London, Nov.12 : Disbarred from membership of London’s famed Inner Temple a century ago, Shyamji Krishna Varma, the first Indian to be called to the bar in 1884, has been posthumously reinstated.
Varma was expelled from the Inner Temple for backing independence for India. He was disbarred merely for writing letters to the Times arguing for Indian home rule.
The Guardian reports that he was posthumously reinstated by London’s Honourable Society of the Inner Temple, which acknowledged that Varma (1857-1930) was the victim of a miscarriage of justice and “did not receive an entirely fair hearing”.
Varma may have slipped from public memory in the UK but in the years before the First World War he was a prominent lawyer and political propagandist.
His reputation is preserved in India where a university in Gujarat was named in his honour. Varma is venerated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has arrived in the UK on a three-day state visit today.
Varma went to school in Mumbai and studied at Balliol College, Oxford. In London, Varma founded India House in Highgate as a hostel for Indian students who faced racist attitudes when seeking accommodation in the capital. Lenin and Gandhi were among those who visited him there.
In February 1909, Varma sent a letter to the Times responding to attacks on India House. It pointed out that both John Milton and George Washington, who had advocated the violent overthrow of tyrannical governments, were honoured in England.
According to the Overseas Friends of the BJP website, Varma warned his British friends and “all their countrymen against the risks they run of losing their kith and kin by allowing them to go to India in these troubled times, since every Englishman who goes there for exploiting that country directly or indirectly is regarded as a potential enemy by the Indian Nationalist party and its supporters”.
On Wednesday the Inner Temple said it had decided “to reinstate as a member Shyamji Krishna Varma, a scholar and prominent Indian nationalist, who was peremptorily disbarred in 1909 for conduct unbecoming a barrister”.
“At a meeting on Monday 9 November 2015, the Benchers of the Inner Temple decided that Varma should be reinstated as a member of the Inn in recognition of the fact that the cause of Indian home rule, for which he fought, was not incompatible with membership of the bar and that by modern standards he did not receive an entirely fair hearing.”
It said his reinstatement was also intended as “a mark of the Inn’s commitment to the principle of free speech, which remains as important as it ever was to the establishment of a free society”.
It hoped that the reinstatement would “strengthen its links with its many Indian members”.
Between Varma’s admittance in 1884 and Indian independence in 1948, the Inner Temple trained more than 750 Indian barristers. (ANI)