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Bhawal case

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Title: Bhawal case  
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Bhawal case

Ramendra Narayan Roy, the prince of Bhawal Estate

The Bhawal case was an extended Indian court case about a possible impostor who claimed to be the prince of Bhawal, who was presumed dead a decade earlier.

Contents

  • Apparent first death and cremation 1
  • Rumours and return 2
  • Tale of rescue 3
  • Popular acceptance 4
  • First trial 5
  • Second trial 6
  • Privy Council 7
  • Aftermath 8
  • Forensic significance 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11

Apparent first death and cremation

Ramendra Narayan Roy was one of the kumars ("princes") of the Bhawal Estate, a large zamindar in Bengal in modern-day Bangladesh. He was one of three brothers who had inherited the estate from their father. The Bhawal Estate spread over 579 square miles (1,500 km2) and included villages with a population of around 500.000, many of them tenant farmers.

Ramendra Narayan Roy, Second kumar of Bhawal, spent most of his time hunting, in festivities and with women, having several mistresses. By 1905 he had contracted syphilis. In 1909 he went to Darjeeling to seek treatment but was reported to have died there on May 7 at the age of 25. The reported cause of death was biliary colic (gallstones). His body was supposedly cremated in Darjeeling the next day and customary funerary rites were performed on the 8th of May.

Later there was much discussion of what had exactly happened on the 8th of May and what was the exact time of the cremation and exactly who had been cremated. Some witnesses testified that a sudden hailstorm had interrupted the cremation just before the pyre should have been lighted and the body might have disappeared when the mourners had sought shelter.

His young wife Bibhabati Debi moved to Dhaka to live with her brother Satyen Banerjee. Over the next ten years the other Bhawal Estate kumars also died and the colonial British Court of Wards took control of the estate on behalf of their widows.

Rumours and return

Over the years there were rumours that Ramendra's body had not been successfully cremated, that the body had disappeared or that he had been seen alive. Relatives sent people to Bengal to investigate rumours that he had become a sannyasi, a religious ascetic. Jyotirmayi, a sister of the kumars, made inquiries and gradually became convinced that her middle brother was somehow alive.

Around 1920-1921 a sannyasi appeared in Buckland Bund in Dhaka covered in ashes. He sat on the street for four months and attracted attention because he was of unusually good physical condition. There were rumors that the second kumar had returned, even when the man said that he had renounced his family. Buddhu, the son of an elder sister of the brothers, visited him but was not yet convinced. Some of the locals arranged for the man's visit to Jaidebpur where he arrived on April 12, 1921 on an elephant.

Over the following couple of days, relatives became convinced that this man was the second kumar, but he returned to Dhaka by April 25. Relatives invited him back to Jaidebpur on April 30 when various relatives and tenants came to see him. When the crowd questioned him, he remembered the name of his wet nurse, a fact that was not public and they recognized him as the second kumar of Bhawal.

Tale of rescue

The man said that he had become ill in Darjeeling and forgot much of it. He had recovered in the jungle alongside the sadhu Dharamdas Naga who said that he had found him lying on the ground, wet from rain. The sadhu had become his guru and he had spent the intervening years as a sannyasi.

The claimant said that he had wandered all around India without recollection of his past until his memory began to return and his guru told him to return home.

Popular acceptance

There was considerable rural acceptance that the man was the Second Kumar of Bhawal. Many of his former tenants and relatives began to support him. On May 15 a large crowd gathered before the Jaidebhur Rajbari in Dhaka and announced in public that they believed that he was the returned Kumar. Kumar's widow Bibhabati refused to meet the claimant and regarded him as an impostor.

On May 29, 1921 the claimant arrived in Dhaka in the Bhawal house with two lawyers to meet the district magistrate and collector J. H. Lindsay who recorded his claim.

The British colonial government and the Court of Wards were not enthusiastic. Managers of the Bhawal estate sent investigators to make inquiries about the real identity of the claimant and find witnesses to support their side of the story. Two investigators went to Punjab to meet Dharamdas Naga, who identified the claimant as his pupil Mal Singh of Aujla, also known as Sundardas. On June 3 the Board of Revenue announced in public that they had proof that the kumar's body had been cremated in Darjeeling and therefore the claimant was an impostor.

Despite this, the public and many tenants of the Bhawal estate continued to support the claimant. Many tenants paid their rents to the claimant, who used them to hire lawyers. Solicitor Ananda Chandra Roy agreed to represent him in court. Claimant's principal supporter was Suren Mukherjee.

