For somebody who may have viewed himself as an antihero of some stature, it was surely a putdown to be identified by witness after witness during the year-long trial as “butka”, Hindi for ‘short’.
At 5 feet and a couple of inches, Ajmal Amir Kasab’s appearance may have been anything but remarkable, but through the proceedings of what was then the country’s most closely watched trial, the terrorist kept a packed courtroom always engaged with his antics.
Notwithstanding the gravitas of the trial, the 21-year-old would often giggle without any apparent prompting, slouch, stretch, yawn, doze, grin, alternating his maverick behaviour with long periods of silence and intense concentration. At least once, he stuck out his little finger quietly in a gesture asking to use the toilet, blushing furiously after court staff ignored him. Once, having been refused permission to leave the courtroom upon complaining of giddiness, he began to sob.
Clearly, for Kasab, daily proceedings during the trial that lasted from April 2009 to March 2010, were a welcome break from his incarceration in solitary confinement.
Once, during the deposition of a policeman who admitted seeing Kasab and his accomplice walk into Rang Bhavan lane, where three top policemen would lose their lives minutes later, the witness said he thought the men who jumped the wall of Cama Hospital may have been news photographers. Asked if he saw an AK-47 and thought it was a photographer, Kasab burst out laughing. Other witnesses were treated to an expressionless stare when they identified him.
Mostly respectful towards the court, he would courteously address Judge ML Tahaliyani as “sir”.
On days when he was in good humour, he’d save his biggest smile for special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam, who on Wednesday said he found Kasab to be a “very intelligent” man. Speaking to the Press Trust of India, Nikam said, “He had good grasping power. His military training by the 26/11 conspirators in Pakistan probably has something to do with it.” He said Kasab had even picked up a smattering of Marathi during the trial.
In August 2009, his then lawyer Abbas Kazmi had claimed that Kasab had spotted lawyers and policemen sporting raakhis around their wrists and had asked if somebody would send him one too.
In July that year, the day he pleaded guilty – a plea he would later retract, claiming that it was made under duress – he stood in the dock and spoke into the microphone: “Agar kisiko aitraaz hai...agar kisi ke dil mein shak hai ki main phansi se bachne ke liye, riyayat ke liye, yeh kar raha hoon toh beshak phansi ki saza dijiye. (If anyone feels that I am confessing to escape the death penalty, or seek mercy, then the court may without doubt hang me).”
Belonging to a poor family in Faridkot, it was reportedly his father’s refusal to buy him new clothes on Eid that led Kasab to leave his home and take to crime, before a chance encounter with the Lashkar’s political wing Jama’at-ud-Da’wah led him to embrace jihad.
(With inputs from agencies)