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Late Justice Murshed: A legendary of the twentieth century

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11th-Jan-2018       
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Barrister Nazir Ahmed :
Late Justice Murshed's outstanding legal career and landmark judgments have made him known both within and outside the legal arena.  Through his bravery and boldness, he himself placed him in the history. His commitment and determination to liberty, fairness and justice made him spiritually immortal.  Hardly any person can go through a legal career in the Indian sub-continent without hearing the name of Justice Murshed.
The full name of late Justice Murshed was: Syed Mahbub Murshed.  He was born on 11 January 1911 in one of the most respected and distinguished families in the Muslim Bengal.  His parental forbears were Syeds who settled in the district of Murshidabad during the reign of the Mughul Emperor Shahjahan.  His father was Syed Abdus Salek who, after completing a brilliant academic career in the University of Calcutta, joined the Bengal Civil Service and served as a District Magistrate in Bogra and Dinajpur.  He had an excellent reputation as an honest and expert officer.  His mother was Afzalunnesa Begum, the sister of Sher-e-Bangla A K Fazlul Haque, who was the descendent of Khalid-bin-Walid, the 7th century conqueror and one of the greatest Generals in the history of Islam.  Late Justice Murshed was married to Mrs Lyla Arzumand Banu, the daughter of Mohammed Zakariah - a prominent Indian nationalist and the then Mayor of Calcutta, in 1939.  They have three sons (Syed Marghub Murshed - a brilliant retired civil servant (CSP), Syed Mamnun Murshed - a renowned academic and diplomat, and Dr Syed Mansoob Murshed - an eminent educationalist) and one daughter (Syeda Shaida Murshed).  All of Justice Murshed's children are highly educated and well established in the country and abroad.     
Justice Murshed completed his matriculation in 1926 securing the first position among the successful candidates who appeared in the Calcutta University Matriculation Examination in that year from the Rajshahi Division.  He successfully obtained BA (Hons) from the famous Presidency College of Calcutta in Economics and MA in Economics from the University of Calcutta in 1930 and 1932 respectively.  He obtained LLB degree in 1933 from the University of Calcutta securing a First Class.  Justice Murshed then went to the UK for higher legal education.  He was called to the English Bar in 1939 and was placed first among the candidates from the then British India appearing in the Bar Exams that year.
Besides his studies, Justice Murshed was actively involved in extra curriculum activities.  He had taken a keen interest in literature even in his childhood.  Whilst at Presidency College in Calcutta, he once edited the College Magazine.  He published some articles on issues relating to Palestine and Middle East in a reputable UK daily newspaper, the Guardian.  This made him known throughout the Middle East.  His critical article on Quad-e-Azam in the Statesman in the 1940s had caused a lot of enthusiasm on Justice Murshed.  He later emerged as an excellent orator.  He successfully led the Debating Society of the Calcutta University.  In student life he had keen interest in sports.  He was one of the key organisers of Mohamadan Sporting Club in the 1930s.   
Justice Murshed began his legal practice at the Calcutta High Court in the early 1940s.  Instead of going to work as an Assistant of his uncle Sher-e-Bangla A K Fazlul Haque, he acted as a junior of the then renowned lawyers Sorot Chandra Boshu and A B Khaitun.  He made his mark at the Bar even at an early age.  After the partition of the sub-continent, he joined the then Dacca High Court.  In early 1955, Justice Murshed was elevated to the Bench of the Dacca High Court.  Some of his famous judgements, including the Ministers Case, the Pan Case, the Basic Democracy Case, the Mehmood Case and the Convocation Case, were all landmarks in the constitutional history of Pakistan.  He also served as an Ad Hoc Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 1962.  One of his judgements, delivered, while serving as an Ad Hoc Justice, is considered to be the legal classic.  He served as the Chief Justice of East Pakistan from 1964 to 1967 during which he kept the banner of the rule of law alof in both what is now Pakistan and Bangladesh.  Because of his bravery and bold judgements, the government was feeling threatened and nervous.  As a result, the government did not leave any possible stone unturned to put pressure on Justice Murshed.  However, Justice Murshed was a man of principle and conscious.  When he thought that he could not be dictated by his conscious, he resigned from the post of the Chief Justice on 16 November 1967.  After resigning from the post of Chief Justice, Justice Murshed survived more than a decade, towards the end of which he was having a fragile/ill health.  He died on 3 April 1979.  On his death, the Indian sub-continent in general and Bangladesh in particular lost a great legal icon, the loss of which has not been replaced yet and the absence of which is still felt.   
After resignation, Justice Murshed helped organise the defence of the Agartala Conspiracy Case.  He took active part in the 'mass uprising' of 1969.  In the roundtable conference called by President Ayub Khan, he advocated for the 11 points of the students of the then Province of East Pakistan.  Throughout his eventful career, Syed Murshed was associated with cultural societies and humanitarian activities.  He was the founder President of Rotary Club, Lions Club, Pak-China Friendship Association and Bangla-China Friendship Association.  He was a life member of Bangla Development Board and Bangla Academy.  Justice Murshed was the President of Red Crescent Society in 1956.  He established a legal assistance organisation called 'Legal Aid.'  This was the first human rights organisation in Bangladesh.  The famine of 1943 drew him to the Anjuman-e Mufidul Islam and the cyclones in the 1960s to the Red Cross Society.
