Framing the innocents: Part II

1720 A.D. Rama Komathi, a man of great wealth and influence, enjoyed a very high reputation in Bombay, not only for his wealth, but also for his philanthropy, benefactions and public spirit. He enjoyed remarkable respect and confidence of the East India Company for over 30 years. He was the only Indian citizen of Bombay invited to attend the inauguration of the St. Thomas’s Cathedral.

“But such is the perversity and malignity of human nature, that, at times, a virtuous man makes more enviers and enemies than an unscrupulous and unprincipled timeserver and opportunist.”

When he became old and infirm, he was charged as a traitor and a dangerous conspirator. His position, his character and his past record might have persuaded any sensible law court that such a charge in relation to such a man was incredible. But, that did not happen in his case.

Trial was conducted. The witness was one of Rama Komathi’s servants. This witness testified during the trial that that there was interaction and correspondence between Rama Komathi and the pirate chief Kanhoji Angare to kidnap the Governor Boone. In regard to the source of his information, this witness said that he came to know about it from a dancing girl and that she told that Angare had told her that Rama Komathi had written a letter to him. That dancing girl was not examined. Letters written by Rama Komathi to Kanhoji Angare were produced during the trial. They were in his handwriting and carried his seal too.

The Governor in Council drew the charge. His trial was held before an adhoc tribunal, which was presided over by Governor Boone and consisted of members of the Council and Parker, the Chief Justice of the Court.

During the trial, the Chief Justice Parker came to know of the torture of the witness and objected to it. The witness had been subjected to “cruel and inhuman torture” and the evidence was fabricated with forged documents and even that evidence was only a hearsay evidence. That servant was tortured by cutting off his thumb to extract evidence and a statement implicating Komathi.

Parker came to know also the fact that such a torture was inflicted at the instance of Boone. But, the result of showing this judicial independence was his dismissal from office, by the Governor. This is what happens when the Executive has so much say over Judiciary.

Rama Komathi was convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for life with confiscation of all his property. For eight long years he languished in gaol until death came to deliver him in 1728.

In pursuance of the sentence, Rama Komathi’s property was pillaged, and sold by public auction. A commodious warehouse in Mumbai Fort belonging to him was taken over by the Company itself for Rs. 20,000.

“It was of course only appropriate that a property plundered out of the estate of a tragic victim of judicial error and malicious machinations of a gang of miscreants, should become the inspiring venue of law and justice.”

It was proved later, after Rama’s death, that the incriminating letters were all forgeries, that the seal was fictitious, fabricated by a soni who was an expert forger.

His immense wealth had excited the envy and cupidity of a clever gang of cheats and forgers and the Governor too became involved in it at a later stage. All that the subsequent Government could do then was to repair the wrong was to give some monetary compensation to Rama’s son.

His conduct of the trial was dubious. He subjected a witness, a servant of Rama, to torture to extract a confession from him, notwithstanding the protest of Parker that judicial torture was illegal under English law.

There is no suggestion that, barring Boone, the other members of the tribunal had any inkling of the plot against the prisoner.

There is also no evidence that Boone was the brain or even the originator of the conspiracy.

After the sentence, Governor Boone invited claims against the property of the condemned criminal; and promptly put in a claim of his own to the tune of Rs. 12,791, a very large sum in those days.

From and For more, with courtesy:

http://bombayhighcourt.nic.in/libweb/historicalcases/cases/THE_TRIAL_OF_RAMA_KOMATHI-1720.html

Cited by Kautilya in The Legal History of India and by V.D. Kulshreshta in Landmarks in Indian Legal and Constitutional

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