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Citizens versus courts

Updated May 05, 2015 08:27pm


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Photo by White Star
Photo by White Star

There is a story about a young barrister – poor, cold, and lonely – with not a single brief in hand, wandering the halls of Bombay High Court. It is the turn of the century, and the Raj is inescapable: even in India’s most frenzied courtrooms, the British dominate the proceedings.

Further saturating the scene in Britannia, there is an angry Scot: James MacDonald, head of the Bombay Municipal Corporation, is front and centre at the court. A Very Important Man (we are told), MacDonald is sitting on a seat reserved for lawyers.

Enter our hero, still an unknown entity. The court is packed, so the barrister strides up to MacDonald and asks him to move. The big man refuses, so our hero tells the court clerk to unseat him. The clerk – a drop in the tide of Empire – freezes but our hero threatens the judge will be brought into the matter. The clerk complies and MacDonald gives up his chair, so the story goes, to the conquering youth, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, some 27 years old.

This is an excerpt from a story published in Herald's May 2015 issue. To read more, subscribe to Herald's print edition.