Chief Justice SM Murshed: A giant luminary in the judicial field of Bangladesh

 The worldhas produced fewer instances of truly great judges, than he was of a great man inalmost every other department of civil life.

by Anwar A. Khan

Syed MahbubMurshed (11 January 1911 – 3 April 1979) was a Bangladesh’s giant star lawyer and jurist. He served as the Chief Justice of the-then East Pakistan High Court during 1964–1967.

This year, on January 11, will be his112th birth anniversary. He was an eminent jurist and one of the greatest constitutional lawyers of the Southeast Asia. What a good man. “Sometimes, when one person is absent, the whole world seems depopulated.” - Allphonse de Lamartine

Between law and politics, his first love was law. His passing away will be very sadly missed, in and out of courts. But his struggle for justice will continue because he has led the way to fearless struggle towards the path of truth and fairness in justice.

Nothing is so strong as gentlenessand nothing is so gentle as real strength.ChiefJustice SM Murshed dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings. Poet Aeschylusonce wrote:

“Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget

falls drop by drop upon the heart,

until, in our own despair,

against our will,

comes wisdom

through the awful grace of a just man.”

The worldhas produced fewer instances of truly great judges, than he was of a great man inalmost every other department of civil life.

His life was one of the many versions of the Bengalis’ dream.“Love and death are the two uninvited guests, when they will come nobody knows. But both do the same work, one takes heart and the other takes its beats”- Joseph Buluran

For less than 70 years of his life could not defend him anymore. Though death has separated him from us, Justice Murshed are together with us by the eternal love and by all those treasured memories we dearly hold of him.

Life has not been that easy after he left us. Our days have become the gloomiest ever and nights have been the scariest of all. Our flowers do not bloom these days and our sun barely disperses its rays. Only the wind jolts, to and forth. Nothing breaks the heart like the void in our lives. But our fate was destined to walk through these sorrows and thrones on the way. All we could do now is to accept this law of nature and move on. We miss him every day.

Reminiscing him living a peaceful life, I have understood the power of positivity and kindness. He has taught us that life is all about learning and exploring the dimensions of conscience.

Someone rightly said, “Those we love don’t go away/They walk beside us every day/Unseen, unheard, but always near, /Still loved, still missed and very dear.” I think of him in the same way.  I remember these lines from Baz Luhrmann’s song too, “Get to know your parents, you never know when they will be gone for good.”

Life is unpredictable, cherish the things that we own today. He has always exuded high standard of professionalism in his legal career and maintained an exemplary decorum and remarkable modesty in court.

Murshed has always shown high respect to the bench. His immense contribution to the development of the law in Pakistan times in Bangladesh is undisputable and his never-ending quest for justice will be eternally remembered and will continue to inspire legal practitioners.

Judiciary has lost a political figure who coloured the nation's political history, in line with the practice of parliamentary democracy.

Murshed was born to his parents Syed AbdusSalek, a member of the Bengal Civil Service and Afzalunnessa Begum, a sister of Sher-e-Bangla A. K. FazlulHuq, a giant politician of the Indian sub-continent.

Murshed obtained his bachelors in economics from Presidency College, Kolkata in 1931, masters from Kolkata University in 1932, and L.L.B degree in 1933. In 1939, he became a barrister from Lincoln's Inn in London.

He became a member of the Kolkata High Court Bar in 1934. Returning from England in 1939, he started practicing as a senior advocate of the Federal Court of India. In 1951, he migrated to the-then East Pakistan and joined the Dhaka High Court Bar in 1951. He was elevated to a judge of the Dhaka High Court bench in 1955. He served as an ad hoc judge of the Pakistan Supreme Court during 1962–1963. He was appointed Chief Justice of East Pakistan High Court in May 1964.He resigned from the position in November 1967, because of his truehearted difference of opinion with former Pakistan’s military ruler presidentAyub Khan.

According to the former Chief Justice of Bangladesh Latifur Rahman, some of the notable judgments delivered by Murshed was Abdul Haque's case, the Pan case, the Basic Democracies case and the case of Lt Colonel GL Bhattacharya. Murshed joined the mass movement against Ayub in late 1968. A contemporary report in Time magazine stated, “The opposition cause was also boosted by widely respected Syed MahbubMurshed, former Chief Justice of the East Pakistan High Court, who told the nation that “We are not destined to perish in ignominy if we put up a determined and united resistance to evil.”

During the Bengal famine of 1943 and later during the communal riots of 1946, Murshed worked with the welfare organization AnjumanMufidul Islam.

Murshed was married to Lyla ArzumandBanu, a daughter of Mohammed Zakariah, an Indian Nationalist and Mayor of Kolkata in 1939. Together they had three sons – Syed MarghubMurshed, a former civil servant (CSP), Syed MamnunMurshed, an academic and diplomat, and Syed MansoodMurshed, an educationalist, and one daughter, SyedaShaidaMurshed.

In 1990, Government of Bangladesh released a stamp commemorating Justice Murshed.

‘Justice Murshed is a living history. We can only reason by saying about him the same passage he said about his maternal uncle the Sher-a-Bangla AK FazlulHuq, "In life and in death, he was a king without the trappings of a monarch, for he had built an empire in the hearts of his fellowmen.’

