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Who Is Sankaran Nair? Lawyer’s Historic Battle For Jallianwala Bagh Reality


Right now historians regard the Jallianwala Bagh bloodbath of 1919 as a “decisive step” in the direction of the top of British rule in India, turning average Indians towards colonial forces and even pushing Rabindranath Tagore to resign his knighthood. It’s an occasion that resonates with these of us born even generations later, its harrowing particulars vividly recalled by historical past in texts, media, pictures, and a survivor’s bone-chilling account.

However within the rapid aftermath of the bloodbath, issues weren’t so.

The British had a number of methods to curtail press freedom in India and, in flip, curb the never-ending wave of anti-government sentiment and vernacular reportage. In an appalling instance of simply how, British journalist B G Horniman, a staunch supporter of India’s independence motion, was imprisoned and later deported for reporting the bloodbath and different atrocities happening in Punjab on the time.

Nevertheless, additional swept beneath the rug is the story of a lawyer who helped carry the devastating bloodbath to gentle — Sir Chettur Sankaran Nair. On the time, Nair was a widely known public determine serving as the one Indian member of the Viceroy’s Government Council, the very best governing physique in British India.

lawyer c sankaran nair was the only indian member of the viceroy's executive council
C Sankaran Nair’s determination to resign after the Jallianwala Bagh bloodbath marked a brand new chapter in India’s freedom wrestle.

When Nair heard of the bloodbath, he was so horrified that he resigned from his publish in protest. His resignation would result in a number of rapid reforms, and right this moment, within the circles the place his illustrious life and profession are recognized, he’s considered one “who positioned India firmly on the highway to constitutional freedom”.

In 2021, filmmaker Karan Johar introduced that he can be producing a film impressed by Nair’s life and the notorious courtroom case he fought towards Michael Francis O’Dwyer, then Lt governor of Punjab and thought of among the many key planners of the assault.

The film is claimed to be primarily based on the ebook The Case That Shook The Empire, written by Raghu Palat, Nair’s great-grandson, and his spouse Pushpa Palat. Experiences say the movie will star R Madhavan and Akshay Kumar in key roles.

However past the confines of the historic courtroom drama, Nair’s life was punctuated by a number of revolutionary transformations within the years that India struggled for her freedom.

A reformist by coronary heart

Nair was born in 1857 within the village of Mankara within the erstwhile Malabar area in an aristocratic household. His education started first at dwelling, and ultimately, in an English-medium college in his hometown, the place he recalled performing properly, regardless of his early studying years being centred principally round Sanskrit.

Of his time in faculty at Presidency Faculty, Madras, he reminisced, “All our professors in these days have been Englishmen. [They] allowed us full freedom of speech…On one event, we needed to write an essay on the declaration of independence by America…There have been a few of us who wrote that England should behave higher in India, in any other case Bombay can be one other Boston Harbour. Our principal took it in good half. In today, it will have been a matter in all probability for the C.I.D.”

In the direction of the top of the 1870s, Nair pursued his regulation diploma from Madras Regulation Faculty and started his profession within the Madras Excessive Courtroom, quickly turning into a member of the Madras Bar.

Over the following decade or so, his profession would develop from energy to energy — in 1890, he was appointed to the Madras Legislative Council and would turn into deeply concerned with the Indian nationalist motion. In 1897, he was elected president of the Indian Nationwide Congress, and in 1907, grew to become the primary Indian to be appointed advocate basic of the Madras authorities. Later the identical yr, he grew to become a choose on the Madras Excessive Courtroom.

Of their profile of Nair, the INC wrote that although a reformist by coronary heart, his official work interrupted a lot of his life as a free political thinker. In the meantime, Open Journal editor Nandini Nair opined that “Within the pantheon of freedom fighters, Sankaran Nair is commonly ignored as a result of as a constitutionalist he opposed Mahatma Gandhi’s strategies.”

Regardless, in his time, Nair used his political standing to oppose “extremism in phrases and deeds”, the blending of faith and politics, and “exaggerated nationalism”. He was a proponent for the abolition of toddler marriage and caste, and the introduction of main schooling for low-income teams. Nair, maybe impressed by the household that he had grown up in, the place inheritance was a feminine proper versus a bonus typically exploited by males, was additionally a fierce supporter of ladies’s equality.

At a time when he held a place that was coveted — and deemed unattainable — by Indians, he additionally performed an integral position within the Reforms Act of 1919, which “expanded the participation of Indians by introducing diarchy within the provinces, beneath which elected ministers have been liable for topics reminiscent of schooling, well being and native self-government,” wrote Nandini Nair.

‘Probably the most superb and golden hour’

In the meantime, the identical yr, Punjab — and the remainder of India — was reeling beneath the aftermath of Jallianwala Bagh. Years later, KPS Menon, Nair’s biographer and son-in-law, would name the senior chief’s subsequent resignation from the Government Council “probably the most superb and golden hour of Sankaran Nair’s life. His star was by no means brighter.”

