The trial of the lawyer

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Lone ranger Mumbai lawyer Anjali Waghmare has shot to national fame for taking up Kasab’s brief
Lone ranger Mumbai lawyer Anjali Waghmare has shot to national fame for taking up Kasab’s brief

THE DEFENDER and her defendant are a picture in total contrast. The defender, in this case, is Anjali Waghmare, a hitherto unknown lawyer who could easily pass for a demure housewife but is now catapulted to instant fame for agreeing to defend Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving terrorist of 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai that killed 184 people.

Few in Mumbai’s legal circle knew much about Waghmare till she said, ‘Yes, I will,’ and sealed a lawyer-client contract between herself and Kasab. The deed itself was not easy. It came 24 tumultuous hours after facing protests by several hundred Shiv Sainiks outside her home. Baying for her blood, the protestors also demanded an apology from her and a written assurance that she would not take up Kasab’s defence.

But after a rethink, when Waghmare did come back to court, she displayed two traits that have rarely been shown in the face of an attack from Shiv Sainiks. Few in Mumbai are in doubt of their immense nuisance value, but 40-year-old Waghmare had courage and determination written all over her when she finally faced the cameras and said, “I am doing this for the country and I will fight the case to ensure a fair trial.’’

Even now, very little is known about Anjali Waghmare, save for sketchy details. She was born in Pune and educated at the city’s Symbiosis Institute, and earned her degree in law from the University of Pune. She shifted to Mumbai after her marriage to Ramesh Waghmare, a Senior Police Inspector with Mumbai Police. Ironically, she says she has found more support at home, even though the Mumbai Police was particularly at the terrorists’ receiving end; Kasab was captured by a brave constable Tukaram Omble, who lost his life after he and other policemen pounced on a car that Kasab had hijacked. Seven other policemen, including three top officers, had also fallen to the terrorists’ bullets.

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DEAD MAN WALKING

Few lawyers wanted to defend Kasab due to the public anger

Waghmare agreed to take up the brief after the Special Judge asked her

Shiv Sena protests had earlier forced three lawyers to withdraw

Waghmare, however, refused to cow down to Sena protests

She spoke to Kasab once, and that, too, through video conferencing

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Empanelled on the legal aid committees of the Bombay High Court for two years and Mumbai’s sessions court for six, Waghmare was the only lawyer present when Special Judge ML Tahilyani offered Kasab the services of the Maharashtra Legal Aid Committee. Kasab had earlier expressed his inability to find a lawyer for himself. On hindsight, that Waghmere was the only lawyer in court at that moment was merely a technicality. Interestingly, she announced her decision to defend Kasab after writing the letter that the Sainiks had demanded from her. She says she knows fully well that those protesting outside her house had also included some policemen who live in the same government housing complex.

Her mind made up, a resolute Waghmare appeared before judge Tahiliyani and said, “Who are these people to decide what is right and what is wrong?”

Waghmare, who has risked the ire of both the Sainiks and the public at large, has her reasons for defending Kasab. “They should know that the person they hate will go free if there is no representation,” she says. She says the media has exaggerated by suggesting that she took up the case voluntarily.

Indefensible Ajmal Kasab, the only surviving 26/11 attacker, told the court he couldn’t find a lawyer
Indefensible Ajmal Kasab, the only surviving 26/11 attacker, told the court he couldn’t find a lawyer

Anjali Waghmare is not the only one to earn the ire of the Shiv Sena. Earlier, too, Shiv Sainiks had created trouble for three other lawyers — Ashok Sarogi, Mukesh Deshmukh and KBN Lam — who wished to take up Kasab’s brief. The special court, which has been set up in Mumbai’s Arthur Road Jail premises to try Kasab, chose Waghmare on March 23 after the Pakistanis did not respond to Kasab’s request for consular access.

The Shiv Sena’s response to Waghmare fits in with the anti-Kasab mood in Mumbai. At another level, the Sena has been hunting for an issue to latch onto ever since its sectarian campaign of the Marathi manoos [identity] was hijacked last year by Raj Thackeray, the rebel politician who is Sena chief Bal Thackeray’s nephew.

But the Sainiks are on the backfoot on Kasab, as the court has begun contempt proceedings against them. “The attack on Waghmare’s house was not our call,” Sena MP Bharat Kumar told TEHELKA, though admitting that a “few Sainiks” had joined the protest. “We have nothing against Waghmare as she has been appointed by the state.”

THE SAINIKS are just one stumbling block in her path. She now has to explain the contents of the 11, 000- page chargesheet to her client. Waghmare has spoken to Kasab only once, through video conferencing in the court.

Waghmare says she is defending Kasab to ensure a fair trial, or else he would go free

The lawyer is aware that the publicity she has gained has made her a target for possible physical attacks, too. Ironically, the defending lawyer is as protected as the man she defends, who is guarded by gun-wielding commandos. This case, she knows, is different from the time when she defended Karimullah, an accused in the case of the 1993 serial blasts in Mumbai, which had killed more than 250 people. Karimullah has been convicted of his role in those blasts and is awaiting sentencing.

Clearly, Waghmare’s life has more than just changed. “I don’t want to be seen as somebody who is going against the public,” she says, explaining the nuanced nature of her unenviable position. “Please let the public know that I am fighting for them.” So long as the court provides her security, she says she is “ready to fight the case, come what may”.

In post-26/11 Mumbai, Waghmare is aware that much more would surely come her way as the case would move at its own pace through the court, in full public and media glare.

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