49. How not to do it?

At the very earnest request of Mayadevi, 16 years old wife of Kesar Mai, I reproduce elsewhere her picturesque petition** praying for the release of her young husband, 21 years old. The case presented seems to me to be unanswerable but a good cause has been spoiled by a bad advocate. Though the petition is that of Mayadevi, it is quite clear that it is the handiwork of a draftsman who has written in a fit of rage against what he has, undoubtedly and with good cause, believed to be a monstrous injustice. But anger is short madness and noblest causes have been damaged by advocates affected with temporary lunacy. The petition is overlaid with useless adjectives and declamations. Whilst it has been a pleasure to me to dissect the many businesslike petitions that have come from that land of sorrow, in the present instance I have been obliged to labour through violent language to what I consider to be a right conclusion. I do not happen to know the draftsman of the petition. Mayadevi, who has sent a covering letter equally violently worded, gives me no information about the draftsman. But I do wish as a practised draftsman to warn writers of petition, whether they be pleaders or otherwise, to think of the cause they may be espousing for the time being. I assure them that a bare statement of facts embellished with adjectives is far more eloquent and effective than a narrative glowing with exuberant language.
Petition writers must understand that they address busy men, not necessarily sympathetic, sometimes prejudiced, and almost invariably prone to sustain the decisions of their subordinates. In the case of the Punjab they approach a Viceroy and a Lieutenant-Governor who have preconceived ideas. Petitions have to be read and analysed by public workers and journalists who have none too much time at their disposal. I know to my cost how difficult it is for me to do full justice to the value of the papers that pour in upon me week to week from the Punjab. I make a present of my valuable experience to young patriots who wish to try the art of advocating public cause by writing petitions or otherwise. I had the privilege of serving under the late Mr. Gokhale and for a time under the G. O. M.* of India. Both told me that if I wanted to be heard I must be brief, I must write to the point and adhere to facts, and never travel beyond the cause under notice, and I must be most sparing in my adjectives. And if some success has attended my effort it is due to my acceptance of the golden advice given to me by the two illustrious deceased. With this preface and warning I proceed to the analysis of the case of young Kesar Mai.
I am anxious that the excellent case of young Kesar Mai might not be overlooked by reason of bad draftsmanship of the petition. The wonder to me is that so many petitions have been written with marked ability and amazing self-restraint. But when a badly drawn document comes their way it is the business of public workers to sift the grain from the chaff and present the former to the public.
Let it be remembered that this is one of the Hafizabad cases arising out of the tumult that took place at Hafizabad station during which Lieut. Tatam is alleged to have been the object of the mischievous attention of the crowd that had gathered at that station. Kesar Mai was sentenced to be hanged, the sentence being subsequently commuted to ten years' imprisonment. The wife's petition says, "It is justice which Your Excellency's petitioner most humbly seeks and on justice Your Excellency's petitioner insists." And on that account she asks for the release of her young husband. The grounds as can be collected from the petition are:

  1. The prosecution evidence is inconsistent with itself.
  2. The charge against Kesar Mai is that he was trying to snatch Lieut. Tatam's child from him, but according to the petition, the police produced Kesar Mai a dozen times before the Lieutenant, but Mr. Tatam would as many times nod his head meaning positive and complete nay and added each time, "none tried to snatch the child from me!"
  3. Lieut. Tatam did not identify Kesar Mai even as one of the men concerned in assaulting him.
  4. Identification parade was held sometime after the occurrence.
  5. Lieut. Tatam is reported to have said, "Your Deputy Commissioner Lieut. Col. O'Brien is a very strong man and he has unnecessarily compelled me to make too much of the case."
  6. The petition charges the police with having given colour to the proceedings which they did not deserve.
  7. The prosecution witnesses were nearly all Government servants, i.e., chaprasis, moharrirs, railway staff, police staff, and also pedlars, confectioners etc. who are alleged to have been made to give evidence.
  8. Prosecution witnesses against Kesar Mai were either prejudiced or themselves feared "implications" or expected favours.
  9. Lieut. Tatam himself had nothing against Kesar Mai. Bashir Haiyat stated, "Only Kesar Mai was wounded by the glass of the window." Haveli Ram identified Kesar Mai, but the Commission remarked about him, "demeanour bad not to he trusted". Similar was the case with Wadhawa Mai. Kishan Dayal was another prosecution witness who is stated to have perjured himself and given evidence flatly in contradiction of Lieut. Tatam's. Kishan Dayal appears to have been a boon companion of Kesar Mai and yet is said to have stated to the court that he did not know Kesar Mai before. Chapter and verse are given in the petition to prove Kishan Dayal's intimacy with Kesar Mai. Kisan Dayal is stated to have yielded to police influence and, it is said, he is now sorry "for his wrong and cruel statement".
  10. The defence evidence was entirely ignored although the defence witnesses were impartial men of position.
  11. Young Kesar Mai belongs to a family which rendered services to the Government.
If these allegations are true, it is clear that Kesar Mai has been wrongly convicted and is entitled to be discharged. Cases like this prove the great need there is for an impartial Commission to investigate them. Sir William Vincent has sprung a surprise upon the community by stating that two judges would be appointed to investigate such cases and report upon them to the Government. One would have thought that Lord Hunter's Committee would be able to do this work. But I take it that the public would be satisfied with this separate committee, provided that the judges to be appointed are strong, independent and able men. Sir William Vincent might have been more communicative than he was. He evidently does not realize the pain and the torture under which the relatives of men who, in their opinion, are wrongly convicted, are passing their days.

An Unworthy Defence

One almost despairs of getting justice when one reads the debates that have taken place in the Viceregal Council and the defence put forth for every vile and vindictive act done in the Punjab in the name of prestige, law and order. Even the 'hands and knees' order has been sought to be justified by Lieut. General Sir Havelock Hudson. The action of the crowd against an innocent lady doctor cannot be condemned too strongly or too vehemently. I do not know whether all the facts stated by the gallant General are true, but for the purpose of my argument, I shall assume them to be true. I venture to submit, however, that no act on the part of an infuriated mob can possibly be held to justify the issuing of a barbarous order in cold blood requiring that "those who wished to pass the scene of the assault on Miss Sherwood should be made to crawl on their hands and knees." The scene of assault was not an out-of-the-way corner which nobody need visit or which people could avoid if they chose. There was, therefore, no question of people's wishing to pass the scene of the assault. It was one of being obliged to pass the scene. Why should people who had no hand in the act of violence have 'to crawl on their hands and knees' in passing the scene of the assault? The General proceeds thus to justify the order:

"I think that the Council will agree that it is not surprising that the officer in command at Amritsar took the view that some unusual measures were necessary to bring home to the mob that such acts of violence directed against defenceless women could not be tolerated. Something was required to strike the imagination and impress on all the determination of the military authorities to protect European women."'

The whole of the speech is worth reading as an example of bad taste. It is speeches such as Sir Havelock Hudson's which create bad blood and give unbridled licence to the soldiery. I was totally unprepared for this defence from high quarters of acts of vengeance, unworthy of true soldiers. Surely there are nobler methods of ensuring protection for European women. Have their lives been in such danger in India as to require any special protection? Why should the life of a European woman be held more sacred than that of an Indian woman? Has she not the same sense of honour, the same feelings? What is the British flag worth if a British soldier wearing the King's uniform rises from his seat in the Viceregal Council and insults the people of India by language such as Lieut. General Sir Havelock Hudson has used ? I still do not approve of the cry against the Indemnity Bill. I think, with due deference to the great experienced leaders of opinion in India, that to put it at its worst it was bad tactics to have opposed the Indemnity Bill but the speech of General Hudson, if it reflects, as I fear it does, the sentiments of the English members of the Council, must cause the gravest misgivings as to the ultimate result of Lord Hunter's Committee and its off shoot.

Young India, 27-9-1919

**This petition is not included in this book.
* Grand Old Man, i.e. Dadabhai Naoroji.