New Delhi: A new book titled ‘Syed Mahmood: Colonial India’s Dissenting Judge’ documents the life of Justice Syed Mahmood, son of social reformer Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, who became the first Indian judge of the Allahabad High Court at 32. He went on to become an icon of judicial resistance to British colonialism in the late 19th century.
Authors Mohammad Nasir, an assistant professor, and Samreen Ahmed, a legal researcher at the Aligarh Muslim University, detail how Justice Mahmood’s tenure as a high court judge showed that ‘law without a conscience was merely a facade for the perpetration of injustice’. Justice Mahmood was appointed to the Allahabad HC for six years, from 1887 to 1893.
Published by Bloomsbury India, the book will be released on 17 May on ‘Softcover’, ThePrint’s online venue to launch non-fiction books.
The authors also tell how a number of Mahmood’s dissenting judgments have been used as reference by future generations. The book talks about Mahmood’s interest and knowledge in things outside of the law too, such as colonial transformation of education and its reconciliation with Muslim identity, national integration and religious tolerance.
His role in the making of the Aligarh Muslim University was also notable.
Bloombury India has noted that this book “succeeds in exhuming a seminal figure from the dust of history”.
The book succeeds in exhuming a seminal figure from the dust of history, and demonstrates how the past continues to speak in the present.#SyedMahmood is available online and in bookstores near you! pic.twitter.com/HxsyvwEmg2
— Bloomsbury India (@BloomsburyIndia) May 6, 2022
‘A dissenting judge’
In his foreword to the book, Sudhanshu Dhulia, chief justice of Gauhati High Court, writes that Justice Mahmood went to England for his higher studies “like many other educated upper-class Indians of the day”. He was enrolled in Cambridge, from where he did law.
“It was expected from the son of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan to be well educated, but Mahmood made his name in history as a judge of the Allahabad High Court,” Justice Dhulia wrote.
“Justice Mahmood made his mark as a judge not just due to his learning or his genius, but because of his sense of equity, justice and fairness, and as an eminent jurist had said, for keeping human beings at the centre of his judicial philosophy,” Justice Dhulia further added.
Applauding the authors, C. Raj Kumar, founding vice chancellor of O.P. Jindal Global University, said, “The book is a fantastic read and the authors have done a yeoman’s service to posterity by writing this fascinating book and recording forever the story of an outstanding judge who was ahead of his times.”
Upendra Baxi, emeritus professor of law at Universities of Warwick and Delhi, noted that “Justice Mahmood had only six years on the bench when he resigned, rather than be dependent on the smiles and the frowns of the British Chief Justice.”
Baxi also said Chief Justice J.S. Verma hailed Justice Mahmood as an activist who “treated the law as a living organism”.
According to Faizan Mustafa, vice chancellor at NALSAR University of Law, Justice Mahmood was a “dissenting judge” who wrote opinions knowing fully well that his opinion was not going to be the law.
“But he made an appeal to the future, who was then widely appreciated for his dissenting opinions which in subsequent years were accepted as correct interpretations of law,” Mustafa said.
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