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Person in news: Sir Chettur Sankaran Nair


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Prelims level : Sir Chettur Sankaran Nair

Mains level : Not Much

A noted filmmaker has recently announced his decision to produce the biopic of Sir Chettur Sankaran Nair, an acclaimed lawyer and judge in the Madras High Court and one of the early builders of the Indian National Congress.

Sir Chettur Sankaran Nair

  • Nair was born in the year 1857 in Mankara village of Malabar’s Palakkad district.
  • He belonged to an aristocratic family and his great grandfather was employed by the East India Company to enforce peace in the Malabar region.
  • His grandfather was employed as the chief officer under the Civilian Divisional Officer.

His legal career

  • Nair was drawn towards Law while he was completing his graduation from Presidency College in Madras.
  • After completing his degree in Law, he was hired by Sir Horatio Shepherd who later became the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court.
  • Since his early days as a lawyer, Nair was known for his defiant attitude.
  • He went against a resolution passed by Indian vakils (advocates) of Madras stating that no Indian vakil would work as a junior to an English barrister.
  • His stance on the issue made him so unpopular that he was boycotted by the other vakils, but he refused to let that bother him.


  • Nair was known for being a passionate advocate for social reforms and a firm believer in the self-determination of India.
  • But what really stood out in his long glorious career is a courtroom battle he fought against the Lieutenant-Governor of Punjab, Michael O’Dwyer.
  • Nair had accused O’Dwyer in his book, ‘Gandhi and anarchy’ for being responsible for the atrocities at the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.
  • Consequently, he was fighting against an Englishman, in an English court that was presided over by an English jury.
  • In all senses, the case was bound to make history.
  • When the 1908 Montague-Chelmsford reforms were being discussed, he wrote an article in the Contemporary Review criticizing the English jury for being partial towards Englishmen.
  • This infuriated the Anglo-Indian community who petitioned the Viceroy and the Secretary of State for India objecting to his appointment as high court judge the first time.
  • He was once described by Edwin Montague, the secretary of state for India as an ‘impossible person’.

Key positions held

  • In 1897 he became the youngest president of the INC in the history of the party till then, and the only Malayali to hold the post ever.
  • By 1908 he was appointed as a permanent judge in the Madras High Court. In 1902 Lord Curzon appointed him a member of the Raleigh University Commission.
  • In 1904 he was appointed as Companion of the Indian Empire by the King-Emperor and in 1912 he was knighted.
  • In 1915 he became part of the Viceroy’s Council, put in charge of the education portfolio.

Career as judge

  • As a Madras High Court judge, his best-known judgments clearly indicate his commitment to social reforms.
  • In Budasna v Fatima (1914), he passed a radical judgement when he ruled that those who converted to Hinduism cannot be treated as outcasts.
  • In a few other cases, he upheld inter-caste and inter-religious marriages.

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