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24. Contempt of Court?

The long expected hearing of the case against the editor and the publisher of Young India in connection with the publication of a letter* of the District Judge of Ahmedabad regarding Satyagrahi lawyers and my comments thereon has been heard and judgment has been pronounced. Both the editor and the publisher have been severely reprimanded. But the Court did not see its way to pass any sentence upon either of us. If I dwell upon the judgment it is only because I am anxious as a Satyagrahi to draw a moral from it. I wish to assure those friends who out of pure friendliness advised us to tender the required apology, that I refused to accept their advice, not out of obstinacy but because there was a great principle at stake. I had to conserve a journalist's independence and yet respect the law. My own reading of the law was that there was no contempt committed by me. But my defence rested more upon the fact that I could not offer an apology if I was not prepared not to repeat the offence on a similar occasion. Because I hold that an apology tendered to a Court to be true has to be as sincere as a private apology. At the same time I owed a duty to the Court. It was no light thing for me to refuse to accept the advice of the Chief Justice especially when the Chief Justice was so very considerate in the correspondence with me. I was on the horns of a dilemma. I therefore decided not to offer any defence but simply to make a statement frankly and fully defining my position, leaving it to the Court to pass any sentence if thought fit in the event of an adverse decision. In order to show that I meant no disrespect of the Court and that I did not desire to advertise the case, I took extraordinary precautions to prevent publicity and I venture to think that I succeeded eminently in convincing the Court that behind my disobedience, if it was disobedience, there was no defiance but perfect resignation, there was no anger or ill-will but perfect restraint and respect; that if I did not apologize, I did not, because an insincere apology would have been contrary to my conscience. I hold that it was about as perfect an instance of civil disobedience as it ever has been my privilege to offer. And I feel that the Court reciprocated in a most handsome manner and recognized the spirit of civility that lay behind my so- called disobedience. The luminous judgment of Justice Marten lays down the law, and decides against me. But I feel thankful that it does not question the propriety of my action. Justice Hayward's judgment recognizes it as an instance of passive, i.e. civil resistance and practically makes it the reason for not awarding any sentence. Here then we have an almost complete vindication of civil disobedience ..Disobedience to be civil must be sincere, respectful, restrained, never defiant, must be based upon some well-understood principle, must not be capricious and above all, must have no ill-will or hatred behind it. I submit that the disobedience offered by Mr. Desai and myself contained all these ingredients.

Young India, 24-3-1920, pp. 3-4

1 . The letter called upon lawyers who took the Satyagraha pledge, to explain why they should not be debarred from practice under the Legal Practitioners' Act for their act in taking the pledges defying law.