Maswood Alam Khan
Many years back in the early 90s when I used to work as Manager of Agrani Bank, Jatiyo Press Club Branch, Dhaka, I was very friendly with one Justice M. A. Karim while he was Secretary of the Ministry of Law and Parliamentary Affairs. Justice Karim was known as a legendary figure in the judiciary for his merit, character and integrity. He used to come to my Branch office for his banking needs. I also used to go to his office and on occasions I was also invited to visit his official residence at 40 Minto Road. During that time I was also friendly with a number of judges of different session judges’ courts as the Judicial Officers’ Association used to maintain their master bank account with Agrani Bank, Jatiyo Press Club Branch.
Among the judges I knew one particular sub-judge seemed to me quite intriguing because he used to maintain a very stylish lifestyle that appeared to be not exactly commensurate with the pay and perks of a junior judge. His lifestyle, his posh car, his costly watch, his living standard etc. were way more gorgeous than that of Justice M A Karim. Some people whispered that the sub-judge had a regular income underneath his table while others insisted that he used to earn an additional income through commercial links of his father-in-law.
Out of curiosity one day I asked Justice M A Karim: “Is that particular sub-judge honest?” Justice Karim stared at me with a blank expression on his face before he intoned: “What a tragedy! Today I have to hear a question whether a sitting judge is an honest man! The question itself is insulting, isn’t it?”
Yes, there are some awkward questions which should not be put. There are some questions that do not arise normally in people’s mind. There are some incidents that are unthinkable.
Two Molotov cocktails were tossed inside the official residence of Chief Justice ABM Khairul Haque on Thursday night at 8-30 PM causing a loud explosion. Police immediately rushed to the Chief Justice’s residence to investigate the incident. It is suspected that someone riding a motorbike or a private car had hurled the cocktails and fled away. Perhaps this is the first incident of explosion inside the chief justice’s place of living in Dhaka. One can imagine how the old inmates like guards, sweepers and gardeners who have served many Chief Justices in the same sprawling residence must have been shocked by this unimaginable incident they had to face for the first time in their lifetime. God saved no one was injured and no damage was made.
But injury has already been done and damage already made to the efficiency of the law enforcement agencies and also to the image of the judiciary with the bang heard by the inmates of the prestigious residence and reported loudly all over the world through news media.
This morning I hung my head in disgrace as my face burned with shame as one of my friends, an American, greeted me over phone with an unpleasant surprise: “Hay! What is happening in your country? The other day your former prime minister was dragged from her home and yesterday a bomb exploded inside your chief justice’s house!”
Why did it happen? Such a question is supposed to be derogatory of judiciary. Was the hurling of cocktails a sign of protest at the Chief Justice? Such a question is not supposed to arise in public mind. Was it an act of some overenthusiastic supporters of Awami League for the reason that the Chief Justice the other day assured some leaders of BNP that Khaleda Zia would not be dislodged from her residence at Dhaka cantonment before the next date of hearing of the case in his court? Anybody who would put this question may invite trouble of getting remanded by police. Was it an act of BNP hoodlums to warn the Chief Justice who they think was a pick of Awami League? Raising such a question may be construed as belittling the judiciary and the questioner may be adjudged guilty of contempt of court. Was it an act of Jamat-e-Islam to warn the judiciary of any misdoings in the name of trial of war criminals? Such a question may induce the government to arrest and put to remand a few hundred more people in whom a slight smell of Jamat would be scented. But hundreds of such questions are being popped up in people’s mind and hundreds of stories are being churned out from the factories of rumors.
Emotions of the aggrieved in any litigation usually reach a fever pitch when they think they were unjustly punished by a court of law. Sometimes the aggrieved or the victims may seek personal revenge against the plaintiffs and other times the defendants or their loved ones may lash out at their own lawyers or at the lawyers of the opposition party in their desperate bid for vengeance. But the aggrieved, even the loved ones of those who are sentenced to death in a murder case, hardly lash out at the judges because a judge who is supposed to mete out justice with a firm yet compassionate hand is traditionally deemed innocently neutral.
With the incident of hurling cocktails inside the official residence of the Chief Justice on Thursday night, many are afraid, there may be an ominously new trend of plotting revenge from behind the bars and the courtroom violence may erupt in a different scale. Judges in both lower and higher courts may not be immune to such attacks. Professionals in the judiciary donning the black robes of authority may now demand unprecedented security by gun-toting special security forces—-a scene people in Bangladesh were not really used to seeing in the recent past.
I don’t know what the impression Justice M A Karim, now probably in his mid 70s, has made after hearing the news of explosion inside the official residence of the Chief Justice. If one would have asked Justice Karim today “Why did the explosion take place in the first place?” he perhaps would have remained silent for a few minutes and answered: “What a tragedy! I am still alive to hear the news of explosion inside of all places the residence of the Chief Justice!”