Study Guide

A Passage to India Justice and Judgment

By E.M. Forster

Justice and Judgment

Part 1, Chapter 5

"[…] We're out here to do justice and keep the peace. Them's my sentiments. India isn't a drawing-room."

"Your sentiments are those of a god," [Mrs. Moore] said quietly, but it was his manner rather than his sentiments that annoyed her.

Trying to recover his temper, [Ronny] said, "India likes gods."

"And Englishmen like posing as gods." (1.5.88-91)

As the Civil Magistrate (i.e., the local judge) Ronny represents the British idea of colonial justice. Justice isn't an abstract ideal, but a way of "keeping the peace" – of controlling the "natives." This inevitably entails the feeling that the British are far superior to the Indians. Ronny's comment that "India likes gods" is a reference to the many religions of India: he's suggesting that in this mess of religious diversity, the British can bring order.

Part 2, Chapter 17

[Fielding] had not gone mad at the phrase "an English girl fresh from England," he had not rallied to the banner of race. He was still after facts, though the herd had decided on emotion. Nothing enraged Anglo-India more than the lantern of reason if it is exhibited for one moment after its extinction is decreed. (2.17.23)

The irony of the British colonial justice system is that justice is administered by the British, whose actions are colored, literally, by their racial views. Their racial hatred is cruelly ironic considering that their view of the superiority of the white race is based on the supposed fact that the white race is more "rational."

Part 2, Chapter 18
Mr. McBryde

"[…] When you think of crime, you think of English crime. The psychology here is different […] Read any of the Mutiny records; which, rather than the Bhagavad Gita, should be your Bible in this country. Though I'm not sure that the one and the other are not closely connected […] (2.18.25)

McBryde again rambles on about Indian criminal psychology. He's referring to records of the Mutiny of 1857, an important event that many regard as the first move toward Indian independence (for more on this, check out our "Setting"). But to the British this event signifies only the Indians' natural tendency to violence and disorder, as McBryde's association of the Mutiny with the Bhagavad Gita, a sacred Hindu text, suggests.

"All unfortunate natives are criminals at heart, for the simple reason that they live south of latitude 30." (2.18.1)

Here, McBryde professes his racist view of Indian psychology as a scientific fact: according to McBryde, it's the geographical location that makes the Indians criminal. Of course, this doesn't explain why someone like himself, who was born in Karachi, happens to be a policeman. Ironically, McBryde is discovered to be having an affair later in the novel.

Part 2, Chapter 20

[…] the Government of India itself also watches – and behind it is that caucus of cranks and cravens, the British Parliament. [Turton] had constantly to remind himself that, in the eyes of the law, Aziz was not yet guilty, and the effort fatigued him. (2.20.20)

Here, Turton struggles with the fact that as an Englishman, he does have to respect the finer aspects of the English criminal justice tradition, including the notion that one is innocent until proven guilty. For in the end, Turton is not the god of Chandrapore: he answers to the British Parliament back in London.

In the old days an Englishwoman would not have had to appear, nor would any Indian have dared to discuss her private affairs. She would have made her deposition, and judgment would have followed. (2.20.10)

This is a reference to the Rowlatt Acts, which took away key civil rights from Indians and was widely regarded as a step back for Indian independence. One of the acts stipulated that Indians did not have the right to challenge their witnesses in court; witness depositions were alone deemed sufficient. The statement is also a veiled reference to the Amritsar massacre, which was initiated in response to an alleged attack on a white woman (see "Setting" for more on the Amritsar massacre).

[Fielding's] question produced a bad effect, partly because he had pronounced her name; she, like Aziz, was always referred to by a periphrasis. (2.20.15)

In addition to a kind of mass hysteria, the British in Chandrapore refuse to speak directly about the case, about Adela and Aziz. They only use periphrases, or circumlocutions: "the prisoner," "the accused," "the patient," etc. Because they only speak indirectly about the case, they can never have an open and rational discussion about what actually happened.

Part 2, Chapter 26

"[…] [M]y belief is that poor McBryde exorcised you. As soon as he asked you a straightforward question, you gave a straightforward answer, and broke down." (2.26.30)

Fielding's theory is that once Adela was finally asked to speak directly about the incident, instead of through circumlocutions (see Quote #7), she was able to clearly perceive what happened.

For her behavior rested on cold justice and honesty; she had felt, while she recanted, no passion of love for those whom she had wronged. Truth is not truth in that exacting land unless there go with it kindness and more kindness again, unless the Word that was with God also is God. And the girl's sacrifice – so creditable according to Western notions – was rightly rejected, because, though it came from her heart, it did not include her heart. (2.26.69)

Adela is finally able to figure out the right thing to do, and even though it's courageous, it's still lacking. Lacking, you ask? Didn't she give up her friends, her engagement, her whole society when she withdrew her charge against Aziz? Can't we cut the girl a break? The point that the novel seems to be making is that Adela still doesn't get it. She's still clinging to the English, abstract way of looking at justice as a matter purely of right and wrong, of moral laws and principles. Her view seems to have nothing to do with the actual people involved, their emotions, their feelings.

Part 2, Chapter 29

"[…] Indians know whether they are liked or not – they cannot be fooled here. Justice never satisfies them, and that is why the British Empire rests on sand." (2.29.2)

This quote underscores the narrator's comment on Adela in Quote #9. Abstract conceptions of justice don't fly with the Indians; they see it as a mask for persecution, which is really not far from the truth when you see what happened to Aziz.

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