History Wars: Kamal Hossain Interview (Part 1)

With Sheikh Mujibur Rahman
Kamal Hossain with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman

Our history is never still, and there are always processes of rewriting Bangladesh’s history. The best response to such history wars is to let the record speak, when possible. In an Alal O Dulal exclusive, we have translated a 37 page interview of Kamal Hossain (from Shaptahik magazine, 2014). This is the first part.

To political analysts the name Dr. Kamal Hossain evokes wide-ranging emotions: from respect and reverence to disappointment and frustration. ‘Nostalgia,’ ‘lost moment,’ and ‘could-have-been’ have been the dominant moods to haunt Dr. Hossain in the last two decades. His role as nation’s lonely conscience extends to his public admission that a “historic mistake” was made in excluding Adivasi and other non-Bengali communities from the 1972 Bangladesh Constitution –- a document that he was the primary author of. We say lonely because such admission of mistake is a rare characteristic in Bangladesh politics. Perhaps that is why he could never prevail in the political scene, as he appealed to morality and truth, not paranoia and coercion.

The chief legal negotiator at Sheikh Mujib’s side during the Yahya-Bhutto-Mujib tripartite talks before March 1971, Kamal Hossain is also one of the few members of the core 1971 group of the AL who survived the brutal August 1975 coup, because he was outside the country at that time. He was also the man who contested national elections from AL as the party started coming above ground again. Later he also was involved in the return of current PM Sheikh Hasina to Bangladesh.

Because of the poor electoral performance of his later political party Gono Forum, in radical contrast with his international stature, Kamal Hossain represents a strand of “bhodrolok” malaise (even more than Dr Yunus): a class of people educated few generations earlier than the mainstream of East Bengal, who reached high international achievement, but domestically were never able to be in charge of political events. Some see in this a weathervane shift in Bangladesh politics, where there is increasingly no space for those who play by the rules and do not use muscle power.

Yet, his achievements in last days of pre-71 Pakistan, and the first years of independent Bangladesh, are undeniable. It was possibly his, and our, shining moment.

Today we present Part -1, which concludes at page 20. Part 2 will appear soon.

– Editors, AlalODulal

At Nicosia airport, Cyprus, January 9, 1972, en route from London to Dhaka after release. (left to right): Air Commodore David B Craig, UK Royal Air Force, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, PM elect of Bangladesh, Dr Kamal Hossain, Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs, Golam Mowla, Managing Director of Great Eastern Insurance Company Limited.
At Nicosia airport, Cyprus, January 9, 1972, en route from London to Dhaka after release. (L to R): Air Commodore David B Craig, UK Royal Air Force, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, PM elect of Bangladesh, Dr Kamal Hossain, Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs, Golam Mowla, MD of Great Eastern Insurance Company Limited.

History Wars: Kamal Hossain’s Interview – Part 1

Originally published in the weekly Shaptahik in Bengali; translated by Alal O Dulal
Translators: Nadine Murshid
, Nayma Qayum, Irfan Chowdhury, and Farida Khan

Shaptahik: First tell us something about your childhood?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: I was born in Kolkata, 20th April of 1937; but my family hailed from Barisal. My grandfather Syed Sadat Hossain was zamindar of Shaestabad. He was popularly known as Sadu Mian. My father Doctor Ahmed Hossain was an MBBS physician. He was one of the few Muslim students in the famous Presidency College of Kolkata. He passed MBBS in 1929 and started practicing in Kolkata.

My uncle Muhammad Ahsan remained in Barisal. My father formally gave him the responsibility to look after the zamindari by doing the required paperwork. My father used to say to us that, “Look, I have become a professional. I did not want to depend on the income from zamindari. I also want you to embark on a career and not depend on inherited property. Study and become a respected professional who earns his own livelihood through work”. My father even discouraged us from giving CSP exam and become government official.

Shaptahik: When did you first come to Dhaka?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: We first visited Dhaka in 1947 to prepare to move to East Pakistan. We migrated permanently in 1949. My father joined Dhaka Medical College. The Department of Electrotherapy started and expanded under his supervision.

Shaptahik: How many brothers and sisters do you have?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: We are one brother one sister. My sister Ahmedi Begum graduated from Dhaka.

Shaptahik: Where did your family stay in Dhaka?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: Gulfashion Building near Bailey Road was completed in 1950. We first lived there. Our present house was a Mango orchard then. While living in Gulfashion my father told us to look up lands for building an house. We built our house in 1954. The current house we are living in was built in 1956-7.

Shaptahik: You were an school student when you came to Dhaka?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: Yes, I got admitted in Saint Gregory High School. I took the Matriculation exam in 1951.

Shaptahik: Did you have any famous school mates?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: Yes, Professor Anisuzzaman was one. May be also professor Sirajul Islam Chowdhury, I am not sure. The martyred intellectual Giasuddin was one year senior.

Shaptahik: Who were your classmates?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: Professor Anisuzzaman was there, and maybe even Professor Sirajul Islam Chowdhury. And a year ahead of me was martyred intellectual Giasuddin Shaheb. We were together again in college. St. Gregory College later became Notre Dame College. It was at a small two-story building in Laxmibazar. Shaheed Giasuddin went there as well, a year ahead of me.

In 1953 I sat for my Intermediate exams from St. Gregory’s College. Came to University. They told me they want to give me full scholarship to go to America, and you can do a BA honours in two years. It was an attractive proposition and I accepted it. I was only 16 years old.

At 16 it wasn’t easy to go across the seven oceans. I was my parents’ only son, it was a risky proposition for them. I still thank my parents for saying, go if you want to.

Shaptahik: Was your mother involved with anything?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: My mother was not a professional, but she raised us well, in the right way. It’s quite surprising that she found the strength to let me go, even though I’m her only son.

My parents always focused on education and being self-sufficient, and I’ve done the same throughout my life. I was a minister for three years. Other than that I took no wages for work, I did only as an educator at university. I’ve always wanted to live freely.

Shaptahik: How was your matric and intermediate results?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: I was within the first 20 in the matriculation exams, which enabled me to get scholarship for college. And I came first in the intermediate exams.

Shaptahik: Why did you choose arts over science after your matric exams?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: Because I wanted to be a lawyer. I had wanted to be a lawyer for a very long time. I always wanted an independent profession, I always wanted to do things independently.

Shaptahik: You chose law as an independent profession. Did anyone inspire you to choose law?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: Judge Fazle Akbar, who was the last Chief Justice in united Pakistan is a relative from my mother’s side. He died in 1971 after retiring. As a barrister he was a District Judge – in ’49 he was the District Judge in Khulna. He was the first registrar of Dhaka High Court.

When he used to come to Kolkata to visit us he would keep all his court files and papers bundled together and work there. He later lived in Shegunbagicha’s Nasim Villa. He was a great inspiration.

On my father’s side Hossain Suhrawardy Shaheb was also a relative, a well as a friend. He used to come to my father for medical advice. He was also a source of inspiration. Both him and my uncle wrote recommendation letters for me to attend Lincoln’s Inn. My father says our forefathers were in the judicial line as well. This is perhaps genetic. And I also wanted to be independent, that’s another factor.

Shaptahik: You went abroad to study. Then?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: At Notre Dame University I studied economics for two years.

Shaptahik: Why were you interested in economics?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: When I went there I wanted to study law but I also knew that I will need to understand development issues in economic terms to be able to contribute to development at home. I enjoyed studying economics when I studied it. Quite interesting. When my results at Notre Dame University proved to be good, they gave me admission to the University of Michigan Graduate School. But I told them that I have applied to English universities in England and intend to go there to study law if I get admission.

I did the masters course in economics at the University of Michigan. While at Michigan I got the Social Science Research Council Scholarship. After that they gave me a studentship to pursue a PhD at Harvard. There I had to make a conscious choice – study economics at Harvard or law at Oxford if I get a scholarship there? I made it to Oxford and got admitted in 1955.

Shaptahik: Can we say that the period between 1937 and 1952 and the political environment in Bangladesh played a role in inspiring you?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: Absolutely. I would say 1952 had the most influence on us. Bhasha-Matin Shaheb, former deputy governor of Bangladesh Bank was my maternal cousin Syed Ali Kabir’s close friend. His wife Siddiqa Kabir is well know for her cooking show. After my intermediate exams I took advice from Matin Shaheb via Syed Ali Kabir regarding which books I should be reading. He would give me the reference books.

When the language movement was going on, Matin Shaheb told me to write envelopes for sending letters. That was my role in 1952, to write envelopes at Matin Shaheb’s instructions. I feel very proud of that.

Shaptahik: Did you yourself decide you want to study law?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: Yes, I had decided to study law a long time back. I’ve been sending letters to Oxford about going there to study law since my days in Notre Dame.

Shaptahik: When you graduated, who were your friends? Which classmates of yours were famous?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: In 1954 there was an initiative to create a Pakistan Students Association in the United States. There were about 5-6 Bengalis in the United States at the time. I went to that convention held in Chicago. I met Prof. Nurul Islam there. He was studying at Harvard, he came from there. Another person came from Arizona, a family member of Rezai Karim. At the convention I heard of G.W. Chowdhury at Columbia University. And there was Dhaka University Librarian Ahmed Hossain Shaheb. These were the Bengalis in the United States that I got to know. There were others: Moazzemul Huq. He never came back. There was Dr. Habibuzzaman, whom I met in Chicago. He was at the World Health Organization in Delhi. They are the only people from Bangladesh [sic] I met out of 200-300. Among Pakistanis who later found fame, there was Munir Ahmed Khan. He was a physics student at Chicago at the time. He was the first president of the Pakistan Student Association. I was in that Committee.

Shaptahik: Who else did you have as classmates who later became famous?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: Interestingly, among Americans the most famous is perhaps Richard Allen, who was a National Security Advisor.

I was a member of the debating society in the US. I participated in inter-university debate competitions representing Notre Dame. That gave me the opportunity to visit different places as well.

A good friend at Notre Dame was Peter. He was Greek. His work was on Islamic architecture. Umich (University of Michigan) is near Detroit. At that time there was an ad in a newspaper asking for students with driving licenses who would drive from Detroit, Michigan to California in exchange of gas money and a lump-sum. We took that opportunity as we both had driving licenses. We were given a new Ford in which we drove almost 2000 miles to California. Michigan to Indiana, Indiana to Illinois, Illinois to Minnesota, Kansas, New Mexico, Colorado and so many others. We almost went through the entire United States. We’d drive 6-7 hours everyday and then sleep. We took turns driving. It’s was a wonderful experience that took 14 days.

Shaptahik: When did you go to England?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: I crossed the Atlantic in a ship and then took a flight to London. That would be around August/September. Prof. Rehman Sobhan was there, a member of our peer group. He was at Cambridge and I at Oxford. From 1953 to 1955 I was in America. In 1955-’57 I finished my first degree. From 1957 to 1958 I completed the BCL post graduate course at Oxford. After completion of my first degree at Oxford I was asked to become a part time tutor at Queens College. They paid well, I didn’t have to get money from home. After passing the BCL I got a Nafil College Research Studentship. Usually students in economics, political science, statistics go there; they take some lawyers. My lodging and meals were paid for; there was an incredible increase in my economic stuation. I had so much money I told my parents that I needed no money from them. I said I will sit for the Bar exams and will do it myself. I did it, too. I had that studentship and taught – they sent students from Queens college for the tutorials. I did that from 1958 to 1959. I did my BCL in 1958. During 1958 to 1959 I conducted research for my Ph.D.

Shaptahik: Why did you do a Ph.D.?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: Firstly,I wanted to do the Bar-at-law independently without financial assistance from my parents. I had to ensure that. Second, the experience would be good. That was also a time when I had some time to spare during the Bar-at-law. The Bar-at-law exam takes a few months, but you have to stay an entire year to attend Lincoln’s Inn.

Interestingly, there are three terms, and each term we have to eat and get out signing the notebook. It’s called dining term. Since it’s dining term, a lot of time is spent eating. I used that time.

Sir Humphrey Waldock was my supervisor, later had become the president of the World Court. I said, look, I have completed the Bar-at-law, I have studied and acquired the knowledge.

I did not need to do the Ph.D. specially. As I would practice the law. He said no, no, what are you saying? You are doing a fantastic job. Ok, I will make the arrangements for it. You will do your fellowships in parts. During summer when the court recesses you will come and work here for 2-3 months, you could finish your Ph.D. in three years. Such a great offer, so I accepted it.

Shaptahik: When did you finish your Ph.D.?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: I think I tried to go back in the summer of 1961 but couldn’t go. I went to London in 1963 and started drafting the material. by then it was already four years from 1959 when I started the PhD. In 1964 it was five years since I had started, five instead of three. Then Sir Humphrey wrote to me that he cannot manage anymore leaves as I had exhausted all the leaves allowed. If I could go back there for 4 to 6 months to complete the thesis and collect my degree. I replied that I would go. I went in April 1964 and submitted my thesis in September, my oral interview (defence) was in October.

Shaptahik: What was the subject of the PhD?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: State Sovereignty and the United Nations Charter. I am grateful to Sir Humphrey for this. I cannot imagine anyone else giving me such opportunity and flexibility.

Shaptahik: When did you come back to Bangladesh and start practicing?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: 16 November 1959; it was the 50th anniversary in 2009.

Shaptahik: Did you meet Bangobondhu in 1959?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: It would be during 1960-61, when Mr. Suhrawardy came for the first time.

Shaptahik: Did you started practice of your own or with someone else?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: There was a firm named Original which still exists. It is one of the first law firms; they were incepted in the nineteenth century in Kolkata. One of their Bengali partner took the initiative to start the firm here. In 1959, I think it was 2-3 years old. There were 5-6 lawyers in the firm. Abdul Ahmad invited me to work with him; I joined the firm. There were two English lawyers as well. Justice Mohammad Hossain was there too. A very famous man. Who was later honoured as a senior judge in the High Court. We used to share the same office. I was there from 1959-62. I used to meet Mr. Suhrawardy during that time. He used to stay at Manik Miya’s residence in Shantinagar. I, once or twice, went with my father to receive him  from the airport. Manik Bhai, Mujib Bhai and my father used to receive him. I went with them. I used to meet Mr. Suhrawardy and Mujib Bhai then, I used to chat with him with keen interest. I was aware that in 1954 he became the Minister for Industry through United Front’s winning and did give that up {…} Leaving the Ministership, he was rather busy with party’s organization work as the General Secretary. I had deep respect and was very attracted to his work. The situation was pretty bad then – martial law was imposed, politics was banned and political parties were banned.

Shaptahik: Do you remember anything specially from that period?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: Secret detectives (called “tiktiki” in Bengali, a type of lizard) used to follow the movement of Mr. Suhrawardy from the airport. Sometime he used to do fun {…} used to say tiktikis are after us lets do a bit of shenanigan … driver go to right, left, turn around…in a funny round about way we used to reach Shantinagar. I used to ask Mujib Bhai, how long the martial law would continue? He used to reply, martial law would never be permanent; may be 5 years, at the very best 10 years, then they have to let it go. When Ayub Khan was leaving in 1969, I asked Mujib Bhai, how did you calculate back in 1959 that Ayub’s tenure would be at very best 5 or 10 years. Ayub Khan was forced to lift the martial law precisely after 10 years in March 1969.

I also remember another incident. Mr. Suhrawardy used to record videos. 1954’s United Front election. Many were raising hands in camera’s frame. Mr. Suhrawardy asked Mujib Bhai, would these hands rise again? Mujib Bhai responded, “Sir if you lead us you would see 10 times more hands”. His confidence level was extraordinary. He used to encourage Mr. Suhrawardy in this way. he used to say, just watch what happens if we {…} start…this sprit inspired me a lot.

Sometimes we went to Mr. Suhrawardy’s residence, currently named ‘BILIYA’ on Road 7 in Dhanmondi. He died in 1963, I last met in London in September of that year. He showed me the manuscript of his memoir, which we rescued from his son after a long while. 60-70 pages were his dictations; after his death we found another 100 pages. We published them in a book in Dhaka. When his dead body was brought here thousands flocked to pay respect which is very memorable to me.

I often remember another incident involving Mr. Suhrawardy. Pakistan’s Supreme Court in those days used to sit in Lahore, but it sat here twice a year, in the Jagganth Hall which was also used as the assembly building. A last case with Mr. Suhrawardy, most probably a case in the Supreme Court. A riveside land case for Narayanganj’s Rally Brothers. Mr. Suhrawardy’s was aguring the case for the Rally Brothers, I was his junior assistant.it was in 1963. He said he was going to Lahore where he had to attend a few hearings and he would be back in a month or two. But he was arrested on arriival. That was probably first arrest in his life.

