Farewell to the “Honourable” Carmichael -The first solemn protest that India came together for

Colonial Chennai

November 14th, 1883, the day when not only revolutionaries but also the citizens and newspapers vehemently opposed a farewell party to Mr. D.F.Carmichael, member of the Madras Governor’s Executive Council still haunts my mind every time I turn back the pages.

When the people were initially told that such a proposal was entertained by one or two leading native gentlemen, they refused to believe so. They believed that these honourable gentlemen who were so highly regarded not only by the society they reside in but the nation as a whole; would undoubtedly have too vivid a recollection of the disasters that had befallen them under the then latest wave of that “angel’s” wings to regard him entitled to worship any longer. But when a notice signed by the Honourables G.N.Gujputee Rao, Humayun Jah, and T.Muthuswami Iyer, was put in the hands of the press, none could believe in their worst nightmare. The three signatories were highly honourable native gentlemen for whom personally no native had higher respect than India; were bound by certain relations of mutual obligation and carrying a trust that was too sacred to be slighted at the very time when that very trust and responsibility acquired a higher weight and profound significance.

Going back to a piece written by The Hindu then, I vividly recall the line where they outrightly stated, “Writing as we do under these conditions, we are compelled to protest in unqualified language and in the name of all that binds the rich and learned, in solemn obligation to the poor and ignorant, of the same community against the poojah which these men propose to make to the Hon’ble D.F. Carmichael. We say, with utmost pain that the poojah ought not to be made and Mr Carmichael does not deserve it.” The very fact that the honourable officials could forget the loud wail of oppression that filled the ears of everyone in Madras and in the district from the poor ryots of Chingleput was beyond imagination. Was it that easy to forget a man’s deeds that were responsible for how the poor countrymen were kept under the trees in hot midday without food or water and dragged, day in and day out, from house to court and court to house, to be threatened and otherwise maltreated?

Carmichael was the officer whose obstruction had tended to perpetuate the spoliation of our temples, who had ever refused to interfere in our favour between us and the members of his own service, who looked on with indifference while two districts were being trampled underfoot, who had nothing to extend our local liberty, who had protested against raising the native to a position of equality with the Englishmen, who always strived to impose odious taxes and revive barbarous and oppressive institutions, who had never encouraged the ambition of the educated young men ,who practically laid down flattery and personal attendance as passport to his favour and who had not done a single measure which can be countered as beneficial to the country.

The citizens of our motherland, as well as the print media, then had come out in a solemn protest which was marked as the first joint protest against this oppression claiming equality with Englishmen, claiming for honour, ambition and aspiration outrightly stating the fact that what value would these boasts, claims and dreams be of, if we could not defer temporary individual interest to the permanent interests of the country, if we couldn’t sink the individual into the citizen, if we couldn’t discriminate the true object of honour and the object that deserves a distinct assurance of our resentment.

This is the second instalment in the ‘Raj to Republic’ series being published on the occasion of the Republic Day. Read the third part.

Bidisha Bhattacharya
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Bidisha Bhattacharya works ScrollStack. Prior to
this she was a Consultant to the Fifteenth Finance Commission, Government of India and has worked as a Political Researcher in Prashant Kishor’s Strategic Research and Insights (SRI) team at I-PAC.

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