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43. Victims, Not Guilty

The readers will recall our Lahore correspondent's remarks about the Ramnagar cases. I have a file of papers in these cases but I was unprepared to discuss them until I got at least the text of the judgment. This is now before the readers. The able petition on behalf of Lala Karamchand — not the same as the lad Karamchand who was sentenced to be hanged— presented by his old mother Gangadevi shows the graphic language of his son Devidas's letter that the accused in the case are, 'victims, not guilty'. If the simple narrative of Lala Karamchand's son be true, and I think there is no reason to doubt its accuracy, the whole proceedings were a farce. They constituted not a legal trial but a mockery of it. The accused, twenty- eight in number, were all tried together, the trial was finished in one day during which altogether 150 defence witnesses were examined, the accused were not informed of the charge against them except through the mouths of the prosecution witnesses. How the Judge could examine so many witnesses in a day passes comprehension. In spite of repeated applications, copy of notes of evidence or the statements of the accused is not furnished. The only inference is that no notes were kept.
Why were these cases rushed so? The accused were arrested eight days after the alleged offence. Order was completely restored throughout the Punjab by that time. The trial took place on the 22nd May, five weeks after the alleged offence. There was no occasion then for indecently rushing through the trial.
On the 17th April a police officer notes in his diary that all was quiet, save that there was a partial hartal. It is rightly suggested in the papers that mention would surely have been made in the diary of any serious offence. The offence alleged is not such as could be committed in secret. It is stated to have been openly committed. Here at least there is enough to throw doubt on the prosecution story. But the judge had no doubt about it!
The story of the prosecution is varied from time totime. Five maunds of fuel said to have been required for burning His Majesty's effigy became reduced to a few straws!
At best all but one of the accused appear to have been mere spectators.
These facts are common to all the accused. I have been supplied also with the papers regarding Lala Daulatram. The facts therein set forth tally with those furnished in Lala Karamchand's case. I am convinced that twenty-eight innocent men have been ignorantly condemned. They should be set free.
Lala Karamchand is an old retired servant. He has never taken part in politics. For years past, he has been passing his time between Ramnagar and Hardwar, devoting it to religious pursuits. Lala Daulatram is the son of one who has rendered meritorious service to the Government for a long period. In fact the whole family seems to belong to the official class. It is cruel to think that such men should have been so shamelessly punished.
The judgment is self-condemned. It breathes vindictiveness and anger. The rejection of the defence evidence, the explaining away of the weak points in the prosecution, the punishment of solitary confinement, the heavy fines point unmistakably to loss of balance and unfitness to judge. The cases are now before His Excellency the Viceroy. Let him do unto these humble men even as he would wish to be done unto himself, if he were in their place.

Young India, 3-9-1919