Struggle for Survival | A BROKEN DREAM | Status of Rule of Law, Human Rights and Democracy

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Immediately after the war of liberation, I passed LL.B. in the second class securing the highest mark. My father completely disowned me and said that I should not give my identity as his son if I entered the law profession. After passing law, I had been facing with a lot of difficulties. Firstly, I had no accommodation in Sylhet; secondly, the economic condition of the country was very precarious; thirdly, it was not possible to carry on practicing law without the support of the family; and finally, joining with a good lawyer’s chamber for training is a pre-condition to become a good lawyer. All this required support, and I had none. All my friends after passing law joined the local bar for survival. But I opted to stay in Sylhet because to become a good lawyer I had to practice in the district court, which was a challenging matter. I was not closely acquainted with any good lawyer in Sylhet. I only had formal relationships as student with senior advocates. At that time, most lawyers maintained their chambers till midnight, and unless a law graduate continuously worked as an article at a very reputed lawyer’s chamber, he could not be a good lawyer.

In view of that fact I decided to join a good lawyer’s chamber with the aim to prove that lawyers are not liars and that they are very respectable persons in society, if they become good lawyers. After discussing with my friends, I decided to join the chamber of Soleman Raja Chowdhury, a reputed criminal lawyer and a dignified person. He was also my teacher at Sylhet Law College. With a lot of hope and collecting enough courage one evening I went to the chamber of Chowdhury. I found there some clients and his junior Muniruddin Ahmed. On my arrival Chowdhury asked me the purpose of my visit and very politely I expressed my desire to him. I told him without hesitation that I belonged to a community which is known as Bishnupriya Monipuri, who are very simpleminded and most of them earned their livelihood by being teachers or cultivators.

Essentially this community lives a very simple life and is poor in comparison to other communities. i.e. Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians in the country. Even indigenous people in the hill districts hold higher posts in military, police and other civil posts because of quota facilities, and in Parliament they have representation, and a member of their community even gets ministerial position. On the contrary, there is no representation from the Bishnupriya Monipuri in the Parliament not to speak of any ministerial position, and no officer in the armed forces, high ranking police or administrative post and they are normally taken as people of inferior quality compared to the Muslims and Hindus, because of their financial and social status. So, advocate Chowdhury on the spur of the moment told me that he could not retain me as his junior and I should see other seniors. I was tremendously disheartened but preserved my positive mental attitude and bowed my head without replying anything and kept sitting there till he continued his work. I was adamant to work as his junior despite his unwillingness and promised to swallow any humility in the process of attending his chamber. I noticed that after some time his servant came and indicated to Chowdhury to come to the drawing room. Soon thereafter, Chowdhury with his junior Moniruddin went to the drawing room which is toward the northern side with a room in between. I realized that they took their tea, but did not offer me any, even though I was once his student. I felt insulted but did not express it.

On the following day I started attending the chamber regularly. Chowdhury did not look at me and his junior was not talking to me. I took a chair beside Muniruddin. Sometimes it so happened that a good number of clients crowded the chamber and Chowdhury required consultation with them. At such times he told me to sit on the back bench which was marked for his clients. Despite all this I continued attending his chamber for months together. I was convinced that if I would get a chance to take a dictation, Chowdhury would feel compelled to take me as his junior. From the
handwriting and manner of dictation Moniruddin took, I was sure that I was much better than Moniruddin and Chowdhury would give preference to me as his junior. Soleman Chowdhury could not write with his right hand, after he had an accident, so he signed with his left hand. It was always like a routine that Chowdhury took his tea without asking me, but I did not allow myself to feel humiliated with his behavior, because my only dream was to become his junior. Before long, my persistence and perseverance paid off and one stormy evening, I got my long-awaited opportunity. Coming through the storm and rain I got completely drenched. Despite that I waited in the verandah. At that time the door and windows were closed. I pressed the button for the doorbell and the door was opened by the boy. I entered the room and tried to dry my shirt with the help of the fan. After some time, some clients arrived but that evening Moniruddin did not come. I told the boy to inform Chowdhury about the arrival of the clients. It was the second occasion Chowdhury spoke to me. He looked at me and saw that my clothes were totally wet and simply expressed surprise that in this bad weather I had come without an umbrella. Maybe he was touched by my devotion and instructed the boy to bring a towel and told me that since I had come, he had some urgent drafting and asked me whether I could take dictation.

