During my (Bipin Chandra Pal) college life in Calcutta, the country was passing through great political changes that had a lasting effect upon social and political evolution. During the closing years of my school days, Lord Mayo was the Indian Viceroy. His brief Viceroyalty was noted for the deportation of the Wahabi leader, Amir Khan.
The British Government in those days, especially in Northern India, stood more or less in fear of a possible Muslim awakening. The Hindus had taken more kindly to the new education introduced by their British masters. This education, as those who helped to introduce it expected, the intellectual and moral allegiance of the new educated classes of their subjects to the British Power in the country. But the Muslims stood out of this education. The upper classes of the Muslims still nursed the natural sense of wrong against those who had wrested the hegemony of India from their hands.
The Wahabis were a sect of Muslims, who had started a powerful propaganda, religious on the face of it, but not without political possibilities. It had its center in Patna. The Government, however, did not accept the Wahabi Movement on its face value as a purely religious movement, but scented deep political motives behind it. Those were the days when the Mahomedans were suspected in the eyes of our British masters. The leader of the Wahabis, Amir Khan, was arrested, and detained under Regulation III of 1818.
An application was made for a writ of habeas corpus to the Calcutta High Court which was heard by Chief Justice Norman. That application was rejected. Mr. Annesty of the Bombay High Court Bar was engaged on behalf of Amir Khan. Mr. Annesty’s speech in which he hauled Lord Mayo over the coals for what was described as his tyranny over the helpless subjects of Her Majesty in India was published in pamphlet forms along with the proceedings of this case. These pamphlets were for many years something like the scripture of our new patriotism.
Chief Justice Norman was stabbed and killed on the steps of the Calcutta High Court by a Mahomedan believed to have been a member of the Wahabi sect. Caught red – handed he was justly sentenced to death. So great, however, was the indignation caused by this assassination among the ruling race, including members of the Government, that the man was refused a Muslim burial and was burnt like the Hindus.
The assassination of Justice Norman was followed by that of Lord Mayo in the Andamans by a prisoner, named Sher Ali. These two assassinations were believed to be the reprisals of the adherents of the Wahabi leader for his life – imprisonment. The Wahabi trial, however, helped to strengthen our infant patriotic sentiment by a new sense of wrong against our British masters.