—Yasser Latif Hamdani
Courtesy Daily Times
In the recent debate over the blasphemy law, a group of Jamaat-e-Islami-backed right-wing authors have come up with an extraordinary lie. It is extraordinary because it calls into question the professional integrity of the one man in South Asian history who has been described as incorruptible and honest to the bone by even his most vociferous critics and fiercest rivals, i.e. Mohammad Ali Jinnah. The lie goes something like this: ‘Ghazi’ Ilam Din ‘Shaheed’ killed blasphemer Hindu Raj Pal and was represented by Quaid-e-Azam at the trial who advised him to deny his involvement in the murder. ‘Ghazi’ and ‘Shaheed’ Ilam Din refused and said that he would never lie about the fact that he killed Raja Pal. Quaid-e-Azam lost the case and Ilam Din was hanged.
To start with, the story is entirely wrong. First of all, Jinnah was not the trial lawyer. Second, Ilam Din had entered the not guilty plea through his trial lawyer who was a lawyer from Lahore named Farrukh Hussain. The trial court ruled against Ilam Din. The trial lawyer appealed in the Lahore High Court and got Jinnah to appear as the lawyer in appeal. So there is no way Jinnah could have influenced Ilam Din to change his plea when the plea was already entered at the trial court level. Nor was Ilam Din exactly the ‘matchless warrior’ that Iqbal declared him to be — while simultaneously refusing to lead his funeral prayers. Indeed Ilam Din later filed a mercy petition to the King Emperor asking for a pardon.
The relevant case — in which Jinnah appeared — cited as Ilam Din vs. Emperor AIR 1930 Lahore 157 — makes interesting reading. It was a division bench judgement with Justice Broadway and Justice Johnstone presiding. Jinnah’s contention was that the evidence produced before the trial court was insufficient and the prosecution story was dubious. To quote the judgement, “He urged that Kidar Nath was not a reliable witness because (1) he was an employee of the deceased and, therefore, interested. (2) He had not stated in the First Information Report (a) that Bhagat Ram (the other witness) was with him, and (b) that the appellant had stated that he had avenged the Prophet. As to Bhagat Ram it was contended he, as an employee, was interested, and as to the rest that there were variations in some of the details.”
The court rejected this contention. The judgement continues that “Mr Jinnah finally contended that the sentence of death was not called for and urged as extenuating circumstances, that the appellant is only 19 or 20 years of age and that his act was prompted by feelings of veneration for the founder of his religion and anger at one who had scurrilously attacked him.” The court rejected this contention as well referring to Amir vs. Emperor, which was the same court’s decision a few years earlier. Interestingly, the curious reference to 19 or 20 years deserves some attention. Why did Jinnah as one of the leading lawyers refer specifically to an argument that had been exploded by the same court only two years earlier? That only Mr Jinnah can answer and I do not wish to speculate. Perhaps he was trying to argue what Clarence Darrow had argued successfully a few years ago in the famous Leopold and Loeb case involving two 19-year old college students who had committed the ‘perfect crime’. Clarence Darrow’s defence converted a death sentence to a life sentence.
Another corollary of the argument forwarded by our right-wing commentators is that since Jinnah defended Ilam Din in this murder trial, he favoured the ‘death sentence for blasphemy’. It is an odd derivative even for average intellects that most Pakistani ultra-rightwingers and Islamists possess. First of all, it is quite clear that Jinnah did not defend the actions of Ilam Din. He had attacked the evidence on legal grounds. Second, it is clear that there was no confession and Jinnah did not ask Ilam Din to change his plea. Third, when the court rejected Jinnah’s contentions, Jinnah’s argument was simply that a death sentence was too harsh for a man of 19 or 20, with the obvious implication that sentence should be changed to life imprisonment.
We can only conjecture as to what Jinnah’s reasons as a lawyer and politician to agree to be the lawyer for the appellant before the high court were. In any event, a lawyer’s duty is to accord an accused the best possible defence. Just because a lawyer agrees to defend an accused does not mean that the lawyer concurs with the crime. One is reminded of the famous Boston Massacre in 1770 when British soldiers opened fire and killed five civilians who were protesting against them. The British soldiers hired John Adams as a lawyer, who got five of the accused acquitted, arguing that a sentry’s post is his castle. Does that mean that John Adams was in favour of British rule in the US? If so, it is rather ironic that he was the prime mover and the guiding spirit behind the American declaration of independence. Similarly, when Clarence Darrow defended Leopold and Loeb, was he in any way suggesting that the crime that those two young men had committed was justified?
Jinnah’s record as a legislator tells us a different story altogether. He was an indefatigable defender of civil liberties. He stood for Bhagat Singh’s freedom and condemned the British government in the harshest language when no one else would. In the debate on 295-A of the Indian Penal Code, a much more sane and reasonable law than our 295-B and 295-C, Jinnah had sounded a warning against the misuse of such laws in curbing academic freedoms and bona fide criticisms. I have quoted that statement in my previous two articles.
There cannot be any question that Jinnah the legislator would have balked at the idea that his defence of a murder convict is now being used by some people to justify a law that is ten times more oppressive and draconian than the one he had cautioned against. To this day, I have only found him alone to have had the courage to state in the Assembly on September 11, 1929: “If my constituency is so backward as to disapprove of a measure like this then I say, the clearest duty on my part would be to say to my constituency, ‘you had better ask somebody else to represent you’.”