"Judges Ghat", Kolkata, initiated by judge Sir Elijah Impey. Was it a racial enclave? - early colonial India

 Have you ever heard of  a separate ghat for the Justices of Courts?  A Ghat is a small part of river bank with a flight of steps going  down to the river for bathing purposes or conducting religious rites. Yes, there is one on the banks of Hooghly river near what is called Gwalior monument, a landmark structure in this place built in the early British colonial period.  "Judges ghat" has been around since the time of early colonial period under the East india Company rule. It is, I believe, presently, under the Port Trust. 

The Supreme Court of Judicature at Calcutta was established upon the promulgation of  Regulating Act of 1773 by the King of England. In this respect, The Letters of Patent was issued on 26 March 1774  giving full power to hear cases both civil and criminal  and to entertain, hear and determine any suits or actions against any of His Majesty’s subjects - both Indians as well as Europeans in 'Bengal, Bihar and Orissa’. Bengal having been dishonestly taken over by the East India Company under the direction of Robert Clive, Calcutta town was growing faster than ever before with more population and trading activities. It became an important trade center and port in the Empire which was in its infancy. 

Judges Ghat, Kolkata, WB. tutorialathome.in

Sir Elijah Impey (13 June 1732 – 1 October 1809) educated at Westminster School and later graduated from  Trinity College, Cambridge in 1752 with a  B.A and later  M.A  in 1759 took the credit of being the first chief justice of the Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort William in Bengal, Chief Justice of the Sadr Diwani Adalat.He had been Gov. General Warren Hastings  had been his buddy since school days. 

eft: Sir Elijah Impey; Right: Gwalior Monument

Judges Ghat, Kolkata kolkatamunicipalcorporationblogs.blogspot.com

In 1775 Impey  presided over a sensational   trial of Maharaja Nandakumar, once a close confidant of Gov. Gen. Warren Hastings. He was accused of forging a bond in an attempt to deprive a widow of more than half her inheritance. Nandakumar had a soured relationship with Hastings.


  Because of poor trial on the part of the defense side and biased verdict pronounced by Impey, on 5 August 1775, Nand Kumar was publicly hanged to death.There was a public outcry over mistrial. Impey was accused of siding with his Buddy Warren Hastings. This mistrial and the verdict given in a hurry by Impey became a subject of debate in the House of Commons and finally after long deliberations, both Justice Impey and Hastings were  impeached.  

While working as a judge at Ft. William,Calcutta (Kolkata) it was at the initiative  of Impey that a new Ghat was constructed a few yards to the north of Princep Ghat on the east side of the Hooghly river Kolkata to maintain privacy.This Ghat was specifically built for the exclusive use of men of dignity and high ranking British officials, in particular, justices of supreme court  appointed by the East India company to work in India. The Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort William was the only court of justice (first one in India), the ghat was widely used by the justices sitting in judgement at Ft. William. 

It is quite strange that this ghat was set aside exclusively for the judges and higher officials of EIC and not for others. The subtle thing is at a time when the imperial power was slowly moving upwardly, exclusivity was firmly applied for the white population. It meant racial segregation in a public bathing place. In this kind of arrangement only for a section of govt. people, one can notice an undercurrent of racial disparity and superiority in a land of colored people. . The absurdity is it was openly practised by the court judges who are supposed to uphold fairness and impartiality in dealing with public places and people of different cultures and such a practice was  against norms of judiciary system and was an unethical act.  

The idea of exclusive ghats in the waterfront or river banks in the colonial time in Kolkata  reminds me of the  Mahamaham Hindu festival (held every 12 years) at Kumbakonam, TN or any other river festivals like Aadi Perukku (every year in August) in which the local administration will designate ghats  exclusively for women and girls to use the bathing ghats during festivities. In the 1950s and 1960s such separate ghats in the river or temple tanks were common during certain Hindu festivals. 

As for the exclusive ghat on the Hooghly river bank mooted by Justice Impey, it is often referred to as Judges' Ghat. It also goes by the name of  the Gwalior Ghat, perhaps because of its proximity to the Gwalior Monument which is nearby   away from the Ghat.

Unlike the Outram ghat nearby, Judges Ghat does not have a building or a shelter and  presently it is being used by orthodox Hindus to do some rituals like pithru karyam or Tharpanam, paying obeisances to the forefathers. Lots of people come here to take a bath and conduct religious rituals. I have heard people mention me that whenever they visit this site in different seasons, they experience unique vibe each time and the most graceful one is during the Durga Puja  which is held every year with religious fervor.