Such was the curbing of freedom of the press in Punjab that initially, Nair, even at that peak of political energy, didn’t hear in regards to the occasions in Amritsar. From the reporting of the occasions to the variety of casualties, many info and figures have been distorted by the British in order to not let the severity of the act leak to the general public at giant.

However when the information did trickle right down to the general public and reached Nair’s corridors, he was outraged. Of his determination to resign, he wrote, “Nearly each day, I used to be receiving complaints personally and by letters, of probably the most harrowing description of the bloodbath…and the martial regulation administration.”

“If to manipulate a rustic, it’s mandatory that harmless individuals ought to be slaughtered…and that any civilian officer might, at any time, name within the navy and the 2 collectively might butcher the folks as at Jallianwala Bagh, the nation isn’t price residing in,” he stated.

On the similar time, he famous, he discovered that “Lord Chelmsford (then Viceroy of India) accepted of what was being performed in Punjab”. In The Case that Shook the Empire, the authors recalled that Chelmsford thought Dyer’s remedy of Indians in Punjab to be “very [reasonable] and in no sense [tyrannous]” and that “in these circumstances, an error in judgement, transitory in nature, shouldn’t carry down upon [Dyer] a penalty which might be out of proportion to the offence…”

“That, to me, was stunning,” Nair recalled.

a black and white picture of jallianwala bagh immediately after the massacre
Right now historians regard the Jallianwala Bagh bloodbath of 1919 as a “decisive step” in the direction of the top of British rule in India.

At first, Nair delayed his resignation on the behest of Annie Besant, with whom he shared a cordial relationship. Motilal Nehru and Charles Freer Andrews, a priest and pal of Gandhi’s, have been amongst those that requested him to remain, hoping that he would use his place to advance India’s trigger. “However issues, finally, grew to become insupportable,” he recalled.

Nair formally resigned in July of that yr, and when he returned to Madras, he was acquired with love and adulation, ovations, feasts, and celebratory bursting of crackers.

Owing to the disputed reviews of the bloodbath, the All India Congress Committee demanded an inquiry into the extent of the position of the British and requested Nair to go to London to foyer for an investigation into the matter. Nair wrote, “I used to be decided that if I might probably handle it, there can be no Jallianwala Bagh once more in India.”

He insisted that the British authorities condemn Dyer’s actions and closely criticised Michael O’Dwyer for his position within the bloodbath in his ebook Gandhi and Anarchy, whereas additionally opposing Gandhi’s views on non-cooperation.

‘The case that shook the empire’

The ebook would mark probably the most well-known chapter of Nair’s life. Unwilling and refusing to render an apology to O’Dwyer for highlighting the official’s position in Jallianwala Bagh, Nair was dragged to courtroom after being sued for defamation.

He was tried on the Courtroom of the King’s Bench in London earlier than an English choose and jury, and his case, reported by The Wire, was adopted by the whole world, in impact lastly bringing to gentle the Jallianwala Bagh bloodbath and the atrocities that the British empire had been inflicting on India. The case lasted 5 weeks, and was, on the time, the longest within the courtroom’s historical past.

The bias of an all-English panel in courtroom resulted within the outcomes being in favour of O’Dwyer and Dyer, and all jury members however one voted towards Nair’s favour. Nevertheless, on not having a unanimous verdict, the courtroom provided Nair an possibility for a contemporary trial. Nair instantly refused, believing that “twelve completely different English shopkeepers” would hardly give him a special verdict.

He was then provided two decisions — present an apology or a sum of seven,500 kilos. For Nair, the apparent alternative was the latter.

Although the decision was not in Nair’s favour, the consequences of his efforts to carry the tragedy to gentle noticed virtually rapid results. He recalled, “The press censorship was directly abolished. Sir Michael O’Dwyer introduced inside three or 4 days of my resignation that the martial regulation would quickly be rid of, and it was truly cancelled inside lower than 15 days.”

lawyer c sankaran nair was the only indian member of the viceroy's executive council
Lawyer C Sankaran Nair was the one Indian member of the viceroy’s government council.

Nair’s resignation additionally resulted within the structure of the Hunter Fee investigating the occasions at Jallianwala Bagh. It had each Indians in addition to the English look into the matter.

Then secretary of state for India, Edwin Montagu, as soon as considered Nair as “that not possible man”, however his integrity would ultimately assist the Englishman realise that the lawyer “wielded extra affect than another Indian”.

Maybe this is the reason, at the same time as Nair ultimately fell out with the Congress owing to his views on Gandhi — an occasion broadly considered the explanation why his contributions light someplace up to now into the background — his trigger strengthened the nationalist motion and marked the start of the top of the British empire in India.

Edited by Pranita Bhat; All photos courtesy: Wikimedia Commons



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