Shaptahik: Did you teach in the Dhaka University for a while?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: I taught in the Dhaka University part-time. I started par-time teaching in 1961. At the beginning I taught International Relations and then I started to teach History of International Law. A renowned German law professor, Dam arrived a few days later. I heard he was looking for me. I went to meet him. He asked me, “I heard you have researched law but why aren’t  you in  the law faculty?” Although I wanted to join the law faculty I was told there were no vacancies in the law faculty. Chief Justice Hamidur Rahman, who was the vice chancellor then, told me that you have completed a BCL from Oxford; you are a barrister why would you join a university? I responded, you do not undestand I have done teaching overseas too. I am kneely interested in teaching. He said, “No, no, you go and practice as a lawyer.” He kept me away from the faculty. Whereas Professor Dam said, “No, no you have specialed in law, i wan you in the faculty – I will take two section, you will take two section.” I taught in the Dhaka University till 1968.

Shaptahik: How was your relation with Professor Abdur Razzaq one of the renowned professor of the University of Dhaka?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: I was very close with him. I highly respected him. Mr. Razzaq was a teacher to all of us. I first met him at Dhaka University. We had an intimate circle which included Annisuzzaman, Khan Sarwar Murshid, Mosharof Hussain, Mostafa Nurul Islam, Dr. Mollik and Zillur Rahman Siddiqui.

I was closely associated with Annisuzzaman. We were friends. Anis introduced me to Sir [Abdur Razzak]. Sir used to say: “You have completed BCL from Oxford, you must teach. Forget this bar stuff. You’ve returned without finishing your Ph.D. You must go and finish it. I will get you a plane ticket and organize a travel fellowship for you.” This is how with his support I have finished the final part of the PhD in six months in 1964.

This group of ours at Dhaka University was lively. Meaning, amongst the teachers we were reputed for not obeying the martial law. He had been reported for discussion against the martial law in the teachers’ common room. And we were told a report was being prepared against us.

Khan Sarwar Murshid had a newspaper, ‘New Values’. I was attracted to that newspaper. I had written for it. We use to hold discussion circles on the newspaper in the teachers’ common room. I probably met Mr. Razzaq there. Anisuzzam introduced me. After the Martial Law was imposed Razzaq sir went to Harvard as a visiting fellow – in 18 months, there he wrote a paper, ‘Defence and Democracy’. Where he stated that according to research when a country’s Military Defence Budget reaches 30-40% of the national budget, the civilian government becomes ineffective. He later gave the paper to our discussion circle, which was reported to the intelligence agency. When he was accused of this, we had to be a bit more careful realizing that we were being monitored.

Dr. Mazaharul Haq was very close to him. So was Professor Mozzafar Ahmad Chowdhury. Professor Kazi Motaher Hossain was his chess playing friend. Our Mujib Bhai used to say, he is sir [teacher] to all us, my sir too.

He played a crucial role in the Dhaka University ordinance 1973. Mujib Bhai then queried, would the University able to handle so much autonomy? This was his clairvoyance; said as Sirs had proposed, I cannot say anything, you wouldn’t object either. I was the Law-Minister. I said as a Law-Minister, it’s all done by Sirs – why would we object? All positions were to be elected: Head-of-the-Department, Dean, Vice-Chancellor. Mujib Bhai asked, whether these many elections were viable.

Shaptahik: Could you tell a bit about Mr. Suhrawardy’s professional life, as you had worked with him?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: At the beginning, from a distance, I considered him as my role model. He had completed BCL, I would undertake BCL, he was a barrister, I would also be a barrister, etc. Also, I was admitted with his reference. Whenever he came here, I used to attend. He himself used to defend some of the cases, specially for those who had been arrested without any trial. Most memorable was when Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani was arrested. This would have been 1961-62. Bhashani went on hunger strike. Mr. Suhrawardy was being requested to defend Bhashani. I, too was very eager. Youth, naturally flocked behind Mr. Suhrawardy. Probably it was a Friday. The court used to be open on Fridays then; and closed on Saturdays and Sundays.

He dramatically claimed that our-senior-leader had been arrested under the Martial Law in a Dhanmondi house; he was on hunger strike. I want him to be released immediately. We have the responsibility for his well-being. The court repeated that, “Look today is Friday, it’s nearly two p.m. how could we release him? The prosecution had to be allowed to present their case. At least one day had to pass. Monday first hour we would discuss.”

Then Mr. Suhrawardy responded, I do not want to say anything more, perhaps you wouldn’t be troubled anymore. On Monday, probably, you would be able to attend the Janaja [Muslim funeral.]

The Judge felt helpless. Mr. Suhrawardy is also talking like this! We,too, were nervous. I said, no, this is a serious matter, if the Maula Shahib dies in custody. Mr. Suhrawardy said that’s what I said in the court, but I do not think he would die. However, watch its effect – they would release him tomorrow. And that’s what happened. Bhashani was released on Saturday. Meaning, if anything happened, the Government had to bear the responsibility.

Shaptahik: Could you say a bit about Mr. Suhrawardy’s professional life?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: Many used to wonder how did he managed to perform as a lawyer since he was so busy in political discourse, meeting a lot of people and attending many Dawwats. He generally returned around 11-12pm in the evening; instructing that please leave my books and briefs, I would read them at night. When I went back in the morning, he said to me, “Why were these ten books given to me? These are not relevant books. Five out the ten is good, the rest wasted my time.”

I had realized that he had read the books throughly, line by line, both the relevant and irrelevant ones. The he separated them. While reading he marked even each line, full-stop and comma. I myself have learnt this reading technique from him.

He told me that, books wouldn’t help the cases, facts helped the cases. Facts of each case is unique. The characteristics of each case is different. Then you would need to check which law was relevant. And you would digress the moment you avoid the facts of the case to read the books. I have observed application of this in my professional life.

Shaptahik: Could you please tell a few case moved by Mr. Suhrawardy?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: A huge case was involving the Chandranath Flims. A case between two distributors to get the rights to show Chandranath Films. Both had signed contracts; had correspondence; both claiming that it had the exclusive right to show the films (in cinemas). Mr. Suhrawardy was defending a side of the case, former Attorney General Fakir Shahabuddin was then his junior. I joined them. I wouldn’t be even two years into the practice. I just sat besides them to listen, learn and understand.

The other side was represented by a renowned lawyer from Karachi S.A Brohi. The juniors behind Mr. Brohi were followed by 3-4 peons who carried 3-4 big bundles of books. Would be about 100 books. On the other hand Mr. Suhrawardy had no books in front of him. The client was feeling nervous, saying, “why did you guys come with no books? Are you guys prepared? I do not understand anything.”

I tried to assure him, “Mr. Suhrawardy never comes to the court unprepared.” He was listing with his eyes closed and hands on his head. Mr Brohi was stating law theories, rights, copy rights on films – everone was listening very attentively. He was demonstrating the books to the court – about 20-50 books.

Then, Mr. Suhrawardy raised and said, “My Lord we have heard the theories and gained the knowledge. Let us get back to the case.” The whole environment had changed instantly. ‘Lets consider page no 17, in the paper book. and this letter’. Line by line he analysed. This was not defensible, that document was appropriate. That is how he had finished his defence argument.  At last the verdict went in favour of his client. Based on that single document.

Later he told me, “Look case depends on facts. The law is fine. But in applying it one has to show the documents containing relevant facts.”

Shaptahik: So, he was a big lawyer. What was his attitude towards the court?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: It was time when Sheikh Mujib had gone to court magistrate for bail or some political trial. Mr. Suhrawardy was representing him. He gave such respect to the magistrate that the magistrate was about to stand up in return. He told me, “Look, a court is court. That is why it is necessary to show more respect to the lower courts. So that the magistrate realizes that he is charged with a big responsibility. It is to be understood by us that all court should be shown respect and it showed shown very seriously.”

Shaptahik: Any other memories in any court cases?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: Remember a case with him. He said I would attend a case in the Karachi Court, you could join – Chief Judge Sir George Constitution was arguing a point in a criminal case, “Which section of the criminal procedure provides for such precedence?”

Mr. Suhrawardy replied, “My Lord you have been hearing such cases everyday, which section of the procedure refers you know far better than I.” Everyone broke into laughter.

