HL Deb 18 July 1872 vol 212 cc1352-9

My Lords, the Petition which I hold in my hand is from Mirza Ali Kadir, a member of the ex-Royal Family of Delhi, who is now, and according to his own statement has been for the last 12 years detained as a political prisoner in British Burmah. I have undertaken to bring forward his case, and I shall best do so by merely putting before your Lordships the material facts contained in his statement, not going into detail more than is absolutely necessary. The Petitioner states that as one of the Royal Family of Delhi he received a stipend from the East India Company of 3,200 rupees monthly, or something less than £4,000 a-year; and that like the rest of the Royal Family he resided at Delhi within the walls of the Royal Palace. He was there at the time of the Mutiny in May, 1857, when the Sepoys and other insurgents took possession of the city. He affirmed that he took no part, directly or indirectly, in the insurrection and committed no act of hostility against the British Government—pointing with some show of reason to his position as a pensioner of the Com- pany, as primâ facie evidence of the probable truth of his assertion. In September, when the British Army retook Delhi, various acts of severity were committed against members of the Royal Family; it being in their name and on their pretended behalf that the insurrection had been got up. He does not go into details on this point, and it is hardly necessary to remind your Lordships that two members of the family were summarily and without trial shot by the officer who had captured them, upon the ground that a rescue was imminent. He asserts that in consequence of these acts, although conscious of his own innocence, he felt alarmed for his personal safety—an apprehension obviously not unnatural. He accordingly withdrew to Paniput, where he remained a few days; but on the proclamation of the amnesty he at once surrendered himself to the British authorities. He further says that no charge was made against him, either then or afterwards, and that the officer conducting the inquiry before whom he was examined admitted as much, but said, that as a relation of the ex-King of Delhi it was necessary that he should be sent out of India. He was accordingly kept in strict confinement in the gaols, successively of Agra, Allahabad, and Alipore. He was thence sent to the Andaman Islands—where, he says, several of his companions died on the way from the rigour of their imprisonment—and subsequently to British Burmah, where he now is. He further affirms that he has never been informed of the nature of the offences imputed to him, and believes that there is nothing against him beyond the facts of his being the nephew of the ex-King and being in Delhi when the rebels held it. He states that with regard to his not leaving Delhi when held by the mutineers, he could not have done so, nor avoided submitting to the insurgent Government without incurring imminent personal danger. He urges, therefore, that his imprisonment is unjust, and that it has been attended with circumstances of great severity. He complains of the unhealthy climate of the place where he is detained, and says he has appealed unsuccessfully to the Indian authorities for redress. He now asks for an inquiry into his case, and into that of others similarly situated, that he may receive a pardon, and have his confiscated pro- perty restored to him. I have recapitulated the leading facts or allegations of the Petition, and I may safely leave them to tell their own story. At this distance of time and place, and having no access to official information, it is of course impossible for me to verify in detail the statements, or to say whether they are wholly accurate or are to any extent coloured by the Petitioner's position and feelings. That, however, is less material, since his demand is only for an inquiry, not for a definitive settlement. I am bound to say that unless the noble Duke the Secretary for India is in possession of some facts not known to me which alter the circumstances of the case, I think his claim for inquiry is made out. We are all aware, and must all regret, that in the excitement and confusion which attended the suppression of the Mutiny, many hasty and violent acts were done which in calmer moments would not have occurred—it was not a time when nice distinctions could be made, and anyone conversant with Indian affairs at that time must have come across many painful cases in which the innocent suffered with the guilty. I do not deny that the removal from Delhi of all the members of the Royal Family, whose presence was a perpetual incentive to insurrection, was a measure of political expediency. I do not blame that—indeed, I am bound to say that the authorities could not have done otherwise. Precisely, however, on that account it is not very likely that the circumstances of each particular case were examined with minute attention. It is possible, therefore, and far from improbable, that the story placed in my hands may be literally true. If it is so, I am quite sure your Lordships, and the noble Duke himself, would be the first to admit that the case is one of great hardship and even of great injustice. Even if it is not entirely accurate, even if this unfortunate person showed more sympathy with the insurrection—it is not alleged that he took an active part in it—than he is willing to admit, unless any act of open hostility can be proved, exile and confinement for 14 years in an unhealthy climate are surely a sufficient penalty for an offence which, considering all the circumstances, did not involve grave moral guilt. Pardons have certainly been granted to far less excusable offenders nearer home; and unless some exceptionally criminal act is proved—such as participation in the murder of Europeans—it is monstrous to detain men now for an obscure and doubtful share—even if they had a share—in a civil war 16 years ago. The amnesty proclaimed at the time was certainly intended for all acts which would have been legal in ordinary war. As to any political danger, that is a consideration that has long ceased to operate on men's minds. I now leave the matter in the hands of the noble Duke. I have no other wish except to see such a policy passed as may be consistent with humanity and justice. I do not fear a vindictive feeling after this length of time—the only danger is lest injustice should be done through mere forgetfulness and neglect. The circumstances, as stated, call for inquiry, and in the present state of the matter I ask for nothing more. The noble Earl then presented a Petition of Mirza Ali Kadir, one of the ex-Royal Family of Delhi, at present at Shôaygqueen, British Burmah, complaining of wrongful imprisonment and exile, and praying for inquiry.


