HL Deb 11 July 1879 vol 248 cc146-51

My Lords, I would commence by stating that I believe the noble Viscount the Secretary of State for India (Viscount Cranbrook) was ignorant of the act of illegality which I am about to relate to your Lordships, until he saw the Notice which I have put down. There has been an infraction of the liberty of British subjects, for a Brahmin is as much a British subject as any man born in this country; and when Paul of Tarsus claimed the rights of Roman citizenship, neither Festus nor Agrippa sought to diminish those rights by casting in his teeth that he was a Jew. Great complaints are now made by many writers of what they call Imperialism—that is, of arbitrary acts—and Imperialism of this kind is not so much after the model of that of Julius or Augustus Cæsar, as that of Domitian or Caligula, and acts such as this will go far to do away with the effects of the recent speech at Sheffield of the noble Viscount. This has been an act of tyranny so purposeless that it cannot be explained; but I have found a clue in a recondite maxim of antiquity which was placed before your Lordships a few nights ago by a noble Lord opposite—Quid leges sine moribus. Of what avail are the British Constitution, Magna Charta, or Habeas Corpus, against the morality of officials? The Brahmin, Kishen Dutt, had an estate in the district of Gorruk-pore. A nephew of his defrauded him of it; he first attempted to effect a substitution of names in the register, through the native Tehsildar, who repelled his proposals; but he afterwards succeeded in the English Local Court and the High Court of Allahabad. Confident in the justice of his cause, Kishen Dutt determined to seek redress from the Privy Council, and to carry out his design he pledged his wife's jewels. At Bombay, lie went to the office of Nichol and Co., for his passage to England; he had not sufficient money, but a benevolent old man looked at his papers, and said that it was very plucky of him to go to England, and he should go, and he gave him what was wanting of the passage money and 20 rupees besides. The captain of the steamer was a humane man, who knew some Hindustani, and he was very kind to Kishen Dutt, who was only a deck passenger, and sheltered him in bad weather; he directed him to the Strangers' Home, in Limehouse, where he arrived on the 7th February, 1878. When there, all he could say was that he wanted to go to the Privy Council; accordingly, he was put it into an omnibus, and, unfortunately, was directed to the India Office. Thither he went fruitlessly, many days, with his papers; one day a Parsee lawyer offered to take up his case for £50; but he had spent all his money, and had been deprived of his estate. Another day. Sir William Muir spoke to him, and took his papers, and said he would examine them. Some little time after that, in the forenoon of April 4, 1878, he was told by the steward or policeman at the Stranger's Home that the Queen had sent for him, and that- he must make haste. He wanted to put on his best clothes, but the people began collecting his things, and he began to suspect; "the Queen," he said, "does not want to see my old rags." However, he was told he must go; he refused, and clung to the bedstead, and had to be led out by a policeman. He said—"I cannot go without my papers." His papers were then given back to him by the policeman; he was put into a cab, and taken on board the Queen Anne steamer. Here, again, he bewailed his hard fate of being put on board without provisions; for when he left India he had laid in a supply of parched corn and dates, and he would lose his caste. This captain, also, was a humane man, and he allowed him to go ashore again, under the care of one of his men, to get some dried fruit. The steward of the Strangers' Home remained by till the ship sailed to see him off. He was thus kidnapped, and forcibly deported from England to Calcutta. Undismayed, however, he begged his way back, and got first to Aden, and from there to London to the Strangers' Home, on the 3rd September, 1878, and renewed his search after the Privy Council. At length, he found a friend who assisted him to draw up petitions to the Privy Council, and to get them presented. The time in which an appeal could be made had expired whilst he was being deported; when he returned to the threshold of the Privy Council he had been 19 months' travelling, yet the Judges of the Privy Council stretched a point in his favour, and he got leave from Sir James Colville, Sir Barnes Peacock, and Sir Robert Collier, to be heard on Saturday, June 14th; but, as both the First Court and the High Court had been agreed as to a matter of fact, the Privy Council could give him no relief. At this time he was refused any more food at the Strangers' Home, and he would have starved, had not his friend, Mr. Meakin, supplied him with dates and French plums; but after two periods of five and six days—11 days in all—of this diet, and getting no cooked food, he became so ill that Mr. Meakin would have removed him to his own house, but he was too ill to be moved. Thereupon, Mr. Meakin told the officials of the Strangers' Home that he would hold them responsible if the man died, and they relaxed their severity, and gave him food to cook; but he did not recover his strength till the 28th or 29th of June. Now, when this story was first told me, I was incredulous that such a thing could happen in England, and I should not expect your Lordships to give it credence had I not heard it myself corroborated by the officials of the Strangers' Home. I went there with Mr. Meakin on Monday, June 30th, and heard it corroborated that it was by orders from the India Office that Kishen Dutt had been shipped to Calcutta in the Queen Anne; and, worse still, that it was by their orders that Kishen Dutt's rations had been stopped, in order to drive him away. I also learned that orders had been given to shut up Kishen Dutt, and prevent his going about; but this order had not been carried out. Now, under what law or statute does the India Office carry away suitors from, the doors of the Privy Council when they are open to them? By what law does it give these illegal orders to a charitable institution, and prevent its feeding the homeless? The last annual Report of the Strangers' Home bears on its covers the words, "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers;" and the accounts show that £879 16s. 3d. were given to it by charitable subscribers last year; but the back of the cover of the Report has the words, "No one can be admitted into the Home without payment." Well, the publicans would do as much. I do not mean the licensed victuallers; but, in the original sense of the word, men who are not expected to make any profession of religion. If any stranger has a claim on the charity of this country, surely it is one who, relying on the justice of this country, has come so far, and at the cost of so much hardship, to seek the reversal of an iniquitous decision. I will now read to your Lordships a note from the Strangers' Home, showing that the India Office paid £15 for Kishen Dutt's passage by the Queen Anne, as follows:—