Let me tell you about the last case with him. A land case near a river in Narayanganj. He asked me to collect information on the ground in Narayanganj. If the site is encroached by the river it would be a government property; if there wasn’t any tidal effect then the land remains to its owner. We took a number of photos there and brought them back to him: this is the land, this is the river, this is the Rally Brother’s building etc. Then he asked me, “Photos are fine. Now, you narrate what’s in them in writing, using such a language that presents a real clear picture in front of readers eyes (imagination). If you can draft it properly, there will be no need for the photos.” This is how I have learned to draft from him.

I had drafted. He flew to Lahore, where he was arrested and sent to the jail. A letter arrived to me from the jail:  “These are the points of that case; develop the points when I get back I will fight the case.” But he could not return. Released from the jail, he had gone to Beirut for treatment. He died on 5 December in Beirut.

Shaptahik: When have you started practicing independently?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: From 1963. After his death the Awami League was reborn in December 1964. there was the India-Pakistan War in 1965. Immediately after the war the six-point claim was submitted. My name was in various newspapers due to number of cases filed. 7 June 1966 the Ittefaq was banned.

Shaptahik: Could you please share the Ittefaq case?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: The Ittefaq’s editor Manik Mia was also arrested. Mujib Bhai was arrested, the newspaper was banned. I was one of the lawyers involved, but there were Barrister Amir-ul-Islam, Fakir Shahbuddin and S.K Nabi. Manik Mia’s son barrister Mynul Hossain had just come back finishing his education. He had come back to fight in defence of his father. We went to meet him in the jail. We also were for Mujib Bhai. It was memorable that Mahmud Ali Quasuri was brought from Pakistan to defend Manik Bhai and the Ittefaq. He was a lawyer of a high standard similar to Brohi or Manjur Quader. He ran the case for the Ittefaq for three days, on the fourth day said he had been summoned back to the Supreme Court. He would not be able to attend from the next day. Let’s adjourn the hearing. The the Chief Justice was B.A. Siddiqi, who said “Why? Your juniors can continue the case on your behalf. They are very bright.” I got very nervous immediately. Such a landmark case, run by Mr Quasuri for four days, how would I manage if I had to run the case? Chief Justice said, “No, no why can’t you? Do it.”

Mr. Quasuri said, “yes, you could do it,” and he had left. I think I lead the defence for 2-3 days; the verdict was in our favour. The reason for telling this is that in the court report the Chief Justice certified that after Mr. had Quasuri left Kamal Hossain lead the case’s defence pretty well.

Shaptahik: That must had been a breakthrough in your career?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: Of course. A fantastic breakthrough. I think of it a lot. I was only six years into practice. This lift was a turning point. Then there was first bar council’s election. Everyone asked me to contest. I said with only six years’ experience would I be suitable? Most of the candidates had 30 or 25 years of experience. Mr. Ataur Rahman Khan, Mr. Mirza Golam Hafeez, Sayed Azizul Haque – they all were senior to me both in profession and in age. They were encouraging me to contest. It was a memorable moment. I was elected in the bar council as a member.

In those days if one was elected to bar council here, s/he would be an automatic member of both Pakistan. Seniors, back then, were generous, I had received so much support and encouragement from them.They made me the vice-chairman  of bar council for 1967,68 and 69. Mr. Ataur Rahman, Assaduzzaman, Mr Farid Ahmad were also elected.

They elected me in the next term. And in the last bar council of Pakistan, that is in 69-70, they elected me for the all-Pakistan bar council. In 1971, when I had been arrested and sent to jail, I was the sitting vice chairman of all-Pakistan bar council.

All said, “you are vice chairman. You understand  bar well, you stay in the bar council. We rather be busy with other issues.” I drafted the first code of conduct for the bar council in 1968-69.

Shaptahik: Bongobondhu assigned you with the Law and Foreign Minister at a young age. You were at the top of your professional career then.

Dr. Kamal Hossain: We, the young lawyers, also demonstrated courage. Besides, there were some very good lawyers in the leftist NAP and the right leaning Muslim League. In Awami League though, Mr. Suhrawardy was at the front. Abdus Salam and Mr. Zahid were well known lawyers. And we earned reputation through the Ittefaq case and a habeas corpus case.

Then, we had to come to the front when we were facing charges in the Agartala case. It was quite scary, many urged us, “Be careful, they can include you among the accused. They have filed cases against CSPs [Civil Servants on Pakistan], they wouldn’t hesitate to sue lawyers.” We ignored such advice.

I prepared the writ petition for the Agartala conspiracy case and assisted the famous Thomas William QC of London. Even he had said, I worked barely as a representative.

I started to appear in the Agartala Case. Mr. Salam Khan first started cross-examination on behalf of Bangobondhu. I was assigned to defend one of the key accused of the trial, Surgent Zaharul Haq who had been killed in custody.

I used to meet Bongobundhu in the court. This was towards the end. The trial collapsed on 21st February. Then Bangobondhu had said, “I want you to file the Agartala case for me.” I was assisting Thomas Williams in the court. He said, “I want you to be in the case.” Bangobondhu’s argument was that, “If I had to provide direction, political leadership from here, if I had to instruct anyone, you could do that for me. Stay close to me. You would be needed for this.” That’s how I become a close aid of Bangobondhu.

Shaptahik: Did you gradually get involved in politics as a lawyer?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: I want to explain in detail. The round table conference was called in 1969. it was proposed that leaders including Shiekh Mujib would go there, otherwise the conference would be deemed incomplete.  Then Bangobondhu instructed me that “ask the West-Pakistanis to release Tajuddin. Tajuddin can represent me on these issues”. Tajuddin Bhai was released following that proposal.

The release of Bangobondhu was far more dramatic, meaning through the withdrawal of the case. But Tajuddin Bhai wasn’t an accused in this case. He (Tajuddin Bhai) was released then Bangobondhu (although I used to call him Mujib Bhai) had told me that “now you are attached to Tajuddin. Whatever you do, do it with Tajuddin.”

Shaptahik: The story of the roundtable…

Dr. Kamal Hossain: The topic of the roundtable came up. Political pressure was increasing. The movement also picked up. We filed a legal notice saying that this cannot continue. At that time, the constitution was either being revived or already revived. The emergency was being withdrawn. We said, this special tribunal cannot continue. It is unconstitutional and has to be withdrawn. Then Mujib Bhai said that he was willing to attend the roundtable if the case was withdrawn and everyone was released from jail.

Even Brohi Shaheb read and signed the legal notice. I filed it with his permission. Manzur Kader, lawyer for the state, also received a copy. He understood that the context had changed. He said, “Yes, I will give this to the Pakistani government, it is important to consider it.”

A few people like Mizan Chowdhury shaheb and Nazrul Islam shaheb also attended the roundtable. Bangobondhu asked us to attend the meeting in Islamabad and request that the case be withdrawn on the basis of this notice. Tajuddin bhai, Amirul Islam shaheb, and I went there. Tajuddin bhai said, “Our leader will come to the roundtable, but only if he is freed without any conditions and all cases are withdrawn. He will not come in captivity.”

I also met with the Manzur Kader since I had previously given him the legal notice. He said, “Look, we cannot bring up the case in this way. Let Sheikh Mujib arrive, we may be able to bring up the case after the talks.”

We said, “We have clear instructions that Sheikh Mujib will not be present unless the case is withdrawn.”

They responded, “We are making arrangements for his visit. Let there be talks, and then we will make arrangements for his release from jail.”

We returned to East Pakistan. Bangobondhu agreed. Subsequently, there were several phone calls from West Pakistan. The law minister, Zafar shaheb, said, “We will grant him bail. Two judges have arrived and court proceedings are also taking place.” I relayed the message to Bangobondhu.

Shaptahik: Do you have any memories of your time in Lahore?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: A few events. For example, Asghar Khan met with us as well. He came to the airport. He told Tajuddin bhai, “Your political stance is all right. We agree that Sheikh Mujib should only come when he is invited with respect.”

Shaptahik: Was Bangobondhu then released from jail?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: Once we returned, the drama with bail began. Bongobondhu said, “No, this cannot happen.” Law Minister Zafar shaheb called once again. General Muzaffaruddin, GOC ,took me to the phone again. He said, “You didn’t take bail.” I replied, “We have already said that we will not take bail. We want unconditional withdrawal of the case.” He then said, “Air Chief Noor Khan is already sitting in the airport with a plane. With him was Admiral Khan (who was either the defense or home minister). He will also be there. I am sending a message through Amirul Islam.” He added, “Sheikh Mujib will not go on bail? Fine. We will open the jail gate. You can walk out.”

