28. The Hallucination of Law Courts

If we were not under the spell of lawyers and law courts and if there were no touts to tempt us into the quagmire of the courts and to appeal to our basest passions, we would be leading a much happier life than we do today. Let those who frequent the law courts — the best of them—bear witness to the fact that the atmosphere about them is foetid. Perjured witnesses are ranged on either side, ready to sell their very souls for money or for friendship's sake. But that is not the worst of these courts. The worst is that they support the authority of a government. They are supposed to dispense justice and are therefore called the palladile of a nation's liberty. But when they support the authority of an unrighteous Government they are no longer palladile of liberty, they are crushing houses to crush a nation's spirit. Such were the martial law tribunals and the summary courts in the Punjab. We had them in their nakedness. Such they are even in normal times when it is a matter of dispensing justice between a superior race and its helots. This is so all the world over. Look at a trial of an English officer and the farcical punishment he received for having deliberately tortured inoffensive Negroes at Nairobi. Has a single Englishman suffered the extreme penalty of the law or anything like it for brutal murders in India ? Let no one suppose that these things would be changed when Indian judges and Indian prosecutors take the place of Englishmen. Englishmen are not by nature corrupt. Indians are not necessarily angels. Both succumb to their environment. There were Indian judges and Indian prosecutors during the martial law regime, who were generally guilty of just as bad practices as the Englishmen. Those who tortured the innocent women in Amritsar were Indians, if it was a Bosworth Smith in Manianwala who insulted its women. What I am attacking is the system. I have no quarrel with the Englishmen as such. I honour individuals among them today as I did before my discovery of the unimprovableness of the existing system. If anything, Mr. Andrews and other Englishmen I could name, are nearer to me today than before. But I could not tender my homage even to him who is more than a brother to me, if he became the Viceroy of India. I would distrust his ability to remain pure if he accepted the office. He would have to administer a system that is inherently corrupt and based on the assumption of our inferiority. Satan mostly employs comparatively moral instruments and the language of ethics, to give his aims an air of respectability.

I have digressed a little for the purpose of showing that this Government, if it was wholly manned by Indians but worked as it now is, would be as intolerable to us as it is now. Hence it is that the knowledge of Lord Sinha's appointment to a high office fails to fill me with a glow of satisfaction. We must have absolute equality in theory and in practice, and ability to do away with the British connection if we so wish.

But to revert to the lawyers and the law courts, we cannot gain this desirable status, so long as we regard with superstitious awe and wonder the so-called palaces of justice. Let not individuals who get satisfaction of their greed or revenge for their just claims, be blind to the ultimate aim of Government which they represent. Without its law courts the Government must perish in a day. I admit that under my plan this power of subjugating the people through the courts will still remain even when every Indian lawyer has withdrawn and there are no civil suits in the law courts. But then they will cease to deceive us. They will have lost their moral prestige and therefore the air of respectability. It is strange but it is true that so long as we believed in the gradual transference of the power of the English to the people, appointments to high posts in the law courts were hailed as a blessing. Now that we believe that the system is incapable of being gradually mended, every such appointment by reason of its deceptiveness must be regarded as an evil. Therefore every lawyer suspending his practice to that extent undermines the prestige of the law courts and to that extent every suspension is a gain for the individual as for the nation.

The economic drain that the law courts cause has at no time been considered. And yet it is not a trifle. Every institution founded under the present system is run on a most extravagant scale. Law courts are probably the most extravagantly run. I have some knowledge of the scale in England, a fair knowledge of the Indian and an intimate knowledge of the South African. I have no hesitation in saying that the Indian is comparatively the most extravagant and bears no relation to the general economic condition of the people. The best South African lawyers — and they are lawyers of great ability — dare not charge the fees the lawyers in India do. Fifteen guineas is almost a top fee for legal opinion. Several thousand rupees have been known to have been charged in India. There is something sinful in a system under which it is possible for a lawyer to earn from fifty thousand to one lakh rupees per month. Legal practice is not — ought not to be — a speculative business. The best legal talent must be available to the poorest at reasonable rates. But we have copied and improved upon the practice of the English lawyers. Englishmen find the climate of India trying. The habits imbued under a cold and severe climate are retained in India, ample margin is kept for frequent migrations to the hills and to their island home and an equally ample margin is kept for the education of an exclusive and aristocratic type for their children. The scale of their fees is naturally therefore pitched very high. But India cannot bear the heavy drain. We fancy that, in order to feel the equals of these English lawyers, we must charge the same killing fees that the English do. It would be a sad day for India if it has to inherit the English scale and the English tastes so utterly unsuitable to the Indian environment. Any lawyer looking at the law courts and the profession of law from the view-points I have ventured to suggest cannot keep coming to the conclusion that if he wants to serve the nation to the best of his ability, the first condition of service is suspension of his practice. He can come to a different conclusion only if he successfully changes the statement of facts I have made.

Young India, 6-10-1920, pp. 2-3