supported the noble Earl's appeal, which he thought was based on good policy as well as on justice. He trusted that the noble Duke would make inquiry into the case not only of the Petitioner, but also into those of the other members of the ex-Royal Family of Delhi, who were detained as prisoners in a most unhealthy climate. A son of the ex-Emperor of Delhi, named Jewan Bakht, was now imprisoned in Burmah, although he could not be held responsible for anything done during the Mutiny, since at that time he was only 11 years old. The ex-Emperor himself, from his dotage and extreme old age at that time, could not be held responsible for that which had been done in his name; and the manner in which he had been treated by England had been most severely commented upon by French and other writers. Taking into consideration the length of time these persons had been imprisoned and the present state of India, he saw no good reason why they should not be released—especially as they denied that they had taken any active part in the Mutiny. If the noble Duke would grant the prayer of the Petition, and would cause due inquiry to be instituted into the cases of all the members of the ex-Royal Family of Delhi who were now suffering detention as political prisoners, such a step would be fully appreciated by the people of India.


said, that every endeavour had been made at the India Office, without success, to find some trace of the process under which the person on whose behalf the Petition had been presented by the noble Earl had been sentenced to imprisonment—nor, indeed, was he even acquainted with the name of the person petitioning. Among the list of persons who were receiving small pensions from the Indian Government was a name similar to that of the Petitioner, but he did not think under the circumstances that name related to the individual in question. He only learned the facts connected with the Petitioner from the noble Earl's statement. As it was impossible for him at a day's notice to communicate with the Indian authorities on the subject, he would content himself with stating that he would forward the Petition to the Government of India, with directions that suitable inquiries should be made into the merits of the case to which it referred. The noble Earl, in the course of his remarks, had made use of the argument that, inasmuch as the Petitioner had been a pensioner upon the Government of India before the outbreak of the Mutiny, it was unlikely that he should have joined in the insurrection, and thereby hazarded the loss of his income. He must, however, remind the noble Earl that the whole Royal Family of Delhi were pensioners of the Government of India, and that that fact was no evidence that some of the members of that Family did not take a part in the insurrection. He was now speaking from memory, having no documents before him; but he would appeal to his noble Friend near him, who had been recently Governor General of India, and who was, of course, much better acquainted with the facts, whether a considerable number of our countrymen and countrywomen were not cruelly slaughtered in Delhi, and even in the Palace in that city, and that not one of the members of the Royal Family, although they were all pensioners of the Government of India, extended his hand for their protection. There were many instances in which Indian Princes who had a general sympathy with the objects of the insurrection nevertheless possessed sufficient humanity to protect those individual English ladies and gentlemen who were entirely at their mercy at the time; but no evidence existed to show that such had been the conduct of the Royal Family of Delhi. Indeed, as he was informed, they were universally believed to have evinced a sympathy with the murderers. They were not, then, in the position of ordinary political offenders; but there was strong ground for the presumption that they had really taken an active part in the insurrection, and had given their concurrence to the organization of plans resulting in the outrageous cruelties that had been committed in the city in which they lived.


said, that the Royal Family of Delhi, down to the day of the Mutiny, had received nothing but good from the East India Company, from whom they enjoyed in the shape of pensions £120,000 per annum. It was impossible to say what precise part any one of them had taken in the Mutiny; but there was plenty of evidence to prove that, with few exceptions, they had all taken a more or less active part in it. The old King of Delhi, on his trial, was shown to have been unaware in the first instance of what was going on, but that from the time when insurrection had spread over a large part of the country he had taken a leading part in everything connected with it that went on in and about Delhi. He (Lord Lawrence) had seen with his own eyes rough copies of the old King's instructions during that period. In fact, it had been proved beyond all doubt that almost every member of the ex-Royal Family of Delhi had taken an active part in the Mutiny. There were certainly two or three exceptions, and those cases were fully inquired into and dealt with accordingly. Indeed, every prominent case was investigated and reported to him. He could not, therefore, understand how this particular member of the Family who had petitioned their Lordships could have been imprisoned without just cause. In dealing with these cases it was only just to remember the horrid atrocities that were committed. He should, however, be glad of an inquiry into the matter. In conclusion, he begged to deny the accuracy of the statement that the places in which the members of the Royal Family of Delhi had been imprisoned were especially unhealthy. Bearing in mind what those men did, and what would be the evil effects of allowing them to come back to Hindostan, he thought it would be an unwise and injudicious course to permit them to return to India.


understood the complaint on behalf of the Petitioner to be that he had received no kind of trial, that no charge had been made against him, and no inquiry instituted into his conduct. No general presumption of the guilt or complicity of the ex-Royal Family of Delhi as a whole, and no horror which was naturally entertained at the acts committed at the time of the Mutiny, ought to deprive that person of the ordinary right of having an investigation made into his case if none had been made already. He did not know what the practice of the India Office might be; but it seemed to him somewhat strange that a member of the ex-Royal Family of Delhi should have been confined in prison or placed under surveillance, and that the fact should not have been communicated to the Government in this country.


said, that the Royal Family of Delhi at the time of the Mutiny were in receipt of a large pension from the East India Company, and yet at that period the greatest cruelties were committed by order of the King. There could be no doubt that the King and two of his sons had been instrumental in bringing about the massacre of our countrymen and countrywomen; and he thought it would have been justifiable if the utmost severity of the law had been exercised towards the King of Delhi and his two sons.


, without venturing in the least degree to question the accuracy of the facts stated by the noble Lord who had just spoken, hoped that a prejudice would not be created in the mind of the public—he was aware none would be created in the mind of the noble Duke opposite—against that unfortunate man until it was proved that he had been implicated in those acts. He had heard that, in fact, he had had nothing to do with the atrocities referred to.


was understood to say he was in the Palace of Delhi when they were committed.


remarked that the Palace of Delhi was a large place.

Petition ordered to lie on the Table.

House adjourned at half past Seven o'clock, till To-morrow, half past Ten o'clock.