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Sri Aurobindo

Bande Mataram

Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908

Bande Mataram. June 21, 1907

British Justice

There has been much to edify and instruct in the recent antics of the bureaucracy and, in the light of the object lessons they present, the people of India have been revising old ideas and out-worn superstitions with a healthy rapidity. The belief in British liberalism, in the freedom of the Press, in the freedom of the platform, in the Pax Britannica, in the political honesty of Mr. John Morley and many other cherished shibboleths have departed into the limbo of forgotten follies. But the greatest fall of all has been the fall of the belief in the imperturbable impartiality of British justice. There are two kinds of strain which no empire, however firmly bound in triple and quadruple bands of steel, can long bear; the strain of a burden of taxation which the people no longer find bearable and the strain of a series of perversions of justice which destroy all faith in the motives of the governing authorities. Justice and protection between man and man, between community and community, between rulers and ruled is the main object for which States exist, for which men submit to the restrictions of the law and to an equitable assessment of the expenses of the machinery which provides for protection and justice. But if the assessment of the expenses is grossly unjust, if the expenses themselves are exorbitantly high, if the revenue is spent on ways of which the taxpayers do not approve, then protection and justice are bought at a price which is not worth paying. And if in addition the protection is denied and the justice withheld, then the very object of the existence of a State ceases to be satisfied and from that moment the governing power, unless it can retrace its steps, is doomed by the inevitable operation of nature.

The bureaucrats who misgovern us at the present moment have totally forgotten these simple truths. Otherwise we would not have witnessed such scandalous scenes as are now being enacted at Rawalpindi or the gross infringements of equity and justice which are of frequent occurrence in Bengal. The amazing incidents of the Rawalpindi riot case are such as have hardly been paralleled in British India. The refusal of bail, which was the first scandal, has evidently become a part of bureaucratic policy. It is a sound principle of procedure that bail should not be refused except under exceptional conditions, such as the probability of the accused absconding; otherwise in a protracted case an innocent man may suffer seriously for the sole offence of being accused. In the Rawalpindi case there was not the least possibility of men like Lala Hansraj, Gurdas Ram or Janaki Nath absconding from justice and the apprehension of further riots in a city commanded by siege-guns and crowded with military was a contemptible and hollow pretence. Yet without hearing the case, on the mere statement of the prosecuting officials, the Chief Court of the Punjab, supposed to be the highest repository of impartial British Justice, prejudged the accused, declared them guilty and refused bail. This is British law and British justice! Again in the course of the present trial, although it was proved beyond dispute that the prisoners were suffering terribly in health as the result of a detention in which they are being deliberately subjected to unnecessary discomfort and privation, although, if there was ever any shadow of justification for the refusal of bail, even that shadow had by this time utterly vanished; yet on the strength of the airy persiflage of a Civil Surgeon, the relief to which they were entitled was refused. This gentleman held the view that the sufferings of the accused were not due to their detention and seems to be of the opinion that men of means and gentle nurture are rather in the habit of shedding several pounds of flesh off and on without apparent cause. And so the unfortunate martyrs, for the crime of being patriots, are punished with a long term of imprisonment before any offence has been proved against them. This too is British law and British justice. From the point of view of the executive it may no doubt be said that since the accused have to be punished whether they are guilty or innocent, it does not much matter whether their punishment begins before or after their conviction. That is good reasoning from the point of view of a bureaucratic executive, but not from that of a judicial authority. The refusal of bail to the Rawalpindi pleaders is one of the most deadly of the many wounds which the bureaucracy have been recently dealing to their own moral prestige and reputation for justice. The same spirit has been shown in the refusal of bail to Pindi Das, editor of India, and to Lala Dinanath of the Hindustan. In the latter case there is absolutely no excuse whatever for the refusal, except the vindictive fury of bureaucratic persecution which will omit no means however petty and base to make its opponents suffer.

But the most glaringly, paradoxically unsound case of all has occurred in our own midst. Srijut Girindranath Sen received at the hands of British justice a sentence of monstrous severity for a trifling offence. This same British justice, being moved to set aside the conviction and sentence, was graciously pleased to give the accused a chance of disproving the offence, but at the same time, in the plenitude of its justice and wisdom, refused to give him bail. In other words it admitted that the accused might be innocent, but at the same time decided that he must undergo a monstrously disproportionate punishment for a trifling offence of which it was admittedly doubtful whether he ever committed it! And then when the punishment had been served out, British justice lent a gracious and leisurely ear and admitted that this Swadeshi Volunteer Captain was very probably innocent, but as he had suffered punishment for his innocence, it was not necessary to go any further into the matter. This too is British law and British justice. If all this does not convince the Indian people that the British sense of justice is most marvellous and unique and sui generis and without any peer or parallel in the world, it must indeed be hard-hearted and dull of soul. For our part we are ready to acclaim British justice with hymns of adoration and praise. Hail, thou ineffable, incomprehensible, indescribable, unspeakable British Justice! Hail, thou transcendent mystery, tubhyam bhūyiṣṭhām nama uktim vidhema.

 

Later edition of this work: The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo.- Set in 37 volumes.- Volumes 6-7.- Bande Mataram: Political Writings and Speeches. 18901908 .- Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 2002.- 1182 p.