It has been almost 12 years since my grandfather, Barrister Shaukat Ali Khan, passed away. But I still feel his presence everywhere around me, especially at the place of our work, i.e. the Supreme Court of Bangladesh. As I walk through the sprawling ground and the long corridors of the beautiful building, I remember how my grandfather would stop many times to pick up rubbish from the floor and throw them in the litterbins just to keep the environment clean. His seniority didn't stop him from helping a junior lawyer to fix his collar or put on a gown properly or even do a pro-bono case for him. He was the first one to greet anyone regardless of age and I can still hear him loudly calling out his friends in the corridors with special names such as “Bishwa Priyo!” to our present Attorney General, Mahbubey Alam, or “hey Gov!” to our late Senior Ozair Farook.
When their paths crossed in the corridor, Barrister Jamiruddin Sircar would ask him how he was and he would reply with a roar, “right on top of the world, oh boy.” He had a deep affection for the lawyers and the judiciary. He always reminded me and others of how respectful we should be towards the Bench, and courteous to each other. Differences in political ideologies or courtroom arguments should not influence the personal relationships between fellow lawyers. It is important to note that Barrister Khan was an active politician from the early days of Pakistan. He was even illegally detained by the then government of Pakistan under Public Safety Ordinance. His wife, Bijoya Shaukat Ali Khan, my “Dida,” fought the detention matter all the way up to the Supreme Court of Pakistan and finally succeeded in getting Dadu out of jail. This had led to the dispensing of a landmark decision in detention that is cited by lawyers even today.
Shaukat Ali Khan, also a freedom fighter, was born on February 9, 1926 in Mirzapur Upazila, Tangail. He was the second son of a well-known businessman, M Arfan Ali Khan, and son-in-law of the great philanthropist Rai Bahadur RP Shaha. He died on June 29, 2006.
The time has come to recall the ideals he upheld and share them with the new generation of lawyers. I have countless memories of how he expressed respect for the Court and the legal system. I recall one day while going home from the Court, we found our car to be accidentally in front of a judge's in a busy road in Old Dhaka; Dadu wasted no time to instruct our driver to make way for the judge's car for it to go before us. The message was clear, always show the institution its due respect wherever you are.
He believed a lawyer should continually strive to learn in the vast field of law to excel in his/her profession. He emphasised that it's the regular “practice” of law or appearance in court that shapes one to be a more adept lawyer. I am still amazed at how wisely he conducted himself in the courtroom. One day I was nervously following him into a court room knowing that he hadn't read the whole brief. I asked him if we should make a prayer for time but he disagreed. Upon facing the Court, the presiding judge quickly said that he had already gone through the case record and asked him to make his submissions. He shocked us all when he quipped, “Your Lordships read it and so has my learned friend, but let us read once more together.” The judge smiled at Khan as they went on reading the brief together.
On another occasion, the Court was disinclined to grant more time in a case and said that the matter should not be delayed any further. Barrister Khan took a few steps backward, and with a faint smile said, “Like an old coin, I'll come back to your Lordships.”
My grandfather took his role as a defender of justice very seriously. His responsibility to protect those who were wronged didn't stop within the walls of the Court. Once in his village, Lauhati, he literally shielded a poor Hindu freedom fighter and drove away a group of local goons when they were trying to chase him off his property. Another time, he brought a blind child with her mother to our house in Sadarghat for treatment. The child got her sight back after prolonged treatment and went back with the promise of a new future.
On his trip back from Tangail, he once picked up a street vendor selling wild duck and brought him to the house just to make him realise that he was committing an offence, and left him after offering a sumptuous meal and obtaining a promise that he would stop the illegal act. There are numerous such incidents that show that he acted on what he believed in and stood up for the oppressed wherever he was.
Today people tell me that there will not be another Shaukat Ali Khan. They mean well, but why can't we be like him? Dadu will find peace to know that the lawyers in his beloved institution are working hard to make it a centre of excellence both professionally and morally. I can still hear his mutterings when he uttered the famous line of poet Shukanta to himself, “I will make this world habitable, this is my promise to the new born.” I hope the readers would pray for him and keep him alive by trying to espouse the high moral values he upheld.
Barrister Rehan Husain is a practising lawyer at the Supreme Court of Bangladesh.