Both opponents and supporters of the claimant published their own articles and pamphlets propagating their cause. Some of them included alleged witness reports of how group of sannyasis had rescued still-alive kumar from the funeral pyre, taken him away and healed him. Others compared the case with that of a historical impostor Pratachand and even the Tichborne case. Some writers wrote whole plays or stories to make their point about the case, some of them accusing Bibhabati and his brother of incestuous relations or conspiracy to poison the kumar.

The Board of Revenue claimed that the whole matter was a conspiracy organized by interested parties who wanted to use the estate for their own purposes. When they had found a suitable candidate, they had prepared him for the part of a returned kumar with the aid of kumar's sisters. Many Indian witnesses also stated that the claimant could not speak Bengali well and he was mainly ignorant about the events of the kumar's youth. One of them, Mukunda Guin, was stabbed to death in September 1921.

After the claimant moved to Calcutta in 1924, he also received recognition in local social circles. He joined the Bengal Landholders Association and became a director of Bengal Flotilla Service. He tried to use various official channels to argue his case until 1929, when he moved back to Dhaka and began to collect tenant's rents and tribute against his share of the 1/3 of the property.

First trial

On April 24, 1930, lawyers working for the claimant filed a suit against Bibhabati Debi and other landholders who were represented by the Court of Wards. District judge Alan Henderson assigned judge Panna Lal Basu/Pannalal Bose to the case. Bejoy Chandra Chatterjee served as counsel for the claimant, now a plaintiff. Amiya Nath Chaudhuri counseled the defendants, those represented by the Court of wards. The trial began on November 30, 1933.

Lawyers working for the Court of Wards tried to prove that this barely literate man could not be of Brahmin caste, but those on the claimant's side were able to prove that kumar had really been able to barely read and write. Defense also claimed that the fact that Kumar had had a mistress named Elokeshi was total fiction. When Elokeshi was summoned, she said that police had offered her money for not testifying.

Defense also argued that kumar's syphilis had advanced to the state of open sores when there were no sign of any syphilitic scars in the claimant's body. The claimant spoke mainly Urdu, claiming that he had forgotten most of his Bengali during his travels. There was also an argument about the exact color of kumar's eyes. There were also claims that the body burned in the funeral pyre had been a substitute.

Both sides summoned hundreds of witnesses and some of their comments were contradictory. Defense questioned kumar's sister Jyotirmayi Debi, who supported the claimant and stated that the claimant had various family characteristics and that the claimant did speak Bengali. The plaintiff's side, in turn, closely questioned Bibhabati Debi, who denied she saw any resemblance between her dead husband and the claimant. Ananda Kumari, widow of one of the other kumars, claimed that the kumar had been able to speak English and write in Bengali, neither of which the claimant could do. However, the letters that were presented as evidence of this were found to be forgeries.

In September 1935, the guru Dharamdas Naga arrived to testify in court through an interpreter and repeated that he recognized the claimant as his former disciple Sundardas, previously Mal Singh, who was a Punjabi sikh from Lahore. Das fell ill and had to be questioned outside the courthouse. The claimant's supporters insisted that this guru was a fraud. Both sides' closing arguments lasted for 6 weeks before the court adjourned on May 20, 1936.

Judge Pannabal Basu deliberated his final judgment for three months and on August 24, 1936, after a very detailed explanation and with a large crowd waiting outside, he ruled in favor of the claimant. Afterwards he retired from the judiciary.

Second trial

The claimant moved to the estate but the Board of Revenue did not release any funds to him. On October 5, 1936 the government filed an appeal against the judgment in the Calcutta High Court, again in the name of the wards of the Court of Wards. Chief justice of the High Court gave an order that all the evidence in the previous trial must be printed for the use of the appellate court. It amounted to 11,327 printed pages.

Three judges, Sir Leonard Costello, Charu Chandra Biswas and Ronald Francis Lodge formed a special bench for the case. Both sides retained their former lawyers. The hearing began on November 14, 1938.

Appellants' side concentrated on what had really happened in Darjeeling, that there should be proof that kumar was not dead and who, if any, had been cremated. Respondents' side defended the judgment, stating the kumar's identity had been proved. Hearings concluded on August 14, 1939.

Judge Costello left for a holiday in Britain, intending to return in November to finish the case. In the meantime, World War II erupted in Europe and he was unable to return due to state of war. On August 20, 1940, other judges decided that the judgment could not wait any longer and began to announce their judgment. Other judges had presented their view to Costello in writing, he had delivered his own judgment in writing from Britain and it remained enclosed until it was read in court.

