Mumbai, April 15
Mohammed Ajmal Kasab - referred to as “accused number one” - was ushered into court today under a dirty white blanket, flanked by paramilitary soldiers in flak jackets and riot helmets.
Police officers outside the special prison court in Mumbai craned their necks to catch a glimpse of the 21-year-old through the barred windows of the courtroom, while inside about 70 reporters jostled for a better view.
What emerged from underneath the blanket was striking in its ordinariness.
Slightly built, about 1.65 metres tall, and wearing a grey T-shirt, blue three-quarter-length tracksuit trousers and flip-flops, Kasab looked just like any other young man on the streets outside.
The suspect, who is charged over the gunning down of scores of people in the attacks on Mumbai last November, had a wispy beard and a tuft of jet black hair sticking up on his head.
With all eyes trained on him, Kasab looked around the court, and smiled as judge ML Tahaliyani and lawyers argued over his legal representation.
After the court’s doors were bolted shut, he rubbed his wrists as if to soothe marks left by handcuffs.
Unable to understand the proceedings, which were mostly in English with an occasional Hindi phrase, Kasab — an Urdu speaker — looked bemused in a trial that could end with him sentenced to death.
Beside him in the dock were “accused number two” Fahim Ansari and “accused number three” Sabauddin Ahmed, who are charged with providing logistical support for the 10 Mumbai attackers, of whom Kasab is the only survivor.
Clean-shaven Ansari, 35, in a faded pink and grey polo shirt and jeans, repeatedly looked towards his wife, who sat in the well of the court on a wooden dining chair, her face covered by a full-length veil.
Ahmed, 24, with a full beard and wearing a white T-shirt and tracksuit bottoms, sat next to him.
The trio exchanged words and laughed as they lounged on a wooden bench in the dock, until the judge made Ansari switch positions with Ahmed to keep them quiet.
Kasab, a Pakistani national, was not provided with an interpreter and looked amused as public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikkam addressed the judge in a high-pitched, rattling English.
When the judge asked Kasab whether he recognised Anjali Waghmare, his state-appointed lawyer, the defendant replied in Urdu: “No. I don’t.” Bespectacled Tahaliyani, sitting on a raised platform above the lawyers and dock, said the two had been introduced, but Kasab replied “I don’t remember.” As the legal arguments continued, Kasab took in the long, hastily upgraded courtroom which had just three windows to let in a little natural light, and which smelt strongly of fresh paint.
The judge adjourned the case after about one hour.
After lunch, he told Kasab in Hindi that Waghmare had a conflict of interest over one potential prosecution witness and had been stood down. Kasab nodded.