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48. More Punjab Tragedies

It is my misfortune to have to present two more cases from the land of sorrow to the readers of Young India. I call Punjab the land of sorrow, because I find on the one hand a series of cases in which, if the records of cases are to be believed, a manifest injustice has been done, and on the other, an apparent determination on the part of the Punjab Government not to undo the wrong. For as I have already said in these columns, a mere reduction of sentences without admission of at least an error of judgment is no comfort to the men who protest their innocence or to the people at large who believe in their innocence and wish to see justice done. I must confess that I am uninterested in reduction of sentences if the prisoners are guilty and it is a crime to keep them in duress if they are innocent. The reader will see the petitions* on behalf of Mr. Gurudayal Singh and Dr. Mahomed Bashir. Both are high-spirited men — one a Sikh of culture, and other a Mohamedan doctor having before him a life full of promise. If they have waged war, if they have incited to murder, there can be no question of remission of the sentences passed against them. Therefore, the fact that Dr. Bashir's sentence of death has been commuted, whilst it must be a matter of some feeble consolation to Mrs. Bashir, can be none to Dr. Bashir or to the public.
Let us glance at Mr. Gurudayal Singh's case. His brother has sent me a long letter asking me even to publish it. As the main facts are contained in the petition, I refrain from publishing the letter for fear of tiring the reader, but I will make use of such statements from it as may be necessary to demonstrate the enormity of the injustice done in the case. "He only attended," says the brother, "the constitutional and the orderly meeting of the 6th April. He was on the 14th and 15th confined to bed. The local sub-assistant surgeon (Government employee) attended on him, gave his prescription, which I am sending to you in original along with the papers." I have seen this prescription. "Seriously sick with appendicitis, my brother could not join the so-called unruly mob in breaking the glass panes of the Tahsil windows." As regards prosecution witnesses against my brother I have only to add that my brother was not informed of the names of such persons. He knew them by seeing them in the court.... My brother was, as a matter of fact, not informed of the charge against him except through the mouth of the prosecution witnesses."
I hold that if this statement is correct, it is enough to ensure Mr. Gurudayal Singh's discharge. No accused could thus be taken by surprise and expected where and when to plead. Surely he was entitled to see the charge, and not gather it through the prosecution witnesses. The letter in my possession then analyses the antecedents of the witnesses for the prosecution and shows the animus they had against the accused. Naturally the public cannot be expected to judge the credibility of witnesses upon ex parte statements made by or on behalf of the accused, but these statements show, if they are true, that an immense amount of perjury must have taken place on the part of the prosecution witnesses.' I admit that this case is not as clearly established on behalf of the prisoners as many others I have examined, for I have not the whole of the papers for presentation to the public. Bat assuming the truth of the statements made authentically on behalf of the prisoner, it is clear that the case required looking into.
Dr. Mahomed Bashir's is another such case. The pathetic petition by his wife and Dr. Bashir's statement itself before the court, which sentenced him to death, if true, show that the court's judgment had been completely warped. Dr. Bashir may or may not have lied, but the court had most decidedly nothing before it to warrant the remark that the defence evidence was worthless; for, Dr. Bashir, as will be seen from the statement published in another column,* categorically denied many of the statements and facts imputed to him. I do not intend to burden this criticism with any extracts from the very brief and business-like statement presented to the court by Dr. Bashir, but I would commend it to the careful attention of the reader. He cannot help the conclusion that the statement deserved a better fate than a contemptuous dismissal from the court.

Young India, 24-9-1919

*These petitions are not included in this book.