Judge Biswas defended judge Basu's conclusions in his long verdict and stated that the defendants had failed to prove that the Second Kumar had died. He charged that the defendants had tutored witnesses and produced fraudulent letters. He therefore found the favor of the claimant. Justice Lodge disbelieved the story of the rescue, criticized the amount of witnesses both sides had summoned, dismissed many details of the plaintiff's evidence and accused the plaintiff's side of pressuring and insulting the witnesses for the defense. He therefore found in favor of the defendants.

When judge Biswas read the judgment of Justice Costello's on August 29, 1940, it broke the tie. Costello criticized the Court of Wards for pressuring witnesses with irrelevant questions and withholding documents. He did not find sufficient reason to overturn the decision of the lower court. On November 25, after two months of deliberation, the court announced that Costello's view was valid and therefore the appeal was dismissed.

Privy Council

The claimant was allowed to withdraw money from his share of the estate. He still left this share in the care of the Court of Wards until further developments. He also got married.

The Board of Revenue did not answer right away and A.N. Chaudburi withdrew from the case but Bibhabati Debi was not ready to give up. Developments of the war delayed further appeals until 1943, when lawyers for Bibhabati Debi filed appeal for a leave for appeal against the judgment of the High Court in the Privy Council in London. Partially because of the bomb damage to the council chamber in the blitz, The Council moved to the House of Lords and the next hearing began there in 1945. D.N. Pritt worked for the claimant's side and king's counsel W.W. K. Page argued the case for the Court of Wards.

The Privy Council did grant the leave to appeal. Lord Thankerton, Lord Herbert du Parcq and Sir Chettur Madhavan Nair handled the case. The hearing lasted for 28 days. On July 30, 1946 they ruled in favour of the claimant and dismissed the appeal. Judgment was telegraphed to Calcutta the next day.

Aftermath

The same evening, when the claimant went to offer prayers, he suffered a stroke and died two days later. Funeral rites were performed on August 13, 1946. Bibhabati Debi later regarded this as a divinely ordained punishment for impostor. She later refused the inheritance (Rs. 800000) coming from the estate.

Forensic significance

This case has tremendous significance for students of forensic science, specifically for students of identification. It is interesting to go through the various similarities between the Kumar and the Bhawal Sanyasi. It gives an idea how various identification data can be used for identification of a person.

S.No Identification data Kumar Ramendra Narayan Roy (The second Kumar of Bhawal) The Bhawal Sanyasi
1 Complexion Pink and white Pink and white
2 Hair Brownish Brownish
3 Hair form Wavy Wavy
4 Moustache Lighter than hair Lighter than hair
5 Eyes Brownish Brownish
6 Lips Twist on the right lower lip Twist on the right lower lip
7 Ears A sharp angle at the rim A sharp angle at the rim
8 Lobes of ears Not adherent to the cheeks and pierced Not adherent to the cheeks and pierced
9 Adam's apple Prominent Prominent
10 The left upper first molar tooth Broken Broken
11 Hands Small Small
12 Index and middle fingers of the left hand Less unequal than those of the right hand Less unequal than those of the right hand
13 A point of flesh in the right lower eyelid Present Present
14 Feet Scaly, size 6 for shoes Scaly, size 6 for shoes
15 Irregular scar on the top outer of the left ankle Present Present
16 Syphilis Present Present (disputed)
17 Syphilitic ulcers Present Present (disputed)
18 Boil mark on the head and back Present Present
19 Operation mark near the groin Present Present
20 Tiger claw mark on the right arm Present Present
21 A minute mole on the dorsum of the penis Present Present

In addition of the above, the photographs of the two were very similar. Their gait, voice and expression were also exactly similar. Fingerprinting was well established by the time the Sanyasi case occurred, but could not be used as there were no records of the Kumar's fingerprints from 1909 when he had left home. There is little doubt that if the science of DNA profiling had existed in that time, the case could have been solved in no time.

References

  • Partha Chatterjee - A Princely Impostor? - The Strange and Universal History of the Kumar of Bhawal (2002) ISBN 0-691-09031-9
  • Murad Fyzee - A Prince, Poison and Two Funerals: The Bhowal Sanyasi Case, English Edition Publishers (2003), ISBN 81-87853-32-8

External links

  • Srimati Bibhabati Devi v Kumar Ramenda Narayan Roy and others (Fort William (Bengal)) (1946) UKPC 32 (30 July 1946)
  • Decision in the HTML format
  • History of Criminal Identification
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