WITH around fifty eight thousand square miles lies a land in this world, a country which in the last century was predominantly ruled by British and Pakistani exploitation. However, the Bengali speaking people were a society of its own and perhaps a state within a state. In such a situation very few were knowledgeable and had a rare distinction to reach the highest pedestal. Syed Mahbub Murshed was one such rare gem and hence, Justice Murshed has become the living history.
Murshed was born in the most aristocratic family of Muslim Bengal, yet throughout his life remained the champion of the body politic. Years to the completion of the British empire in the sub-continent, while the heat of the anti-British movement moved high in the classical thermometer, he completed in England his barrister in law which was a rare distinction for a Bengali Muslim in flying colors with distinction from the finest traditional prestigious British institutions in the world, the honourable society of Lincoln’s Inn in 1938. A brilliant student Justice Murshed prior to that did his BA (Honours), MA in Political Economy and BL, the law degree from the Calcutta University with outstanding results. His extracurricular activities during his student days were eclectic. At Presidency College, he was the editor of their student magazine and in Calcutta University, Murshed was the debating champion. All these involvements contributed to his high intellectual performance and striking scholarly character. Much has been said and especially written about him and no one as yet received such a wide variety of acclaim.
Among these writers who wrote about Justice Murshed are prominent and renowned. Scholars and intellectuals such as columnists, lawyers, Judges, political thinkers and analyst, poets, journalists, professors wrote on him. To cite an example, late professor Kabir Chowdhury describes Justice Murshed as being unique and exemplary with qualities such as ‘grace, cultured, good natured, wit plus humor, the power of public and knowledgeable oratory, kindness and sympathy and a capacity to appreciate the other man’s point of view were characteristic of his personality. In many ways, he was the aristocrat in the finest sense of the term. Justice Murshed was firmly committed to the ideals of democracy, to upholding the cause of justice even against extreme odds. He kept afloat the flag of liberty in defiance to all kinds of pressures even from the highest quarters.’
Similarly, late Justice Abu Sayed Chowdhury wrote about him stating that ‘Justice Murshed in his courageous judgments reached correct independent decisions indicating the boldness of his mind. He gained fame for his wisdom and intelligence, as well as the deep respect of the public, as he was fearless. It was Justice Murshed, the man, who had for many years with courage dauntlessly upheld the rule of Jaw and had administered justice without fear or favour, despite severe pressure.
His affection for men in his profession was great. After his premature resignation as former chief justice he wrote: ‘I salute you, you who are my erstwhile comrades, the members of the bar.’
In spite of his professional preoccupation, Syed Mahbub Murshed found time to write profusely and participate in social and humanitarian activities. His article entitled ‘Quo Vadis Quaid-e-Azam’ in which he criticised Mr Jinnah in 1942 appeared in the Statesman in Calcutta and Telegraph in London created quite a stir. During the Bengal famine in 1943 and later during the communal riots of 1946, Murshed worked actively with the Anjuman Mafidul Islam. Again during the communal violence in 1947, he was one of those who were primarily responsible for setting into motion a process that had culminated into the Nehru-Liaquat pact. He was drawn into the vortex of the language movement in the early fifties. Because of his profound feeling towards humanity he was the president of the East Pakistan Red Cross Society. Also Murshed was the president of the East Pakistan Scouts Association where from an early age, the Bengali youth were trained in Bengali nationalism.
In the later part of 1954, he was elevated to the bench of the Dhaka High Court. As a Judge, he remained committed to his lifelong ideals of liberty, justice and excellence. His judicial pronouncements, delivered while sitting in the bench of the Dhaka High Court and the Supreme Court of Pakistan briefly as an ad-hoc judge, later as Chief Justice reflected his lofty ideals of establishing human rights and the rule of law. Some of his judgements created constitutional history and won him international acclaim.
In addition to his judicial work, he also championed Bengali cultural freedom, particularly, during the oppressive Ayub regime. In 1961, he organised the Tagore Centennial celebrations in Dhaka and elsewhere these events were in defiance to the opposition to the then Pakistani military rulers. Murshed was a Sufi and a liberal Muslim and preached tolerance which was against any form of communalism. Furthermore, Justice Murshed’s massive role in the mass upsurge of 1969 and his refusal to collaborate with the Pakistani military regime in 1971 has been recorded by the historians.
Another significant contribution by Chief Justice Murshed was that he gave the final varnish to the drafting of the six points that was the demand of provincial autonomy, which Sheikh Mujibar Rahman fought and was jailed for. It was Justice Murshed as a practising lawyer in early 1954, who was among those who drafted the 21 point manifesto of the Jukta Front government and this can be and was summarised by him into the famous six points by him. Again, Mazharul Haq Baki the Chhatra League president in 1966, records that no one except Chief Justice Murshed dared to accept in being the chief guest at their annual conference, where Murshed like Sheikh Mujib made the clarion call for provincial autonomy for East Pakistan.
During the round-table-conference in 1969, when Ayub was virtually surrendering to the opposition, Justice Murshed demanded one man one vote. Prior to this new demand, there was parity of 150 seats each for East and West Pakistan in the then Pakistan National Assembly. However, with the breaking of the one unit in West Pakistan, it was when Justice Murshed’s proposal was accepted. The one man one vote concept resulted in 169 seats for East Pakistan out of 300. In other words, it was Justice Murshed who paved the way as to whoever would be the majority in the East Pakistan, they would obviously form the National government.
Therefore, in fact it can be said that Justice Murshed was truly the founding father of Bengali nationalism and in conclusion to quote Dr Mizanur Rahman Shelly, Murshed was the man in his life span who was endeavoring in ‘building bridges between the past, present and future.’ He will always remain the keeper of our national conscience.
Barrister Tamijuddin is a writer plus researcher on Justice Murshed.
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