The news of the killing of lawyer Shahid Azmi, who represented several TADA accused and 26/11 terror accused Fahim Ansari, has come as a rude shock at his hometown in Azamgarh.
Residents of Azamgarh say Kazmi, who was shot dead at his office in suburban Kurla on Thursday, was always active and never stepped back before taking up any case relating to human rights.
A friend of Azmi, who did not want to be identified for this article, told rediff.com that Azmi was a promising lawyer, who had fought several cases relating to terrorism.
He has represented the accused in several controversial cases, including the 7/11 Mumbai train blasts case.
Azmi's journey to becoming a lawyer is interesting. He was arrested when he was 18 under TADA for allegedly harbouring Kashmiri terrorists. Following his release for want of evidence, he took to journalism for some time. However, he decided to fight the cause of people, who he felt were wronged like him, and hence became a lawyer.
Azmi, according to his friends, was an active human rights activist. He was also part of the Students Islamic Movement of India, which was later banned by the government. He fought several cases pertaining to some of the SIMI activists, picked up after the organisation was banned.
Azmi shot into the limelight when he fought the historic case pertaining to the rights of prisoners, especially those who were under trial. He had argued that some of the under-trial prisoners involved in the 7/11 blasts case were being ill treated by jail authorities in Mumbai.
Azmi, who represented the accused persons, told the court that under trial prisoners ought to be treated with dignity. In a historic ruling, the court ruled that once a chargesheet had been filed no one except the court had the authority over an inmate's life.
The court had also observed that under trials are human beings first while ordering the Maharashtra government to conduct a probe against the jail authorities.
Sources say that while he took up these cases, he constantly faced life threat.
His friend recollects him saying that he was quite used to the threats by now and that he found his job even more exciting due to this.
He had, however, not once thought of backing out since he felt that there were a lot many persons, who had been falsely implicated and needed legal support. The friend further goes on to say that Azmi charged nominal from his clients. Also, he never charged his poor clients.
Azmi was also a hero in Malegaon where he took up the cases of several persons accused in the Malegaon blasts. He was a defence counsel for the Jamiat-Ulema and along with this organisation he had filed a case in the Supreme Court challenging the imposition of Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act against the Malegaon blasts accused. The case is still pending.
His acquaintances in Malegaon told rediff.com over phone that Azmi was an extremely ambitious man and a true professional. He liked to take up challenges and never gave up.
Azmi's friends say that he had taken part in several meetings organised by the Aman (Peace) committee in Malegaon and always was seen giving parents of the accused, who he thought were falsely accused, advise and hope.
Contrary to media reports in the past, Azmi had no relations with Samajwadi Party leader Abu Asim Azmi. They both hail from the same town and both had worked together on several cases pertaining to Azamgarh, his friends add.
The last of the cases that Azmi was handling was the most controversial in nature. He had decided to appear for Fahim Ansari, accused in the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai, for which had received several threats.
Meanwhile, the police are looking for similarities in the cases relating to Azmi's killing and the one pertaining to the death of Naushad Kashim.
Kashim was shot dead at a time when he was representing underworld don Rashid Malabari. Sources say that he did not appear to have any enmity within his own community and this could the handiwork of some extremist group.
Police say that the reasons for the killing of both Azmi and Kashim appear to be similar.
However, it is too early to come to any conclusion, sources add.