Vīrakesari Sitarama Shastri: Treason case and Sharda act - Part 4

The Case

The government filed a case against Sitarama Shastri and Ashvatthanarayana Rao, accusing the article published in Navajīvana to be treasonous.

Shastri had severely criticized the government’s callous attitude towards its own people in the January 1929 issue of Vīrakesari. The issue published on 15th January had an article titled Will Tyranny Win? The contents were as follows –

“...the government due to its own mistakes has broken down and in anger, without caring about civil unrest, and callous about the consequences, is blindly running in the dark. Who would stop it? How can it be stopped?”

Shastri hid nothing and took no prisoners. Both his speech and writing were straight forward. He accused Mirza Ismail of being biased and favouring Muslims in the 18th February 1929 issue of Navajīvana –

“The government revoked all the cases which were filed against Muslims. It appears this is to maintain harmony. True harmony will be ushered only when the Dewan, who has misused his powers, is thrown out… The case of the proverbial cat drinking milk while closing its eyes thinking everyone else too has closed their eyes and nobody would see…”

The examination of this case came into the district court where Syed Taj Peeran was the judge. A R Nageshwara Iyer and the government prosecutor, M Ramachandra Rao argued in favour of the government. The team of advocates led by Nittur Shrinivasa Rao and C V Narasimha Iyengar argued in favour of the accused. They argued that blanket ban of the press without any investigation is against the law. Also accusing government officials is not the same as accusing the government.

The verdict, as expected, was in favour of the government. The judge specifically quoted the passages where the government’s behaviour was compared to the mad elephant and ruled that the accused were guilty. The court sentenced them to a simple imprisonment of six months along with a fine of Rs.500 each.

A review petition questioning the verdict of the district magistrate was filed in the high court. The judges, Srinivasa Iyer and Rama Rao upheld the judgment of the lower court but changed the sentence; Ashwatthanarayana Rao was to pay no fine and the imprisonment was reduced to three months.

This case brought more fame to Shastri. His agitation against the government led to a political awakening in the minds of the people of Karnataka providing a fertile ground for the agitation to establish a responsible government, the flag movement, ‘Mysore Chalo,’ and other such campaigns.

Sitarama Shastri had a long and deep friendship with DVG. DVG was five years older and so Shastri had a greater degree of respect towards him. Likewise DVG had a lot of love and affection towards Shastri.

Sometimes, Shastri asked DVG (in Telugu), “You write about many prominent issues. But why don’t you write it in a more persuasive tone[1]?”

DVG with a smile replied, “My dear friend, you are you and I’m me! How can I write like you?”

As a witness during cross examination of the aforementioned case, DVG at one stage even had argued that a ‘mad elephant’ cannot be held as contemptuous. There are precedents to it like “Madena bhāti kalabhaḥ.

There were attempts by the end of the year 1929 to celebrate the anniversary of the Ganapati episode, leading to riots and arrests again. DVG had recorded his statement in the court as a witness supporting one of the accused, Sri. T T Sharman.

A Conversation with a Profound Effect on the Society

Another event that took place around the same time made Sitarama Shastri’s fame more established. It is also a watershed event in the social history of Karnataka.

As a result of the efforts of many social reformers across the country, on 4th September 1929, the government of India passed a bill in the Central Legislative Assembly. It was a bill to ban child marriages which were prevalent those days. Leading from the forefront during the agitation to bring that bill was Har Bilas Sharda (1867–1955). Thus the law became famous as the ‘Sharda Act.’ After being accepted in the Central Legislative Assembly it also got the approval of the Governor General of India. Further efforts were made to bring in and implement this in various provinces. In Mysore constituent assembly too, a bill related to this issue was introduced by Sir K P Puttanna Chetty.

There were discordant opinions about this for a long time. The reasons were many. The sanātanis argued that child marriage has been the norm since ancient times and hence shouldn’t be abolished. Historically it became more prevalent only after the Islamic invasions. Also the government should not poke its nose into religious practices. Many opined that it was a violation of individual rights.

On the contrary, children being married to old men who are well past their prime leads to the increase in women who are disadvantaged; so it is appropriate to introduce a law to abolish child marriage. This was the argument of many social reformers in favour of the law.

Both groups wrote articles in newspapers substantiating their stand and spoke about the issue on various platforms. Among them the important ones were Sitarama Shastri in favour of the traditional view and Dharmadeva Vācaspati from the Arya Samaj in favour of the law.

After some back and forth, the eminent people of the society thought there should be a public discussion on this issue.

A public debate was arranged in Śankarā Maṭha of Bangalore on 24th September 1931. The topic was “Do the Vedas Permit Child Marriage or do they not?” The chief patron was B K Garudacharya. Sitarama Shastri would present the views of Sanātana Dharmasabhā and Dharmadeva Vācaspati would present the views of the Arya Samaj. The event was presided over by Dr. C B Rama Rao who was a renowned doctor and an eminent public figure. Others who acted as the vice-presidents were K Sampadgiri Rao, an educationist and D Venkataramayya, a retired circle inspector.

The current article is an English adaptation of the Kannada original which has appeared in the Dīvaṭikegaḻu, authored by Nadoja Dr. S R Ramaswamy. Some parts have been adapted from the booklet titled - 'Virakesari' Sitarama Sastri - published as part of the series Mulukanadu Mahaniyaru. Thanks to Sri Hari Ravikumar for his edits.

Footnotes

[1]Literally, “...like thrashing with slippers.”

Author(s)

About:

Nadoja Dr. S R Ramaswamy is a renowned journalist, writer, art critic, environmentalist, and social activist. He has authored over fifty books and thousands of articles. He was a close associate of stalwarts like D. V. Gundappa, Rallapalli Anantakrishna Sharma, V Sitaramaiah, and others. He is currently the honorary Editor-in-Chief of Utthana and served as the Honorary Secretary of the Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs for many years.

Translator(s)

About:

Raghavendra G S is currently pursuing a PhD in Computer Science at the Indian Institute of Science. He is a keen student of classical literature in Sanskrit and Kannada. He is one of the contributing editors of Prekshaa.

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