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At the Feet of The Mother

IX. 1. TALES OF PRISON LIFE. Tales of Prison Life (VII)


The witnesses in the case could be divided into three categories. There were the police and the secret service men; there were people from the lower classes and other gentry, for misdeeds of their own, deeply in love with the police; and there were others who, because of personal failings and deprived of the love of the police, had been dragged unwillingly to give evidence. Each category had its own style of offering evidence. The gentlemen of the police would say their say, already decided upon, quite cheerfully, without hesitation, just as it pleased them, would recognise those they had to, without a shade of doubt, hesitation or any margin of error. The friends of the police would give witness with considerable eagerness, those they had to identify they would, but sometimes in their excessive eagerness they would even identify those who were not to be identified. Those who had been brought there against their wishes would say only what they knew, but this would come to very little and Norton would feel unsatisfied. Assuming that the witness was holding back highly valuable and certain proof he would make every attempt to cross-examine him and get the secret out of his system, by a surgical operation of the abdomen as it were. This put the witnesses into a good deal of difficulty. On one side stood a thundering Mr. Norton, a red-eyed Mr. Birley, on the other the great sin of sending, on false evidence, one’s countrymen to the Andaman islands. Whether to please Norton and Birley or God, for the witness this question assumed serious proportions. On one side, temporary danger because of incurring other men’s displeasure, on the other, hell and misery in the next life due to one’s evil deeds. But the witness would reflect: hell and the next life are still far beyond while the man-made dangers might swallow him at the next moment. Afraid that they might be convicted of bearing false evidence because of their unwillingness to do so, such a fear was likely to be shared by many, since in such cases the consequences were none too rare. For this type of witness the time spent in the witness-box was made up of a good deal of fear and agony. At the end of the cross-examination their half-vanished life would return to their bodies and relieve them of the suffering. Some, however, gave their evidence boldly without caring for Nortonian thunders, at which the English counsel, following national habit, would soften. Like this so many witnesses came and went and gave such a variety of evidence, but not one helped the police cause in any way worth mentioning. One spoke quite plainly, “I know nothing, and cannot understand why the police have dragged me into it!” This sort of method for conducting cases is possible perhaps only in India, had it been some other country the judge would have been annoyed and would have severely censured and taught the police a lesson. Hauling hundreds of witnesses, gathered on a basis of guesswork, and without inquiring whether one was guilty or not, wasting the country’s finances and keeping without any sense the accused for long periods under the hardship of prison life, it is worthy only of the police force of this country. But what were the poor police to do? They are detectives only in name, but without much power of their own. Hence to throw a wide net and catch good, bad and indifferent witnesses in this manner and bring them to the witness box, like pig in a poke, was their only way. Who knows, these men might have some information, even provide some proof.

