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Sri Aurobindo

Bande Mataram

Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908

Bande Mataram. February 21, 1908

The Latest Sedition Trial

We do not generally concern ourselves with the results of trials in bureaucratic law-courts. The law that is now recognised by the civilised world is the will of a people. The law that is really binding on a people is the mature deliberation of its own representatives as to the proper want1 and scope of individual activity in relation to the common weal. Law if it is to be beneficial to society cannot be divorced from the truths established by science, on the contrary derives2 its binding force from being based on them. That a bureaucratic law is not so much meant to ensure social well-being but designed for restricting even a legitimate freedom of action sanctioned by science has been amply illustrated in the judgment of the Police Magistrate of Calcutta in the Nabasakti case. The Magistrate was confronted with the difficulty that neither common sense nor jurisprudence can penalise the preaching of a political truth. The strange syllogism with which he has sought to bring the preaching of an ideal within the purview of the bureaucratic law is ridiculous to the extreme. The Magistrate in his judgment does not seem even to know his own mind. In the earlier part of his judgment he talks as if the preaching of independence as an ideal were in itself sedition. “To my mind,” he says in powerful magisterial fashion, “the meaning and intention of this article admit of no doubt whatever. The writer is advocating independence and the article is seditious.” Later on he has misgivings. Glimpses of a common sense buried deep away under long habits of reading political necessity into judicial interpretation seem to visit the official mind:

“The ideal of national independence is one which appeals to Englishmen with very strong force, and it is one which when reasonably and temperately expressed will always meet with a great deal of sympathy. There is undoubtedly at the present day, a growing belief amongst men of liberal and statesmanlike views that India will at a future date attain this national independence. Moreover it is an object with which the use of force need not be associated at all for it is an object attainable by constitutional means. I believe therefore that no Liberal Government would ever take serious exception to the temperate expression of the ideal.”

The only fault to be found with this expression of a common sense view of things is that the Magistrate seems to lay down the proposition that it depends on the feelings and views of Englishmen whether the preaching of independence is seditious or not. That is so in practice, no doubt, but judicially it is a strange principle of interpretation. On this ground, clearly stated by the Magistrate, that the preaching of national independence is not in itself seditious and does not become seditious unless coupled with excitations to revolt or violence or with matter tending to bring the Government into hatred or contempt, the Printer of the Nabasakti was entitled to an acquittal. But the Magistrate immediately afterwards falls back from light into a thick fog in which he flounders helplessly for some way of unsaying what he has said.

“An Indian writer, however, who holds up national independence as an immediate panacea for the wrongs of his countrymen, is a mere visionary, and it is most unfortunate that so much of the political writing in Bengali newspapers should be the crude product of ignorant and ill-trained minds.” And he goes on to say that the accused had published articles of this description and coupled them with others inciting to violence. Therefore he is convicted of sedition. Are we then to understand that the Printer is found guilty of sedition not because he advocated independence but because he advocated independence in an ignorant and ill-trained manner and his article was a crude product? If an article is to be declared seditious merely because it does not please the literary taste of a Police Court Magistrate, a new terror will be added to the law of sedition. Or are we to understand that the article is not seditious, is quite innocent, since to preach independence is not seditious, but it is declared seditious because other articles in the paper which contain nothing about independence are violent in tone? So far as we can see from the judgment of this learned Magistrate, the article in question is not seditious, though it may or may not be “a crude product”, the other articles are not seditious though they may come under some other Section of the penal Code than 124A, and in any case they are not the subject matter of the charge. But because one article preaches independence and another which has no connection with it is written in a violent tone, therefore the first non-seditious article is transmuted into sedition by some strange magisterial alchemy. We come out of the reading of this judgment with a bewildered brain and only one clearly grasped idea, viz., that whether what we write is seditious or not, depends not on the law, but on the state of “public opinion” in England and Anglo-India, and on the intellectual vagaries of a Magistrate who cannot even misinterpret the law consistently. And after all that is “all we know or need to know” on the subject of the law of sedition.


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.

1 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: wont


2 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: contrary it derives