Essay

Godmen and libel

Print edition : July 10, 2015

Karsandas Mulji, editor of "Satya Prakash".

In 1862, the head of a religious sect filed a defamation case against a newspaper for exposing his sexual exploitation of female devotees. In a remarkable judgment that has a special relevance for our times, the judges held that it was the duty of the press to expose such misdeeds and that what was morally wrong cannot be theologically right.

It is not possible for us, in this day and age, to imagine the passions whipped up a century and a half ago by the Maharaj libel case. A godman brought a libel suit against a newspaper for exposing his sexual exploitation of female devotees. The charges (of sexual exploitation) were proved true; but, in the process, the fact that he had venereal disease was also exposed in court.

The case is noteworthy for reasons more than one. First, the stature of the two English judges and their judicial discipline. Their judgments were brief and to the point. They were at pains to distinguish between the nobility of the great religion of Hinduism and its perversion by the godman.

It is not realised that in the Shah Bano case, Justice Y.V. Chandrachud went out of his way to make a reference to Prophet Muhammad which was as irrelevant as it was offensive. Would he have done so with regard to the founder of any other faith? Judgments of the Supreme Court are prolix with embellishments that that add little to clarity or elegance. Our judges want to be loved by the public.

Other reasons are as relevant today. It became known that followers of the impostor, who claimed to be Krishna, had organised a meeting of members of the sect, which resolved that none would depose against him. The libel case was put off. The offenders (who had organised the meeting of the sect) were tried for conspiracy to obstruct the course of justice and were sentenced. Judicial strictures have had little effect on Bar associations and lawyers, some of whom act as rowdies, threatening physical harm to deter other lawyers from appearing for some side or the other. One has not heard of a single case of proven punishment.

The last reason is no less relevant. In 1862, the judges not only upheld the right of the press to expose wrongdoings, but held that it was its duty to do so. We must thank the erudite historian of the Bombay Bar, P.B. Vacha, for bringing alive the personalities and for evoking the atmosphere of the times. It was a singularly wooden-headed Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court, H.K. Chainani—an Indian Civil Service man—who refused to publish Vacha’s splendid work as an official biography of the court ( Famous Judges, Lawyers and Cases of Bombay: A Judicial History of Bombay during the British Period; published on the occasion of the centenary of the Bombay High Court (1962) by N.M. Tripathi Pvt. Ltd, a respected firm of publishers of law books which is now defunct).

So, tragically, are all the firms in Mumbai which sold rare books. Without them, this writer would have been unable to write most of the books he has written. It is well worth the while of any scholar to examine the role of such bookshops in the intellectual life of a city; indeed, of the country. I bought a full record of the Maharaj libel case four decades ago for the princely sum of Rs.15. It was published in 1936.

The Maharaj libel case was heard by the Supreme Court of Bombay before it became the High Court in 1862. Vacha writes: “Its first Chief Justice was Sir Mathew Sausse, known in his time as Sausse the Silent. Cold, frigid and stern, he was the very emblem of judicial dignity and reserve. His judgments were reflections of his temper—they were matter of fact, terse and strictly to the purpose in the enunciation of legal principles. Bombay saw little of him outside the High Court Bench; he knew no social recreation, except after court hours a solitary ride on the Back Bay shore, then mostly swampy ground; and punctual attendance at Mass on Sunday mornings in the Roman Catholic chapel at Girgaum, still existing and known as the Portuguese Church. It was said and believed of him that he led a life of seclusion, that he never entered Government House, and never read newspapers. The popular idea about him was that he acted strictly on the principle that a Judge should see and hear nothing but what comes to his eyes and reaches his ears when he presides on the Bench.

“That was perhaps exaggeration; but the popular version of the time represented on the whole the strictness of Sir Mathew Sausse’s judicial temper. He had among his colleagues some brilliant lawyers. They were Sir Joseph Arnould, distinguished for his knowledge of law and literature, a friend of the poet Robert Browning, well known in the literary circles of London as a leader-writer for the ‘Daily News’, before he came out to India as a Judge of the Supreme Court of Bombay, and author of ‘Marine Insurance’, which has become a standard work of reference in British and other Courts.”