The method for identification was also extremely mysterious. First, the witness was told, Would you be able to recognise any one of these persons? If the witness answered, Yes, I can, happy Mr. Norton would arrange for the identification parade in the witness box itself and order him to demonstrate the powers of his memory. In case the man said, I am not sure, maybe I can recognise, Mr. Norton would grow a little sad and say, All right, go and try. When someone said, No, I can’t, I haven’t seen them or I did not mark carefully, Mr. Norton would not let him go even then. Looking at so many faces some memory of the past life might come back, in that hope he would send him to the experiment to find out. The witness however lacked such a yogic power. Perhaps the fellow had no faith in the past life, and gravely marching, under the sergeant’s supervision, between two long rows of accused persons, he would say, without even looking at us, No, I don’t know any one of them. Crestfallen, Norton would take back his human net without any catch. In course of this trial there was a marvellous illustration of how sharp and correct human memory could be. Thirty to forty people would be kept standing, one didn’t know their name, hadn’t known them at all in this or any other life, yet whether one had seen or not seen someone two months back, or seen such and such person at three places and not seen in the other two; — one had seen him brush his teeth once, and so his figure remains imprinted in the brain for all time. When did one see this person, what was he doing, was there anyone else with him, or was he alone? One remembers nothing of these, yet his figure is fixed in one’s mind for all lives; one has met Hari ten times, so there is no probability of forgetting him, but even if one has seen Shyam only for half a minute, one would not be able to forget him till one’s last breath, and with no possibility of mistake, — such a power of memory is not to be found frequently in this imperfect human nature, this earth wrapped up in matter and its unconsciousness. But not one, not two, every police chap seemed to be the owner of such uncanny, error-proof accurate memory. Because of which our devotion and respect for the C.I.D. grew more profound day by day. It is not that in the magistrate’s court we did not have, once or twice, occasions for scepticism. When I found in the written evidence that Sisir Ghose had been in Bombay in the month of April, yet a few police chaps had seen him precisely during that period in Scott’s Lane and Harrison Road,((( In Calcutta))) one could not but feel a little uneasy. And when Birendrachandra Sen of Sylhet, while he was physically present at Baniachung, at his father’s place, became visible in his subtle body to the occult vision of the C.I.D. at the Garden and Scott’s Lane — of which Scott’s Lane Birendra knew nothing, as was proved conclusively in the written evidence — the doubts could not but deepen: especially when those who had never set their foot in Scott’s Lane were informed that the police had often found them there, in the circumstances a little suspicion seemed not unnatural. A witness from Midnapore — whom the accused persons from Midnapore however described as a secret service man — said that he had seen Hemchandra Sen of Sylhet, lecturing at Tamluk. Now Hemchandra had never seen Tamluk with his mortal eyes, yet his shadow self had rushed from Sylhet to Midnapore and, with his powerful and seditionary nationalist speech delighted the eyes and ears of our detective monsieur. But the causal body of Charuchandra Roy of Chandernagore, materialising at Manicktola had perpetrated even greater mysteries. Two police officers declared on oath that on such and such date at such and such time they had seen Charubabu at Shyambazar, from where he had walked, in the company of a conspirator, to the Manicktola Gardens. They had followed him up to that and watched him from close quarters, and there could be no ground for error. Both witnesses did not budge when crossexamined. The words of Vyasa are true indeed, Vyasasya vacanarh satyam, the evidence of the police also cannot be otherwise. They were not wrong in their view about date and time either, since from the evidence of the Principal, Dupleix College, Chandernagore, it seemed that on the same day and at the same time, Charubabu had taken leave from the College and gone to Calcutta. But the surprising thing was that on that day and at that hour on the Howrah station platform he was found talking with the Mayor of Chandernagore, Tardival, his wife, the Governor of Chandernagore and few other distinguished European gentlemen. Remembering the occasion they had, all of them, agreed to stand witness in favour of Charubabu. Since the police had to release Charubabu at the instance of the French government the mystery has remained unsolved.

But I would advise Charubabu to send all the proofs to the Psychical Research Society and help in the advancement of knowledge. Police evidence — especially the C.I.D.’s — can never be false, hence there is no way out except to seek refuge in Theosophy. On the whole during this trial at every stage I could find, in the British legal system, how easily the innocent could be punished, sent to prison, suffer transportation, even loss of life. Unless one stood in the dock oneself, one cannot realise the delusive untruth of the Western penal code. It is something of a gamble, a gamble with human freedom, with man’s joys and sorrows, a lifelong agony for him and his family, his friends and relatives, insult, a living death. In this system there is no counting as to how often guilty persons escape and how many innocent persons perish. Once one has been involved in this gamble, this cruel, callous, reactionary social machinery, one can understand the reason for so much propaganda on behalf of Socialism and Anarchism, and their wide influence. In such a milieu it is not to be wondered at that many liberal and kind-hearted men have started to say, it is better to end and destroy this society; if society has to be preserved with the aid of so much sin and suffering, the burning sighs of the innocent and their heart’s blood, its preservation would seem unnecessary.

to be continued.

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