Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908
Bande Mataram. September 12, 1907
The Martyrdom of Bepin Chandra
We have felt considerable delicacy hitherto in writing on the prosecution of Srijut Bepin1 Chandra Pal for refusing to take the oath in the Bande Mataram Case, as that prosecution has arisen directly out of our own. In fact, all the more important events of recent occurrence in Calcutta have been so closely connected, directly or indirectly, with this case that we have been practically compelled to keep our lips closed on current public affairs. The imprisonment of the Nationalist orator and propagandist, the most prominent public figure of the New Party in Bengal, is nevertheless a matter of capital importance on which we cannot remain silent. Without touching on the relations of this affair with the Bande Mataram Case we shall say what we have to say on the political aspect of the vindictive sentence passed by the third Presidency Magistrate, an obscure servant of the bureaucracy, on the man with a great and historic mission whom the strange incongruous humour of Fate brought before his petty judgment-seat.
Srijut Bepin2 Chandra Pal has been condemned to six months' simple imprisonment, the maximum penalty permitted by the law for the crime of possessing a conscience, Mr. Hume asked for a conviction on the ground that Bepin3 Babu had baulked the prosecution in the Bande Mataram Case. Apart from the large assumption involved in the assertion that his evidence would have materially assisted the prosecution, this appears to us a singular plea for a lawyer to put forward. It has not yet been made a crime punishable under the Penal Code to baulk a Government prosecution and if it was the intention to draw the Magistrate's attention to the political bearings of the case, it was at least maladroit to allow the suggestion to be palpable. We will take it, however, that the Magistrate sentenced Bepin4 Babu for a breach of the law which the defendant did not deny, not for an action of which there was no evidence and which is not an offence under the law. What then was Bepin5 Babu's offence? Certainly it was not that he carried the policy of Boycott beyond the limits of legality and preferred adhesion to his own political programme before the dictates of the alien's law. That would have been an action which, however pardonable or praiseworthy in the eyes of patriots engaged in a life and death struggle with the bureaucracy, must necessarily figure as a serious offence in the eyes of the bureaucracy itself and we could hardly quarrel with its servant for trying to serve the interests of his employers by the infliction of a severe punishment. But it was distinctly declared by Bepin6 Babu that it was not as a boycotter, not with the political intention of making the working of the bureaucratic law courts impossible, that he declined to give evidence or take the oath. The boycott in Bengal has not yet been extended in practice to the law courts, and even in theory it is proposed to extend it only to voluntary resort to the protection of the alien authorities and not to cases in which one is compelled to them by a warrant or a summons. A few men like Bhupendranath Dutt who have realised freedom in their souls and refuse to be bound by any limitations of an alien making, may decline to have anything to do with the law which the nation had no hand in framing and the courts over which the nation has no control, but this has not yet become the accepted policy of the New Party and there was no moral compulsion on its leader to make any such refusal. If it had been an ordinary case of crime, he would not have refused to give evidence. It was, in fact, as an individual case of conscience that he regarded the question. In his first statement Bepin7 Babu declared that it was the duty of a citizen to refuse to take any part in such cases which are manifestly unjust and injurious to society and the peace of the country. In his later statement the expression about the duty of the citizen was, wisely we think, dropped: for we in India are not citizens and having no rights of citizenship cannot be saddled with any duties of citizenship. The members of a subject nation absolutely destitute of any inalienable rights cannot have any moral obligations as citizens: they can only have moral obligations as patriots and subject to their patriotic obligations, as members of a social order. If therefore we recognise any obligation to respect and obey the law, it is not as citizens but as members of the social order who are interested in its maintenance and in the maintenance of peace and order so long as, and no longer than, that order and peace do not militate against the well-being of the society instead of promoting it. The moment obedience to the law involves a wound to society, the individual is brought face to face with a difficult case of conscience.
It was in such a difficult situation that Bepin8 Babu found himself. He was called on to associate himself as a prosecution witness with a political policy carried on under the forms of law, a policy which he considered fatal to the well-being and peace of the nation, but which he had no means of challenging except by the passive protest of refusing to perform the function required of him. He had to obey either the dictates of his conscience or the requirements of the law and he held the imperative command of his conscience a more sacred and binding law than the Penal Code. The law had a right to assert itself by inflicting on him a nominal or slight penalty, it had no right to punish a man vindictively for obeying his conscience. The Magistrate thought perhaps that he was serving the interests of the present system and ensuring its stability by putting Bepin9 Pal in prison for six months, but what has he really done? Merely made people believe that the bureaucracy is so savage in its repression, so enamoured of power, that for its sake it will not even allow a man to possess a conscience, that an honest and reluctant protest on the part of a distinguished and honourable man against a misuse of the law will be punished by it with eager severity if it happens to conflict with its own interests or its repressive policy.
The country will not suffer by the incarceration of this great orator and writer, this spokesman and prophet of Nationalism, nor will Bepin10 Chandra himself suffer by it. He has risen ten times as high as he was before in the estimation of his countrymen: if there are any among them who disliked or distrusted him, they have been silenced, for good we hope, by his manly, straightforward and conscientious stand for the right as he understood it. He will come out of prison with his power and influence doubled, and Nationalism has already become the stronger for his self-immolation. Posterity will judge between him and the petty tribunal which has treated his honourable scruples as a crime.
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.
1 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Bipin
2 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Bipin
3 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Bipin
4 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Bipin
5 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Bipin
6 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Bipin
7 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Bipin
8 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Bipin
9 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Bipin
10 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Bipin