As soon as responded positively he started giving dictation. He found that I was much better and swift in taking dictation and my handwriting was also very good. After he finished the dictation he praised me for my English, noted that my handwriting was better and asked why I had not told him this. That evening he invited me to the drawing room and offered some light refreshment. I was so overwhelmed that somehow, I controlled my emotions and prayed to the Almighty for giving me this opportunity. On the following day both Moniruddin and I came to work. When the time for dictation came, Moniruddin was preparing to take dictation but Chowdhury prevented him saying, “You are senior, he (Suren) should be given some opportunity.” I realized that Soleman Raja Chowdhury was satisfied with my performance. From that moment every day when dictation was necessary Moniruddin was sidelined and I was given the opportunity.

Another thing which worked in my favor was that every day I appeared at the chamber just after dusk, which Moniruddin never did because he had some clients in the magistrate’s court. Naturally I was liked by Chowdhury. But I faced another problem. Chowdhury was very miserly in matters of making payments. He used to give me Tk. 100 maximum twice a month or sometimes once. I was leading a very humble life, but it was still difficult to meet all the expenses. Eventually, a date for appearing before the Bar Council was fixed but I had no money at all to attend the examination at Dhaka. I requested Chowdhury to give me Tk. 500 for the exam and he instantly gave it. I had no coat, no shoes. So, I bought a coat from the second-hand market, got it altered and colored it black. When I appeared before the Bar Council, the viva-voce exam was taken by B.N Chowdhury, a reputed civil lawyer. He asked me from which bar I was attending. I told him from Sylhet. He said, “Oh, from Sylhet. A rich bar and the students are also well dressed.” He asked me only one question relating to the difference between robbery, dacoity and theft. I replied correctly, and he was satisfied with my answer.

After the exam I enrolled as an advocate, but my luck did not favor me. I was facing acute financial crisis. I did not have my father’s financial support and my senior was not giving me adequate money. My colleagues were attending the sub-divisional criminal courts and earning good money. They were earning money by signing bail bonds only but my senior in the chamber suggested that I not become a bail bond lawyer as it is not a dignified job. Hence as I did not sign bail bonds my income was low, and I could not bear my expenses. I had to realize that my survival was my priority and becoming a lawyer came after that. If I could not survive I could not be a lawyer. I also realized that unless I joined the Sub Divisional bar, I could not meet my expenses. I noticed that all my friends were economically solvent but I, on the other hand, could not earn my bread.

So, one fine day, rustling up some courage I told my senior that I had decided to join the Moulvibazar bar if he permitted me. My senior told me, certainly you join the Moulvibazar bar, because you are a lawyer of the district bar and you are mature enough to decide your future. He added, since I had already decided to join the local bar, he had no business to obstruct my decision. The following day, I came to Moulvibazar and went to the court. I was well received by senior reputed lawyers Abdul Muhit Chowdhury and Syed Abdul Matin, both were close relatives of my senior Soleman Chowdhury. They were known to me from before because of my attachment with Chowdhury.

Muhit Chowdhury was an eminent civil lawyer and he was appearing in Sylhet court for Tea Estate cases. I took a seat beside Muhit Chowdhury to watch the dealings of lawyers in a mufassil court. I noticed that whenever a brief was accepted, the lawyers had put up a long list of expenses, such as cost of paper, clerks, summons, notices, and peons’ fees taka 60 to 65 to file a suit, Tk.50 to 60 as lawyer’s fee, etc. I was so surprised with this process that I could not control the temptation and asked Muhit Chowdhury why he had to write a long list for filing a suit and did not ask for Tk. 200 or 250 at a time. He replied that if he asked for that amount of money, the client would leave at once. So, they were compelled to give a break up. But the full amount of money was retained for himself. The manner of practice in district and sub-divisional courts is far different. I could not indulge in this kind of procedure and was totally disheartened. Being frustrated I left for home in the evening
and slept for seven days in a row without speaking to anybody.

After one week, I came to Moulvibazar and received a letter from my friend Akhter. He wrote that I left Sylhet without informing them and he heard from Soleman Raja Chowdhury that he was stunned by the manner I told him of my decision. Chowdhury also told Akhter that he saw in me the potential of becoming a good lawyer in future. He also admitted that I was facing financial difficulties which he realized but, according to him, it was only for a short time during my probationary period. Since now I had the license to practice as an advocate, it was the time to begin earning. Moreover, since I had the potential to become a good lawyer it was better for me to stay in Sylhet. The moment I read the letter, I rushed to Sylhet again and in the evening, I met my senior Chowdhury and informed him of my return. His happiness was beyond what I can describe. He told me that if someone wants to be a good lawyer he had to pass the ordeals of economic, physical and mental hardships. I started my second life there, but I continued to bedevil by lack of enough income to meet my expenses. As I could not attend the lower courts in bail matters, which were the main source of income for a junior advocate, I had no local client.

