in London: The Law Student and the “Inner Temple”
India for the first time on 4 September 1888, when he was about
a month shy of his nineteenth birthday, and arrived in London
in late October. Like many
other Indians of his class background who were able to equip themselves
financially to undertake the expensive sea voyage to Britain,
Gandhi sought to get credentialed in law.
His biographer, Geoffrey Ashe, states that Gandhi had himself
“enrolled” at the “Inner Temple” on November 6th, and
that among the “four Inns of Court, Indians tended to prefer it
as possessing social cachet” (p. 29). But Ashe, not unlike Gandhi’s other biographers,
has precious little to say about Gandhi’s relationship to the
“Inner Temple”, Gandhi’s institutional affiliation to the University
of London, or indeed what is meant by the “Inner Temple”.
of the main web page on Gandhi on MANAS [http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/southasia/History/Gandhi/gandhi.html] would have
noticed the following lines where I describe how Gandhi, having
defied many of his elders in India who were opposed to his journey
to Britain, set about pursuing an education in law in London:
too, Gandhi showed determination and single-minded pursuit of
his purpose, and accomplished his objective of finishing his degree
from the Inner Temple. He was called to the bar in 1891, and even
enrolled in the High Court of London; but later that year he left
October 2003, I received from a gentleman in Britain a communication
advising me that the information conveyed in the lines above is
wholly incorrect. Describing
himself as a barrister, a graduate of the University College London
(UCL), and as a member of the “Inner Temple”, this gentleman stated
that the Inns of Court do not confer degrees, that Gandhi in fact
earned his degree from UCL, and that there is no such thing as
“enrolling” in a court in Britain.
Though with respect to one of these points, namely the
fact that the four Inns of Court -- Gray’s Inn, Inner Temple,
Middle Temple, and Lincoln’s Inn -- do not confer degrees, this
gentleman is entirely correct, so long as strict fidelity to empirical
facts is the only criterion of what counts as “right” and “wrong”,
it does not appear to me to stretch the point to suggest that
the brief description offered by myself of Gandhi’s experience
with the institutions peddling a law degree, so to speak, can
stand as it is.
us delve into this question in somewhat greater detail.
University College London claims Gandhi among its “famous
alumni” on its website [www.ucl.ac.uk], and it is conceivable
that university records will show that Gandhi took classes at
UCL. But the declaration
of “fact”, if “fact” this be, is much less interesting than the
other observation that a careful reader of Gandhi’s autobiography
is likely to reach: UCL left such little impression on Gandhi that
he nowhere mentions it in his own autobiography, which down to
the present day remains the most authoritative source of information
about Gandhi’s years in London. Gandhi’s most notable biographers,
for instance D. G. Tendulkar, Robert Payne, B. R. Nanda, and Geoffrey
Ashe, make no mention of University College London, and it is
striking that the short chapter on Gandhi’s London years in Nanda’s
biography dwells exclusively on Gandhi’s friendships with vegetarians,
theosophists, and other dissenters.
About the time that Gandhi left London, he published in
the Vegetarian (20 June 1891) an article where he felt bound to admit
that in his stay of three years many things had been left unaccomplished. Nonetheless, added Gandhi, “I carry one great
consolation with me that I shall go back without having taken
either meat or wine, and that I know from personal experience
that there are so many vegetarians”
(quoted on pp. 30-31). In this respect, Nanda is only following the
cues offered by Gandhi himself:
as he left London, Gandhi could not be bothered to recount
his experiences at the University of London.
is no question that Gandhi was enrolled at the Inner Temple.
Standing at the site of what was once perhaps a pagan temple,
the “Inner Temple” was Gandhi’s conduit to the world of law and
a legal education. Chapter 24 of Gandhi’s autobiography, the twelfth
consecutive chapter devoted to his sojourn in Britain, begins
with the observation that he has hitherto refrained from saying
anything about the purpose for which he went to England, “viz.,
being called to the bar.” Other than passing examinations, being “called
to the bar” entailed, Gandhi informs us, “keeping terms”. Gandhi further elaborates, “‘Keeping terms’
meant eating one’s terms, i.e. attending at least six out of about
twenty-four dinners in a term.
Eating did not mean actually partaking of the dinner, it
meant reporting oneself at the fixed hours and remaining present
throughout the dinner.” Though
the British condemned India as a country that was stifled by arcane
rituals and archaic social institutions, their own commitment
to such preposterous practices seldom received comment.
However, writing his autobiography in the 1920s, and looking
back on his years in London, the irony of being installed at the
“Inner Temple” did not escape Gandhi.
“The institution had gradually lost all its meaning,” he
wrote, “but conservative England retained it nevertheless.”
Gandhi describes the books he went through in order to
sit for the examinations, but there is no mention of any classes
that he might have taken. Insofar as Gandhi had any education in Britain,
one can say, with the usual liberties allowed by interpretation,
that though the “Inner Temple” did not then, and does not now,
confer any degrees, in a manner of speaking Gandhi earned his
degree at an institution which socialized him into the life of
those qualifying for the bar.
then, did Gandhi describe the aftermath of his legal education
in Britain. A paltry two
lines in a dense two-volume work address this question:
“I passed my examinations, was called to the bar on the
10th of June 1891, and enrolled in the High Court on
the 11th. On
the 12th I sailed for home” (Chapter 24).
If there is no such thing as enrolling in a High Court,
as my correspondent from Britain so strongly avers, then we must
either conclude that Gandhi didn’t know what he was doing, or
that 30 years later he could not recall what exactly “enrolling”
in Court entailed, or -- much more likely -- Gandhi had his name
registered at the Court as someone who, having been called to
the bar, was now entitled to practice law.
But neither the autobiography nor the biographies are helpful
on this point.
story of Gandhi at the “Inner Temple” does not conclude with his
departure from Britain in 1891. In 1922, as described elsewhere on the MANAS
website, Gandhi was convicted of sedition.
The “Honourable Society of the Inner Temple”, which includes
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in the “Select List” of its “Famous
Members” [see http://www.innertemple.org.uk/history/famous_members.html],
then engaged in doubtless the most dishonorable action in its
history in that it “disbarred” Gandhi.
His name was struck from the rolls, and Gandhi, who had
done the law the greatest honor in the speech that he offered
in defense of himself, became an embarrassment to the Inner Temple
and the legal establishment. The
“Inner Temple” rightly describes Gandhi as the “architect of Indian
independence”, but it is significant not until 1988 did the institution
reinstate Gandhi as a member.
Did it take 40 years after Gandhi’s assassination and Indian
independence to recognize that Gandhi authored Indian independence
and that, in disbarring Gandhi, the Inner Temple had mocked itself
rather than Gandhi? None
of this, to be sure, would have surprised Gandhi an iota.
References and Further Reading:
Ashe, Geoffrey. Gandhi.
New York: Stein
& Day, 1969.
Gandhi, M. K. An Autobiography. 1st ed. in 2 vols., 1927 &
1929. Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 1959.
B. R. Mahatma
Gandhi: A Biography. Unabridged ed., Delhi: Oxford UP, 1981.