The octogenarian’s concern to help the deprived comes from the belief that one needs a heart and not a post to help others
By A Mirsab, TwoCircles.net,
Mumbai: Sharp at 10.00 am every morning, a charming face with a feeble body greets all visitors at the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind Maharashtra office at Imambada Compound in Central Mumbai.
Clad in simple clothes, sitting on a plastic chair, the unassuming figure of Gulzar Azmi at the ripe old age of 80 belies the extra ordinary courage that he personifies.
Azmi, a slender person with white beard and a cap on his head, has been associated with the Jamiat Ulema for six decades now and has since then offered numerous services for the social causes under taken by the Jamiat, India’s largest Muslim non- governmental organisation.
One has to pass through a huge old entrance and then across a small gulli to reach the Jamiat Legal cell office. It is situated in a hall in an old-style building with two compartments – one is Azmi’s cabin and the other, a media room with a computer where other office bearers sit.
Azmi heads the Legal Aid Committee of Jamiat Ulama Maharashtra and is also the member of the state’s Minority Commission. He was recently in news for the BJP MLA Ashish Shelar’s allegations about his underworld links, followed by a death threat allegedly by a fugitive don for his legal help to ‘terror’ accused.
Not to be cowed down by either the allegations or the threat, Azmi says, “I am not going to halt my passion for delivering justice to the exploited, these people, if left alone, will become the victims of the biased investigation by police.”
“I do not fear for my life. I believe the time, place and incidences leading to my death are already decided and I am going to meet it sometime. So why should I abstain from helping the oppressed section of the society,” is his simple yet powerful counter to a question about an imminent threat in defending terror accused.
Born in Mumbai on May 1, 1934, Azmi studied till class 5 at a Urdu Municipal School and then went in for three years of religious education at the Darul Uloom Islamiya. But only this much of conventional education is no match to his main qualification: his passion for justice.
It all started during the Bhiwandi and Jalgaon riots in 1970. About 300 Muslims were arrested. Azmi found their families grieving, firstly for the material losses due to the riots and second, due to the arrests of their loved ones. This was the first time that Jamiat offered help to such aggrieved persons by helping in release of their loved ones from the prison. “I remember the very moment and feel proud to be one of the members of the committee constituted by Jamiat then for the purpose,” Azmi recalls.
Then, in the aftermath of 1993 blasts, as a representative of Jamiat, Azmi helped Sri Krishna Commission that was constituted to investigate the serial blasts in Mumbai. The Commission, in its finding, made a point praising Jamiat Ulema in providing vital evidences towards the making of the report. Azmi translated the copy of the Commission into Urdu and made it available for the Urdu readers in the country.
Azmi first time came into contact with the Jamiat around end 1954 when it had organized three days of convention after the government decided not to impart religious education in government schools. Maulavi Maeraj, one of the office-bearers of Jamiat, says, “Knowing the great contribution by Azmi Sahib to the Jamiat and also to the community, everybody in the office has high regards for him.”
The respect that Azmi commands is evident, Maeraj says, “by the fact that no one raises his voices when Azmi Sahib is around.”
Recognising his work from the very beginning, Azmi was made the secretary of Jamiat Ulema Mumbai unit in 1958; he was also promoted to become General Secretary of Jamiat Ulema Maharashtra in 1968 and he was also made the Vice President in 2002. “Due to his continuous and overwhelming execution of responsibilities, he was given these posts,” Maeraj rattles of the posts and the respective years even without looking into the records.
The main stream media discovered him only after 2007 when the Jamiat president Maulana Syed Arshad Madni took a courageous call to defend accused ‘falsely’ implicated by the Maharashtra ATS after he was urged by the families of those accused. Azmi was made the secretary of the Legal Committee constituted for the purpose. Till then, his incredible appetite for justice and social services were known only to the Jamiat and the community members.
Jamiat leaders acknowledge that it is only because of the immaculate contribution by Azmi that it was able to stretch its legal help activities outside Maharashtra. At present, Jamiat is extending legal help to 410 accused persons in 56 cases running in different states including Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Karnataka.
“It was difficult earlier and even now not easy to fight the cases of those who are charged with terrorist activities such as blasts,” he says and goes on to describe the difficulties in defending terror accused. “Terror cases involve emotions of different kinds of people in the society. People see arrested as ‘terrorist’ even before their conviction as they believe police investigation to be true. Then there is small section of the society, which even thinks of the suffering by the families of these accused and believe in the chance of their innocence.”
“As an NGO you have to take care of the feelings of both kinds of people and hence we follow an internal scrutiny of the case before extending legal help to any accused,” he adds.
For instance, the Jamiat Ulema extended help to the six convicts of the Akshardham Temple case in their appeal before the Supreme Court and succeeded in getting their acquittal. One more feather to their crown is the acquittal of two accused Faheem Ansari and Sabahuddin in 26/11 case – both residents of Uttar Pradesh.
“Those who raise question over our work should answer what would have happened if we had not helped the accused in Akshardham case? Would they not have been hanged for no fault?” he questions.
Azmi has a large family with 6 sons and 3 daughters. All well settled in Mumbai.
Azmi, who was a member of Maharashtra State Minority Commission during 2002-2005, was again elected in September 2014 as a member. But the BJP-SS government is restructuring all minority offices and indicated replacing the sitting Minority Commission members too. What if he gets replaced? He dismisses the fear saying he is an elected member under the Act. “However, I do not think holding any post is crucial for helping the deprived people. To help others, one needs a heart and not a post.”