Let us see what leading personalities and jurists of the sub-continent had to say about Justice Murshed.  
Late President of Bangladesh Justice Abu Syed Chowdhury termed Justice Murshed's judgement in the case of Golam Sarwar Vs Pakistan Western Railway PIDE 1462 SE 42 as the 'legal classic.'  According to the former Vice President of Bangladesh late Justice AKM Nurul Islam "whoever came in touch with Justice Murshed - a unique talent of easy, straight and sense of humour - had been attracted to him.  Despite having success in each and every stage of life and despite having extraordinary wisdom, he did not have self pride or vanity.  In personal life he was simple, kind and caring."  Late Justice Abdur Rahman Chowdhury, a former Judge of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, commented on Justice Murshed as "a giant in the legal field, a giant amongst the jurists and a giant in his own right."  He further said "his [Justice Murshed] concern for the rights and liberty of citizens were reflected in a number of judgments delivered by him.  These were, in fact, so many that it is difficult to enumerate them.  Many of his judgments are considered as landmarks in the history of the constitutional law."  According to Justice Mustafa Kamal, an eminent contemporary jurist and the former Chief Justice of Bangladesh, "in interpreting the law in fine way and apply it accordingly, Justice Murshed had no equivalent contemporary in Pakistan.  It is rare to find such an extraordinary constitutional jurist in the Indian sub-continent."  
Late Hussyn Shahid Suhrawardy, an eminent lawyer of the subcontinent and former Prime Minister of united Pakistan, called Justice Murshed as an "unfailing protector of civil liberties in Pakistan."  His evaluation of Justice Murshed as a young lawyer in 1937 was "In my opinion he (Justice Murshed) is an exceptionally intelligent young man who will be a credit in our community."  An eminent non-Muslim lawyer late Birendranath Sarkar referred Justice Murshed as "the only protector of the minorities of Pakistan during the Ayub-Monaim Era."  In praising Justice Murshed, an eminent jurist of Bangladesh, Barrister Syed Istiaque Ahmed said "When history of the twentieth century judiciary of Bangladesh will be written Murshed's name and contribution will be prominent.....for what he showed was possible in defence of the law and the Constitution to push the law in the direction of the 'felt necessities of the time' as he himself put it, and declared a crusade against any transgression of the Constitution."  According to Barrister Moudud Ahmed, a renowned lawyer and politician, "through his talent and wisdom, he (Justice Murshed) was able to bridge between the minds of judges with the minds of the general people."  An eminent politician of the sub-continent Ataur Rahman Khan commented on Justice Murshed as "Justice Murshed believed democracy was the highest right.  He tried to maintain and promote democracy through the legal process."
Justice Murshed was a living legendary in the Indian sub-continent of the last century.  He left us 34 years ago leaving behind a legacy for us.  That legacy was of his firm commitment to the principles of liberty, justice, rule of law and the ideals of liberalism. The firmness, boldness and strictness of Justice Murshed in ensuring justice and fairness is mostly needed in contemporary Bangladesh where rule of law is being threatened, justice is being politicised and compromised, and liberties have become cheap commodities so easily to be taken away.  Contemporary judges and lawyers have lot to learn from the shining and outstanding legal and judicial career of Justice Murshed.
A significant contribution of late Justice Murshed was that he gave the final varnish to the drafting of the six points that was the demand of the then Bengali intelligentsia of all walks of life for provisional autonomy, which Sheikh Mujib politically fought and was jailed for.  Justice Murshed, as a promising practicing lawyer in the early 1950s, was among those who drafted the 21 point manifesto of the Jukta-Front government and this was then summarized into the famous six points by him. Again, Mazharul Haq Baki, the then Chatra League President in the late 1966, records that no one except Justice Murshed dared to accept in being the Chief Guest at their Annual Conference, where Justice Murshed like Shiekh Mujib made the clarion call for provincial autonomy for East Pakistan.
During the historical round-table-conference in 1969 and when Ayub was virtually surrendering to the opposition and additionally, with the dissolution of the one unit in West Pakistan, 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, 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, it can safely be said that Justice Murshed was truly the founding father of Bengali nationalism and in conclusion to quote Dr Mizanur Rahman Shelly who said, "Murshed was the man in his life span who was endeavouring in building bridges between the past, present and future and a keeper of national conscience."
11th January 2018 would be the 107th birth anniversary of Justice Murshed.  We remember him with utmost respect on the occasion of his 107th birth anniversary.  May Almighty grant him the highest place in the paradise.    

(The writer is an UK based legal expert, analyst, writer and columnist.  He can be contacted via e-mail: ahmedlaw2002@yaho.co.uk))

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