Spotlights can often be welcome but not this one. The notoriety that came with having as a client the lone terrorist caught alive after the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attacks has left S.G. Abbas Kazmi weary, insecure and financially spent.
Defending Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab during the seven-month high profile trial has taken its toll, said Kazmi, who was appointed by the court for the task after the woman lawyer before him was removed over issues of clash of interests.
It has been a financial drain, has left him too busy to take up other cases and has led to 24X7 security for him and his family.
In a free-wheeling chat with IANS here, the 55-year-old lawyer said the case brought him fame — and many problems too.
‘For one, you all know what a hostile atmosphere I had faced from all quarters and communities when I was appointed for the trial,’ he said with a tired smile.
The hostility has dissipated to a large extent, he added, because he has conducted the trial in a most professional manner and even people who were protesting now accept he was merely doing a job assigned to him by the Special Court.
Kazmi, a known face in legal circles having defended some of the accused in the other high profile trial of the March 1993 Mumbai serial bombings, said the 26/11 trial turned out to be more than what he had expected.
‘It has regular hearings, which I cannot afford to miss. So, all my other work and cases got affected. I had to pass them on to my colleagues; till this trial gets over I have no time to take up new cases.’
‘All for Rs.2,500 ($55) per day’s hearing,’ Kazmi added ruefully. A pittance for a nationally known criminal lawyer.
The constant security that has come to be a part of their lives is new for the family that lives in Mahim, central Mumbai – and is also unwelcome.
‘But my family has been extremely understanding and supportive. They understand the sensitive nature of the trial and its implications; so they bear with everything,’ he smiled.
Commenting on Kasab, Kazmi said his interactions were always of a professional nature.
‘I get to meet him around once a week or so. From day one I have maintained that I would like this case to get over quickly so I can get on with other things, I have never tried to delay the trial in any manner.’
This was an oblique reference to Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam’s accusations that the defence was attempting to delay the proceedings.
Kazmi listed out the difficulties in the trial, and the differences between the hearings of the March 1993 bombings in which 257 people were killed, and the 26/11 attacks, where the three-day terror siege claimed 166 lives.
‘The first and foremost is that in the March 1993 case, all the accused were Indians. In this (26/11), the sole prime accused is a foreigner, from Pakistan. Then, there are two co-accused accomplices (Fahim Ansari and Sabahuddin Ahmed) who are Indians,’ he said.
In the previous trial, there were a total of 123 accused, including several women, a Bollywood star (Sanjay Dutt), police and customs officials, mafia operatives and businessmen.
‘In this case, there is only Kasab, the prime accused,’ he pointed out. The other two – Ansari and Ahmed – had provided background support and were not directly involved during the terror attacks.
In both instances, 13 locations, including government buildings and luxury hotels, were targeted.
Discussing the number of witnesses in the two trials, Kazmi said it worked out to barely five witnesses per accused in the March 1993 case, compared to 250-plus against Kasab.
‘In my professional career, I have never seen so many witnesses against a single accused in any case. I do not recall any similar precedent in India in the past,’ Kazmi said.
The March 1993 trial went on for nearly nine long years under different judges; 26/11 has been on since the past seven months with only one Special Judge, M. L. Tahilyani, presiding.
It is likely to go on for some more time. At the present pace, Kazmi feels the trial may continue well into 2010 – before the final sentencing ends it