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Special Report: Law & Order
Source # Title:  Click to visit article
Soumendranath Tagore 1 Excerpts from 'Chapter VIII: Rammohan and Judicial Reforms' ;in 'Rammohun Roy: His Role in Indian Renaissance'; The Asiatic Society, 1975; page 79 to 85.
Rammohan's contributions to judicial reforms, and more significantly, his methodology that lead to success even against even the might of the British Empire.
2 Watch this space for new additions!
3 Watch this space for new additions!
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Preamble:
Today, especially in Bengal, things are going terribly wrong. Many people believe it is because of the moribund bureaucracy - government, institutional, private ... whatever - that is responsible for this unacceptable state of affairs.

The objective of 'Stop'n Look!' is to throw the searchlight on the problems created by those people who are thriving in an obsolete bureacratic system - at our expense. We compile information from the media, as well as first-hand reports from our correspondents, that show how callous our elders have become.

You will be the ultimate judge of our future direction.

Viva la vox populi!

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Special Report - Law & Order

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.
During 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.

So in 1828, we find Rammohun taking a very prominent part in the agitation against the East India Jury Act, which had come into operation in the beginning of 1827.

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.

Wynn's Act was received in India with a storm of protest and the most prominent voice that was heard against it was the voice of Rammohun. In the Sambad Kaumudi, Rammohun wrote:

    "the consequences of this new Act is that in matters where a man's life is at stake or where banishment, imprisonment and severe punishment are awarded, we, Hindoos and Mussalmans, must submit to the verdict of Christians whether they be natives of Britain or the off-springs of British father by Indian mothers, whether they be the common Portuguese Armenians or the 'rice Christians' of Serampore. These persons shall have the privilege of joining in cases where our lives are concerned; whereas we, although living in the same country or in the same hamlet with them and partaking in their virtues and vices, shall have no power of judging respecting them. In like manner our descendants must also submit their lives to the decisions of the sons of Christians."
In this unreasonable distinction between Christians and the people of other faiths, Rammohun suspected an insidious attempt on the part of the Government to favour the spread of Christianity in the country. "Missionaries and clergymen", Rammohun added, "have spent more than thirty years in disseminating their faith in different sorts of books and by various other means, without being able to make a single true and sincere convert to Christianity: but now the way is opened and many persons, no longer able patiently to bear the reproach brought upon them by this Parliamentary Act, will take shelter under the Christian faith. When rulers of the country use force or are to win over their subjects to their own faith from that of their ancestors, who shall have the power to oppose?"

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:

    "I am quite at a loss to conceive why the Court of Directors instead of endeavouring to conciliate the affection of the millions of British subjects in India should, on the contrary, pass laws calculated to stir up a spirit of religious intolerance, in a now harmonious though mixed community, and to revolt the feelings of the most numerous class of it, particularly the intelligent among the rising generation."...
... In one of the most brilliant expositions of secularism in the multi-community state, Rammohun observed:
    "It lies with every Government to establish and preserve a community of feeling, interest and habitude among the various classes of its subjects, by treating them all as one great family, without showing an invidious preference to any particular tribe or sect, but giving fair and equal encouragement to the worthy and intelligent under whatever denomination they may be found."
The reply of Mr Grant, in which he turned down the plea of the Court of Directors not to proceed with the Bill, showed interesting points of similarity with the remarks of Rammohun ... Naturally the European Tory Press in India was greatly exercises by the India Justices and Juries Act. One editor saw in it a principle subversive of European ascendancy in India. Mr. Grant was, in his opinion, an inexperienced legislator who had been "mystified by Rammohun Roy". In an open attack on Rammohun, the e Asiatic Journal in its issue of September, 1833 wrote:
    "It is not often that we have occasion to speak favourably of the political measures of the Court of Directors or to use harsh language towards that enlightened ex-Brahmin, Rammohun Roy; in the present instance, however, we have good reason to break our usual rule in either case. Nothing can be more praiseworthy than the sound sense and cautious policy displayed by the court in their earnest recommendation for allowing the use of free discretion of the local government in regard to arguments evidently supplied by the Hindoo patriot, who has sacrificed truth and honesty in order to pander to passion for theory, and assured Mr Grant that all India regretted the nonappearance of native grand jurors, while he must have known that such a statement was hardly true when predicated of even the enlightened population of the single city of Calcutta."
The fulminations of the European editors only go to show the decisive role Rammohun played in bringing about changes in the Jury system by agitating successfully for the removal of distinctions based on religious faith and beliefs.
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