Assam's legal fraternity is divided over defending outlawed National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) chief Ranjan Daimary after the state's apex lawyer's body sent out an appeal asking colleagues not to plead for the mastermind of the October 2008 serial bombings.
The All Assam Lawyers Association had resolved a day after the Oct 30 serial explosions that none of the advocates would provide legal assistance to any of the accused - a stand that has now become the centre of a blazing controversy after the arrest of the NDFB chief last week.
"We cannot impose the decision but we are appealing to all our colleagues against pleading on behalf of Ranjan Daimary as the judiciary was targeted with a powerful explosion killing eight people at the chief judicial magistrate's court on Oct 30," working president of the association Rohini Das said.
Nine serial explosions rocked Assam Oct 30, 2008 - three each in Guwahati and Kokrajhar, two on Barpeta Road, and one in Bongaigaon - killing 100 people and wounding about 400.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probed the serial bombings and named Daimary and 18 other NDFB militants as the main accused.
But the association's resolve against providing legal assistance to Daimary has come a cropper. The separatist leader is being represented in court by three advocates including Sabda Rabha, also a member of the main opposition Asom Gana Parishad who contested the Kokrajhar parliamentary seat in 2009.
"It would be wrong to say that no advocates came forward to defend Ranjan Daimary... we were approached by the family and we came to defend him," Rabha said.
"My conscience does not allow me to take up Daimary's case as I saw many of my colleagues killed in the blast," countered well known lawyer Nekibur Zaman.
Zaman has pleaded the cases of several militant leaders of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) in the past.
Victims of terror attacks are also asking why lawyers have now resolved not to defend Daimary while openly appearing on behalf of other rebel leaders belonging to groups like ULFA.
"Let the lawyers unanimously resolve not to plead on behalf of any arrested militant as terrorists have no religion or language. It hurts when you find the same lawyers appearing on behalf of ULFA leaders," said Runima Das, a mother who lost her school going daughter in an Independence Day parade blast in Dhemaji in eastern Assam in 2005.
The explosion, later owned up by the ULFA, killed 14 people, most of them children.
"I am hurt and ashamed with colleagues of my brother who was a lawyer and killed in the court blast appearing on behalf of Daimary," said distraught college lecturer Pranjit Bhuyan.
A battery of high profile lawyers are defending arrested ULFA leaders like chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa and five other top rebels now in jail.