Shillong Bar Association: Civil Liberty Guardian

Having served as the provincial headquarters of Assam in the early 1900s, Shillong was no longer a stranger to active socio-political, socio-economic and legal affairs where basic knowledge of how the system worked – with little or no consideration for justice and equality, was already understood by some scholars.

While education was one of those weapons to counter the blatant discrimination inflicted on the local population, the study of law was another tool to bring about justice..

Thus the need for a collective body of individuals knowledgeable in the law arose – subsequently leading to the establishment of the Shillong Bar Association in the capital in 1913. It is one of oldest bars in the country.

In this episode of Shillong Iconic Structures, we feature the Shillong Bar Association and its decades-old Assam-like structure located in Secretariat Hills, next to the District Courts and behind the Deputy Commissioner’s Office in Shillong.

There is never a day, except Sundays and public holidays, when its premises and its halls are empty. Members of the Black Coat Tribe are always seen parading through the streets – from the High Court to the District Court and back to the bar – never a boring or mundane way of life.

Describing the Shillong Bar Association as the “custodian of civil liberty”, Senior Advocate Bishnu Pada Dutta in his article titled “100 Years of the Shillong Bar Association” published in Remembrance 2015 as part of of the bar’s centenary celebration wrote: “1913 was an auspicious and eventful year when the bar association was inaugurated at Shillong with five members, although hearsay still presumed to be correct.

Records indicate that lawyers who started their practice in Shillong included – Rai Saheb Hormu Roy Diengdoh, Kalisaday Bhattacharjee, Sarat Bhattacharjee, Nimai Biswas, Gurucharan Dhar, Mr Harris, Khirod Dutta, Mr Wassey and Khan Saheb Amjad Ali.

The history of the Shillong Bar Association is intertwined with the country’s freedom movement. Due to the British government’s deliberate policy of preventing Shillong from participating in politics, it was difficult for lawyers to join any political party or movement, but some lawyers, unhappy with the way things were going across the country, defied the rules and joined politics, then the Quit India movement.

Bar members like Charu Datta, Lala BK Dey, Ahmed Ali Khan, Rajani Goswami, Rajen Mahanta, PC Biswas, HR Das and Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed (who later became the fifth president of India) were actively associated with the movement of freedom and some of them were imprisoned during the Quit India movement of 1930-31 and 1942.

(Watch the full version of the story only on our YouTube channel @TheShillongTimes)

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