I was really struggling to survive and at that juncture Golam Kibria Chowdhury, a prominent civil lawyer and a close relation of Soleman Chowdhury, approached me to join his chamber. At that time, he had 12 juniors working with him, but even then, he could not manage because of the huge number of cases being filed every day. Golam Kibria Chowdhury was a very free, charming and generous type of lawyer. He earned a lot and spent money without reservation. He was also very liberal toward his juniors. I realized quickly that if I joined his chamber I could be financially solvent. But I could not avoid Soleman Raja Chowdhury, who was a dignified, honest and principled lawyer. He was very dependent on me mainly because, during trial of session’s cases, one had to write down the statements of the witnesses promptly for cross examination, and I was satisfactorily doing that job. Accordingly, I told Golam Kibria Chowdhury that I could not leave the chamber of Soleman Raja Chowdhury since he is totally depending on me. It could be done only if he could get Soleman Chowdhury’s consent. According to Golam Kibria Chowdhury, there was little scope of drafting in criminal matters but in the civil side a lot of drafting is necessary as my drafting was very good, he needed me in his chamber.

Ultimately, I could not avoid Soleman Chowdhury and decided that I would not leave his chamber. I proposed to work in the evening and in the morning from 6:00 to 10:00 at Golam Kibira’s chamber. He agreed to my proposal. I started working in this manner and in the morning Golam Kibria Chowdhury used to give dictation, sometimes plaint and sometimes written statements. Every morning I used to complete two to three drafts and accompanied him to the court in his vehicle and every day he used to give me Tk. 20, which was substantial money at the time. Usually I used to go his chamber on an empty stomach and after getting the Tk. 20 I used to take my breakfast at the court canteen. This routine continued till 1977. Within this period, I had learnt a lot of civil and criminal matters, particularly the basics of civil and criminal law simultaneously. Toward the end of 1977, I realized, if I wanted to be a reputed lawyer I should shift to the Supreme Court of Bangladesh. My ambition to become a great lawyer would only then be fulfilled.

During this period, I had developed good relations with Sabita Ranjan Pal (S.R Pal), the best lawyer in Bangladesh at the time. As I used to come to Dhaka with briefs and engaged S.R Pal, this helped me greatly with my introduction with Pal. I was hesitant to switch over to the Supreme Court because in the Supreme Court prominent lawyers were practicing and without good financial support one could not survive as a lawyer there. During this period, I was spending much time in Dhaka causing inconvenience to the chambers of both Golam Kibria and Soleman Chowdhury. In fact, on one morning in January 1978, Soleman Raja Chowdhury rebuked me saying that a lawyer must be serious to his profession, but a lawyer who was indulging in “tout type of practice” sometimes in Sylhet and sometimes in Dhaka carrying briefs for the Supreme Court could not be a good law practitioner. He advised me either I should continue in Sylhet or leave Sylhet for Dhaka permanently. After four years of entering my profession, I had convinced my father that the profession of a lawyer is a dignified one. He acknowledged my argument and subsequently accepted my profession. It was primarily due to Soleman Chowdhury with whom he had a talk. My marriage ceremony was held under the arrangements of Soleman Raja Chowdhury and Suraiya Chowdhury, a venerable lady. The post wedding ceremony was also held at Soleman Chowdhury’s residence. My father was convinced seeing the dignity of a lawyer like Suleman Raza Chowdhury and convinced that the lawyers are not liars. I realized the strong command of Suleman Raza Chowdhury and decided that I would finally move to Dhaka.

I finally moved to Dhaka in March 1978 with the ambition of developing a good relationship with S.R Pal. I had requested him to take me as his junior which he utterly refused. My high ambition to become a good lawyer by working with a very renowned lawyer was shattered. Whenever I told Pal that I had come to practice in the Supreme Court, he would say that it was a good decision but when I asked to join his chamber, he declined as if I was not known to him at all! Pal was an outspoken person and did not hesitate to express comments which he thought were proper.

I consulted about my predicament with late Advocate Abdul Hannan, who was close to me. He used to deal with revenue matters only. After hearing everything, he informed me that Sudhir Chandra Das (S.C. Das) had independent practice at that time and he was working with Pal. Hannan suggested that if I joined the chamber of S.C. Das, who was sharing the same chamber, I would have the opportunity to maintain contacts with Pal. I agreed to his suggestion and Abdul Hannan introduced me to S.C. Das. I started working with Das and when an opportunity came, I visited Pal. He was interested in gossiping with lawyers whenever he was free. I was confident that if I get a chance to work with Pal, I would be accepted by him. In this manner I continued for about six months keeping close ties with Pal in the chamber of S.C. Das and, in the evening, occasionally I used to visit Pal’s chamber with Das. My relationship with S.R. Pal developed to some degree.S.R. Pal was dealing mostly with senior briefs and K.M. Saifuddin Ahmed was working with him. Saifuddin was a talkative person and not a serious lawyer. I realized that he had no depth of knowledge in law and his handwriting was also not good.