Sausse and Arnould heard the libel case; even Homer nods. Vacha erroneously writes that the case was “tried before Sir Joseph Arnould”. He adds: “The Plaintiff in the suit was the head of the Vallabhacharya sect of the Vaishnavas. The defendant was one Karsandas Mulji, who edited a newspaper in which he wrote a number of articles, exposing the abuses that, according to him, prevailed in the Vallabhacharya sect. It seems that something akin to what was known in Roman Law as jus primae notis was claimed by or accorded to the religious heads of the sect; and their blind votaries, in their ignorance and credulity, sacrificed young women at the altar of a foul superstition. The articles created a great stir in the community, and threw the parasites of their temples, and the worshippers of the ‘holy’ religious head, into consternation and fury. The hold of spiritual superstitions was so strong upon ignorant people in those days that it demanded great courage and determination to expose and denounce practices which, if essentially lewd and repulsive, were sacrosanct in the eyes of the ignorant and orthodox classes. Karsandas braved public odium, and persisted in his course in the face of threats and persecution. The result was that the head priest, the subject of the attacks, sought legal redress.

“He filed a suit for defamation against Karsandas. In doing so, he threw himself unwittingly into the arms of an enlightened court, and a fierce and fearless advocate. Karsandas was lucky in securing for his defence the services of T.C. Anstey. Anstey’s brain was inflamed by the tale of trickery, fraud, and filth, which was placed before him; and he came to court determined to expose the foul practices, and crush a dangerous delusion. Few could withstand the scathing and relentless cross-examination of Anstey—least of all anybody with a dark and dubious record. …

“The story goes that as Anstey entered the court-room on the first day of the trial, he brushed past a man who was standing there, and his gown touched the man. The man shouted in vernacular, ‘do not contaminate me with your touch.’ Anstey turned round and asked what the man was saying. He was told that it was the plaintiff; and ‘His Holiness’ felt contaminated by the touch of an alien. Anstey retorted fiercely, ‘Tell the foul beast that I won’t touch him with a pair of tongs’.”

T.C. Anstey was a scholar. He appeared for the Wahabis who had killed a judge on the steps of Calcutta’s Supreme Court and applied for a writ of habeas corpus on the plea that the Magna Carta applied to India. To detain an Indian subject without trial, he argued, was to offer him two options—exile or rebellion. When he lost, he threatened to attack the Governor-General, a personal friend, in England itself. A street in Bombay is named after Anstey.

Now for the libel case. An editorial in Satya Prakash, a Gujarati newspaper, commented in its issue of October 21, 1860, on “The primitive (Pristine?) religion of the Hindus and the present Heterodox Opinions”. After recalling the majesty of Hinduism, it said: “Jadunathjee Maharaj says that in the same way as one goes from the gates of the Fort to proceed to Walkeshwar and someone to Byculla, so exactly the original course of the Vedas and the Puranas having gone forward, have diverged into different ways. What a deceitful proposition this is. Out of one religious system 10 or 15 by-ways must not branch off. The course of religion and of moral must be one only. What necessity is there to quit the straight road by which to go to Walkeshwar, and take the circuitous route of Byculla?

Godman’s heresy

“The sect of the Maharajas is heretical and one delusive to simple people; that is proved by the genuine books of the Vedas, the Puranas, etc., according to what is intimated above. Not only this, but also from the works composed by the Maharajas, it is proved that the Maharajas have raised up nothing but a new heresy and disorder. Behold with regard to the subject of Bramha how Gokulnathji has amplified the original stanza, what a commentary he has made: ‘Consequently before he himself has enjoyed her, he should make over his own married wife (to the Maharaj), and he should also make over (to him) his sons and daughters. After having got married, he should before having himself enjoyed his wife make an offering of her (to the Maharaj); after which he should apply her to his own use.’

