Friday, October 19, 2012

The dignified but firm protest.

In April 1845, a Memorandum (they called it a Memorial, those days) was presented to the British Govt by a highly respectable group of “Hindoo Gentlemen”, convened by the Sheriff of Madras, at the Hindoo Literary Society's Rooms. About two hundred persons were present. The chair was taken by G. Latchmenarasu Chetty, Esq., a distinguished Hindoo.

The memorandum was to protest the introduction of a proposal, in the shape of a Draft Act by the Law Commission of India, declaring English Law as the substantive law of the land  and that the Courts would cease to respect the laws, usages and customs of the Hindoos.  

Latchmenarasu Chetty then made the following introductory speech, a very impressive one.
Gentlemen,—For several centuries prior to the English assuming any authority in India, the country was subject to various kinds of Governments, and under the baneful influence of continual discords and aggressions. Among foreign European nations, the Portuguese, Dutch and French, first came to India for commercial purposes, and evinced at the outset a very friendly behaviour towards us; but after being allowed to acquire a settlement in the country, they soon discovered a wish for dominion and authority over the people. Feeling, after a time, the irksomeness of their conduct, particularly in the innovations they endeavoured to introduce into our religious creed and usages, the people became averse to those visitors, and alienated in their feelings towards them.

At this period, the English, following the example of their European neighbours, turned their attention to India, also in a trading capacity at first; but finding the views they secretly entertained towards the new found country very seriously impeded by the rivalry of those who had preceded them, they volunteered a negotiation of reciprocal friendship with certain of the Native Princes, to the effect that they (the English) would co-operate with them in relieving the country of those other Europeans whose conduct had rendered them obnoxious to the people of India, and restore peace and tranquility to the country.

In accordance with such pledge, the English waged war with, and eventually subdued, those whom we had become disposed to regard as unwelcome and oppressive. This point gained, the English openly evinced a desire of changing their position in the country, from the original one of merchants and traders to that of Sovereign. In order the more effectually to carry out their plans, they were aware that the cordial co-operation of the people was necessary ; they therefore set about securing our attachment, by providing clauses in the Charters granted to the Honourable East India Company, as well as in the Regulations and orders of the local Governments for the protection of our civil and religious rights from outrage.

It is with feelings of both regret and apprehension, however, that we now witness, on the part of the said Company in India, the disclosure of an attempt to withhold, in a most serious way, the protection which has been invariably shewn us for nearly two centuries, and to violate the good faith which we have hitherto implicitly relied on and respected. The apprehension alluded to is induced by a proposal, in the shape of a Draft Act by the Law Commission of India, published under the orders of the Governor in Council of this Presidency, in the official Gazette of the 11th February of the present year, and declaring in purport that the English Law shall be the Substantive Law of the land, as well at the several Presidencies as in the Mofussil of the respective settlements, and that the Courts of the Honourahle East India Company shall cease to respect the laws, usages and customs of the Hindoos, which are prejudicial to the conversion of Natives to the Christian religion. 
He concludes his speech by seeking an adoption of the Memorandum.
.. Under these circumstances the present meeting has been convened, for the purpose of drawing up a representation of the grievances contemplated by the Draft Act under reference, and it will rest with the meeting to decide, whether a Memorial is the best mode of proceeding; and if so, how far the Memorial, which is about to be read, will express the sentiments of our community, and whether it shall be adopted entire, or with any alterations which may be suggested by its perusal.

The  Memorandum to the Governor-General in Council was subsequently adopted.

( Read here the full text of his speech, and the full draft of the Memorandum)

Incredible that the native speakers could,  as early as 1845, come up with such stirring speeches in English.  The major Universities came into being only in 1857 and higher education picked up only after that.

Update 20/10/12 : G.A.Bushby, Secretary to the Govt of India, provides a point-wise response to the issues raised in the Memorandum (Link) 

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