"June 18, 1879.

"From Strangers' Home for Asiatics,


"To E. E. Meakin, Esq.,

"22, Feuchurch Street.

"Sir,—I waited to hear the result of Kishen Dutt's appeal to the Privy Council before replying to yours of the 11th instant. Having now heard that the Privy Council have rejected his case, I write to inform you that the India Office paid the £15 for his passage to Calcutta, but nothing for his board and lodging at the Home, and will do nothing further for him. This man has been nearly a whole year on the funds of the Home, which is out of all proportion to our experience in other cases, and the Board cannot spend more of the funds upon him, and especially as he is not one of the class whom we can provide employment for on board ship. Nothing short of a passage paid for him would meet his case, and the Home was not intended to do this; and, besides, we do not know that he would accept a passage, and, indeed, he had one provided for him in vain. We see no termination to this case; and in the present depressed condition of the shipping trade we have many men of the class the Home was specially intended for thrown upon it, destitute for various periods; but all these we can, sooner or later, dispose of properly, by obtaining employment for them at wages to return to the East. The case of Kishen Dutt is one we cannot aid or dispose of in any way, and too much has already been spent upon him, and all in vain. This Home is not intended for the permanently destitute Natives of the East, but to aid those who are temporarily so, and are willing and able to accept employment when it is provided for them. This is what Colonel Hughes, honorary secretary, wished me to say to you by way of information in the case of Kishen Dutt.

"Yours faithfully,

"J. FREEMAN, Superintendent."

And now I have to ask, What was the object of this persecution of an old Brahmin, 70 years of age, by the India Office? Were those officials unaware that, since the Proclamation of the Queen as Empress, every suppliant for justice in India, from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin, has a right to come to the doors of the India Office with his Petition?


said, the Strangers' Home to which the noble Lord had referred was, he believed, one of the best institutions in London. A great number of Asiatics came over to this country, some of whom, on their arrival, were unfortunately neglected by those who brought them here, and the authorities at the Strangers' Home did what they could in the circumstances to assist them. It constantly happened that the India Office was asked to assist these poor people to get back to India. The Brahmin, Kishen Dutt, was said to be an old man, 65 years of age. He came over to this country with some purpose connected with an appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, and had been received into the Home. He (Viscount Cranbrook) had a letter from Colonel Hughes, dated the 10th of March last, in which he stated that the Brahmin in question had come to the Home, and that on being informed by those whom he consulted that he had no case to lay before the Privy Council, he expressed a wish to return to India, but that he had not the means of paying for his passage. The application was submitted to the Finance Committee of the Council of India, who recommended a grant of £20 out of the Compassionate Fund. That recommendation was approved by the Council, and the money was forwarded to Colonel Hughes for the purpose of taking this man back to India. That was all the India Office knew of the matter. It was not an uncommon thing for Asiatics to come to this country in the belief that grievances of which they complained, and which could alone be determined by the Courts of Law, would be redressed on the presentation of a Petition to Her Majesty in person. It was most important that these persons should be kept from any such delusion as that. Some of them had had to be watched by the police to prevent them from forcing themselves into the presence of Her Majesty.