The story of a legend
With around fifty eight thousand square miles, there 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. Among 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, he has become living history.
Murshed was born in a Muslim aristocratic Bengali family. Yet, throughout his life, he remained the champion of the body politic. Years to the completion of the British empire in the subcontinent, while the heat of the anti-British movement was 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 honorable society of Lincoln's Inn in 1938.
A brilliant student Justice Murshed, prior to that, did his BA (Hons) and MA in Political Economy and BL, the law degree, from the Calcutta University with very outstanding results. His extracurricular activities during his student days were that he was the editor of their student magazine, in Presidency College, and while in Calcutta University Murshed was the debating champion. All these contributed to his high intellectual performance and striking scholarly character. As a result, 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 plus renowned including scholars and intellectuals such as columnists, lawyers, judges, political thinkers cum analyst, poets, journalists, professors etc. To cite an example, Professor Kabir Chowdhury describes Justice Murshed as a 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 the flag of liberty rising high in defiance to all kinds of pressures even from the highest quarters."
Similarly, Justice Abu Sayed Chowhury wrote about him stating "Justice Murshed in his judgments reached correct decisions indicating the boldness of his mind. He gained fame for his wisdom and intelligence, as well as 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 law and had administered justice without fear or favor, 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 and participate in social and humanitarian activities. His article entitled "Quo Vadis Quaid-e-Azam" in which he criticized 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 that shook the subcontinent, he was one of those who were primarily responsible for setting into motion the process, which had culminated in the Nehru-Liaquat pact. He was drawn into the vortex of the language movement in the early fifties.
In the later part of 1954, he was elevated to the bench of the Dhaka High Court. As a judge Syed Mahbub Murshed 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 plus as Chief Justice reflected his ideals. Some of his judgments created constitutional history and won for him, international acclaim.
In addition to his judicial work he also championed Bengali cultural freedom, particularly, during the oppressive Ayub regime. In 1961, he organized the Tagore centennial celebrations in Dhaka and elsewhere in now, what is Bangladesh, and these events were in defiance to the opposition to the then Pakistani military rulers. Further Justice Murshed's massive role in the mass upsurge of 1969 and his refusal to collaborate with the Pakistani military regime in 1971, during our liberation struggle will be 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 the then Bengali intelligentsia of all shades for provisional autonomy, which Sheikh Mujib fought and was jailed for. It was Justice Murshed as a practicing lawyer in early 1954, who was among those who drafted the 21 point manifesto of the Jukta-Front government and which can be and was summarized 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 made a clarion call for provincial autonomy for East Pakistan.
During the 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 on the way to form the national government.
Justice Murshed was truly a fighter for Bengali nationalism. To quote Dr Mizanur Rahman Shelly, it can be said "Murshed was the man in his life span, who was endeavoring in" building bridges between the past, the present and the future."
The writer is a lawyer based in London