As the arrest of activist Teesta Setalvad has angered activists across India, it has also generated a sharp debate around her great grandfather Sir Chimanlal Harilal Setalvad.
The RSS-affiliated journal Organiser accused Chimanlal Setalvad of being a part of the Hunter Commission that gave a clean chit to General Dyer on the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.
“Did you know? Fraud activist #TeestaSetalvad is great-granddaughter of Chimanlal Harilal Setalvad. C.H. Setalvad was a member of the ‘#HunterCommission’ on the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Hunter Commission gave a clean chit to General Dyer who ordered the firing on civilians,” Organiser Weekly tweeted.
A senior adviser to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, Kanchan Gupta, also brought Chimanlal Setalvad into the discourse and tweeted: “Teesta Setalvad is great granddaughter of Chimanlal Harilal Setalvad who was member of the infamous ‘Hunter Commission’ on Jallianwala Bagh massacre. The Commission gave a clean chit to General Dyer who ordered the firing on civilians.”
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Writer Salil Tripathi, who is also Chair of PEN International's Writers in Prison Committee, rebutted the allegations and said: “Her great grandfather Sir Chimanlal Setalvad was the Indian lawyer on the panel that grilled Dyer after the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre. Her grandfather Motilal was free India's AG. Her father Atul was a fine civil liberties lawyer who opposed the Emergency. Teesta is the daughter of the constitution.”
Tripathi underlined that Chimanlal Setalvad didn't write the majority opinion and was in dissent. Chimanlal was an eminent jurist and one among the three Indian members of the eight-member Hunter Commission that investigated the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.
Sardar Sahibzada Sultan Ahmed Khan, the member for appeals, Gwalior state; Pandit Jagat Narain, member of the United Provinces legislative council, were the other two Indian members.
In his memoirs, Recollections and Reflections: An Autobiography, Chimanlal Setalvad says after the conclusion of the enquiry, the Committee assembled at Agra to draft their report.
“After many discussions amongst ourselves, it became apparent that there was a definite cleavage of opinion between the European members on the one hand and the Indian Members on the other as to (1) the justification of the application of Martial Law in the first instance and (2) its continuance for the period it was continued.”
“It appeared to the Indian Members that both the Government of Punjab and the Government of India had taken an exaggerated and panicky view of the disturbances and had wrongly persuaded themselves to believe that the disturbances showed the existence of an open rebellion against the authority of the British Government and justified the application of the Bengal Regulation 10 of 1804.”
While all of them condemned the Jallianwala Bagh firing, the Indians took a “grave view” of the oppressive martial law. The discussions while drafting the report were at times “heated and led to unpleasantness”.
Chimanlal wrote: “The Indian Members took a much graver view than the one taken by the European Members which was somewhat halting and apologetic.” He noted that the discussions were heated and led “to some unpleasantness, particularly because of the intolerant attitude adopted by Lord Hunter towards any difference of opinion”.
He underlined that during one of his discussions with Lord Hunter, he lost his temper and said: “You people (meaning myself and my Indian colleagues) want to drive the British out of the country.” In response, Chimanlal said: “It is perfectly legitimate for Indians to wish to be free of foreign rule and Indian independence can be accomplished by mutual understanding and goodwill. The driving out process will only become necessary if the British are represented in this country by people as short-sighted and intolerant as yourself.”