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Animal rights redefined in colonial Bengal

30 November, 2020 14:27:12
Animal rights redefined in colonial Bengal

Those were the colonial days when British settlers were obsessed with transforming native Calcutta into swanky London. The year was 1923. One day, a local named Raj Chandra Das was returning home when he chanced upon a dog pouncing on a goat and attacking it ferociously. The goat bleated helplessly and was on the verge of death as blood oozed out profusely from the wounds. Das was agitated and he hootedand shooed from a distance in an effort to disentangle the demented dog from its prey.

There was utter pandemonium and amid all this, instead of realizing that Raj Chandra was trying to save the goat, the locals who had gathered around, started yelling, “Oh! Someone please help! Look here the man is killing the dog.”A saviour thus turned into a villain on the streets of British Kolkata. But what followed this was even more amazing. The then British Magistrate Doyle’s bungalow was in the vicinity. 

A number of his servants rushed to the street from the bungalow to investigate the matter hearing the commotion and shouts. They got hold of Rajchandra Das and took him inside the house by force thinking he was the villain and was trying to kill a dog. The Magistrate was busy playing cricket in his garden. He got very angry as his game was interrupted by the commotion outside and by his servants. He asked his servants the reason for the uproar and when they related the incident, he was beyond himself with rage. He picked up his bat and hit Rajchandra on his head. It was a severe blow that ripped his skull and blood gushed out. Despite this, several servants picked him up and took him to the nearest police station where he was arrested and put behind bars. 

There was utter pandemonium and amid all this, instead of realizing that Raj Chandra was trying to save the goat, the locals who had gathered around, started yelling, “Oh! Someone please help! Look here the man is killing the dog.”

Later that night, the magistrate wrote a letter to the officer-in-charge of the police station, requesting him to release Das. The OC released him and a wounded Das returned home. But the story does not end here. The very next day, early in the morning, a team of police officials reached Das’ house and arrested him again. It transpired that the attacker dog was the pet dog of the magistrate’s wife. Although Magistrate Doyle had forgiven Rajchandra, his wife was not the one to give up so easily. She was convinced that Rajchandra had attacked her poor pet!

She lodged a complaint in the court of law against Das. The case created quite a stir in the city at that time and it was reported in great details in local newspapers of the time.The case came up for hearing in the court of Joint Magistrate Clay. A false case was lodged against Rajchandra. Although Das had merely shooed the dog from a distance to distract it and leave the goat alone, the false case claimed he had killed the dog. After hearing the case, he was sentenced to three months’ rigorous imprisonment by Joint Magistrate Clay.

Later that night, the magistrate wrote a letter to the officer-in-charge of the police station, requesting him to release Das. The OC released him and a wounded Das returned home. But the story does not end here. The very next day, early in the morning, a team of police officials reached Das’ house and arrested him again.

At this point, Rajchandra’s uncle decided to lodge a complaint against Magistrate Doyle for hitting his nephew with a cricket bat. This infuriated the British masters who increased the level of torture on Rajchandra inside the cell and threatened him with dire consequences if he did not withdraw the charges levied against the Magistrate. The judge handling the case ensured postponing of dates every time the Magistrate’s case came up for hearing in the court. Finally, an exasperated Rajchandra withdrew the case. He was also released from jail after a three-month stint. Though in those days laws against animal cruelty or even animal rights was unheard of, this was one that laid the foundation for protecting animal rights, though unfortunately in a lopsided manner. 

Story Tag:
  • Society, Animal Rights

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