“Alas! What a heresy this is, what a sham this is, and what a delusion this is! We ask Jadunathjee Maharaj in what Veda, in what Purana, in what Shastra, and in what law-book it is written that one’s married wife should be made over to a Maharaj or to a religious preceptor before being enjoyed. Not only one’s wife, but one’s daughter also is to be made over! Alas! In writing this, our pen will not move on. We are seized with utter disgust and agitation.”

Jadunathjee Brijruttonjee Maharaj filed a suit for libel on August 15, 1861, citing Karsandas Mulji, the editor, and Nanabhoy Rustomjee Roneena, the printer, as defendants. Soon after the pleadings were filed, it came to be known that Jadunath’s managers had organised the boycott meeting mentioned earlier. Their trial began on December 12, 1861, and ended with their conviction.

Only then did the libel case begin on January 25, 1864, before Chief Justice Sausse and Justice Arnould. Both sides called witnesses and tendered documents in support of their respective cases. A witness for Jadunath, the plaintiff, did not conceal his devotion to him. “The Maharaj does not practise any tyranny, what tyranny is it? By connection with Brahma I mean the chanting of mystic verse relating to the worship of Brahma. I don’t read Sanscrit. By God I mean Krishna. The verse was not explained to me in Gujratee. I believe the meaning of the verse was once explained to me by some Brahmin. In my opinion, the Maharaj is a representative of Krishna.” This answer was extracted from the witness on the threat of prosecution and a fine of Rs.100 from the Bench (worth a lakh of rupees in 2015).

Anstey persisted: “That Krishna is your protector, that therefore you surrender to him your mind, body, wealth, wife, sons, children, and everything else? Yes, the sense of this Sanscrit passage is that Krishna is my protector, and that I, who am destroyed by internal misery and pain, do surrender to Krishna my mind, body, my breath, my heart, my feelings, as also my wife, my house, my children, my relations, my wealth, and other worldly things.

Anstey: Do some Banias believe the Maharaj to be a God?

Witness: We consider him to be our gooroo.

Sir Mathew Sausse: Tell witness if he does not answer the question, he will be sent to jail.

Witness: What is the precise question? (Interpreter explains.) Some consider the Maharaj a god in the shape of gooroo.

Anstey: Is gooroo a God?

Witness: gooroo is gooroo.

Sir Mathew Sausse: Tell him if he does not answer the question most indubitably will he go to jail.

Sir Joseph Arnould: Tell him he is asked what others believe, not as to his own belief.

Witness: I don’t know if others believe him as God; I consider him as simply a gooroo.”

Two witnesses proved deadly for the Maharaj; one was a scholar in Hinduism and the other was a physician. Dr John Wilson, an ordained minister of the Free Church of Scotland and a graduate of the University of Edinburgh, came to this country in 1829. His professional duties as a missionary led him to the study of some of the Eastern languages: “I know the Sanskrit, the Zend, and to a certain extent the Pehlvi. I have some acquaintance with the Prakrit languages and the Brij Bhasha, in both its forms, I have presided at the examinations in languages of gentlemen of the Services. I was offered the office of Translator to Government, but declined it. I am a member of the Royal Society of Great Britain and Ireland, and a member of the Bombay branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. For seven years I was its president, and since 1842 have been its honorary president. I am a corresponding member of several Societies in Europe. I am the author of certain works of the ancient Hindu religious systems, and have prosecuted studies in the literature of the East. I commenced such of my studies in the University of Edinburgh, and prosecuted them on my arrival in this country.”

He established that it was not Hinduism which this godman of the 19 century practised. “The words ‘tan, man and dhan’ have nothing peculiar in their original meaning, which has been extended by the Maharajas. The intelligent portion of the Hindu community are making great researches in their old writings. I have read some of the works of the plaintiff and formed a very low estimate of them.

“I have seen some very obscene conduct on the part of the Maharajas, I have turned away from it in disgust. I should have been pleased to have seen a better state of things in this country. The passages in question were brought to my notice by parties engaged in the defence, but I was acquainted with them before.”