Shaptahik: What did you do after this proposal?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: We told Bangobondhu, “They will open the jail gate and a car will take you to the airport.” He responded, “Can I do something this illegal? I am a captive. Without an order they will open the gate and I will walk out? How is this possible?”

Kamal Hossain sitting next to Sheikh Mujib during bilateral country meeting.
Kamal Hossain sitting next to Sheikh Mujib during bilateral country meeting.

Shaptahik: Do you remember any relevant incidents from this time?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: I have forgotten to mention another major event. When we were returning from Islamabad, I heard at the airport that shots were fired at the location where they were being held. On the way home we saw fire burning in the streets. There was a minister’s house across from the Secretariat road. The house in the corner of Curzon Hall was burning. We were driving by. The judges were in a house by Bangla Academy. Guest houses there were also on fire. Dhaka’s Nawab Hassan Azkary lived in Twin House, across from the Sheraton. He was the President of East Pakistan Muslim League. His residence was also on fire. At the time, the Sheraton was called the Intercontinental Hotel. We saw Hassan Azkary standing on the pavement in a lungi along with his entire family. His house was burning. I greeted him with salam. There were tears in his eyes. He said, “Look my house is burning.” I said, “get into the car” and drove everyone to the circuit house. The situation was out of control.

Shaptahik: Why was Sergeant Zahurul Haque shot?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: They said that he was running. This is completely untrue. They just wanted to kill him. Fazlul Haque and Zahurul Haque were both brought into CMH. Colonel Ali was a surgeon there, he told me the history.

He had said, “I am Colonel Ali. We can save only one person. We cannot operate on both of them simultaneously.” Zahurul Haque said, “Take Fazlul Haque into surgery. I don’t want to live. He is younger and less injured.” Fazlul Haque said, “Take him.” Colonel Ali examined both injuries, determined that Fazlul Haque was more likely to survive and operated on him. Zahurul Haque died.

When I went to Bangobondhu, he said, “If I listen to the Pakistanis, I will suffer the same fate as Zahurul Haque. When I climb onto that airplane, they will shoot me from behind. They will argue that I tried to escape. That will be the most undignified death.”

Shaptahik: Bangobondhu illustrated his foresight in understanding politics.

Dr. Kamal Hossain: Yes, exceptional foresight. He understood everything at the time. He could anticipate the future. He took one decision after another. He had to put his life on the line. The West Pakistanis made threats. They said, “Zahurul Haque’s murder will create unrest among the troops. See what happens. We are not responsible. We just want to bring him [Sheikh Mujib] here for his own safety.” At the time, Bangobondhu said, “I am Muslim. My death is written in my destiny. I will not die a second before that is supposed to happen. Tell them, that they cannot make me do anything with such threats.”

We informed General Muzaffaruddin that Bangobondhu as firm in his stance. The General said, “This part is over. But thousands of people are marching on Airport Road with the slogan, “We will break the locks of jail, we will free Sheikh Mujib.” The situation is getting worse. The people are becoming angrier.” The officer said, “We are giving you a microphone and a jeep. Go talk to the people who are marching towards the airport. I am giving you my word that Bangobondhu will be released and safely taken to his home tomorrow noon.”

We informed Bangobondhu. He agreed that we should avoid bloodshed. If unrest could not be quelled, shots will be fired from Cantonment. There is no other way. So we talked to our party workers.

Shaptahik: Who went talk to the workers?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: I don’t remember who was there. Our political workers took the microphone in front of the Cantonment and talked to the people. The next day, the Pakistani General called me to say, “I have personally driven Sheikh Mujib from jail to his house on Rd. 32. You will find him there.” By that time, thousands of people had gathered at the Dhanmondi residence.

Sheikh Mujib then said, “I will not attend the Lahore roundtable under these circumstances. I will hold a public meeting at the racecourse before I leave.” The ‘Shommilito Chhatra Shongram Parishad’ organized this meeting. There, Sheikh Mujib was recognized as the representative of 70 million people.

That was a memorable gathering. He was recognized as Bangobondhu. He said, “Today I am attending the roundtable as the representative of a united nation. I will take the people’s demands there and together we will achieve those demands.” His travel arrangements were made. He said he needed me to attend as the meeting will involve discussing the constitution.

Shaptahik: You were so young at the time. How did Bangobondhu come to rely on you so much? Is this due to your role in the Agartala case?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: The earlier case definitely played a role. And then, we got closer from 1966 onwards.

Shaptahik: At the time you were Vice Chairman of the All Pakistan Bar Council?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: I was that year, and also in March 1971. Bangobondhu left for the conference and in two days, I followed him. We stopped at Lahore. Let me talk about someone here. His name is Malik Gulan Jelani. He was in West Pakistan jail for protesting Pakistani soldiers’ attack on us. He was a simple, liberal man and had always resisted Martial Law. He developed a relationship with Mujib bhai. He was a friend of the Bengalis, a friend of Mujib bhai. He was well off and had a large house, which became our halting place. He would receive Mujib bhai.

Shaptahik: Who else were with you?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: We went in two groups. Shamsur Rahman Johnson, Khan Sarwar Murshid, and Amirul Islam were also present. They are the noteworthy ones I remember. One or two other people could have been there. My responsibilities involved writing statements, informing the press, etc. I had their support. Tajuddin bhai guided us.

Shaptahik: Other than Tajuddin shaheb, which political leaders were there?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: As far as I remember, Syed Nazrul Islam shaheb, Kamruzzaman shaheb, Mizan Chowdhury were there. Momin shaheb was also quite possibly there. From East Pakistan, Nurul Amin shaheb was there. As well as Hamidul Haque Chowdhury. I do not remember if Farid Ahmed shaheb was there. Chief Justice Mahbub Morshed came as well. He was retired, meaning he had resigned. Even if they were not party members, they were at the forefront of the resistance. Air Marshall Asghar Khan was there from West Pakistan. Despite not being a politician, he was at the helm of the movement.

We went to Lahore. Mujib bhai said, “Look it is extremely important that we have a unified voice as East Pakistanis. If each of us says different things, this will be a sign of weakness. You stick with Nurul Amin shaheb. They are all in the same building.” We used to stay together, the place was called East Pakistan house.

Shaptahik: Was Nurul Amin shaheb a Muslim League leader?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: Of course. I told him, “Look, I respect you. The people did not accept your role in the Language Movement. They punished you severely. You were removed as sitting Chief Minister. Even as Chief Minister, you let elections happen and then accepted our defeat.” That is how I convinced him. I later realized how important it was to convince him in this manner.

Shaptahik: This was definitely very important.

Dr. Kamal Hossain: It was very important. And I knew him to some extent. I was acquainted with his son Anwarul Amin, who was a banker. Based on that relationship, I suggested to Mr. Nurul Amin that we young ones regarded them as elders, that they should speak together and validate each other, this would be good for unity within the country and this was a historical moment to utilize this unity appropriately.

We used to have conversations with Manzur Kader, who was the foreign minister of Pakistan at the time. He had returned here as the legal counsel for the government of Pakistan in the Agartala Conspiracy case.

I forgot to mention something – it was the day that the roads were in flames. I was dropping Hasan Askari off at the Intercontinental Hotel when I received a phone call from Manzur Kader and came back to the hotel. Manzur Kader was staying at that hotel. He said to me “I am not feeling safe here” so I gave him a ride and took him to the Central Circuit House. On the way there he said to me “look man, the trial is pretty much over … the people have given their verdict. There is no trial after this. The people have given the verdict for the Agratala trial”.

Shaptahik: Was Mr. Manzur from these parts?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: No. He was a famous man from Punjab. His father was perhaps a judge of the court. He was also among the first 4 or 5 lawyers in Pakistan.  Later he became the Foreign Minister of Pakistan. I used to keep in contact with him. Most likely we would meet at the hotel. I would want to know what was happening there and get some feedback from him. I used to say “Look, we want that any we should put our minds together to solve any conflicts and arrive at a place that is acceptable for everyone. You are an important person in matters of national law. You will have a role there.” And Mr. Zafar was the Law Minister of Pakistan. “You both will have primary roles in this matter”. I saw that he was trying to help from that side. The few days he seemed quite good. It seemed as though the matter was proceeding well and we would resolve this peacefully.

