01 Dec 2015

A Junior Magistrate’s Education

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deadwolves

Philip Mason (1906-1999) attended Sedbergh School and Balliol College, Oxford before going to India to serve in the Indian Civil Service in 1928. He found himself stationed at Saharanpur in Northern India working as a magistrate with third-class powers, meaning he could send someone to prison for three months or fine someone 50 rupees (the equivalent of £4 or $16 at the time).

He recalls in his memoir, A Shaft of Sunlight, 1978, that as junior magistrate, he was in charge of the smelly jobs.

There was a reward of five rupees for a dead wolf. A party of very low caste, nomadic gypsy folk called Kanjars (pronounced as in conjuror) [Wikipedia: “listed under the Criminal Tribes Act, 1871, as being a tribe ‘addicted to the systematic commission of non-bailable offences.’] came in with thirteen dead wolves, which they had collected in the course of a trip into the jungles of the Siwalik foothills, away to the north. There was a strong stink, and so of course it was I who was sent to certify that they were genuine wolves, not jackals. They were covered with dried mud and blood and not very easy to see but they seemed too big for jackals so I certified that they were wolves and ordered the Nazir [the Quartermaster] to pay the rewards. The Kanjars were told to cut off their ears and tails and burn them; I waited till I had seen these grisly relics thrown on the fire. It was a strange task for a student of philosophy.

The Kanjars were back again next month with more wolves. It was on their third visit that I discovered that they had kept the sun-dried carcasses of the original wolves, inserted a fresh-killed jackal inside the rib-cage — as the chef of a Victorian duke might stuff a quail inside an ortolan — and sewn on new ears and taild manufactured from hessian and smeared with fresh blood. My formal education being over, my true education had begun.

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