Supreme Court Justice or Vengeance Apparatchik?

Published: January 2, 2016 Updated: 8:41 pm

It was a lazy Sunday morning after Christmas of 2015. We just had few inches of snow and even the dogs did not want to go outside. They displaced me from the couch so I sat on the floor while watching This Week on ABC.

Since it was a slow news day they had Justice Stephen G. Breyer give a short interview. He was asked this question, “What do you think about what Donald Trump has said about various groups including the Muslims”?

The Justice paused and responded, “Everyone in the country and for that matter the world could and should have an opinion about this except for me and the 8 other Justices on the bench”. The Court, he pressed on, has to be neutral and above the fray and the Justices cannot have political opinions.

They need to judge each issue or comment on its merits and demerits. Just call strikes and balls, in baseball parlance.

Contrast this with a shrill news item on bdnews24.com where a retired Bangladeshi Supreme Court Justice, AHM Shamsuddin Choudhury, breathlessly demanded for coming up with retroactive laws to punish Khaleda Zia and David Bergman for making comments that do not fit into the current narrative, and oh, those inconvenient numbers.

I am amazed that a Supreme Court Justice is so nakedly and aggressively partisan. When you have been to the highest judicial office in any land you must be neutral to the bone or at least try to be.

The Justices need to be trusted and relied upon for making calls that are based on evidence and merit. However, this character decided to cast away thousands of years of judicial tradition and become a partisan hack.

I do not know Justice Choudhury and have no idea of his work and opinions. Based on his little tirade I am not optimistic to find anything of intellectual heft. His little partisan roll on the hay makes me question as to how did he get to the highest court of the country?

I do understand the appointment to the Supreme Court is done by the ruling government, but historically from the days of the creation of the country, very many qualified people who graced the Supreme Court understood that their job was to be as independent as possible given the hyper-partisan environment.

Mr. Choudhury has managed to not just cross that line, but somehow managed to mangle the idea of independent judiciary to the core. Someone give him a basic civic lesson, pretty please!

History is written by the victors and I defer to our victory over the Pakistanis in 1971. I am sure some of us will take liberty and shape the history as best as we can. However, there is this little problem with inconvenient numbers.

I really do not have a dog in the fight whether 300,000 or 3,000,000 people died during the Liberation War and the barbaric atrocities committed by the Pakistani Army and its collaborators. I find this argument ridiculous and I keep wondering why is there such a huge difference in numbers which should be based on facts.

If you buy into the 3,000,000 number than you have to accept that in about 285 days (give or take a few) the Pakistani Army managed to kill some 10,526 people each and every day. No rest and no letup in killing. There has been no evidence of some ten thousand people getting killed each and every day.

Now, I have no idea where the 3,000,000 killed comes from but let me give you my first hand testimony of one town.

Sylhet, March 27, 1971. On the morning of March 27 (yes, news traveled slowly before the days mobile), we woke up very early to the sound of silence. There is such a thing. The town of some 100,000 people was silent but you could tell that something happened overnight.

I had come back from Dhaka riding on the roof of Ulka after listening to Sheikh Mujib speak on March 7, 1971 at the Race Course. I was hanging around to take the much and often delayed matriculation examinations, and during the day I was marching in protests with various student parties and throwing rocks at various military and Police outposts, especially, the Circuit House by the river.

So, that morning a friend dropped by and said Army is killing thousands of people and they have killed everyone in Dhaka. He stated it as inconvertible fact. This was unnerving and we ran out, even though my mother was screaming her heart out.

We heard that some policemen were killed downtown. So, we ran through various little alleys to arrive at a place called Zinda Bazar, which is near the courts. There had indeed been some gruesome killings. The Pakistani Army contingent (31 Punjab Regiment) had attacked the National Bank and killed 11 Police guards in their little barrack.

We did whatever we could to get the bodies out by mid-day. For a teenager, these were breathless times. The whole town was on edge. By the evening there were protests and we were preparing Molotov Cocktails, making moshals and gathering rocks.

The Army rolled out of the Airport Area around midnight. We threw some cocktails and ran away as fast we could after they started firing in earnest. Next morning, the Army retreated back to their base and there were some 30 dead bodies across town. They killed a very prominent surgeon, Dr. Shamsuddin, and number of hospital staff.

That was our cue for a headlong retreat out of town and into the villages, towards the deep interior, or at the border.

Throughout the next 285 days there were systematic killings and ethnic cleansing where the Pakistani Army and the Razakars tortured and killed people. We kept tally by going to the villages and getting a list of numbers killed.

I think I was asked by one of the Chattra Union/League leaders to collect as much information before the information got obscured. In and around Sylhet City, the numbers were in the hundreds and not thousands.

As I said, I do not have a dog in the fight for numbers. The atrocities and the killing of one innocent person is just as terrible as thousands and the perpetrators should be punished. I do believe it is important to have numbers that are real and the punishment should be based on facts and not mythology.

The danger of punishment based on mythology is that Justice ultimately gets compromised and we end up administering vengeance as opposed to Justice.

I am not sure why the numbers are so important after so many years. However, let us assume there has been a real attempt to reconstruct the killings and hold people accountable. Of course, the Pakistanis are beyond reach as of now.

The government can launch a census where the number can be validated based on evidence. The window is probably closing fast and people with firsthand knowledge are approaching the end of their lifespans. If that is not possible, it is still possible to come up with a reasonable estimate.

Around 1972, Afsan Chowdhury launched a project to chronicle the Liberation War before the memories faded. He worked day and night and travelled around the country. He published a multi-volume book that describes the killings, the survivals, and heroism of people at all levels. I never had the patience to read through all his 17 or 18 volumes, the tales of brutality and abject horror stopped me cold.

If you really want to find the numbers go talk to a guy like Afsan Chowdhury. He did his work in the early seventies when there was no such desire to exact vengeance but there was a great desire to understand the war and the aftermath.

Now, after 44 years the people who have never seen the business end of a gun or a spear want to exact vengeance? Give me a break!

Back to Mr. Choudhury. I am loathe to call him a Justice. He is not only a hyper partisan but he is also a xenophobic troll. He goes around asking à la Trump, “I wonder how David Bergman continues to live in this country?”

What a tripe this guy and his ilk are expounding. They want to use the veneer of law to seize property and silence all opposition. I have never liked BNP because it is a very corrupt and venal organisation at its core.

During their reign, the country descended into unbridled corruption and kleptocracy was the norm. That does not mean they have no right to counter a narrative which is also based on the desire to muzzle all opposition.

I am sure most of the people who are trying to seize property and expel people because of their views even understand what the 1971 Liberation War was about. At its very core the fight was about fighting the narrative that Islam can be used to subjugate majority of the people and loot the Eastern Wing of the country from its wealth.

The 6 point demands which were the historical foundation of the Independence movement after the collapse of the Bhutto-Mujib talks in Dhaka, was in essence a document that allowed maximum autonomy to East Pakistan, today’s Bangladesh.

I am sure Mr. Choudhury is willing to write history as he sees fit, but I wonder if he ever had to face the same wrath as many of us faced and live to tell the tale. To me the sacrifice of so many people will be worth it if there was transparency and prosperity in a country that takes two steps forward and one back because of the hyper-partisan environment.

If Mr. Choudhury wants vengeance then he should focus his energies on the Jihadists. These are the guys trying to deny us air to breathe. It is time to understand that vengeance is NOT Justice, period.

Kayes Ahmed (BDnews24.com, 30th Dec 2015. This opinion is author’s own. Daily News has no connection with this opinion)