He said to the court: “The meaning of the words ‘ras lila’ is amorous sport; the meaning of ‘ras’ alone might be rendered as the ‘juices of fruit or of the body’. The Maharajas in a general point of view might be looked upon as preceptors, but not as preceptors of the Hindu religion.”

Godman’s disease

Dr Bhau Dajee was a graduate of the Grant Medical College, and a private practitioner. “I am a prizeman of the Elphinstone College. I won a prize on the best essay on female infanticide in Kathiawar. I was a member of the late Board Education, and am a Fellow of the Bombay University. I am a member of the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, the Bombay Geographical Society and several others. There is a female school permanently endowed in my name. I am a Shenvi Brahmin, and not a member of the Vallabhacharya sect. I have obtained a diploma of the Grant Medical College. I have taken a particular interest in the history and antiquities of my country. My practice extends amongst all classes of the natives, and I was the first graduate employed by the Maharajas of Bombay. I know the plaintiff, whom I first saw about a year and a half ago, once or twice professionally.

Anstey: What was the nature of the disease?

Dr Bhau: Am I bound, my Lord, to name the disease which I came to know confidentially in the course of my profession?

Sir Mathew Sausse: It is a proper objection on the part of this gentleman.

Anstey cited authorities to show that the objection could not be upheld. One of the pleas asserted distinctly that the plaintiff suffered from a certain disease, and the defendants were bound to prove it. The objection was overruled.

“Dr Bhau continued: The disease was syphilis, which is commonly known as the venereal disease. I did not treat him for it, he mentioned to me that he was suffering from ‘chandee’, and would send a man to me the following day. ‘Chandee’ literally means chancre, an ulcer. There were two friends present. Lukhmidass Khimjee and Rao Saheb Vishwanath Narayan, who retired as soon as the plaintiff began to describe to me the disease. So far as I remember I did not visit him again. He said the story of the case would be explained to me the next day. It was communicated to me by Govardhandass, plaintiff’s secretary and disciple. Govardhandass came to me the next day, and said Maharaj Jadunathjee was suffering from chancre.”

Chief Justice Sausse delivered his judgment on April 22, 1862. He held: “In the present case I see no reason to doubt that the defendant entered into this controversy with the honest purpose of exposing to public reprobation doctrines which he conscientiously believed to be subversive of social morality, and so far as he has commented upon those doctrines, I see no ground for complaint. I consider his strictures not to have in any degree exceeded the ‘licentious comments’ as it has been termed which is allowable upon matters more immediately affecting public interests, and I have no doubt that matters affecting the morality of a considerable portion of the public are undoubtedly matters of that description.

“In commenting upon the evidence I will avoid as far as practicable any reiteration of its disgusting details and deal with the credibility of the witnesses on general principles and in general terms. We are not now called upon to express any opinion as to whether the plea of justification covers the charge in the libel. That plea, if proved, is on the record admitted to contain a sufficient answer, and it is with it alone we have now to deal. The text upon which this libel was founded is a commentary by Gokulnathjee Maharaj, upon a work composed by his grandfather Vallabhacharya, the founder of this sect.

“It is not necessary to enquire and it would perhaps be hazardous to offer an opinion, upon what the intention of Gokulnathjee was, in making use of those words, but it appears abundantly from works of recognised authority, written by other maharajas and from existing popular belief in the Vallabhacharya sect that Vallabhacharya is believed to have been an incarnation of the God Krishna, and that the Maharajas as descendents of Vallabhacharya have claimed and received from their followers the like character of incarnation of that God, by hereditary succession. The Maharajas have been sedulous in identifying themselves with the God Krishna by means of their own writings and teachings and by the similarity of ceremonies of worship and addresses which they require to be offered to themselves by their followers.

“All songs connected with the God Krishna, which were brought before us were of an amorous character and it appeared that songs of a corrupting and licentious tendency, both in idea and expression, are sung by young females to the Maharajas, upon festive occasions, in which they are identified with the God in his most licentious aspect. In these songs, as well as in stories, both written and traditional, which latter are treated as of a religious character in the sect, the subject of sexual intercourse is most prominent. Adultery is made familiar to the minds of all; it is nowhere discouraged or denounced, but on the contrary, in some of the stories, those persons who have committed that great moral and social offence are commended, and in one of them, the actors are awarded the highest position in the heaven of the Vaishnavas, although nominally, for some attention paid on one occasion to the clearing of a temple of the God.

“The love and subserviency inculcated by the Hindu religion to be due in a spiritual sense to the Supreme Being has been by those corrupt teachings materialised, and to a large extent, transferred to those who claim to be his living incarnations. It is said to be ceremonially effected by mystic rite or dedication of ‘mind’, ‘property’ and ‘body’ (or man, dhan, and tan) which is made in childhood by males, but by females at the ceremony of marriage, and a popular belief appears to exist to a considerable extent that this dedication confers upon the Maharajas absolute rights over the ‘minds’, ‘properties’ and ‘bodies’ of their followers. The Maharajas, however, appear upon the evidence to have undoubtedly availed themselves of the existence of those impressions to gratify licentious propensities and a love of gain. These doctrines and practices are opposed to what we know of the original principles of the ancient Hindu religion which are said to be found in the Vedas.” He upheld the defence of justification.

Sir Joseph Arnould’s judgment was more incisive in its analyses. He said of the writer: “As a Vallabhacharyan addressing is co-sectaries, as a Bania addressing his caste fellows—above all as a journalist addressing his readers composed principally of followers of the Maharajas, had he no interest, had he no duty in denouncing the mal-practices which it is the principal object of this alleged libel to expose? It appears to me that he had both an interest and a duty.

True function of the press

“A public journalist is a public teacher; the true function of the press, that by virtue of which it has rightly grown to be one of the great powers of the modern world—is the function of teaching, elevating and enlightening those who fall within the range of its influence.

“To expose and denounce evil and barbarous practices; to attack usages and customs inconsistent with moral purity and social progress, is one of its highest, its most imperative duties. When those evils and errors are consecrated by time, fenced round by custom, countenanced and supported by the highest and most influential class in society, when they are wholly beyond the control and supervision of any other tribunal, then it is the function and the duty of the press to intervene; honestly endeavouring by all the powers of argument, denunciation and ridicule, to change and purify the public opinion which is the real basis on which these evils are built and the real power by which they are perpetuated.

“As editor of the Satya Prakash, the defendant was, in my opinion, acting within the clear limits of his duty (as defined in the case of Harrison vs Bush) in denouncing to a public principally composed of Bhattias and Banias, the moral delinquencies of the Maharajas.

“Primarily he attacks a flagrant social enormity and scandal. For generations the hereditary high priests of his sect had, as he believed, committed whoredom with the daughters of his people. Like the sons of Eli they had done this openly at the gates of the temple—like the sons of Eli they had done this under the pretended sanction, and in the abused name of religion. This is the thing he denounces. It would be a waste of words to point out that in denouncing it, vehemently, bitterly, indignantly—he was within the strict limits of his duty as a public writer. The interests of Society require that wickedness such as this, should be sternly exposed and unrelentingly hunted down. If to write vehemently—bitterly—indignantly on such a subject as this be libellous, then were the prophets of old libellers—then were the early fathers of the Church libellers—then have all earnest men in all time been libellers, who have published to the world in the fit language of generous indignation, their scorn of hypocrisy and their hatred of vice.

“He attacks the class as perpetrators of this great wickedness, he attacks the plaintiff as one of the class. It is said that in so doing he inferentially also defames him as an individual: I admit it, but I say the occasion justified it. A case had arisen in which the possible injury to the individual was not to be weighed in the balance against the great countervailing benefit, derivable to Society from exposing and denouncing the evil deeds of the class; and the acts denounced were immoralities, not of the plaintiff as an individual in his private life, but of the plaintiff as a Maharaj in his public life.”

Justice Arnould posed a question which is relevant even in this day and age: “Then to whom does the defendant address himself in making the attack? To the public at large: the only power, the only authority, the only tribunal to whom in such a case as this the communication could be made, or the complaint directed. The Maharajas, the hereditary high priests of the Vallabhacharyan sect are, in respect of the practices denounced in the libel, virtually amenable to no jurisdiction, spiritual or temporal, criminal or civil.

