"No mere reduction of sentence, it is most humbly submitted, can be a consolation to Your Excellency's memorialist or in an adequate measure will right the wrong that has been done him or meet the ends of justice."
This is an extract from the latest petition of Mr. Labh Singh, Bar-at-Law. I am sure this petition will not fail to evoke from the reader both sympathy and admiration; sympathy because of the wrong that has been done him and admiration because the jail has not broken the spirit of the young Barrister. He asks for no mercy, he pleads for justice, if be can secure it. But In spite of H.E, The Viceroy s remarks to the contrary, the spirit of justice is moving so slow and there seems to be such a disinclination even in the high quarters to do real justice that one almost despairs of getting it. Look at Sir Edward Maclagan's speech in reply to the Hon. Pandit Malaviyaji's resolution for the appointment of a Commission. He recalls the warning of the Viceroy against the temptation "to minimize the events of last April". "I do not think," His Honour proceeds, "that even while the disorders were in progress, people outside the Punjab fully realized the extreme gravity of the situation." He adds, "Had it not been for the rapidity with which the disturbances were made, had they been allowed to proceed but a little further than they did, the lives and property of all classes of people would have been in the most imminent danger." This is merely begging the question and anticipating the verdict of the Committee of Enquiry. Regarding the sentences, His Honour again begs the question by saying that the findings of the Special Courts should be accepted, because "they represent the unanimous conclusions, in each case, of three experienced officers". But the unanimity and experience are beside the point when behind them lies a temporary aberration of the intellect. His Honour, however, attempts to silence his critics by saying, "Although I have examined many cases, I have not found one in which I felt justified in impugning the substantial correctness of the findings of the court." In the face of this emphatic opinion I despair of securing or expecting justice either for Mr. Labh Singh or for any of the great Punjab leaders, who are at present adorning the Punjab jails. I do however feel tempted to say with due deference to the Lieut. Governor of the Punjab that if he has not found a single case for challenging the correctness of the findings of the Special Courts, of all the many cases that have come before the public, it has not been my good fortune to find many judgments to inspire confidence in their correctness. Let me illustrate my point by taking this very case of Mr. Labh Singh. He is not a man of straw. This is the full text of the Jyidges' remarks in his case :
"Labh Singh, accused 4, took an active part in the inception of the agitation against the Rowlatt Act and was present at meeting of the 12th and 13th. On the latter date, he is said to have at first opposed the commission of acts of violence, but finally agreed. He was seen in several places with the mob on the 14th but appear to have rendered assistance to the authorities on that date. We find him guilty under Section 121, I. P. C."
The whole of this judgment, the reader will find reproduced in the issue of Young India of July 30th. I ask where is, in the above remarks, anything but good, said even by the Judges about Mr. Labh Singh, except the expression "but finally agreed"? On the Judges' own showing there was nothing indictable in the acts prior to the 12th April. The whole of the conviction is based upon the uncorroborated testimony of an approver, notwithstanding the fact that there was incontestible evidence to show that he "endeavoured to render assistance to the authorities" (I am quoting the Judges' words) after the supposed approval by him of acts of violence. But in order to accept the approvers' testimony the court says at the end of the judgment, "Labh Singh evidently repented of his action." Let the reader remember that this is the same judgment in which poor Jagannath was sentenced in the face of a clearly established alibi, and even before replies to the interrogatories issued by the Commissioner had been received. No wonder Mr. Labh Singh says, "the order of the Lieut. Governor, it is humbly submitted, goes only to confirm and perpetuate what is a great and serious miscarriage of justice." It is admitted that beyond signing the notice for the 5th April. Mr. Labh Singh neither convened nor addressed a public meeting "at Gujaranwalla or elsewhere at any time within 12 to 15 months preceding the occurrence of the 14th April." Mr. Labh Singh further says, "The court proceeded to the judgment with inordinate haste and without waiting for the answers to the interrogatories issued to some of the witnesses for the defence."
I do not wish to burden these notes with more quotations from the very able an convincing statements of Mr. Labh Singh and his two petitions, but I would ask every lover of India and every public man to carefully study these documents together with the judgment in the case. I think that we owe a very plain duty to Mr. Labh Singh and his co-prisoners. According to Sir Edward Maclagan they are all clearly guilty. According to the evidence before the public, they are all clearly innocent. We may not allow young men of brilliant ability and moral worth to have their careers blasted for life by our indifference. Posterity will judge us by our ability to secure justice in the cases such as I have had the painful duty of placing before the public. For me, justice for the individual, be he the humblest, is everything. All else comes after. And I hope that the public will take the same view. If the convictions stand, it will not be because we are unable to secure justice but because we are unwilling and incompetent, for I feel that even the Government of India and the Punjab Government will find it hard to withstand a unanimously expressed public opinion based on facts and couched in the language of moderation.