Monday, June 11, 2012

Rise of Native Judge Sambhunath Pandit

"Oh! my brother Musalmans! I again remind you that you have ruled nations, and have for centuries held different countries in your grasp. For seven hundred years in India you have had Imperial sway. You know what it is to rule. Be not unjust to that nation which is ruling over you. And think also on this, how upright is her rule. Of such benevolence as the English Government shows to the foreign nations under her there is no example in the history of the world. See what freedom she has given in her laws, and how careful she is to protect the rights of her subjects. she has not been backward in promoting the progress of the natives of India, and is throwing open to them high appointments. At the commencement of her rule, except clerkships and kaziships, there was nothing. The kazis of the pergunah, who were called commissioners, decided small civil suits, and received very small pay. Up to 1832 or 1833 this state of things lasted. If my memory is not wrong, it was in the time of Lord William Bentck that natives of India began to get honourable posts. The positions of Munsiff, Subordinate Judge, and Deputy Collector on respectable pay were given to natives, and progress has been steadily going on ever since. In the Calcutta High Court, a Kashmiri Pandit was first appointed equal to the English Judges. at this time there are, perhaps,  three Bengalis in the Calcutta High Court, and in the same way some Hindus in Bombay and Madras. It was your bad fortune that there was for a long time no Mahomedan High Court Judge, but now there is one the Allahabad High Court."

~ India by Sir John Strachey (1888).

Sambhunath Pandit was the first Indian Judge of the High Court of Judicature at Fort William. His wikipedia entry would tell you nothing about the way his rise was advertised by the Empire.

Here's the entry against his name from 'Dictionary of Indian Biography' (1901) by C. E. Buckland:

SAMBHUNATH PANDIT (1820-1867)

A Kashmir Brahman, whose family had settled in Oudh, and a branch had been settled in Bengal for some generations : son of Sadasib Pandit : born in Calcutta, 1820 : educated at Lucknow, Benares, and the Oriental Seminary : beginningas an assistant to the Sadr Court Record-keeper on Rs. 20 a month, he rose, from being a Pleader, to be Junior Government Pleader, 18 3 : Senior, 1861 : Law Professor at the Presidency College, 1855 :and the first Native Judge of the High Court, Calcutta, 1863-7 : died June 6,1867 : an authority on Hindu law, and questions of land tenure.
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I am not coming up with these funny stories. I am not even challenged to apply my imagination here. These stories have all been already written. There is a street in Calcutta named after this man. Kashmiris visiting the city may want to check it out next time they visit that part of the world. And right now I can't think of a street in Srinagar named after a Pandit.

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