“As there was no available spiritual tribunal, so neither was there any criminal or civil tribunal which could take cognizance of these immoralities of the Maharajas. It was profligacy, it was vice, but it was not crime, it was not civil wrong, of which they were accused. There was no violence; there was no seduction. The wives and daughters of these sectaries, (with their connivance in many cases if not with their approval), went willingly—went with offerings in their hands, eager to pay a high price for the privileges of being made one with Bramha by carnal copulation with the Maharaj, the living personification of Krishna.

“To what quarter then was a Vallabhacharyan in Bombay to look for redress or reform if he felt aggrieved at these misdeeds of the Maharajas? He had one resource and one only; to appeal to Public Opinion through the Press. This the defendant did; as a Vallabhacharyan it was his right, as the editor of a native journal it was his duty to do so; for if evils such as these were, (in the language of Lord Ellenborough) ‘to exist for ever without public animadversion, one of the great uses of free press is at an end’ (I Campb. 117).

“And the public which thus constitutes the only tribunal to which the defendant could appeal had an interest and a duty in relation to the subject matter of the alleged libel, corresponding to his own. No public can be conceived to exist which has not an interest in the discouragement and suppression of such wickedness—upon which there is not imposed a moral and social duty of taking all legitimate means for its discouragement and suppression. The offence attacked in the alleged libel is an offence against the first principles of morality on which all society is based, and in the suppression of which the highest interests and the highest duties of all Society, as such, are most intimately concerned.

“If while writing with a single purpose to discourage and suppress this evil, the defendant, in the course of reflecting on the class to which the plaintiff belonged and on the plaintiff as a member of that class, published that which by inference, was defamatory of the plaintiff as an individual, suppression of which the defendant and his co-religionists were virtually interested, and in the practice of which he had honest and bona fide reason to believe that the plaintiff, like all the other members of his class, was implicated.

“On these grounds I think there is no proof of ‘express malice’; on the grounds previously stated I think there was a ‘justifying occasion’. I think the defendant, from his position and status, not only had an interest and acted on a right, but also fulfilled a moral and social duty, in denouncing a great iniquity; I think he took reasonably sufficient care to inform himself of the facts before he published, and that what he published he, at the time, bona fide believed to be the truth; I think that, in addressing himself to the public he appealed to the right, and under the circumstances, to the only available tribunal; he appealed to those who, in relation to the subject matter of the alleged libel had an interest and a duty corresponding to his own; I think that in giving the plaintiff the prominence he has done in his article he was actuated by no malice, but simply dealt with the plaintiff as he found him, the representative and champion of his class; I think that in the language of the article itself there is no evidence of personal malice or malignity, but strong evidence of a public spirited desire to denounce and put down a crying scandal and wickedness which was a stain upon the credit of the writer’s caste—on the name of his nation—on the dignity and honour of human nature itself.

“For all these reasons I am of opinion that the article complained of is no libel, and therefore that on the first issue the verdict ought to be for the defendant.”

Sir Joseph Arnould tore to shreds the plaintiff’s claim to be Krishna incarnate. “Dr Wilson has studied this subject with the comprehensive range of thought, the result of varied erudition, which has made his name a foremost one among the living Orientalists of Europe. Dr Wilson says: ‘The sect of Vallabhacharya is a new sect, inasmuch as it has selected the God Krishna in one of his aspects, that of his adolescence—and raised him to supremacy in that aspect. It is a new sect in as far as it has established the Puhshti marg, or way of enjoyment in a natural and carnal sense.’