A luminary in the judicial field in south Asia and a respected figure in the political arena Justice Murshed has been described by intellectuals as “a Keeper of National Conscience”.

‘Noteworthy to state that Syed MahoobMurshed was the first Muslim Chief Justice of this subcontinent and is considered as a prominent thinker, patron to instate rule of law and spearhead of human rights movement in Bangladesh’ 

He was kind. He was loving. He was deeply caring. Justice Murshed was about the kind of man he was, "a wonderful person."

He was altogether improvisatory about it right down to the last, open to the leading from God that he wouldand people receive in the very events he lived through, and in that, he marked out a way for us too, as individuals and for those parishioners in the parish.

Let eulogy pass to elegy in the prayer of Justice SM Murshed:

“Let nothing disturb you,

Nothing affrights you.

All things pass,

equitably is unchanging.

Patience obtains all:

Whoever has morality

Needs nothing else.

morals alone suffice.”

He was of that special and rare breed of men who commanded respect for his leadership and courage in the values and causes he stood and fought for.He will be very much missed by Bangladesh’s people.

We have lost an indefatigable fighter for justice; the legendary SM Murshed.The nation has lost one of her most dedicated servants. The people have lost a selfless, courageous and noble defender of their fundamental liberties. 

The legal fraternity has lost one of its sharpest minds and we have lost a true friend kind in words, noble in deed. 

He was larger than life: a man who never took a backward step whatever the cost to him personally. His life reflected the modernjudicatory of Bangladesh and the events that have shaped it as a nation since Independence for 50 years ago. Murshed was very much an integral part of that history. He was every bit the “Tiger of Judiciary.”

The country has lost an exemplary and courageous son. A giant in court, never once flinching in his belief in the principles of democracy, justice and the rule of law which had been costly to his person and career, and yet he stood firm.

He will take his place in history as one of the finest patriots that this country has ever met. 

He has been a voice for the oppressed and he was fearless in his defence for truth, justice, fairness and equality. His reflections and actions will continue to be remembered as a legacy for nation-building. Inuit Legend’s words are significant here:

“Perhaps they are not the stars,

But rather openings in heaven where

The love of our lost ones pours through

And shines down upon us to let us know they are happy.”

His death is not the extinguishing of a light, but the putting out of the lamp, because the dawn has come. Life is given to us; we earn it by giving it. Let the dead have the immortality of fame,but the living the immortality of love. Life's errors cry for the merciful beauty that can modulate their isolation into a harmony with the whole. “Life, like a child, laughs, shaking its rattle of death as it runs.” – Rabi Thakur.

At the rising of the sun and at its going down, we remember him.At the blowing of the wind and in the chill of Winter, we remember him.At the opening of buds and in the rebirth of Spring,we remember him.At the blueness of the skies and in the warmth of Summer, we remember him. At the rustling of leaves and the beauty of Autumn, we remember him. At the beginning of the year and when it ends, we remember him. 

As long as we live, he too will live; for he is now a part of us, as we remember him.When we are weary and in need of strength, we remember him. When we have joys, we yearn to share,we remember him. When we have decisions that are difficult to make, we remember him.When we have achievements that are based on his, we remember him. 

His ideals have reminded us that his was the original Bengali hollering – passionate, formidable and indomitable.Above all, Justice Murshed was a fighter. In crises, when all seemed hopeless, he was ferocious, endlessly resourceful, firm in his resolve, and steadfast in advancing his cause.

I borrow some towering words of Barrister M Tamijuddin Ahmed about Justice Murshed, “When our country was under Pakistan rule, when those who governed our country from a thousand miles away were determined to impose their culture upon us and erase ours, it was Murshed from the Bengali intellectuals who stood up to fight for our age-old traditions and cultural identity.”

It will always be remembered that in 1961, he was one of those who organised the “Tagore centennial celebrations” and this was in defiance of the then Pakistani rulers. When the great tide of nationalism which swept the country in the 1970s, originated from ripples that were noticeable in the fifties and sixties the distinguished person who figured prominently in this process was Murshed. The stirrings of a nation in the making in the late 1950s and 60s found eloquent expression and these were reflected in the manifold speeches, judgments' and writing of Justice Murshed. He became among the most articulate spokesmen of Bengali nationalism.” 

Death is not an occasion for sorrow but rejoice, and judging by SM Murshed’s deeds, yes RIP is appropriate... but Blessing is anyone should ask for:

“Death is an ending to the son of

The earth, but to the soul is

The start, the triumph of life…” 

Rejoice! The Faithful do not die; they become translated from this perishable world to the world of eternal existence.

The grave is the first stage of the journey into eternity. A fervent wish for Blessings to this good Man, and leader of courage and tenacity.

His legacy will certainly live on.Through the example of his life, he has now passed it on to us.  May we find ourselves worthy of that precious and extraordinary gift, as long as our lives endure.  May grace now lead Murshed home.  May God continue to shed His grace on Justice SM Murshed.It is perhaps appropriate that today the heavens opened and cried for him.Be in peace, wherever he is. And we love him so much!

-The End –

The writer is an independent political analyst based in Dhaka, Bangladesh who writes on politics, political and human-centred figures, current and international affairs