This is the manner in which both sides painted it at the beginning. But when the core issues were brought to the fore, we could see that instead of the Six Point solution, the demand for martial law came up. At that point they started raising some questions. Manzur Kader said to me “Look, I have been given a summary of your point of view. One thing that strikes me as odd, you are saying that each province will have its own currency. Isn’t this wanting too much?” So I said “We had a condition along with this plan that if the currency is separated the economic policies of the two regions will also be separated. The branch of the Central Bank in East Pakistan can be made into a Central Bank for that region. The currency can be the same.” At that point he said, “This is not in my summary”.

I objected to this, pointing out “If you don’t have the correct summary, how will you be able to advise them correctly, given that your role here is to provide advice?” At that point, I brought the entire text and gave it to him.

I heard from Manzur Kader that that there had been a meeting among Ayub Khan’s ministers and advisers. It was said at that meeting that there would be no compromise. They had decided that “Let it be announced that we will see what happens after the election”. The next day when they went to the round table, I saw a look of despondence on Manzur Kader’s face. He didn’t say anything. I had gone there hurriedly and saw them coming out. The session had been very short. Upon seeing me Bangobondhu said, “it hasn’t worked. We will have to take matters into our own hands now. Call a press conference by 3 PM today”. It was almost noon at the time. Bangobondhu also said “look, Mr. Nurul Amin has kept his word to us. He has agreed to our proposal. Justice Morshed has also agreed.”

I’ll tell you about another memorable event. When we first went there with Tajuddin Bhai, we got off the plane. There were many students on the runway. They lifted Tajuddin Bhai on their shoulder. The West Pakistani students raised Tajuddin Bhai to their shoulders – this is a great event. At this time they walked with Tajuddin Bhai on their shoulders saying “Ayub is a dog” – this is interesting. These Punjabi boys saying to us “Ayub is a dog”.

Shaptahik: Which year was this?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: During the Round Table in ’69. The day that the Round Table was over, we saw Ayub Khan leaving with his head bowed down. His face appeared withered, his clothes looked soft and his body seemed small. Previously he used walk with his chest puffed out, but then he came out with his head down, departing like a defeated soldier. Even though he did not meet our demands, he did not seem to be a victor in any manner. On the other hand, Bangobondhu returned with a self-confidence based on his role as the leader of a movement. He was able say that we had not been given our rightful due even though we sat at a table and tried to compromise. “Since we could not attain our rights through negotiation, we must do so through a movement. Let us phone Dhaka”.

Shaptahik: For a press conference?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: No, no. The press conference had already been announced earlier for 3 PM. It was 1 PM then. He said phone Manik Miah. He said to Manik Miah, “Look, we have said that these are our demands. After we discussed the matter, we were about to reach a solution. But at the last minute, they derailed the entire negotiation. We clarified it and said we want to have an election. They said – if you don’t listen to us, we will not have an election. This is not acceptable”.

Because I was standing next to Mujib Bhai, I heard everything that was said. From the other end, I could hear Manik Miah saying “Fine. This is the correct decision. Here lakhs and lakhs of people have come out on the streets. This is the correct decision. People will find this acceptable and agreeable.”

Shaptahik: After that the press conference happened.

Dr. Kamal Hossain: We took preparations for the press conference. We told the people that we were finished with the discussion. We gave a summary of why we had done so. We had to do all this in quite a hurry.

Shaptahik: Who did all this work? For instance, writing the press release involved?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: Everything was written under the guidance of Tajuddin Bhai. And particularly the English drafts had to be done by me. Since it was an international conference, the responsibility for the work was primarily mine. And our Mohammed Hanif, who was later the Mayor of Dhaka, he served as a secretary for us and did the typing and even took the dictations. Everybody came to this conference upon hearing about it on the national and international news. Bangabondhu said, the demands that we have made on behalf of our people were not met. Our people will not accept this. We believe we can have a movement to attain our demands. The next day we came back to Dhaka. We landed at the old airport to see lakhs of people present.

Shaptahik: Did Bangobondhu return immediately after completing the Round Table and the press conference? Were there any other discussions with the political leaders there?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: On the night of the press conference Ayub Khan invited Bangobondhu for dinner. He went there. We were waiting. When he returned he laughed and told us “He fed me well and then proposed that I should become the prime minister. How can I accept their proposal? He said to me that I could implement the Six Point proposal upon becoming prime minister. But I said that is not possible for me. Instead, why don’t you meet it and then hold the election? Then Ayub said – how can I do that.”

Bangobondhu returned and said, “Why don’t you sit down and determine how the constitution could be altered to meet the six points?” So we sat at my house and started to work on this matter. We used to stay at the Circuit House road in the first floor of a double storied house. Tajuddin Bhai would come there, Amirul Islam , and those who understood law well would come. We would do the primary work and others would watch. They would give us advice. It took us about a week to finish that task.

On the 24th of March, marital law was announced. We had come back around the 13th or 14th. We worked on this day and night. Mizan Chowdhury was the all Pakistan MLA. I think there were six Bengali MLAs then. At that point, we sent it through him. The other Bengalis were all with the Muslim League. Mizan Bhai would take this to Ayub Khan at the next session. Mujib Bhai was at my house then and Tajuddin Bhai was sitting with him. They had all come to have discussions about the six points. Suddenly someone came flying in and said “Listen to the radio, turn on the radio, we have Martial Law. Ayub Khan is no longer there – it is Yahya Khan who is in the front now”.

Shaptahik: You mean there was a change of leadership?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: Yahya had taken over. Bangobondhu said let me get prepared quickly. They’ll come to take me today. And then he went home. Tajuddin Bhai left around 7 or 8 in the evening. It was dark then. The way that the environment changes! We saw Dhanmondi Rd. no. 32 was quiet at that moment. The same Rd. 32, which used to be filled with thousands of people. It was completely quiet then. As soon as Martial Law was announced, all the roads were completely emptied out. I went to Rd. 32 and saw that Bangobondhu was sitting in the verandah on the other side, his luggage was ready. He said, “Your Bhabi is very experienced in these matters”. The student leaders came. He said to them, “The people will never allow this. Our movement has come to a stage where we cannot turn back – we can only go forward”. The entire night went by but the Pakistani army did not come to take him. How could the police not come to his house if martial law had come about? Coming to his house would be an ordinary occurrence. According to the list he was the number one political leader. He had to be on the list. The next day the newspapers listed that Yahya was going to take a political approach At that point people came to him (Bangobondhu). I don’t know what was said. He came and told us that he thought elections would be held after all.

Shaptahik: Under these conditions, what kind of political position did you take?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: At that point we asked ourselves, that our uncompromising position had been that until we made the correction to the constitution, we would not stand in the election. And we always assumed that the West Pakistani powers wanted elections to create divisions among us. They would dangle carrots in front of some people and tell them that they would make then ministers (and to run for elections – translator’s insertion). We thought that would divert attention from our main objective. Those who were uncompromising remained so. But the point is their political strength would weaken as well. That was the experience from ’54. That is why we said – first we must make the constitutional amendment, than we can have elections.

They were saying that over and over – elections first. So then we thought about it and said fine, let’s have an election based on the population. Net fifty-fifty. We have to remember that in ’56, the amendment the Bengalis made a major concession. We were 56% of the population but we had 50% of the seats in the central assembly. We had given up 6%. It was said a federation could not be maintained without equal seats.  After 1956, by the time1969/70 came around, it could be seen that we had done fifty-fifty but the agreement was that fifty-fifty would hold in every arena. Within the parliament, within the special assembly, within the civil service, within the defense service there would be equal allotments. But in reality, that did not happen. It only remained on paper. There was one university after another in that opened in West Pakistan. Islamabad was built. And here there was Second Capital made but that consisted of only a few buildings. When these issues came to the fore, we could go for elections to resolve these problems

Shaptahik: But to go to elections during martial law?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: If we cave in during martial law, martial law will remain. So a new idea came about, we should have parliamentary representation by population. That parliament can give us a new amendment such that our demands can be met. People will want that, accept that, and we can garner out strength through politics.

They announced – fine, there would be a one-person one-vote election. But using a legal framework order (LFO), a military order was announced. According to this order, the parliament House could sit, but until the Chief Marial Law Administrator signed the constitution, it would not be operative. And if he decided that national unity would be under jeopardy, he would not sign the constitution. So this was a bit more pressure being given on us, what else!

Shaptahik: Meaning the state would be kept in the hands of the army rulers?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: Then the hardest question became, what should be do now. If we accept the LFO and go for elections, then it would be like running for the elections with our hands tied on our backs. As far as I can remember, we then sat in a small group. Tajuddin Bhai, Mr. Syed Nazrul Islam, Mr. Mostaque were there. We also invite Mr. Kamruddin Ahmed, and the political science professor Muzaffar Ahmed Chowdhury.

