When, on hearing Dr. Sheikh Abdul Majeed’s plea during their chance meeting in the Srinagar Central Jail, Muhammad Lateef Qureshi expressed his inability to take his case because of another brief, the detainee said: “Does that mean that we will be sentenced to death without trial?”
This left the lawyer so moved that he made Dr. Majeed sign a blank vakalat nama (power of attorney), and appeared for him before the designated judge.
The Mohi-ud-Din Pandit case brings to fore another aspect of Qureshi’s personality.
According to Ghulam Nabi Gauhar:
“Nearly fifty young and energetic social workers had been indicted in a fabricated case of conspiracy to overthrow the so-called legally established government at the behest of the enemy country (Pakistan).”
The accused approached Qureshi, who first declined to represent them, but changed his mind when he saw an aging father almost begging Pandit lawyers to defend his son.
“A lawyer for the Mirwaiz family bluntly told the old man to instruct his son to remain faithful to the Sher-e-Kashmir or be ready to go to Pakistan,” says Gauhar, recalling the case. “The old man left, but Lateef followed him and accepted his brief.”
Qureshi found himself overburdened with work after the Plebiscite Front was launched in1955. Though the organization had qualified lawyers in its fold, they were involved more in politics than in their profession, Qureshi had to plead the cases of most of the Front’s activists who were being persecuted, arrested and humiliated en masse.
He also trained scores of apprentices to lighten his workload. By 1958, Qureshi had established himself as a lawyer, and even his enemies were forced to acknowledge his brilliance.
The Hazratbal Murder case was yet another landmark, speaking volumes about his foresight.
“Apart from me (those associated with the Front) usually stayed at the house of Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah at Soura,” Gauhar recalls. “I worked as a conduit between Sheikh Sahib and Lateef Sahib. The latter avoided, rather refused, to go to the Sheikh’s house, and his assessment was correct. Had he done so, he too would have been taken into custody. He remained strictly apolitical, and confined to the limits of professional values.”
“Sheikh Sahib had framed a Legal Defence Committee before the challan was produced in the Hazratbal Murder case. But Lateef insisted that neither he nor I be named on it. And he proved right once again as within 24 (of the Committee being announced), almost all its members had been arrested.”
“Only he and I were spared.”
-to be continued