J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

Follow by Email

•••••••••••••••••

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A Trial and Execution in India

What was happening in India while the siege of Boston got under way on the far side of the world? The Executed Today blog describes a controversial court case:
On [5 Aug] 1775, inconvenient Indian official Nandakumar (or Nand Kumar, or Nuncomar) was hanged on a forgery charge — all too conveniently inflicted at the very time he was accusing British Governor-General Warren Hastings [shown here] of corruption.

Nandakumar and Hastings decidedly did not get along; the Indian believed he had been unfairly denied a plum career assignment. He leveled in response an accusation that Hastings was taking payola in exchange for his appointments.

English pols involved in the administration of India, such as Philip Francis, John Clavering and George Monson, had their own rivalries with Hastings and wanted to pursue these charges. Instead, within weeks, Nandakumar was facing years-old forgery charges, and two months after his trial, he was at the end of a rope. . . .

(He forged part of a will to recover a bad loan. All concerned appear to agree that this charge is factually accurate, which is, of course, a long way from explaining why the matter required immediate adjudication at this juncture. Incidentally, while forgery could get you hanged in England, it was a much less serious offense under Hindu law.) . . .

Parliamentarian heavyweight Edmund Burke would eventually weigh in on the hanged man’s side, charging that Hastings had “murdered this man, by the hands of [Chief Justice] Sir Elijah Impey.” In a report to the select committee established by the Amending Act (cited in this tome), Burke noted
that this Trial and Execution was looked upon by many of the Natives as political; nor does the Committee conceive it possible, that, combining all the Circumstances together, they should look upon it in the Light of a common judicial Proceeding; but must regard it as a political Measure, the Tendency of which is, to make the Natives feel the extreme Hazard of accusing, or even giving Evidence of corrupt Practices against any British Subject in Station, even though supported by other British Subjects of equal Rank and Authority. It will be rather a Mockery, than a Relief to the Natives, to see Channels of Justice opened to them, at their great Charge, both in the Institution and in the Use, and then Appeals, still more expensive, carefully provided for them, when, at the same Time, Practices are countenanced, which render the Resort to those Remedies far more dangerous than a patient Endurance of Oppression, under which they may labour.
Hastings was impeached for corruption in 1787 — it took Burke, who served as one of the prosecutors, two full days to read the 20-count indictment against him, though Burke’s own attempt to add judicial murder to the bill of particulars was jettisoned.
The House of Lords finally acquitted Hastings in 1795. Britain continued to enjoy the new empire he had assembled in India, even richer than the colonies lost in North America.

Executed Today points to three sources on this case: Henry Beveridge’s The Trial of Maharaja Nanda Kumar (1886); J. Duncan M. Derrett’s article “Nandakumar’s Forgery” in The English Historical Review (April 1960); and Nicholas B. Dirks’s The Scandal of Empire (2008).

No comments: