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Anshul is a Political Science and Law graduate from the University of Delhi. He is interested in political, legal and policy developments and frequently writes on related themes. You can contact him on anshulkumarpandey [at] gmail [dot] com.

Monday, May 5, 2014

What Shahid taught Me

As a law student, you are often taught that your duty is to defend your client and it is the judge's duty to determine whether (s)he is guilty or not. You look at the legal high society and find people like Ram Jethmalani, who have made an illustrious career for themselves by strictly adhering to this maxim. Any law student would know that in litigation you cannot afford to be choosy as clients are hard to come by and establishing a successful practice is dependent upon your argumentative skills and not judgemental ones. Many young and honest lawyers have to swallow their rightfulness and pride to defend those clients whom they know to be guilty simply because of the nature and pressures of the business.

Gradually, you begin to internalize and rationalize these ideas and the humanist within you starts giving away to the realist. You begin to question the veracity of your judgements and the foundations of your assumptions. You cannot decide whether this change taking place within you is for the good or for the bad. You do not know whether your questions and endless queries are just arrows in the dark or purposeful taunts on a conscience unaccustomed to such piercing interrogation. When you read the law it is fairly simple and straightforward and as soon as you start reading the cases, a maze of ifs and buts and whys and why nots crops up. Every day, you find yourself sinking deeper and deeper into the ideological morass of your own creation.

It is when you are still fighting with these questions that you see Shahid, a movie based on the life and times of Shahid Azmi, a noted lawyer and human rights activist who was killed for successfully defending many innocent muslims falsely implicated in cases of terrorism. You see Shahid as a vulnerable, sensitive young man trying to find his feet in the world with the help of the law. He is passionate and hard working individual who believes in the fights that he is fighting and quotes Roy Black with impunity:
“By showing me injustice, he taught me to love justice. By teaching me what pain and humiliation were all about, he awakened my heart to mercy.  Through these hardships I learned hard lessons. Fight against prejudice, battle the oppressors, support the underdog. Question authority, shake up the system, never be discouraged by hard times and hard people.  Embrace those who are placed last, to whom even bottom looks like up.  It took me some time to find my mission in life – that of a criminal defense lawyer. But that ‘school’, and that Teacher, put me on my true path.  I will never be discouraged. Even thorns and thistles can teach you something, and lead to success.”  
Slowly, as the movie progresses, the humanist within you starts fighting back. The ability to distinguish between white and black is called common sense, it retorts. Sure, defending the guilty will bring great rewards and recognition but what about the idea of law as a public service? What about the moral compass of the society which operates by the fundamental belief of everyone that justice will be done, truth will prevail and that the guilty will be punished? What about the corruption of that moral compass by the agony of countless irreproachable paupers pitted against the might of the state?

Throughout the movie, you see Shahid as a lone warrior fighting against the legal system, the media, the society and even his own family to stand for what is right and what is correct. You cheer as victories come his way, you froth with indignation as wrongs are heaped upon him. Gradually you realize that more than just being a tool for making money, law can actually be used for serving the cause of social justice - a cause for which it was promulgated in the first place.

Long after the movie has ended and you realize that Shahid is no more, you sit thinking about the role of law and its practitioners in the society. You think about all the questions and counter questions that cropped up in your mind during those brief two hours and realize that you won't be able to stand a lifetime of such questions. The ideological dilemma solves itself, the mind is unburdened and sleep creeps its way inside among the thoughts of justice, equity and good conscience.