Degrading a great tenet

“This succinct statement seems to contain the essence of the whole matter. It is Krishna, the darling of the 16,000 Gopees (or shepherdesses); Krishna the love-hero—the husband of the 16,000 princesses, who is the paramount object of Vallabhacharya’s worship. This tinges the whole system with the stain of carnal sensualism, of strange, transcendental lewdness. See, for instance, how the sublime Brahminical doctrine of unition with ‘Bramha’ is tainted and degraded by this sensuous mode of regarding the Deity. According to the old Brahminical tenet, ‘BRAMHA’, the All-containing and indestructible, the Soul of which the Universe is the Body, abides from eternity to eternity as the frontal source of all Spiritual existence; reunion with Bramha, absorption into Bramha, is the beatitude for which every separated spirit yearns, and which after animating its appointed cycle of individuated living organism, it is ultimately destined to attain.

“The teachers of the Vallabhacharyan sect do not absolutely discard this great tenet, but they degrade it. I have no wish to wade through all the theosophic nonsense and nastiness of the plaintiff’s own chapter on ‘Adulterine Love’; but one of the myths he thus cites on the authority of the Brahad Vaman Puran, perfectly illustrates what I mean. For many ages the incarnations of the veds prayed Shri Krishna, the most Excellent Being, for a sight of his form; the wish being granted, desire was produced in them and they prayed to Krishna to satisfy their hearts’ desire, so that they might enjoy with him in the form of women; this desire also was granted; and the traditions, under the form of women enjoyed Krishna as Gopees with adulterine love in the mythical forest of ‘Vrij’.

“The comment of the plaintiff (for he is without question the writer or dictator of this article) upon this is, that if there were any sin in adulterine love Krishna would not have turned these veds into Gopees for the purpose of enjoying them; but there is no sin in such love when its object is God; for ‘God is all form. He is in the form of father, and he is in the form of husband; he is in the form of brother; and he is in the form of son. In whatever shape one may wish to love God, his wishes are complied with accordingly.’

“Thus then is the pure and sublime notion of the reunion of all spirits that animate living but perishable forms, with the Eternal spirit, not limited by form debased into a sexual and carnal coition with the most sensuous of the manifestations or ‘avatars’ of God.”

He recalled Dr Bhau Darjee’s evidence and held: “It is absolutely impossible to come to any other conclusion than that the plaintiff was affected with syphilis, both in September and December of the year 1860. And this conclusion is all important in its bearing on the value and credibility of the plaintiff’s evidence: it is not only that having deliberately perjured himself on this one occasion, his oath where he stands alone in contradiction to purposes and on all occasions—it goes further than this: the fact, as to which doubt is impossible, that the plaintiff had syphilis on two occasions in the year 1860, shakes to pieces the whole framework of his evidence and shows it all to be conceived in a spirit of hypocrisy and falsehood.”

Arnould concluded with these words which have a resonance even now. They bear quotation in full. “This trial has been spoken of as having involved a great waste of the public time. I cannot quite agree with that opinion. No doubt much time has been spent in hearing this cause, but I would fain hope it has not been all time wasted. It seems impossible that this matter should have been discussed thus openly before a population so intelligent as that of the natives of Western India, without producing its results. It has probably taught some to think; it must have led many to enquire. It is not a question of theology that has been before us! It is question of morality. The principle for which the defendant and his witnesses have been contending is simply this—that what is morally wrong cannot be theologically right—that when practices which sap the very foundations of morality, which involve a violation of the eternal and immutable laws of Right —are established in the name and under the sanction of Religion, they ought, for the common welfare of Society, and in the interest of Humanity itself, to be publicly denounced and exposed.

“They have denounced—They have exposed them. At a risk and at a cost which we cannot adequately measure, these men have waged determined battle against a foul and powerful delusion. They have dared to look Custom and Error boldly in the face, and proclaim before the world of their votaries that their Evil is not Good, that their Lie is not the Truth. In thus doing they have done bravely and well. It may be allowable to express a hope that what they have done will not have been in vain, that the seed they have sown will bear its fruit, that their courage and consistency will be rewarded by a steady increase in the number of those, whom their words and their examples have quickened into thought and animated to resistance, whose homes they have helped to cleanse from loathsome lewdness, and whose souls they have set free from a debasing bondage.”

That was journalism at its noblest and the High Court’s judgments recognise the place of journalism in a free society.

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