Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908
Bande Mataram. September 28, 1907
The “Statesman” in Retreat
The strong censures which the Statesman's article on the Bande Mataram Case has called forth from the Bengali Press in Calcutta, have forced that journal to enter into some explanation of its conduct. While professing to stand by every word it had written, it manages under cover of the plea that it has been misunderstood, to unsay much that it had said. The article was on the face of it a malignant attack on the Bande Mataram, an attempt to create the impression that this paper was either a journal managed on a dishonest, disreputable and impossible principle or else that its staff were a gang of liars and cowards with an Editor who made a false or practically false defence in order to avoid the responsibility for his political propaganda. We were told that from this dilemma there was no possible escape. The Statesman has now considerably altered its tone. In order that we may not be accused of wilfully misinterpreting our very Liberal contemporary, we will give his explanation of his own meaning in his own words and answer him point by point. “We maintained,” he says, “that there had been in essence a miscarriage of justice in the Bande Mataram Case, since the trial had resulted in the conviction of the Printer, whereas the real offender – the author of the article or articles complained of – was not brought to book. We pointed out in the next place, that in England the person really responsible for the articles could readily have been found, for no attempt would have been made to evade the issue on the divided liability principle adopted in the Bande Mataram office, still less to make a scapegoat of an ignorant workman. We maintained, lastly, that unless every public journal had a responsible head of some sort, the liberty of the Press would degenerate into a licence under which no institution of organised society, no man's reputation would be safe.” We do not for a moment deny that there was a very serious miscarriage of justice in the Bande Mataram Case, but we are certainly astonished at the malignity of the Statesman in trying to fasten the responsibility for the Printer's conviction on the Bande Mataram or on the other accused. It writes as if it were we who took out a warrant against the Printer, knowing him to be nothing but an ignorant workman, or who sentenced him to three months' rigorous imprisonment in spite of the evidence that he knew nothing of the matter and could not have had any criminal knowledge or intention, or as if we had asked the Printer to take any responsibility upon himself for the articles. Does the Friend of India find anywhere in the records of the case or out of them either that any of the accused tried to shield himself by putting the responsibility on the Printer? The blame for the miscarriage of justice must rest on the unjust British law which makes an ignorant workman responsible, on the bureaucrats who sanctioned his prosecution and on the Magistrate who sentenced him, and the attempt to fasten it on our shoulders is as grotesque as it is malicious. The Statesman is, farther, much exercised because the real author of the offending article has escaped punishment, but this is not a calamity over which we can affect to be greatly grieved. After all, miscarriages of justice, whether in the shape of the conviction of innocent Indians or the immunity from punishment of European criminals, are not so rare in this country that society will be shattered to pieces because the writer of a chance letter disagreeable to the sacred feelings of the bureaucracy, has not been sent to turn the oil-mill for a couple of years. “In England the person really responsible for the article could readily have been found.” If the real writer is meant, we deny this altogether. In England it would be absolutely impossible to discover the true writer of an unsigned article, for it is not considered binding on him to come forward even if another suffers for his offence or his indiscretion; and when the Statesman claims a chivalrous sense of honour for English writers, political or other, and asserts that they always come forward to claim their handiwork, it is trading on the ignorance of English life which is prevalent in this country. If, on the other hand, the Editor is meant, we would advise our contemporary to study the history of the English Press more minutely. He will find that English editors have not always been so enamoured of legal penalties as to forego any opportunity of evading responsibility which the law allowed them. We will admit that ordinarily in England there is a single responsible head of some kind, though he is not always the writer of the articles, but this is not the case in every country nor with every newspaper, and we cannot admit that any such arrangement is necessary in the interests of society. When the Statesman says that no man's reputation is safe unless every paper has its one responsible head, it is talking and knows that it is talking pure nonsense. A man who thinks himself libelled has always his remedy in civil law and it cannot matter to him whether he gets his damages from the actual writer of the libellous matter or from the proprietor or from a company or syndicate owning the paper. Was Mr. Lever's reputation unsafe because his damages were paid by the Harmsworth Trust and not by the actual libeller? If the proprietor happens to be a corporate body, the aggrieved person is no doubt deprived of the vindictive pleasure of sending his critic to prison, but we hardly think it can be said that society is mortally wounded by his loss. But of course what the Statesman is really troubled about is the safety of the bureaucratic groups who administer the country at present and whom it dignifies and disguises by describing as “institutions of organised society”. This anxiety of the Statesman's is rather humorous. The bureaucracy has armed itself with such liberal powers of repression that a journalist attacking it is like a man with no better weapon than a pebble assailing a Goliath panoplied from head to foot, armed with a repeating rifle and supported by howitzers and maxim guns. For a backer of the giant to complain because the unarmed assailant throws his pebble from behind a bush or wall is, to say the least of it, a trifle incongruous.
The gravamen of the Statesman's charge, however, lies in the question it triumphantly posits at the end of its rejoinder as a final settler for its critics. The impugned “articles in the Bande Mataram must have been written by someone; is it courageous and honourable conduct on the part of their unknown author, this precious ‘patriot’, that he should elect to remain in hiding and let a poor unfortunate Printer go to jail in place of himself?” And our contemporary asks its critics either to affirm that it is right for a journalist to allow an innocent man to suffer in his place,– or else be silent. We admit our contemporary's luminous suggestion that someone must have written the article “Politics for Indians” and the better to clear up the confusion of his ideas we will add that the someone must have been either a member of the staff or an outside correspondent. The evidence showed that he must have been the latter, and, if so, his conduct in not coming forward was in accordance with those traditions of English journalism by which the Statesman sets such store. It may not have been ethically the most heroic or exalted conduct possible, but it does not lie in the mouth of an Englishman to question it. And we presume that the Statesman will not seriously suggest that it was our duty, even if we had recorded the name, to peach against a correspondent in order to save our own man, or that such a betrayal would have been either courageous or honourable. If, on the other hand, the real writer were a journalist on the staff, he must have been someone other than Aurobindo Ghose to whom no one in his senses would attribute such a half-baked effusion. He would then be one who was not accused and could only take the responsibility by giving evidence against himself as a witness for the defence. No Englishman in a similar situation would have done it unless actually put in the witness box, but for an Indian patriot, we admit, it would have been the natural course if the Printer could have been saved by his self-devotion, but it is perfectly obvious that the Printer would still have been liable under the statute and got his three months. The imputation made by the Statesman is not true in fact, as it was an outside contributor who wrote the article, but even were it otherwise, it is absurd in theory. It was the bureaucracy and the Magistrate who made a scapegoat of the Printer and not the Bande Mataram or any one on its staff. The Statesman is intelligent enough to understand this without having it pointed out and malice alone prompted its dishonest attempt to discredit us.
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.