The Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association has done well to file a public interest litigation (PIL) petition seeking ancient monument status for the Sadr Court premises which was abandoned after the September floods. The Kashmir Reader had taken the issue up on July 7 urging the government to preserve the structure, where the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah had appeared as a lawyer in 1936, as a museum.
On a private visit, the Quaid had initially been reluctant, but when pressed by Kashmiri leaders, agreed to accept the brief in State v/s Haneefa Begum and Mehr Ali. Convinced by Jinnah’s arguments and impressed by his legal skills, the High Court bench decided the case in his favour in the very first hearing.
The case pertained to one Haneefa Begum of Islamabad (Anantnag) whose husband had been killed in a firing incident in September 1931. Her second marriage – to a school-teacher named Abdul Kabir – had ended in divorce, after which she had entered into wedlock with a police officer, Mirza Mehr Ali. Three years later, when Abdul Kabir filed a complaint against her under sections 494 RPC (Bigamy), Mirza Muhammad Afzal Beg pleaded the case on her behalf. But the trial court rejected his contention that his client’s nikah with Peer Abdul Kabir had taken place when she was observing iddat. The case had then gone into appeal.
Meanwhile, Jinnah visited Kashmir and accepted the brief just one day before the case was to come up before the Chief Justice. He carried no files or books with him when entering the packed courtroom, and people received a further shock when, during the proceedings, he accepted the charges the police had brought against his client. But Jinnah clinched the issue the very next moment. “The iddat period,” he informed the court, “is counted according to the lunar calendar if the husband dies on the first day of the month. Otherwise, the woman has to count 130 days.”
The Sadr Courts are scheduled to be shifted to a newly-constructed complex at Tengpora, and it has been reliably learnt that the government plans to sell the premises to a businessman who will most likely construct a hotel and a shopping complex at the historic site. The Bar Association PIL, therefore, is a timely effort to preserve the structure for posterity, and deserves strong support from all sections of society.