One afternoon, I was sitting in Das’s chamber as S.R. Pal returned to the chamber from the court and finding me alone in the Das’s chamber, wanted to know whether I had any business left at the court. Since I answered in the negative, he wished to know if I could accompany him to his residence for an urgent dictation of a writ petition. Since I was searching for such an opportunity, I readily accepted his offer. He took me to his home in his car and dictated the petition to me. Pal’s drafting was very prompt, articulate, significant and concise. I took the dictation without any interruption because he was very prompt in dictating anything. Pal was so satisfied with my drafting he immediately gave me Tk. 500. He praised me and remarked that if I had joined his chamber, he could prepare cases without much difficulty. He offered me an opportunity to join his chamber, but at the same time remarked that Sudhir would mind. He seemed to leave the matter to my discretion.

I told him frankly that initially I wanted to work with him (Pal) and with that expectation I had joined Das’s chamber so that I would get an opportunity to remain in touch with his chamber. I was sanguine that if I got the opportunity, I would succeed in pleasing with my competency. From the following day, I started working with Pal and that was a most vital turning point in my life. Mainly because as Pal was a most prominent lawyer and his reputation was so high that almost all the judges would unhesitatingly take his opinion in case of any difficulty with points of law. Pal’s conception was always very clear, and he could give opinions spontaneously without looking at the books. So usually all senior lawyers, sometimes judges, industrialists, businessmen and politicians used to come for consultations to his chamber.

I thus had the privilege of meeting those people even with my disadvantaged identity. Pal was not only a lawyer, but he was an institution by himself. His vast knowledge and command in law and language were acclaimed by people of various strata in the country. He seldom consulted any decision or any annotated book if any law point surfaced and when a question of law emerged, he consulted with the bare Acts. He advised me to know the law first and said if I did not understand on one reading, he advised me to read it twice, thrice and a hundred times and try to understand the meaning of the law. He added that once I understood the contents of the law to augment my understanding, I will have to consult the annotated books and decisions on the subject for more clarification.

Never did he attend the court with decisions other than the bare Acts and his arguments were precise on legal points. His legal and judicial integrity would be remembered from generation to generation. He was my mentor who shaped my life in understanding and grasping points of law on the facts of a given case. His extraordinary personality impressed and compelled me to be devoted in my profession. I learned from him the meaning of life and the meaning of the legal profession. He explained the law effortlessly giving only one or two grounds enough to grasp the point. The second benefit for me personally was that those clients who could not engage him were compelled to engage me in the expectation that I would be able to consult S.R. Pal. I started getting briefs from Chittagong and other parts of the country. Initially I was handling briefs chiefly from Sylhet but soon after I joined Pal’s practice, I became a lawyer known in almost all the bars of the country. The third benefit which transformed me into a good lawyer was that whenever I accepted a brief I waited for the opportunity of consulting with my senior alone. And when I realized that he was in a good mood, I used to note down the grounds of my brief to be taken up in the matter. This helped me tremendously to argue the case on specific law points and to get a rule in any matter. In those days it was difficult even for senior advocates to get a matter admitted for hearing. Most of the lawyers of my standing did not dare to appear independently without a senior. Even lawyers with five to ten years’ experience hesitated to move any motion without a senior. And yet I became an exception. This emboldened me and I started arguments in the final hearing of matters against most senior Advocates like Syed Istaque Ahmed, Ashrarul Hossain, B.N. Chowdhury, Hamidul Hoque Choudhury, Abdul Malek, Zulmot Ali Khan, M.H. Khandaker, Khandaker Mahbubuddin Ahmed. T.H. Khan, and even S.R. Pal. The judges also started to treat me leniently because of my command of law and the superior drafting of my petitions.

I came in touch with eminent judges, lawyers and highly respected persons through him. I think what I am today as also my legal knowledge is largely due to what I learned from him. Before my elevation to the Bench, in fact, I had a roaring practice in the Supreme Court. For my sincerity, honesty, commitment as an advocate, and because of the support of my seniors from Sylhet and my long attachment with Pal, I remain a highly trusted member of the legal community. Additionally, my extraordinary devotion to law and jurisprudence, my forensic ability in analyzing and formulating legal arguments and a highly persuasive and distinctive way of placing them before the court, hugely helped me in developing a worthy personality in the legal profession.

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