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Came to know about Shahid Azmi thanks to ‘Shahid’ movie

October 20, 2013

Saw the movie ‘Shahid’ today. And through it came to know about the lawyer and justice activist Shahid Azmi. Although, I remember reading some news reports about him some years back, and being saddened by his killing. But did not find any in depth material of what he actually did and what was his life like.

The movie was very gripping as it was based on a true story. His life story is one of the most interesting ones, one can find. In the brief life of 32 years, he went through so much and also did so much.

He had started to have his encounters with the police as a child, when they used to raid his slum colony, as he had himself said “I grew up seeing the police barge in night and day in our slum, terrorising and kidnapping people,”[1].

Then from the same article[1]

‘One day, at age 16, Azmi upped and left, ending up first in the Kashmir valley, and then across the border, with a gun on his shoulder. But he soon came back, disillusioned with the insurgency’.

‘NONETHELESS, POLICE arrested him from home in 1994 for conspiring to kill India’s top politicians. The only evidence was a confession he never made. Yet, he was given five years. While at New Delhi’s Tihar Jail, Azmi enrolled for graduation and began writing legal documents for other inmates. Freed in 2001, he came home and joined journalism and law schools. Three years later, he quit a paying sub-editor’s job to join defence lawyer Majeed Memon as a junior at Rs 2,000 a month. “I want to work for the poor,” Azmi told his brother, Arif. It was widely known that Azmi wouldn’t charge any fees from a majority of his clients.’

Then, in the brief working career of 7 years. starting in 2003 until it was abruptly cut short by his killing. He fought for justice for numerous young Muslim men, who were innocent and it resulted in 17 acquittals. A very high rate, compared to the average rate, a point noted in the movie ‘Shahid’.

And he was also a good teacher, as this Kafila article[2] observes:

“He was good at explaining things and came to Tata Institute of Social Sciences to take classes for the students as a guest faculty. His honesty, extensive knowledge, unassuming demeanor, good looks, boyish charm, soft voice and self-deprecating humour made him win over the students completely. They would be unwilling to let him go and the consensus every year was that his class was the best that they had ever had”

“As I listened to his words, I couldn’t help but fear for his future. The light he radiated seemed impossibly bright,” she recalled. “During more than five years in prison, Azmi explained to us, he decided that the most effective way to fight injustice was through the rule of law”. “But the quest for justice that he inspired cannot be extinguished”, she adds.

For me, this movie was quite stunning. Was left wondering who could have killed Shahid Azmi.  The first article I quoted[1] has some ideas:

HAD SHAHID Azmi been gunned down in Russia, China or Iran, his news would have been all over The New York Times the next morning. Working on the principle that the enemy’s enemy is a friend, the western media offer spectacular support to internal dissent against regimes that appear in eternal conflict with western governments and businesses. But Azmi lived and was assassinated in India, fighting the brutal police State that the Indian democracy has become in its dubious war against terrorism

We need to directly ask just who benefits from Azmi’s killing. The answer is a Who’s Who of Indian security: the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, RAW and the Intelligence Bureau, whose grand constructs on terrorism Azmi demolished each time he won a case. Maharashtra Police despised Azmi, for he represented, mostly successfully, many accused in a string of blast cases.
Its very gloomy whichever way, and its definitely an act of terror to silence fighters of justice, in this way. As it likely stops others, by terrorizing them, in picking up this civil course, of trying to change the system from within.

From his life, one can perhaps learn that the difficult path of fighting for any righteous cause is very lonely one, with hardly any support from family and friends. And the person, who decides to do it, has to deal with the fact at some point or the other.

So in such a scenario, what sense does it make for anybody to put their necks on the line, unless they themselves have been victims of severe injustice, which was the case with Shahid Azmi.

So looks like there is no real hope, and no promise of Satyamev Jayate, for fighters for a better life or for justice. They must do that at the risk of their lives, with perhaps some higher form of beauty being their only guide.

Comment on the movie and etc.: I Was really disappointed by some less than 20 people in the Inox theatre where I saw this movie. No scope for ‘J Edgar’ like movies here in India. In any case, I am thankful to UTV and Anurag Kashyap for making this movie. And that lead actor Raj Kumar Yadav, does a fabulous job in portraying the lead character. He was brilliant in ‘Kai Po Che’ and he has surpassed that here. Kudos on a fantastic piece of job. Hope he gets recognized for this role as well. Also a mention for the guy who plays his brother. He also shines in a supporting role. And he was very good in ‘Ranjhana’ also. Only thing, I felt that script could have perhaps brought some more complexity of his life. He did so many cases in 7 years, and I am sure many of them would have been in parallel. But this movie shows only two of them, and that too one after the other. So this movie does a great job of it, but falls well short of great cinema. The movie is so interesting also because its a true story. But they could have done it like Pan Singh Tomar. And its not the acting which is to blame. If any aspect has to be blamed, it can be the script in my opinion. But this movie is good. I give it 3.5 stars.

[1] http://archive.tehelka.com/story_main43.asp?filename=Ne270210a_grain.asp

[2] http://kafila.org/2011/02/10/remembering-shahid-azmi-the-shaheed-mahtab-alam/

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