Tarakeswar case, 1874

QUEEN VS NOBIN CHANDRA BANERJEE

(13 B.L.R.,App.20; Criminal Reference from the Officiating Sessions Judge of Hooghly,

dated the 18 th September, 1873)

INTRODUCTION:
The Tarakeswar affair also known as Tarakeswar scandal or the Mahant-Elokeshi affair deals with
public scandal in 19 th century Bengal during the British Raj. It resulted from an illicit love affair
between Elokeshi- the wife of government employee Nobin Chandra and the Brahmin head priest
of the Tarakeswar Shiva temple. It was the fact that Nobin slit his wife’s head because of love
affair. The husband and the mahant both were found guilty and the case highly publicised and
covered almost every newspaper of 1873.
The mahant’s actions were considered punishable and criminal in the Bengali society whereas
Nobin’s action of killing his wife were said to be justified. The resulting public outrage forced
authorities to release Nobin after two years. This case became the theme of popular BENGALI
PLAYS and KALIGHAT PAINTINGS which portrayed Nobin as a devoted husband.
The Mahant was generally presented as a womaniser who took advantage of young women. The
society presented Elokeshi as seductress and the main cause of affair. In some plays, she was shown
to get tricked and raped by Mahant. That times Indians consider the crime of adultery more
heinous crime than murder.
CASE HISTORY:
The Tarakeswar murder, 1873, involved three people (a husband, a wife and a Chief Priest).
Elokeshi –a minor girl was married to Nobin –an upper class Bengali who got a job in Military
press, Calcutta. That’s why he left her loving wife in her father’s custody who lived in the village of
Tarakeswar. For seeking fertility medication she approached Madhavchandra Giri, who was
powerful priest in famous Tarakeswar temple. However, the Mahant allegedly seduced and raped
her. An affair began between them with the allowance of the Elokeshi’s parents.
When Nobin returned to the village, he came to know about the affair from villagers and was
publically humiliated after the discovery of affair. His wife was confronted and tell him all the facts
truly, she begged him for his forgiveness. Nobin for the sake of his relationship forgave her and
decided to run away with her but the Mahant’s goons didn’t allow them to do so. Filled with anger
and jealousy Nobin slit his wife’s throat with fish knife (boti).

On May 1873, Nobin surrendered himself to the local police station and confessed his crime of
murdering his wife. The Tarakeswar murder case was first held in the Hoogly Sessions court at
Serampore, Bengal where Nobin was proved to be insane by the Indian jury but British opposed
the judgement and forwarded the matter to Calcutta High Court.
FACTS OF THE CASE:
On May 24.1873 Nobin Chandra returned to Kumrul to meet his wife and took her to her
grandmother’s house near his father inlaw’s house. There Elokeshi confessed her sin of adultery
and after three days on May 27,1873, Nobin slit Elokeshi’s throat and she died of excessive
bleeding. Nobin confessed his crime and later it was revealed that Mahant and Elokeshi were in an
affair. Nobin and Mahant both were represented before the court for murder and adultery
repectively.
HOOGHLY SESSION COURT,SERAMPORE(BENGAL):
 Woomesh Chandra Bonnerjee, who defended Nobin stated that his act was done in insanity.
He didn’t have any control on himself at the moment after knowing his wife’s affair. He
tried to prove that his action was consequence of temporary insanity and he was not having
any control of what he was doing. The court agreed to this and didn’t find him ‘Guilty’.
 As for Mahanto’s trial for Adultery, the session court held Adultery to be a criminal offence
in British India and sentenced him three years of imprisonment with a fine of Rs.2000.
BOTH THE CASES WERE APPEALED TO THE HIGH COURT.
THE CALCUTTA HIGH COURT:
 The high court admitted that there was no doubt that Elokeshi was killes by a BOTI but
there was a question regarding insanity and unsoundness of mind of Nobin. It was revealed
that the defendent had been excited but not insane . He acted under the influence of
ANGER, JEALOUSY AND GRIEF, but he had the sense that he was doing wrong.
The court declared Nobin to be guilty of culpable homicide and he performed the act not
due to insanity and was able to know the consequences of the act. Therefore, the court
quashed the decision of Hooghly court and sentenced the defendant under section 302 of the
Penal code to transportation for life.
 In case of Mahanto, the high court upheld the decision of the subordinate court and
sentenced him with 3 years of imprisonment and Rs. 2000 fine.
The court explained that adultery was a criminal offence in British India. The court
accepted the testimony of three residents who confirmed that they saw Elokeshi entering
into the defendant’s house in the evening and returning in the morning though it was not a
strong proof and also quoted lines of manu “A women must never act independently of her
husband.”The court stated that they place the law above personal revenge.
LAW INVOLVED:
SECTION 497 IPC,497:

SECTION 497 of the INDIAN PENAL CODE 1860 defines Adultery and related punishment
for it.
ADULTERY- Whoever has sexual intercourse with a person who is and whom he knows or has
reason to believe to be the wife of another man; without the consent or connivance of that man;
such sexual intercourse not amounting to the offence of rape is guilty of the offence of adultery;
and shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term; which may extend to
5 years or with fine or both. In such a case the wife shall not be punishable as an abettor.
SECTION 300 IPC:
SECTION 300 of the INDIAN PENAL CODE defines murder and SECTION 302 defines its
punishment.
ADULTERY-NO LONGER A CRIME:
The offence of adultery under section 497 IPC became defunct on 27 th September by THE
SUPREME COURT of India. It was argued that the law was unconstitutional because it “treats
husband as the sole master”. It also destroyed women’s dignity and self respect as it treated
them as their husband’s chattel, and offended their sexual freedom. But it still prevails to be a
ground of divorce. Chief Justice DEEPAK MISRA said that adultery may not be the cause of
an unhappy marriage but the result of one.
CONCLUSION:
The Tarakeswar case was considered as one of the most popular and most controversial cases in
British India. Because of adultery charges against the Mahanto of Tarakeswar Temple, it
caught everyone’s eye. According to Criminal statistics of 1870-1875, 20-40 percent of murder
cases involved the women having an extramarital affair; but most of them were mentioned as
death in police records. After the verdict of the High court, the people forced the GOVERNOR-
GENERAL to free Nobin as he seemed to do absolutely right with disloyal woman according to
their view.
The court’s decision was indeed correct according the law prevailing that time. The judgement
was totally independent without the influence of social pressues.
AFTER THE RELEASE OF THE MAHANTO , NOBIN WAS ALSO RELEASED DUE TO
PRESSURES OF THE SOCIETY WHICH WAS NOT RIGHT!!