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Sarat Chandra IAS Academy

Sir Chettur Sankaran Nair

Sir Chettur Sankaran Nair

#GS1 #Indian Freedom Movement #Personalities

Context: Filmmaker Karan Johar recently announced his decision to produce the biopic of Sir Chettur Sankaran Nair based on the book, ‘The case that shook the empire’ written by Raghu Palat and Pushpa Palat in 2019.

About Mr. Nair:

  • Born in the year 1857 in Mankara village of Malabar’s Palakkad district.
  • An acclaimed lawyer and judge in the Madras High Court and one of the early builders of the Indian National Congress who had also served as its president in 1897.
  • Known for being a passionate advocate for social reforms and a firm believer in the self-determination of India.
  • In 1897, he became the youngest president of the INC in the history of the party till then, and the only Malayali to hold the post ever.
  • In 1902, Lord Curzon appointed him a member of the Raleigh University Commission.
  • In 1904, he was appointed as Companion of the Indian Empire by the King-Emperor.
  • He was appointed as a permanent judge in the Madras High Court in 1908.
  • Sankaran Nair was knighted in 1912.
  • In 1915 he joined the Viceroy’s Council as member for education.
  • He also served as chairman of the All-India Committee, which in 1928–29 rather ineffectually met with the Simon Commission concerning Indian constitutional problems.
  • He founded and edited the Madras Review and the Madras Law Journal.

Role in Freedom Movement:

  • As a fervent freedom fighter, he firmly believed in India’s right for self-government.
  • His criticisms in 1908, against biasness of English Jury while discussed Montagu- Chelmsford reforms infuriated the Anglo-Indian community who petitioned the Viceroy and the Secretary of State for India objecting to his appointment as high court judge the first time.
  • In 1919, he played an important role in the expansion of provisions in the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms which introduced a system of dyarchy in the provinces and increased participation of Indians in the administration.
  • He resigned from the Viceroy’s council in 1919 in protest against the protracted use of martial law to quell unrest in the Punjab.
    • His resignation shook the British government. In the immediate aftermath, press censorship in Punjab was lifted and martial law terminated.
    • Further, a committee was set up under Lord William Hunter to examine the disturbances in Punjab.
  • In his book ‘Gandhi and Anarchy’, which was published in 1922, Nair spelt out his critique of Gandhi’s methods, especially those of non-violence, civil disobedience and non-cooperation.
  • He believed that any of these movements was destined to lead to riots and bloodshed.
  • In the same book, he also accused Lieutenant-Governor of Punjab Michael O’Dwyer for his coercive methods that led to the death of hundreds of innocent men and women at Jallianwala Bagh.
    • Thereafter, O’Dwyer sued Nair for defamation in England, with the expectation that an English court would side with him. As was well known, a large section of the English people did strongly believe that General Dyer’s act at Jallianwala was justified and was in fact responsible for saving Britain’s empire in India.
    • Nair had lost the case and was held guilty for defaming O’Dwyer. He had to pay £500 and expense of the trial to the plaintiff.
    • Though Nair lost the case, the trial had a resounding impact on the British Empire in India.
  • At a time when the nationalist movement was gaining momentum, Indians saw in the judgement a clear bias of the British government and an effort to shield those who committed atrocities against their own people.
  • The verdict was momentous in that it strengthened the determination of the nationalists to fight for self-government.

Social Reforms:

  • As a Madras High Court judge, his best-known judgments clearly indicate his commitment to social reforms.
    • In Budasna v Fatima (1914), he passed a radical judgement when he ruled that those who converted to Hinduism cannot be treated as outcastes.
    • In a few other cases, he upheld inter-caste and inter-religious marriages.

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