The impartiality of the law

As I was reading Orwell’s Burmese Days, the unequal treatment of the law struck a chord within me. This brought to mind the image of Lady Justice with her blindfolds that symbolize the impartiality of the law. In Orwell’s Burma, Lady Justice is blind to the faults of the whites and intolerant with the natives (of course, Lady Justice is herself European…) So of course, Maxwell’s shooting of a native is justified but the killing of Maxwell by the native’s relatives is not. His death angers the European community simply because the life of a white man is of greater value than that of a native: “Eight hundred people, possibly are murdered every year in Burma; they matter nothing; but the murder of a white man is a monstrosity, a sacrilege” (Orwell, p. 248). The whites are then anxious to ensure that the culprits are punished by the law for Maxwell’s death. Where is the morality in that then? After all, Maxwell did commit murder as well. This reminded me of Stoler’s article on ‘Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power’ where she says that “sexual abuse of black women was not classified as rape and therefore was not legally actionable, nor did rapes committed by white men lead to prosecution (Stoker, p.58). Crimes committed by the white man to the natives are not punishable by the law and the perpetrators go away scot-free by virtue of their race and gender. This is further reinforced by the incident where Ellis blinds a Burmese and angers the villagers. The natives understand that there can be no impartiality for them in the eyes of the law: “We know that there is not justice for us in your courts, so we must punish Ellit ourselves” (Orwell, p.257). In the colonies, the law protects those in power and discriminates against the natives. How then can the natives win? Isn’t colonization supposed to be beneficial for the colonies? Despite the civilizing mission and the claims that the empire brings beneficial influences to the colony, the injustices of the empire are illuminated in Burmese Days.

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