The end of an exam is usually met with celebration and relief. But for four particular students of Dhaka University, the end of the final exams merely signalled the start of another test, one that would eventually bring them great triumph. But that comes a bit later in their story.
As their exams ended, the Dhaka University Moot Court Society (DUMCS) team comprising Oishe Rahman, Rafid Azad Saumik, Fiaz Rabbani and Tanha Tanzia got word that they were participating in Asia Cup 2023, a prestigious moot court competition exclusively for Asian countries.
While other applicants had a timeframe of two to three months to research and write their legal argument, otherwise known as a memorial, the DUMCS team had only 20 days at hand, and that too with the Eid holidays looming before them.
"We didn't exactly have a routine for those 20 days – we just worked nonstop!" said Fiaz. "The thing about the memorial is that we don't know how the other sides are doing, we don't know if they're making better arguments."
The process of writing a memorial is a lengthy one for good reason. Research is key, and even though the team had two oralists (Oishe and Rafid) and two researchers (Tanha and Fiaz), the research work is equally divided during this process.
"We had to study an entirely new law; in a lot of cases, you may need to learn about a new law you have not studied in class yet. In this case, we had to study something we were not so familiar with - public international law, which is a very broad subject," explained Rafid.
They hunkered down in their rooms during Eid day, much to the bewilderment of friends and family. Finishing the memorial was paramount and they finally managed to submit it on 30 June, the day after Eid, with hours to spare. The selection process for the Asia Cup was based on the memorial itself and if theirs was not up to mark, then they would not be part of the 16 teams that get selected to go through to the preliminary rounds.
Days passed by in a haze of nervousness and anticipation. Finally, on 17 July, they received word that they qualified for the preliminary rounds. Despite this news, the chances of the DUMCS team being able to go was still uncertain. There were several factors that suddenly came into play. For one, the Asia Cup was set to commence on 22 August.
Secondly, the team now had to find willing sponsors, as opposed to relying on an organisation to do this. While other moots have an organisation that handles these aspects of competing, for Asia Cup there is no such option.
"Japan is very expensive so we couldn't do it alone. And we never had to find a sponsor before. Moreover, it was all on a short notice. We reached out to a lot of people, especially our alumni," explained Rafid.
Eventually, thanks to the support of Ahsanul Karim and Dihider Masum Kabir of the Supreme Court, as well as IFIC Bank and Bank Asia Limited, the team got their sponsorship.
"Lot of things were uncertain and we took a leap of faith in many ways. We purchased the ticket with our own money before receiving the sponsor money," Rafid added.
Touchdown in Tokyo
As the preliminary rounds commenced in Tokyo, Bangladesh had to face two teams - Vietnam and Thailand. Among the other teams were Singapore, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Cambodia, Indonesia, etc.
"Bangladesh has never won a championship before. We didn't really have that hope that we would be the one to win it. We would only joke about the possibility amongst ourselves. Besides, in the mooting world, Singapore is a superpower. We were resigned to the fact that even if we did go on to the finals, we would lose to them," said Oishe.
But despite that, a few months before, Oishe and Rafid were part of the team who made it to the Top 48 advanced rounds of the Jessup Moot, the "world cup of moots," as Oishe terms it. Tanha and Fiaz too were part of the Henry Dunant Moot in 2022.
They were an experienced, well-oiled team. These previous successes helped instil confidence and belief in them.
In the end, Bangladesh reached 2nd in the preliminary team rankings and qualified for the semi finals where they faced Indonesia. Bangladesh was the only South Asian team to make it so far, and thus the other teams quickly banded behind the DUMCS team, providing them with moral support. The camaraderie of the South Asian teams was touching and the bond helped strengthen the team's motivation.
"When we were the only south Asians to progress, they all gave us a lot of motivation. This time we wanted to win it not just for Bangladesh but for the entire region. I think this support helped us a lot in the semis and finals," said Rafid.
"At one point before the semis we started thinking it may be possible to win it. We only had one round left," added Oishe.
By a unanimous decision, the team progressed to the final rounds where they faced Cambodia, who had pulled off a hard-fought victory against the superpower Singapore. But reflective of their overall journey, nothing had been easy so far and the final was no exception.
"Throughout the tournament we had been the respondents, so we had experience on that side of the argument. But in the finals, we were the applicants and we had 30 minutes to prepare our side. So, that was a blow at first and we were a bit shaky," said Tanha.
For the case they had been arguing in the Asia Cup, the respondent had a few advantages and it was the preferred side for these reasons. What followed after the announcement was 30 minutes of frantic researching and preparing. But for a team as experienced as this, the nervousness would soon cross over into a razor focus. They had stitched together a compelling speech based on the thorough research they had so far conducted.
They could only meet the challenge head on and snatch victory and in the end - Bangladesh defeated Cambodia to win the Asia Cup 2023. It was the culmination of sleepless nights and endless days of toiling away under books and case studies.
DUMCS had also won the Best Applicant Memorial Award and the third Best Respondent Memorial Award. Rafid was named the third Best Applicant Oralist.
"I enjoyed how challenging the competition was. Every team was really good and we knew we had to really bring our best in every round. So, winning it was really an amazing feeling," Rafid reminisced.
So, you want to be a mooter?
For the DUMCS there is barely a time to breathe, the calendar is packed with mooting events, be it on a national, regional or international level. Team members are rotated and chosen based on performance, skills and track record. Every year, DUMCS also holds an international competition from which they choose promising participants. But it's a prestigious society and taking part is no easy feat.
"Out of everything, hard work matters to me the most. For example, not everyone would want to work on Eid like we did. So, what we're looking for is dedication and hard work. We don't really get anything out of this. We have to sacrifice our academic or job life for this," said Tanha.
Fiaz agreed, "We have no monetary incentives. My personal incentive here is solely to develop my skills and my love for the craft. In future, these skills you are building will help you."
"For memorials, you need to have good legal knowledge. For orals, you need good cognitive skills. Bangladeshi teams get scared about how we will perform at orals in an international round, but we need to break the ceiling here. This Asia Cup, we thought reaching the semis would be good, but that's actually not true, we went further and won it, so there really is no limit," Rafid explained.
For Oishe, this is her final year. At most she has one more moot left. With several historic performances under her belt, she is still hungry for more.
"No matter what speech the oralist of the other team is giving, you have to know more than them as an oralist. In fact, an oralist has to work harder than the judges."
"My biggest hope is seeing DUMCS win Jessup one day," she concluded.