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Zaibunissa Anwar Kazi's fate, or the cost of not being Sanjay Dutt

Chances are when Jaya Prada and Amar Singh meet the Maharashtra governor this evening to pitch for a pardon for Sanjay Dutt, they will not bring up the name of Zaibunissa Anwar Kazi. Neither did Justice Markandey Katju when he blanketed television shows over the weekend to plead for Sanjay Dutt. Mamata Banerjee didn’t mention Kazi’s name when she mourned on Facebook that Sanjay Dutt “has suffered a lot for the blunder he committed earlier.”

But Zaibunissa Anwar Kazi is the inconvenient truth in the well-heeled mercy campaign for Sanjay Dutt. So many politicians have joined that bandwagon, Mahrukh Inayet quipped on Twitter “U might just be able to form UPA3 with all those supporting Sanjay Dutt.” But they all need to answer the same question “If Sanjay Dutt is eligible for mercy, why not Zaibunissa Anwar Kazi?”

This is not about whether either of them were innocent. Both Kazi and Dutt have basically been convicted of the same crime – hoarding illegal weapons. Both have received the same sentence – five years. Like Dutt, she’s already spent time in jail – 8 months in her case. Her daughter told the media one day her mother was taken to the police station for questioning. She returned only after four months. But here’s the critical difference between the two. Dutt was acquitted by the TADA court. He has the satisfaction of having heard the judge say “I have not found him to be a terrorist.” Kazi was convicted by the same TADA court that exonerated the film star.

PTI

Dutt’s supporters are welling over with sympathy for poor Sanju-baba. PTI

“The moment she was convicted, I thought Sanjay would be convicted under TADA,” his lawyer, Satish Maneshinde told two Tehelka reporters posing as Kazi’s relatives. (Read Maneshinde's entire interview here.)

The reason is simple. Kazi had not asked for the weapons as Dutt did. She had just agreed to hold onto a bag containing AK-56 rifles, bullets and hand grenades that was brought to her by Abu Salem and Manzoor Ahmed Sayed Ahmed. Kazi’s daughter says she didn’t know what was in the bag. Her daughter told The Telegraph, “My mother did not got to school and has always been a homebound woman.” She claims her mother was only doing a favour to Salem, a man she knew as a real estate agent in the neighbourhood. He told her to hold onto the bag for a few days till someone came to pick it up. The prosecution says she unzipped the bag and peeked inside. Either way, where did those AK-56 rifles come from? Sanjay Dutt’s house.

So the man who asked for the weapons was exonerated by the TADA court. The mastermind of the whole plan, Dawood Ibrahim is sitting pretty abroad. The woman who was neither the source of the weapons, nor their ultimate destination was convicted although the conspiracy charges against her were dismissed. No weapons were recovered on her. She wasn't accused of having destroyed them either. At the time of that verdict Outlook magazine had commented “It’s a bit like the protagonist of a plot getting away with a small rap but the sidekicks suffering bigger punishments. Not quite Munnabhai. Not quite justice.” The issue isn't what Kazi knew or didn't know but whether she's getting the same treatment as Sanjay Dutt for a similar charge.

Dutt’s supporters are welling over with sympathy for poor Sanju-baba. The Congress' Digvijaya Singh said Sanjay “made a mistake” and reacted "like any child would.” Dutt was 33-years-old at the time. Now Katju wants him pardoned on humanitarian grounds because he is a good man, he acts in films like Munnabhai and has a wife and two little children, as if having families is some kind of character certificate. But what about those same  humanitarian grounds for Kazi? She is in her 70s. She has a family too – a single mother who raised five daughters. She has a tumour in her kidney that requires regular monitoring.

“How will she survive at her age without being taken care of?” her daughter told The Telegraph. “It would have been different if she had to serve the sentence when she was 50.”

Unlike Dutt’s phalanx of high-profile supporters and celebrity family, Kazi’s daughter is nervous about even revealing her name. She met The Telegraph reporter outside the family home and would not give her their address in Bandra or reveal her profession. But she is bitter according to a report on Moneycontrol.com.

“I wish I was a celebrity or my mother was a celebrity or a sister of an MP. Even my mother would have got the kind of support Sanjay Dutt is getting. If it is on humanitarian grounds, then why only Sanjay Dutt, why not Zaibunissa? Isn’t she human? Isn’t she a citizen of this country?”

The problem is not just that she does not enjoy the spotlight of a celebrity. The problem is that any mention of Kazi rakes up uncomfortable questions about that original TADA verdict and why the CBI declined to appeal Dutt’s acquittal in that court. Maneshinde admitted to the undercover Tehelka reporters that  Kazi’s role in the whole affair was “nothing much.” “If  (TADA) was not applied to Sanjay Dutt, the people in the chain should not have been put under TADA,” he said.

But he said he could not take up that case if they tried to compare her fate to Sanjay Dutt’s because the Supreme Court  could ask him why Sanjay Dutt should not be convicted under TADA.  “I don’t have any answer," he admitted.

But Kazi deserves an answer. All those who complain, like the Shiv Sena and the BJP, that leniency for Dutt would be a double standard should forcefully bring up the case of Zaibunissa Anwar Kazi. And all those who plead for mercy for him, should answer why they are not pleading the same for her as well. Sanjay Dutt, his supporters plead, is paying a heavy price for a “childish” blunder. Zaibunissa Anwar Kazi, by that same token, is paying a steep price for not being Sanjay Dutt.