The Symphony of Our Times
Asir Commission, investigation & trial
That is why it inquired into the state of affairs not only of the university and hall administration but also in various departments. It tried to take a look at broader teacher-student relationship and textures of teacher's interaction.
Funny incidents, however, continued to mark the proceedings of the commission. A student of political science, our classmate Mofazzalul Haque was of a serious and solemn disposition. He was asked whether he remembered the exact time of arrival in the university on the day of the incident. He thought for a moment and replied, 'I do not remember precisely when I reached the university.
It might have been 10:22 or 10:23 in the morning'. The lawyer smiled and asked again, 'What was the scene you saw?' 'Scene, Milord', Mofazzal answered. 'It was a regular battle ground'. Further asked, what was his reaction? He replied dramatically, 'Reaction? It was frustration'. His tone and posture caused the entire assembly to burst into hearty laughter. Justice Asir was no exception.
The Justice Asir Commission was undoubtedly charged with a serious responsibility. Its terms of reference extended beyond enquiry into the Newman incident and causes leading to it. The commission also was entrusted with the task of finding out the reasons of widespread and continuous student unrest in Dhaka University.
During the questioning of the teachers, university officials and concerned students the commission examined the textures of relationship between the three and the inadequacy, or otherwise, of facilities for curricular and extracurricular activities. Justice Asir was a discreet and hard task master. With the assistance of the reputed lawyers involved in the commission, he took his assignment with seriousness and sincerity.
As already noted there were apparently humorous episodes during cross-examinations which provided relief in the serious and heavy proceedings. Once the incumbent general secretary of DUCSU, when being interrogated, generated such a funny incident. He was our senior, a student possibly of third-year honours course and a very simple man. We took care to brief him thoroughly so as not to fall victim to the questions of the lawyers or the justice. He was advised to restrict his replies to simple 'yes' or 'no'.
Accordingly, the University lawyer, Mr Gani, in a bid to expose the general secretary's leftist political leaning, showed him a statement in a newspaper condemning the killing of leftist African leader Patrice Lumumba and asked him if he had signed the statement along with others, he answered, 'yes'. Then the lawyer quarried, 'Did you draft the statement yourself?"'Pat came the reply, 'no'. 'Did others draft it?' He said, 'yes'. The next question was, 'Did you read it before signing?' He answered, 'no'. Everybody laughed and Justice Asir remarked, 'You are such a GS?' The reply, 'yes'. Amidst hearty laugher the Justice became serious and asked, 'Does DUCSU have a constitution.
If so, does that constitution permit the GS to issue a statement on international political matters? Have you read the constitution?' The reply was, 'yes' but it is about the university and students affairs.
Justice Asir said, 'If it does not permit political statements explicitly, why did you sign such statement?' The general secretary looked evidently harassed and said, 'I don't know'. Dr Newman's lawyer MH Khandoher then took the cue and asked the general secretary: 'After all, what are constitutions for?' The helpless general secretary responded, as tutored, and said, 'yes'. There was another round of resounding laughter and the justice let the poor man go.
Then there was also an unprecedented incident. The vice-president of the only woman's hall in those days, the Rokeya Hall, was a calm and composed lady called Rasheda Khanam. The grim atmosphere of the court like commission probably made her much too nervous and she fainted even before her deposition. The commission was considerate and spared her the pain of appearing in the witness box. NSF leader AR Yusuf and Student Force leader Maudud were among the senior student leaders questioned. Miah Nuruzzaman and I, office bearers of the SM Hall union and leaders of Student's Force were also questioned.
However, we were not grilled and allowed to go after light questioning. The teachers and senior administrators of the university also had to depose before the commission. Towards the end, there were also arguments by the lawyers of the parties concerned.
Thus the lawyer for Professor Newman tried to heap all the blame on us - the impertinent and unruly students. Our lawyers defended us with all their strengths. They pointed out that Dr Newman's high-handedness and unpredictable behaviour and discrimination against any teacher or student not toeing his line were squarely responsible for the students agitation against him. The lawyer of the University of Dhaka tried to get the university absolved from any blame in the matter.
In the end, however, nobody but Justice Asir and the government and the university authority knew the recommendation of the Justice Asir Commission. The word, however, went round that the recommendations went against Professor Newman. Soon after the commission ended its work, we found that Professor Newman had resigned and left Dhaka University and the country. We, the concerned students, were so delighted and relived that we did not care to find out the details of Newman's unceremonious exit. We thanked our stars that we were saved and our academic career would no more be threatened by the hostility of partisan teachers.
Dr Newman was succeeded as the head of the department of political science by senior teacher Dr GW Choudhury, who was a reader and then became a professor. He was a reputed scholar specialising in constitutional development. He frequently travelled abroad to participate in seminars and conferences. Later during the mid-1960s, he went on lien to become director general, research at the ministry of foreign affairs in Islamabad.
In 1969 after General Yahya Khan had assumed office through a military coup in March, he appointed several members of his cabinet from the then East Pakistan. Among them were Professor Shamsul Hoque, Mr Hafiuddin Ahmed and Professor DW Choudhury. However, when Dr Choudhury was head of the department, other senior teachers were Dr Muzaffar Ahmed Chowdhury, Professor Abdur Razzak, Dr Hassan Zaman, Mr Noor Muhammad Miah, Mr SM Ali, Dr Mahfuzul Haque, Mr Mulkatur Rahman, Dr M Rashiduzzaman and others.
The end of the Newman episode gave us breathing space. We again turned our attention full-time to both student politics and national politics as far as it touched our lives. We also devoted a large part of our time and attention to studies. Nevertheless, cultural and literary activities went on side-by-side with zeal and vigour in the fabled Madhu's Canteen and the canteen of the SM Hall. It appeared that for us, at that thrilling juncture of life, twenty four hours were not enough for a day.
Dr Mizanur Rahman Shelley, founder Chairman of Centre for Development Research (CDRB), and former technocrat Cabinet Minister of Bangladesh, died on August 12 last. He contributed his writeups to the Daily Observer which are being published regularly as "The Symphony of Our Times".