By Mahtab Alam,
It was the second last day of our travels through Karnataka—having wound our way through Bangalore, Hubli, Bhatkal and now Udupi. We were sitting inside the office of an activist friend at Raj Tower near the local bus stand in Udupi town, discussing the arrests of Muslim youth in the area, allegedly involved in acts of terror or conspiracy cases. Seated before us was Fakeer Ahmad, a resident of Uchila village of Udupi sub-division. In his late thirties or at the most, early forties, Ahmad had lived in the Gulf since 1994, but had moved to Indonesia to work for the Dubai-based NGO, Kinder Hut International. He worked at the NGO for three years when in October 2008, he was arrested, charged with being a member of a supposed terror outfit Indian Mujaheedin (IM), for sheltering its members and helping them to manufacture bombs.
Ahmed is out on bail now but unemployed ever since he was released. While he was explaining his case to us, he insisted that we meet his lawyer, Advocate Purushotham Poojary in Mangalore. “Do you know, what would be his age?” asked our activist friend, our host for the day. “70?” we made a guess on the higher side. Advocate Poojary is 90. We were told that he still attended court every day. Ahmad who was busy in fixing our appointment with Adv. Poojary, added with much delight, “and at this age, a few days ago, he dictated an 80 page discharge application for me, to his junior”.
We needed no further encouragement. By seven in the evening, we were standing outside the Maximus Building at Light House Road, Managalore, where Advocate Poojary’s office is situated. The building it appeared housed several lawyers’ offices. After a couple of wrong turns and directions from peons outside other offices, we stood below the sign, which announced that we were finally at the office of Advocate Purshottam Poojary. Just below his name on the board was the name of Naushad Kashimji, Advocate. This was a name we instantly recalled. Naushad had been killed by unidentified gunmen near his home in the Mangalore city one late April evening in 2009. His killing was perhaps also a dark intimation of Shahid Azmi’s assassination a year later. Like Shahid, Naushad had taken up cases of those who many lawyers were not willing to represent. Adv. Poojary was Naushad’s mentor and senior.
In the middle of preparing a case, Adv. Poojary peered up from his writing, his diminutive frame partially hidden by the thick volumes of law books on the table. “Is there any way you can benefit from talking to me?” His voice was surprisingly strong. Firm but kind; he conveyed a strong sense of hope immediately to us. He had perhaps half wished for us to go away, allowing him to prepare his case in peace but when we urged him to share his experiences; he began by explaining the socio-political situation of the state, especially coastal Karnataka.
“Ours is a state governed by BJP. And BJP you know, their ultimate goal is to make India a Hindu State and what they mean by a Hindu state is: Communal and Caste based nation. …In courts too, though this shouldn’t be, the situation is no different. They also appease—act against Minorities. Most of the officers are from upper castes and the Police department is full of them. 99% of them are formed to the exculsion of Muslims, Catholics and other minorities. Hence you will find that in many cases of attacks on churches, it is the Christians who are being accused”.
Today, Adv. Puroshothm Poojary, along with a team of six junior lawyers is fighting hundreds of cases of people belonging to, what he calls “the oppressed and suppressed classes.” He is one the few lawyers fighting cases of Muslim youth accused in conspiracies or acts of terror. According to him, in most of these cases, the accused are victims of fabrication, conspired by the police administration, with full support of the government. “The cases are full of lies. Not a single one is going to stand in the court,” he asserts, with an overriding conviction. We were simply amazed by his commitment and conviction to the cause of fighting for justice.
Adv. Poojary joined the Bar in the year 1952, after graduating from Madras Law College. He jokingly said that most of the judges sitting in the courts there would not have been born when he had started his practice. For decades, he used to cycle about 20 miles a day in order to attend court and then go back to his village. It was only some 20 years back that he moved to the city of Mangalore. And in all of these 62 years of his practice, only 2 or 3 of his clients have been convicted. The reason behind this? Once he takes up a matter, he invests everything to achieve success. For him, his cases are dearer than anything. We were told that even at this age, he would work for at least 14 to 16 hours a day. According to his own admission, he comes to office in-between 8 to 8:30 in the morning and does not return home before 8 in the evening.
A fierce anti-Brahaminist and an ardent follower of law books, Advocate Poojary is quite vocal about his criticism of the police and judiciary, apart from Hindutva forces. He openly talks about corruption in judiciary and the nexus between police officials and the judiciary. Hence, he is often referred to as ‘Terrorist Lawyer’! Commenting upon the police system, he wittily adds: “Policemen are terrible fellows, and the system is such that had Mahatama Gandhi been the Superintendent of Police, he would have become a violent person!”
“But whom can I complain to? If I complain, they’ll say that he is terrible fellow—I am a terrorist lawyer,” he says. However, he quick is to point out that: “Justice is such an important thing, which is why I like this profession. I have never applied for any other job”. He is quite happy of the fact that he chose to become a lawyer. “Through this profession, I am able to help the helpless,” he proclaims. And one can’t disagree, at least in his case.
We only realized the real importance of Adv Naushad on meeting Adv. Poojary. During our conversation, we sensed that Adv Poojary had seen Naushad as the successor to his struggle for justice. Naushad was his most trusted aide, heir and no less than his own son. Each time he spoke about Naushad, the affection, admiration and pride shown through.
Currently, Naushad’s wife, Adv. Nusrath Fatima works as one of his six juniors but without doubt, they share a relationship of a father and a daughter. Like a family, they provide each other the much required support and strength to fight all forms of injustice, including the one unleashed on them by the killing of Naushad. Adv Poojary showed us the report card of Naushad and Fathima’s child with such joy and flourish that it brought tears to our eyes. One hopes and prays that Adv Poojary’s tireless efforts bear the fruits of success soon as his victory would not be the victory of some individuals accused in these cases, but the victory of Truth and Justice.
 We met him in April 2013, just months before the assembly elections dislodged the BJP from the state government.