Shaptahik: Did you invite Professor Abdur Razzak at that time?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: We may have called Mr. Razzak about this matter. We had often gone to him for advice. We thought at that time, if we can achieve a result like the ’54 election, then they would not be able to stand in front of us. They could not deny the results. This type of decision was arrived at. In reality we had to take a big risk.

Shaptahik: So you went to the election taking this risk?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: Yes. We went to the election taking this risk. But it was a historical election. Everything was under their control. The government was theirs, the media was theirs, and the military power was theirs. They were spending a lot of money, and we had nothing. We only had the people.

With Awami League members after the 1970 elections
With Awami League members after the 1970 elections

Shaptahik: Did you go to the election yourself?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: I was Bangobondhu’s Chief Election Agent. He had two seats from Dhaka. One was in Tejgaon, Tongi, and the other in old town Chawkbazaar. And I think there was another one from Gopalganj. There were four of five constituencies in greater Dhaka, meaning between Narayanganj and Tongi at that time. He said, you take charge of running the campaign. The office we have here will be the election office. Hanif will take over the responsibility of your office. You can make a team and run the campaign. He first gave me two lakh takas, and then, in total, five lakh takas were given. The posters that were printed were counted and given – 100 for this union, 100 for that. We didn’t have any funds but we had hundreds of volunteers. Hundreds of girls and boys would gather there day and night. We were able to buy only one voter list. There were no photocopies then. We purchased blank paper and carbon paper from Bangla Bazaar and the boys and girls sat down to copy the voter list. We had pencils, wooden pencils, carbon paper, and blank paper. And that was quite inexpensive. We had to save money. We could split the carbon paper at that time. We distributed the voter list – street by street, road by road, each day. At that time the Chhatra League workers became very dear to me.

They used to work selflessly from morning to night. The question of funds didn’t even arise. I didn’t give half a penny to anyone.

Shaptahik: How did you go to the election?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: A lot of people said, aren’t you running for the election? I said, “How can I run for the election? I am just a party worker”. When the results came out, everyone was overjoyed by the results. Awami League had won every seat in East Pakistan but two. When a candidate wins two different seats, he can only keep one. And in three or four days he has to give up the other one. Bangobondhu said, “Look – here’s a form, we need a candidate in the seat that I am releasing so you sign the form and give it to me. We are going to nominate you for that seat”. I was quite surprised and delighted. Even then, I thought the election would be contested. But it was not. When Bangabondhu gave up his seat and I was nominated, no one else stood for that seat and I was announced as elected.

Shaptahik: Let me change the context a bit. Let’s come to your personal life. When did you get married?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: In 1965.

Shaptahik: Where and when did your marriage take place? Please tell us in detail.

Dr. Kamal Hossain: My wife’s sister was married here. Her husband was Bengali and from Satkhira. They were posted here in perhaps 1961. He was retired from the navy and he was a naval commander. He retired and took a transfer here as an officer of Burma Eastern. I met him in 1961. We used visit each other. He was also a student of Presidency College. He was the same batch as Satyajit Ray and Abu Sayeed Chowdhury. He was very fond of his studies. He said that he was obliged to join the navy because his parents had died. His father used to be in the Bengal Education Service at the time. He used to say that we were supposed to go to the Bengal Education Service but because our parents died we were recruited into the navy. Also, the Second World War was going on at that time. That is another reason he joined. When we used to sit and converse in the common room, he used to join us. He became an active member of the group “New Values”. And he used call everyone over to his house. His living room became our regular gathering place. This is how I became intimate with him. His name was Erfan Ahmed. Hamida used to come to visit there. I met her there. I just knew that there was such a person. This was at the end of ’62.

I went abroad to complete my thesis in 1963. I went through Karachi. In Karachi, I saw Hamida again. My wife’s brother was a CSP officer. When I was at Oxford, he was also there. I developed a good relationship with his family. I had a close friendship with his brother-in-law, and he was a member of our circle. And I had a relationship with this brother from abroad. I went to their house and saw them again. In 1964 or so when I submitted my thesis, Hamida was in London. She had gone there for some academic work. I met her there again. We decided then that we should get married. We married over there. But we also resolved to go back home and renew the marriage. So in 1965 January, we came back and renewed it with the family.

Shaptahik: Where was the marriage held?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: In Oxford.

Shaptahik: Did Hamida Hossain work there?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: She was a researcher there.

Shaptahik: Where is her family from?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: Shindhu Pradesh. We took the time to get to know each other, understand each other, and then took the decision to get married. We were very good friends.

Shaptahik: Then you came here [Bangladesh]?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: We came to Dhaka at the end of January and found ourselves a small flat near the lake in Dhanmondi Road 7.

 

Kamal Hossain with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on a trip to Japan.
Kamal Hossain with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on a trip to Japan.

Shaptahik: How many children do you have?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: Two. Sara and Dina. Dina used to live in London; now she is here.

Shaptahik: Sara Hossain is a lawyer, What does Dina do?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: Dina graduated from Princeton, and then studied Anthropology and Documentary Film Making at New York University. Her professor [at Princeton] had told her to go to NYU if this was what she wanted to study, learn graphic film making, learn how to make documentaries, and do an internship in public broadcasting (educational television).

Dina joined Channel 13 and told us she was doing well there, they were giving her work, and she was  enjoying the work. Every year she told us she was making progress, learning new things, and being given opportunities that she wouldn’t get in Bangladesh.

She started learning since she graduated in 1992. After 5-7 years she was working as a associate producer. We didn’t make these plans, she found this new path for herself. We had little idea about television, documentaries, associate producer.

Shaptahik: Now, let’s talk about ’71. Two things are very important: 1) your location on March 25, and 2) your imprisonment.

Dr. Kamal Hossain: Till the evening of March 25 we were in the public eye, 24/7. I mean, I used to spend every day in a small room on Road 32. The press was constantly in touch with us. Our leaders were talking to us from different parts of the country. Everyone knows what we were working on. Three of us used to work together: Tajuddin [Ahmed] Bhai, I – as his assistant, and Amir-ul-Islam. Amirul and I used to stay next to each other. Dr. Habibuddin used to stay on the ground floor flat of the house next door; when a flat was available for rent, I got Amirul to move from Green Road to become a tenant of that flat.

On the 25th we were getting news of tanks being lined up to be deployed, the cantonment area was grim. There were rumors about crackdowns. People from various divisions were calling us to tell us that they can see that the army was getting ready to move. What should they do?

We had one thing to say: Bangobondhu, on March 7. had said we have to fight against the enemy with whatever we have. The moment they move, we are free, he had told us. Bongobondhu had given us these instructions on the phone. I believe thousands of people will say we got these instructions on the phone. No one can say we didn’t get instructions from him.

It’s because they received instructions that various district SDO and SDPs took to the ground.

On March 25 around 7pm I was at home. The press was also there, including the famous Selig Harrison from the Washington Post. He used to take our briefings everyday. I said: Since they have adopted [this] insane option [we have little choice]. The military was on the roads. Amir-ul Islam arrived and said “Quck!” This was because we – Tajuddin Bhai, Amirul, and I – were pre-instructed to leave our homes and move to Old Dhaka.

Shaptahik: This decision was made before March 25?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: Yes, this decision was made a few days before March 25. We were looking after Fazlul Karim’s house. He was the Awami League Dhaka City President. Later he was also a mayoral candidate. His house was in Bongshal. He had another house near English Road. We had instructions that if we needed to move, we should move there.

Around 8 – 8:30 Amirul came with a Volkwagon, said, come aboard. As I was getting into the car I saw people were coming to our residence, people in civil service. I think Sanaul Huq came. They were all in this neighborhood. I said to them: Look, army is going into operation, if they pressure you, make a decision amongst yourselves. Then we left the house, headed towards Tajuddin Bhai’s house in Dhanmondi. On our way we saw several roads were blocked. That was around quarter to 10.

Shahbag was closed. We circuited around University Teachers club and New Market. There we saw the students of Salimullah Hall and Iqbal Hall were on the streets. They were blocking the roads with whatever they could find. The level crosssing road was closed. We got down from the car, introduced ourselves, and they let us through.

