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Judicial CP - September 1871

The Times, London, 20 September 1871


(From Our Own Correspondent.)

Calcutta, Aug. 19.


An unpleasant circumstance has occurred at Munnipore. One of the planters recently had his attention called to some petty delinquency committed by one of the women coolies of his estate, and he threatened that if she did not admit the offence he would beat her with a cane.

She told him that if he did so she would commit suicide, but he thought little of that, the threat it is said being a common one, and he gave her, the Deputy Commissioner reports, a few smart switches with the cane, and thought no more of it.

The woman, however, carried out her threat by drowning herself. The planter has been examined and his character is reported good, but the act has occasioned a loud outcry, and probably it may lead to something further. At present all that can be done is to inflict a fine under the Penal Code. It was not as far as appears a case of whipping, but merely of the few switches, which, however, in the case of a woman is an act quite indefensible.

There is, indeed, no subject discussed with more feeling at the present time in India than that of judicial whipping, which has been adopted chiefly to prevent the overcrowding of prisons. It forms one of the leading topics in all the Administrative reports, and in several instances the magistrates are censured for not availing themselves of it to a greater extent.

The punishment, they are reminded, is at once one of the most convenient and most dreaded. Prisoners would in nearly all cases prefer any reasonable term of imprisonment to a dozen lashes, and besides, in the latter case, without imprisonment, the cost of their maintenance is saved.

The district officers reply that native magistrates cannot, save in very extreme cases, be induced to adopt whipping, which is deemed the very extremity of degradation, as well as punishment, and in many cases the native feeling has strong European support. Everyone, native or European, admits that if the punishment could be applied merely to persons of rootedly bad character or who had committed infamous crimes it would be excellent; but when a number of poor natives are brought up before a European magistrate, perhaps young, and probably anxious to be away to his dinner, any nice scrutiny of character is almost out of the question, and a man not by any means incorrigible may be degraded in his own eyes and those of his friends for life.

I fancy the "old Indians" are pretty largely on the native side, and very reluctant to add degradation to punishment; but still the deterrent effect of the punishment and the saving in prison cost have been so great that a vote against whipping as a means of punishment requires some courage. Some day, however, before long the subject will force for itself a hearing, with a view to a reconsideration of the whole question.

I find in the Central Provinces Report for 1870 that in that year only 3,924 persons were whipped as compared with 10,136 whipped in 1869. Of the number for 1870 about 240 were juveniles. The immense decrease is ascribed in the report to the goodness of the crops of the year 1870 as compared with the famine of 1869, a fact, if correct, which tells very powerfully against a too great readiness to use the whip, for the probability is that a large mass of the people convicted for petty theft (the prevalent crime) in 1869 were persons entirely destitute. We were compelled to punish, but there was no reason why we should degrade such people for life.


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