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|1. Excerpts from 'Chapter VIII: Rammohun and Judicial Reforms', by Soumendranath Tagore ;in 'Rammohun Roy: His Role in Indian Renaissance; The Asiatic Society, 1975; page 79 to 85.|
the early days of the East India Company, the judicial system prevalent
in the country was in a state of transition. The judiciary had no codes
of law; nor was there any uniform procedure in its operations. Distinctions
were also made between "His Majesty's Subjects" and the so-called natives
professing different religions.
Rammohun was conscious of the deficiencies of the Company's judicial system. And in order to make the judiciary serve the common people better, he was strongly in favour of a closer association of the people with the administration of justice. Judges, in his opinion, owing to the absence of a common language and the differences in manners could not acquire an adequate knowledge of the real nature of the grievances of the persons seeking redress or of the real character and validity of the evidence by which their claims were supported or opposed. Rammohun therefore insisted that Indians with their knowledge of the peculiar habits, manners and prejudices of their own countrymen should be given a direct and considerable share in the administration of justice.
Trial by Jury in criminal cases was introduced in 1726 with the establishment of the Mayor's Courts. When the Supreme Courts replaced them in 1774, the same system continued and the British subjects, staying in presidency towns alone, were eligible to sit on juries on criminal trials as before. Indians, and even Indo-Britons, as Anglo-Indians of those days were known, could not claim to be represented on the Petty Jury, not to speak of the Grand Jury. However, having gradually come into more intimate contact with Europeans, the Indians and the Indo-Britons became conscious of three rights and privileges and commenced agitations by submitting petitions to the British Parliament asking to be permitted to sit on the juries. In response to these appeals, William Wynn, the then President of the Board of Control, was persuaded to introduce the Indian Jury Bill and had it passed by the British Parliament on May 5, 1826. By this Act both Indo-Britons and the Indians were for the first time made eligible to sit on juries in criminal cases before the Supreme Courts, but a discrimination was made in the rights and privileges of the two communities. While the Indo-Britons were given the full right and privilege to sit on both Grand and Petty Juries as well as on trial of both Christians and 'natives' the 'natives' were allowed to sit on Petty Juries alone, but that again not in trials of Christians.
In order to oppose this insidious move to establish the superiority of Christians on the one hand and to introduce animosity among different communities on the other, Rammohun not only organized protest meetings but also arranged to submit a petition of remonstrance over the signatures of a large number of Hindus as well Muslims to the British Parliament. The petition asserted that the Act had become very unpopular and "if these disabilities were not removed in time, no Hindoo or Mohammedan inhabitant will willingly serve as a juror in any capacity."
... But the matter did not end there ... two petitions, almost on the lines of the one submitted by Rammohun, were submitted to Parliament by the inhabitants of Bombay. When these were taken up by the House of Commons on September 1, 1831, Mr. Charles Grant, the new President of the Board of Control, informed the House that a committee of enquiry wa already discussing the complaints of Rammohun and others. Mr grant had also informed the Company's Court of Directors the contents of a Bill he intended to introduce in the British Parliament to repeal the last clause of Wynn's Jury Act, to which objection had been taken.
The Court of Directors was strongly opposed to Mr Grant's proposals ... and on the point of allowing Indians to sit on the Grand juries and on Petty Juries on trials of Christians, they were not willing to give way. Mercilessly exposing the communal bias of the policy pursued by the Court of Directors, Rammohun underscored:
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