Justice Subhan, like all men of decency and moral force, considered the seizure of power by extra-constitutional means an anathema that needed to be beaten back
There are all the men of integrity, of humility I remember as I go about my rather humdrum life of trying to learn from them and indeed from the world they once inhabited and left their marks on. Back in the days when I first met Justice KM Subhan, it was for me a moment of discovery. I was discovering a man who despite the elevated position he had held as part of the nation's judiciary was ready to extend the hand of friendship to one as young as I was. More substantially, I was into discovering an individual whose dedication to the law, to an upholding of it, did not obscure the intense loyalty he attached to the principles that had gone into the struggle for freedom on the part of our Bengali republic. From him I was ready to learn.
And I did learn, as I have had cause to learn from other illustrious men of the judicial profession. No, I have not had the good fortune of meeting Justice MR Kayani and Justice SM Murshid. But it is their legacies which have for people of my generation been endless exercises in a comprehension of the power of the law and of the enduring enlightenment that is democracy. These were the self-same truths which Justice Subhan instilled in me when I came in touch with him. He abhorred distances between individuals and it was especially when he discerned patriotism and a proper sense of nationalism in people that he went out of his way to proffer his hand of friendship to them. No hauteur scratched his personality. Little of the formal was there when he met men and women he was coming in touch with for the first time. Pomposity he did not know.
Many have been the occasions when it was my intense good fortune to partake of Justice Subhan's wisdom. There are the memories of that charming morning when he asked me over to his Malibagh residence. Over tea, we talked. More properly, he did the talking as I listened to him give me a sweeping view of national history. His love for Bangabandhu was intense, as his post-judicial career was to make obvious through his reflections on the history of Bangladesh's secularism and its rise as a democratic people's republic. On that morning and later on various occasions, I heard him expound on the principles which once governed life in Bangladesh before they were rudely overturned by the conspiratorial rise of militaristic dark forces determined to pull the country back to medievalism.
Justice Subhan, like all men of decency and moral force, considered the seizure of power by extra-constitutional means an anathema that needed to be beaten back. He was among the jurists victimized by the Ershad regime. Unlike some others of his profession, he refused to toe the line set by the illegitimate regime. He would not be compelled into casting to the winds all the truths he had upheld all his life in return for favours from a bunch of men whose sense of history, indeed whose comprehension of the meaning of life, was poor at best and terrible at worst. Men like Subhan --- and Kayani and Murshid --- do not genuflect before power. Indeed, they speak truth to power, their endless perorations and conversations eventually creating the conditions that emasculate the self-important men who steal the country and the sycophants who help them drill holes in the fabric of politics.
Justice Subhan was a constant, courageous presence on the right side of history. He was vocal against the fanatics baying for the blood of the writer Taslima Nasrin at a time when communalism, aided not a little by the establishment of the day, threatened to run riot in the country. His loyalty to the country, to its founding principles, was a strongly pronounced affair. Identifying himself with the Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee, he was among the pantheon of brave Bengalis who demanded that the collaborators of the Pakistan occupation army be brought to justice. It was a stance which cheered us mightily, for here was a judge whose sense of justice complemented the national urge for men of treacherous conduct to have their comeuppance. When the outfit calling itself the Khatme Nabuwat went on a rampage against the Ahmadiyya community, Justice Subhan did not flinch from doing what morally needed to be done. He came down on the side of the Ahmadiyyas, arguing that they had as much right to pursue their faith as any other religious community in the land.
Political correctness did not appeal to Justice Subhan. At a time when many others, including those who shared his profession, chose to coat their pronouncements with measured terms and phrases, he spoke out loud and clear. He reminded people, at every opportunity, that in a land that Bangabandhu had led to freedom, it would be a shame not speaking up in defence of the four principles on which the republic had been founded. He was happy when Sheikh Hasina led the Awami League back to power in 1996, but it was not in him to ask for or expect a position in the refreshingly changed political circumstances the country found itself in. He was among that old-fashioned community of men and women who were content to do their work and move on. Subhan moved on, before moving out of the world of the living.
And this nation needs to move on, to treasure the memories it holds of Justice KM Subhan, to preserve and consolidate his legacy. An institute of legal studies could be a major move in such a direction. A foundation in his name, geared to studies of jurisprudence, will be a fitting tribute to him. Add to that the idea of an annual lecture series in his name --- to educate and enlighten the nation on his diverse contributions to legal, political and social life. A biography of this illustrious man would be a boon.
It was in a twilight hour, a few months before his passage to the Great Beyond, that I ran into Justice Subhan. The place was the Russian cultural centre in Dhanmondi. The occasion was a documentary show. He was as ebullient as ever, waving at me, calling me to join him. I went over to him. It was the last time we met.
Justice KM Subhan, born on 25 July 1924, passed away on 31 December 2007.