Gandhiji’s Thoughts on The Law and The Lawyers – An Unworthy Defence

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 a~ 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

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