Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908
Bande Mataram. July 20, 1907
The Khulna Comedy
The result of a political case is always a foregone conclusion in this country in the present era of Anti-Swadeshi repression, for the object of the proceedings is not to detect and punish crime but to put down Swadeshi under the forms of law; whether the accused is innocent or guilty of the particular charge it has been thought convenient to formulate against him, is a matter of very trifling importance. Neither the people nor the bureaucracy really accept a conviction as proof of any offence against the law. Indeed it is more or less a matter of caprice or convenience whether one offence or another is selected. When the crime is not chosen with a view to the punishment it is desired to inflict, or the greater ease of securing evidence, or the necessity of convicting when there is no evidence, the problem is probably determined by the sense of humour of the prosecuting Magistrate or by an aesthetic perception of the fitness of things. Generally the Swadeshi worker is charged with sedition or assault or breach of the peace or wishing to break the peace, or thinking of doing something which somebody in authority pretends to believe likely to break the peace; but he might just as well be charged with burglary or abduction or with contempt of the Magistrate's Khansamah or with the Bengal stare or the Coconada grimace. The main object is to send him to prison or bind him over not to do any work for Swadeshi for six months or a year, and the pretext is a mere bagatelle. The real point is not whether the accused is innocent or guilty of the particular offence but whether he is innocent or guilty of Swadeshi, whether he is innocent or guilty of patriotism, whether he is innocent or guilty of Nationalism. For this reason no disgrace attaches to conviction, rather it is the passport to fame, honour and public esteem. The prosecution is a farce, the defence is a farce, and the judgment is the most exquisite farce of all. The bureaucracy go through the farce because they cling to the shadow of moral prestige even when the substance of it is gone; they like to adopt Russian methods, but they do not like them to be called Russian and still hug the delusion that by going through the legal forms of which Justice makes use they can cover the nakedness of their tyranny with the rags of law. The accused go through the farce with the sole object of so managing the defence as to dispel even the last shadow of the old moral prestige and to expose the nakedness of bureaucratic oppression more and more. It is a political fight with the law courts for its scene.
In no recent political case except Rawalpindi has the veil of law been so ridiculously thin as in the Khulna case. Partly, no doubt, this is due to the personal gifts of the prosecuting Magistrate who decided the case. Mr. Asanuddin Ahmed is a very distinguished man. The greatest and most successful achievement of his life was to be a fellow-collegian of Lord Curzon. But he has other sufficiently respectable if less gorgeous claims to distinction. Arithmetic, logic, English and Law are his chief fortes. His mastery over figures is so great that arithmetic is his slave and not his master; it is even said that he can assess a man at Rs. 90 one day and bring him down 200 per cent in estimation the other. It is whispered that it was not only for a masterly general incompetence but also for this special gift that he was transferred to Khulna. His triumphant dealings with logic were admirably exampled by the original syllogism which he presented to the startled organisers of the District Conference. “I, Asanuddin, am the District Magistrate; the District Magistrate is the representative of the District; ergo, I, Asanuddin, am the one and only representative of the district. Now only a representative of the district has a right to hold a District Conference or to do anything in the name of the district, or to use any expression in which the word district occurs; I, Asanuddin, am the sole and only representative of the district; ergo, I, Asanuddin, have the sole and only right to call a District Conference.” Mr. Ahmed's English is the delight of the judges of the High Court, who are believed to spend sleepless nights in trying to make out the meaning of his judgments. In one case at least, it is said, a distinguished judge had to confess with sorrow and humiliation that he could make nothing of the English of the learned Magistrate and after reading the judgment in the present case, we can well believe the story. As for his knowledge of law, the best praise we can give it is that it is on a level with his knowledge of, say, English. Such was the brilliant creature who appointed himself prosecutor, jury and judge in the Khulna sedition case.
Under such auspices the conduct of the case was sure to be distinguished by a peculiarly effulgent brilliancy. In order to prove that Venibhushan Rai talked sedition it was thought necessary to prove how many volunteers were present at the Conference. This is a fair example of the kind of evidence on which the case was decided and which the great Asanuddin declared to be particularly relevant. Beyond evidence of this stamp there was no proof against the accused except the evidence of police officers unsupported by any verbatim report, while on the other side were the statements of the respectable pleaders, the verbatim copy of the speech and a whole mass of unshaken testimony. But our one and only Asanuddin declared that the evidence of respectable men was not to be believed because they were respectable and graduates of the Calcutta University and partakers in the Conference; the police apparently were the only disinterested and truthful people in Khulna. But the most remarkable dictum of this remarkable man was that when one is charged with sedition it is not necessary to prove the use of any particular seditious utterances; it is quite enough for the Magistrate to come to the conclusion that something untoward might, could or should have happened as the result of the accused having made a speech. In fact, it is hardly necessary under the section as interpreted by Daniels of this kind, to prove anything against the accused; the only thing necessary is that the Magistrate should think it better for convenience official or unofficial that he should be bound over. The section answers the same purpose in minor cases which the Regulation of 1818 answers in the case of more powerful opponents of irresponsible despotism.
The Khulna case has been from the point of view of Justice an undress rehearsal of the usual bureaucratic comedy; from the point of view of Mr. Asanuddin Ahmed it has been a brilliant exhibition of his superhuman power of acting folly and talking nonsense; from the point of view of Srijut Venibhushan Rai it has been a triumph greater than any legal victory, a public certificate of patriotism, courage and sincerity, an accolade of knighthood and nobility in the service of the Motherland.
Later edition of this work: The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo.- Set in 37 volumes.- Volumes 6-7.- Bande Mataram: Political Writings and Speeches. 1890–1908 .- Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 2002.- 1182 p.