Shaptahik: When you left, didn’t you go to see Bongobondhu?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: We were heading out to go to Tajuddin Bhai’s place. At one point we decided to swing by Bangobondhu’s place; we used spend all our days in that Rd 32 house, we wanted to see him before we went, check up on him. So instead of heading to Rd 2, we headed to Rd 32. Once there we found the house was empty. We entered the house. The dining room was at the end of the house on the ground floor, we found Bongobondhu sitting there. With him was either Ahmed Fazlur Rahman or Commandor Moazzem. Either both or atleast one of them was there. Bongobondhu asked, why are you here? You are supposed to be in old town. I said, we’re on our way to olf town. He said, so late? I said, we are on our way to pick up Tajuddin Bhai first. Wanted to give you a salaam before leaving. He said, go quickly, don’t waste time. I said, we will leave you and go? He said, don’t worry about me, Allah bhorosha. You go ahead. Do as I say.

He walked us to the collapsible gate and said, go quickly. That was a total of about 5 to 7 minutes.

Then we went to Tajuddin Bhai’s place. He seemed annoyed. He said, look how things are in this country, and amidst all this people are coming to me with requests for (parliament) seat allocations for women.

Shaptahik: Did Tajuddin Ahmed leave wth you?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: I told Tajuddin Bhai, it’s very late, we need to go, we brought a car. He went and packed his suitcase. In the  meantime a man came, panting. It was Muzaffar Ahmed. He was our MP in Comilla. H e said he saw EPR at New Market. Which means we couldn’t take that road. In that moment, we had to change plans. We decided to stay in this neighborhood, but not in our houses. Whose house would be safe the time, we wondered.

I had a nephew on Rd 13 or so. I went there. The gate was closed. I decided to climb the wall (it wasn’t too high) and let myself in. They left me there, promising to send someone to pick me up. They had send a boy later, but he never found me.

Shaptahik: So you remained in that house on Rd 13?

Dr. Kamal Hossain:  I was right in the center; as in Rd 13 was right at the center. At night they took Bongobondhu. The people I was with warned me it wasn’t safe for me there. I went to a house in Purana Paltan. Then I went to another place from there. Then, another. I shaved, wore glasses to mask my appearance. I then went to a place in Lalmatia. The people I knew were scared to keep me, I understand it was difficult to keep someone like me in a family, it naturally made them nervous. So I moved house to house. On April 3 a curfew was called. On April 4, I think, there was a knock on the door of the Lalmatia house in which I was staying. I was told the military was there, they were looking for me. I immediately got out and introduced myself, and refused to let them enter the house. They said they came to take me.

Shaptahik: Whose house was it?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: It was a relative’s place.

Shaptahik: What was the rank of the officer who came to take you?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: Brigadier level, I think. There were other jawans with him. They put me in a pick up van and took me to the cantonment area. While someone guarded me, they went inside. About half an hour later they back and took me to the GOC’s house. Pointing to a guestroom next to balcony I was told: your leader was here. He was kept in this room.

They asked me this question repeatedly: you went to the Rd 32 house around 10pm on March 25. Then you went to Tajuddin Ahmed’s house. Where were you all going? We can’t find him, we found you. Where were you going. I told them we were all headed to old town. I was asked this question a thousand times. Where were you going? Whose house were you going to? When did you plan to cross over to India? Etc.

But we didn’t make plans to go to India at that point. I was surprised by the question. At the back of the mind I may have thought that we might have to. I didn’t imagine this kind of violent military action, that they would mass murder their way through the country. The people who put me on a place were from the Intelligence, that was clear.

Shaptahik: Did they ever behave badly with you?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: No. But there was a degree of mental torture. There was a military guard in the room at all times. They were asking the same questions over and over against. Those are forms of mental pressure.

Shaptahik: What about food?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: They’d bring some food.

Shaptahik: Did you sense what they were going to do to you?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: They said, your leader has been taken to West Pakistan. I was nabbed on April 4, 1971. I was afraid they’d take me to West Pakistan, and definitely put me in detention. That night or the night after there was a tremendous storm, all the lights went out. At one point a military officer came in, pointing a machine gun at me along with a torch light. I stood up. He said, your people are nearby, we need to be careful about security. In the morning they came back and said, we will put  you on a plane to West Pakistan. Two officers sat on my two sides. And then began the questioning. Where were you going The ones who were with you, where did they go? They kept asking me these same questions. I said, no idea.

Shaptahik: Was there anyone else on the plane?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: Brigadier Majumdar was taken on that plane with me. He was the senior most Bengali Army Officer at the time. I was seated in the front.

Shaptahik: What did they do to him?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: They tortured him. They tortured him and presented him as the key witness.

We first went to Karachi. The plane was on the runway when they took me off the plane and put me in another plane. Then they took me to Islamabad, then Rawalpindi. In Rawalpindi I was put in a microbus.  The microbus was covered with black curtains.We were on the highway for 2-3 hours. I heard the gate open and close. I was told it was Haripur Central Jail. I was taken out of the microbus.

Shaptahik: Is this in Islamabad?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: No, this is in Hazara Distrct. The Frontier Province begins here. Aatock Rver is here. The Northwester Frontier Province is across this river. This is the birthplace of Ayyub Khan.

Shaptahik: Then?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: There was a telephone factory there. From the jail cell you can hear the siren when shifts change. You can see the watch. They took me to a room. 18 cells, 6, 6, 6. In front there was a small opening, albeit being screened off. Gong in I saw the next 18 cells were all empty. They gave me one cell. The corner cell was cell number 6. That was turned into a makeshift bathroom, with some water, and a tap.

I’m a lawyer.  Said, where can I see the jail rules? They said, In your case they don’t apply. Why? I asked. You’re in special custody, you do not fall within the jail code. The jail code allows all sorts of facilities – I can get a lawyer. When I mentioned that, I was told: no, no that won’t be helpful to you, you just stay here.

Two-three days went by. Then members of the Intelligence started coming. The questioning started. Said, at 9pm you went to Bongobondhu’s house. At 10pm you went to Tajuddin Ahmed’s house. Then you were in a car. Where did you go? I said I went to my friends/relatives places in Dhaka. We were separated then.

At first they were saying, you were going to India. I said, no, even I don’t know where we were going, because I was separated from them very early on. By that time it was April 10. A group of 6 to 10 people came and said, a temporary government has been announced from Delhi. You’re one of the ministers, and you say you don’t know! I was astonished. I said, there’s a temporary government, I am a member, and I have no idea! They said, no your name is there. All this must have happened according to you plan. It can’t just happen. Who in India did you meet, when did you meet them? I said I don’t know anything. This went on for 4 to 5 days, then they left. They came back at the end of April and said, look, we spoke to your leader.

Shaptahik: Where was Bongobondhu taken?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: Miyawali Jail in Pakistan’s Frontier Pradesh. He later found out it was General Niazi’s birthplace, which is why there was a death threat  for Bongobondhu after December 16. He was then taken away from there. Later, on Bongobondhu’s request, I was taken to the Siyala Police Training Institute Duck Bungalow.

Shaptahik: How long were you there?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: April 5 to 28 December.

Shaptahik: What did they do later?

Dr. Kamal Hossain: In the beginning they used to say, look you’re a gone case. You can be shot at any time. We can shoot you at anytime. If you care about your life then say something. I said, I said everything, I didn’t hide anything. Then they said, write down everything you said. This is your last chance. If you can give us any written information, you life will be saved.

You leader is a gone case too. He will be hanged. So will you. You have children. If you want to live for them, give us some solid information.

They then gave me pens and paper. I wrote 7-8 pages. The looked at them with interest, but upon reading their faces turned stern. Said, at the end you couldn’t take this opportunity. You think you’re the defense council of Sheikh Mujib (they uttered these words).

In those papers, I had written about our 6 point demands, the false cases in Agartala. I wrote details of how we went to the round table, how we partook in the elections, what the election results were. I wrote how we worked on a proposed constitution that were to be discussed in the Assembly. That never happened because Pakistan resisted it. Then they attacked us on the night of March 25, and I have been imprisoned since early April. I also wrote about the three weeks of continuous revolution in March in great detail.

They read it and said, this isn’t it. Who in India did you meet, how did you meet them, what did you discuss? That’s what you should have written.

I said, I wrote what I know. I don’t know anything else.

To be continued in Part-2. 

4 comments

  1. Great man and truly a statesman-like person. Bangladesh should be proud of Dr Kamal Hossain, pity the AL cannot give him space to lead the country.

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