Kristo Das Pal’s Speech on the Ilbert Bill (1883)

Introduction: K. D. Pal (1839-1884) was a leading Indian journalist and edited the „Hindoo Patriot“. At the end of his life he was nominated as Indian member of the Imperial Legislative Council. In this capacity he participated in the debate on the Ilbert Bill. Sir Courtenay Ilbert (1841-1924) was the law member on Viceroy Lord Ripon’s executive council. He drafted the bill  which granted Indian judges the power of trying European criminals. This led to a fierce campaign of the European community in Bengal against this bill. The educated Indians of this time were offended by this display of racial prejudice and the subsequent foundation of the Indian National Congress was to some extent due to the Indian reaction to this European agitation. The bill was watered down to assuage European feelings. Pal commented on this process in his three speeches.
(see also AHOI, Ch.6, section: Legislation, jurisdiction and administration)

I. 9th March 1883

.......I look upon this Bill as a legitimate and logical development of the progressive policy which characterises British rule in this country and that the principle being sound, just and righteous, my countrymen feel a deep interest in it.
            None, my lord, can regret more than I do the ebullition of feeling which this bill has caused. Considering the innocuous character of the Bill, I confess I did not expect it, nor did the Government, I believe, anticipate it.....
            I was young when the hurricane of the Sepoy Revolt burst upon the country in 1857, but I well recollect how feelings were torn asunder by the sad events of those days, how furious was the rage of denunciation and how terrible the voice of vengeance. And yet, when the storm of the  Mutiny subsided the feeling also subsided, and a few of those who had stood forth as uncompromising enemies of the Natives now stepped forward as zealous champions of their cause....
            All Englishmen, whether in India or in England, should rejoice, that within the century and a quarter they have ruled India, they have affected such a complete revolution in the Indian mind, both intellectual and moral, that Indian Magistrates are found fit to be trusted with the administration of the laws of the land, not only over their own countrymen, but also over the members of the ruling race. This is a work of which England may justly feel proud...

II. 4th January 1884

.........The primary object of your Lordship’s Government in the proposed legislation has been to wipe out the brand of race disqualification in the judiciary within certain limits in the trial of European-British subjects.And this object, I am happy to observe, has been steadily kept in view and for it our grateful thanks are due to your Excellency’s Government. I must at the same time confess that the scope of the original bill, itself a small measure, has been materially reduced by the modifications proposed from time to time. As far as I understand these modifications, both the Native and European Sessions Judges and the Native and European District Magistrates will be so far placed on a footing of equality that they will exercise equal jurisdiction over European British subjects in matters criminal. This equalization, however, has not been attained by extension, but by reduction of power; by taking away the power of independent action of the European Magistrates and not by adding to the power of Native Magistrates. In so far, I am constrained to say, the solution of the difficulty has been achieved by an unsatisfactory process.  The anomaly of race distinction is doubtless removed, but by changing the venu. Race distinction becomes most obtrusive only in the trial of a certain class of cases, and those cases are practically transferred from the file of the Native Magistrate to his junior, the Joint Magistrate. Thus the race distinction is made more pointed and painful. If the Native Magistrate be invested with a power which he will not be called upon to exercise, that power will be to all intents and purposed an unreality......

III. 26th January 1884

...... The passage of the bill marks three distinctive and important points, first, that the Queen’s Proclamation, the Magna Charta of the people of India, has been vindicated with a forced emphasis and earnestness, with which it never before had been vindicated, secondly, that a step, albeit a short one, still a well-defined one has been taken in putting the higher order of covenanted civilians, both European and Native, on a footing of equality which no future Government dare retrogress, and thirdly, that, if my countrymen prove equal to the occasion, the onward policy is sure to advance.

 (G. A. Natesan (ed.), Kristo Das Pal. A sketch of his Life and Character (Madras n.d.) p..i,ii, iii,viii)


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