- part I
By M.J. Aslam
Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah/SMA’s “autobiography” in Urdu titled “Atash e Chinar” dictated to his ardent follower M Y Teng before his death & published three years after his death in 1985 has a chapter titled “Mohammad Ali Jinnah & Myself”. Its Urdu version has been translated into English by M Amin under the title “Blazing Chinar” & published by Gulshan Books Kashmir in 2016.
The chapter briefly mentions of an interesting criminal case of 1930s that for peculiarity of its facts had attracted attention of the whole Kashmir. The chapter does not divulge the full facts of the case which are, however, adumbrated here: One, Hanifa Begum’s first husband had died of police firing in September, 1931. She had been, then, married to one Abdul Kabir & subsequently to one Mirza Mehr Ali. Abdul Kabir had filed a criminal complaint under section 494 of the Penal Code (dealing with an offence of marrying an already married woman) against both Hanifa & Mehr Ali. The lower court had convicted Hanifa while acquitted Mehr Ali for want of knowledge. The lower court’s order was assailed by Mehr Ali in appeal before the High Court at Srinagar with Shri Birju Dalal as its Chief Justice. The case was earlier argued in the trial court by Afzal Beigh who had lost it there. It was thought to be a hopeless case on facts. During that period, Jinnah was on a vacation in Srinagar. It was Jinnah’s second visit to Kashmir valley. It was 1936. He was accompanied by his sister, Fatima Jinnah, and they was staying in a houseboat at Shivpora, Srinagar.
As Jinnah was a lawyer of great eminence and the case was very complicated beyond competence of Beigh to defend in the High Court, SMA & Beigh approached & requested Jinnah to accept brief of the case for defending it before the Court of Chief Justice. Blazing Chinar contains that “after we (Sheikh Abdullah & Beigh) had briefed him on the case, Jinnah demanded a fee of 1000 rupees per attendance at court. (Mirza Mehr Ali) Not being in a position to pay such a huge fee, we tried to persuade him to reduce it. That would go against his professional ethics, said he…….We had to submit to his terms”. On the day of hearing Jinnah argued the case and won it on very first hearing that “demonstrated his legal prowess……Jinnah’s legalistic hair-splitting did it all & he won the case elucidating a very subtle point…..relating to Islamic calendar”. (Pages 220-221). The Court room was flooded with people drawn from almost every section of the society, lawyers, government-employees on leave, shopkeepers having shut their shops, students and duo of Sheikh Abdullah & Beigh. (Muhammad Yousuf Saraf, ,Kashmiris Fight for Freedom (2009 edition) pages 620-621).
What was that razor-sharp legal acumen that Jinnah had used that took everyone in the Court room by surprise . In Islam, it may be noted, a widow can remarry only after observing Iddat which is a period of four months & ten days from the date of death of husband. The question was whether Hanifa had remarried Abdul Kabir during Iddat. If so, then that marriage was null & void under the Islamic law & her marriage with Mehr Ali was valid. Conversely, marriage with Mehr Ali was invalid &, hence, complaint under section 494 genuine. Jinnah came to the Court room without books & argued that the Iddat period of four months & ten days under the law was to be counted in months only when death of a husband takes place on first of the lunar month otherwise it had to be counted as 130 days simple. He argued further that in the case the Iddat period had to be calculated according to latter rule of 130 days & applying it to the case, marriage of Hanifa with Abdul Kabir (complainant) was during Iddat period. Hence, it was null & void, while her marriage with Mehr Ali was valid in the Shariat. The whole audience was left agape with joy & jubilation. Chief Justice asked: “Mr. Jinnah. Is there any authority?” He replied: “My Lord. I am the authority”. (Ibid) .
Now, coming to the allegation launched by SMA that Jinnah had refused to accept the brief unless his exorbitant professional fee from a poor man was agreed to be paid by him (SMA) flies in his face for several sound reasons mentioned next.
Firstly, Muhammad Yousuf Saraf, ex- Chief Justice of Azad Kashmir High Court writes about the said case that Jinnah was on holiday vacation in Kashmir during which he would never accept any case nor argue . But Mehr Ali had persuaded him to accept his brief as he was a staunch follower of the Muslim Conference & had contributed to the K-Movement, he explained to Jinnah. On hearing the facts, Jinnah agreed to accept the brief & at the same time he declined to accept any fee. Muhammad Yousuf Saraf writes that Mehr Ali personally told him this thing. (Kashmiris Fight for Freedom (2009 edition) pages 620-621). This book was first published in 1977 in Lahore & was available throughout world. Atash e Chinar was first published in 1985 & its author was duty-bound to rebut narrative of Muhammad Yousuf Saraf, if it was false. Why it is totally silent on this vital information that was already available about the case? The answer seems to be blatant lie/lies dictated in great haste before death to Shri MY Teng about a man (Jinnah) whom he (SMA) hated to his core.
Secondly, biographer of M A Jinnah , namely, Hector Bolitho, on an extensive research, has narrated many episodes that speak loud & clear about the probity of Jinnah as a professional lawyer. He writes: “Once when a client was referred to him, the solicitor mentioned that the man had limited money with which to fight the suit. Nevertheless, Jinnah took it up. He lost but he still had faith in the case and he said that it should be taken to the Appeal Court. The solicitor again mentioned that his client had no money. Jinnah pressed him to defray certain of the appeal expenses out of his own pocket, and promised to fight the case without any fee for himself. This time, he won ; but when the solicitor offered him a fee, Jinnah refused arguing that he had accepted the case on the condition that there was no fee.” Hector Bolitho, author of 60 books, writes further: ” There was a client who was so pleased with Jinnah’s services in a case, that he sent him an additional fee. Jinnah returned it, with a note, ‘This is the amount you paid me. This was the fee… Here is the balance.” …….(Jinnah the creator of Pakistan, pages 18-19).
Thirdly,, another biographer of MA Jinnah, Stanley Woolpert, in “Jinnah of Pakistan” has the same views to share about high professional integrity of M A Jinnah who is credited with getting acquittal order of opponent-Congress leader Bal Gangadhar Tilak in a sedition case from Bombay Court in 1916. (Page 29).
Fourthly, Raj Mohan Gandhi in his book Towards Understanding Muslim Mind in Chapter “Jinnah” has similar narratives of high professional ethics & upright behaviour of Jinnah to tell.
The discussion leads to conclude that Blazing Chinar above-narrative contains a huge allegation against Jinnah’s professional stature which has been admitted by his political rivals even. It contains half-truths & half-facts. The twisted narrative hastily dictated & poorly penned down would leave some readers, who go by the hearsays, believe in Blazing Chinar’s like-narratives without cross-check. But men knowing SMA was a worst political-cum-ideological adversary of M A Jinnah would hold their breath & probe further in his like-narratives in the book to find out truth.
Note: Views expressed are personal & not of the organisation the author works for.
(to be continued)