmi, at the minor age of 14 years was arrested by the Mumbai police for his alleged complicity in the communal riots that had taken place in Mumbai towards December ‘92 end and early January 93 following the Babri Masjid demolition. Again, in 1999 he was arrested under the then TADA for a conspiracy to kill Shiv Sena chief Bal Tackeray and others but subsequently acquitted.

While imprisoned in Mumbai’s Arthur Road Jail he completed his college education and thereafter when he was released he got his law degree. During his incarceration in Arthur Road Jail his life underwent a drastic change and he set off to work as a lawyer and human rights activist to defend Muslim youths most of whom were falsely implicated and jailed for alleged complicity in cases of violence and terrorism.

During his 7 years life as a lawyer he took up cases of persons falsely held in connection with bomb blasts in Mumbai’s local trains, Aurangabad arms seizure case, Malegaon bomb blast cases of 2005 and 2008, Gateway of India Mumbai bomb blasts etc. It was in February 2010 when he was preparing to take up cases of Fahim Ansari and Sabahuddin to defend them against their alleged role in 26/11 terrorist attack that he was shot dead in his office. With this the career of this promising lawyer came to an end. It is said that when Director Mehta came into contact with Shahid Azmi in 2008, he (Shahid) had asked him to make a film on Muslim youths who were falsely being accused and jailed in cases of terrorism by the police and an establishment with a biased mindset but after his assassination he changed his plan and decided to make the film on Shahid himself, his life and work.

Though he found it difficult to gather relevant information and material for this film and took full two years he somehow completed it. He says that names of many characters in this film have been changed but adds that those who read newspapers regularly can easily know the persons who are with changed names. He says that ‘it was the inequality of our social system that led to Shaid’s death’. He believes that ‘we work in a system where some laws are applied differently for different people. There exists an invisible layer of segregation. It is this system that is killing people like Shahid’. Probably this is the message that he wants to give to the people through this film.

As regards the killers of Shahid, initially it was shrouded in mystery. Subsequently, it was found (though not conclusively) that one gangster Bharat Nepali was behind his murder and had got him (Shahid) killed. The case against them is going on but probably it will take quite sometime to unravel the broader network of vested interests responsible for such killings.

Director Mehta says that he got full support and cooperation from his (Shahid’s) family members as well as neighbours of Fahim Ansari (for whose legal defence he was preparing) in Nagpada area of Mumbai when they came to know that a film on Shahid’s life was being made. They not only urged and encouraged him to make the film on Shahid but also offered their locality and houses for shooting, if needed, without claiming any money. 

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 September 2012 on page no. 7

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