Back | Next

PHILOSOPHY > SELECTED WRITINGS OF MAHATMA GANDHI > Report of the Trial of Mahatma Gandhi' A Letter from Prison

Report of the Trial of Mahatma Gandhi

At the Circuit House at Shahi Bag, the trial of Mr. Gandhi and Mr. Banker commenced on Saturday noon, 18th March 1922, before Mr. C. N. Broomsfield, I.C.S, District and Sessions Judge of Ahmedabad.

Sir J. T. Strangman with Rao Bahadur Girdharlal conducted the prosecution, while the accused were undefended. The judge took his seat at 12 noon, and said there was a slight mistake in the charges framed, which he corrected. The charges were then read out by the Registrar, the offence being in three articles 1 published in the Young India of September 29th, December 15th, of 1921 and February 23rd, 1922. The offending articles were then read out: first of them was ‘Tampering with Loyalty’; the second, ‘The Puzzle and Its Solution’; and the last was ‘Shaking the Manes’.

The judge said the law required that the charge should not only be read out, but explained. In this case, it would not be necessary for him to say much by way of explanation. The charge in each case was that of bringing or attempting to bring into hatred or contempt or exciting or attempting to excite disaffection towards His Majesty’s Government, established by law in British India. Both the accused were charged with the three offences under Section 124A, contained in the articles read out, written by Mr. Gandhi and printed by Mr. Banker The words ’hatred and contempt’ were words the meaning of which was sufficiently obvious. The word ‘disaffection’ was defined under the section, where they were told that disaffection included disloyalty and feelings of enmity, and the word used in the section had also been interpreted by the High Court of Bombay in a reported case as meaning political alienation or discontent, a spirit of disloyalty to government or existing authority. The charges having been read out, the judge called upon the accused to plead to the charges. He asked Mr. Gandhi whether he pleaded guilty or claimed to be tried.

Mr. Gandhi: I plead guilty to all the charges. I observe that the King’s name has been omitted from the charge, and it has been properly omitted.

The Judge: Mr. Banker, do you plead guilty, or do you claim to be tried?

Mr. Banker: I plead guilty.

Sir J. Strangman then wanted the judge to proceed with the trial fully, but the Judge said he did not agree with what had been said by the Counsel. The Judge said that from the time he knew he was going to try the case, he had thought over the question of sentence, and he was prepared to hear anything that the Counsel might have to say, or Mr. Gandhi wished to say, on the sentence. He honestly did not believe that the mere recording of evidence in the trial which Counsel had called for would make no [sic] difference to them, one way or the other. He, therefore, proposed to accept the pleas.

Mr. Gandhi smiled at this decision.

The Judge said nothing further remained but to pass sentences, and before doing so, he liked to hear Sir J.T. Strangman. He was entitled to base his general remarks on the charges against the accused and on their pleas.

Sir J. T. Strangman: It will be difficult to do so. I ask the court that the whole matter may be properly considered. If I stated what has happened before the committing magistrate, then I can show that there are many things which are material to the question of the sentence.

The first point, he said, he wanted to make out, was that the matter which formed the subject of the present charges formed a part of the campaign to spread disaffection openly and systematically to render government impossible and to overthrow it. The earliest article that was put in from Young India was dated 25th May 1921, which said that it was the duty of a non-co-operator to create disaffection towards the Government. The counsel then read out portion of articles written by Mr. Gandhi in the Young India.

Court said, nevertheless, it seemed to it that the court could accept plea on the materials on which the sentence had to be based.

Sir J. Strangman said the question of sentence was entirely for the court to decide. The court was entitled to deal in a more general manner in regard to the question of the sentence, than the particular matter resulting in the conviction. He asked leave to refer to articles before the court, and what result might have been produced, if the trial had proceeded in order to ascertain what the facts were. He was not going into any matter which involved dispute.

The Judge said there was not the least objection.

Sir J. Strangman said he wanted to show that these articles were not isolated. They formed part of an organized campaign, but so far as Young India was concerned, they would show that from the year 1921. The counsel then read out extracts from the paper, dated June 8th, on the duty of a non-co-operator, which was to preach disaffection towards the existing Government and preparing the country for civil disobedience. Then in the same number, there was an article on disaffection. Then in the same number there was an article on Disaffectin- a virtue’ or something to that effect. Then there was an article on 28th July 1921, in which it was stated that ‘we have to destroy the system’. Again on 30th September 1921, there was an article headed ‘Punjab Prosecutions’, where it was stated that a non-co-operator worth his name should preach disaffection. That was all so far as Young India was concerned. They were earlier in date than the article, ‘Tampering with Loyalty’, and it was referred to the Government of Bombay. Continuing, he said the accused was a man of high educational qualifications and evidently from his writings a recognized leader. The harm that was likely to be caused was considerable. They were the writings of an educated man, and not the writings of an obscure man, and the court must consider to what the results of a campaign of the nature disclosed in the writings must inevitably lead. They had examples before them in the last few months. He referred to the occurrences in Bombay last November and Chauri Chaura, leading to murder and destruction of property, involving many people in misery and misfortune. It was true that in the course of those articles they would find non-violence was insisted upon as an item of the campaign and as an item of the creed. But what was the use of preaching non-violence when he preached disaffection towards government or openly instigated others to overthrow it? The answer to that question appeared to him to come from Chauri Chaura, Madras and Bombay. These were circumstances which he asked the court to take into account in sentencing the accused, and it would be for the court to consider those circumstances which involve sentences of severity.

As regards the second accused, his offence was lesser. He did the publication and he did not write. His offence nevertheless was a serious one. His instructions were that he was a man of means and he asked the court to impose a substantial fine in addition to such term of imprisonment as might be inflicted. He quoted Section 10 of The Press Act as bearing on the question of fine. When making a fresh declaration, he said a deposit of Rs. 1,000 to Rs. 10,000 was asked in many cases.

Court: Mr. Gandhi, do you wish to make a statement on the question of sentence?

Mr. Gandhi: I would like to make a statement.

Court: Could you give me it in writing to put it on record?

Mr. Gandhi: I shall give it as soon as I finish reading it.

Before reading his written statement, Mr. Gandhi spoke a few words as introductory remarks to the whole statement. He said: Before I read this statement, I would like to state that I entirely endorse the learned Advocate-General’s remarks in connection with my humble self. I think that he was entirely fair to me in all the statements that he has made, because it is very true and I have no desire whatsoever to conceal from this court the fact that to preach disaffection towards the existing system of government has become almost a passion with me, and the learned Advocate-General is also entirely in the right when he says that my preaching of disaffection did not commence with my connection with Young India, but that it commenced  much earlier; and in the statement that I am about to read, it will be my painful duty to admit before this court that it commenced much earlier than the period stated by the Advocate-General. It is the most painful duty with me, but I have to discharge that duty knowing the responsibility that rests upon my shoulders, and I wish to endorse all the blame that the learned Advocate-General has thrown on my shoulders in connection with the Bombay occurrences, Madras occurrences and the Chauri Chaura occurrences. Thinking over these deeply and sleeping over them night after night, it is impossible for me to dissociate myself from the diabolical crimes of Chauri Chaura or the mad outrages of Bombay. He is quite right when he says that as a man of responsibility, a man having received a fair share of education, having had a fair share of experience of this world, I should have known the consequences of every one of my acts. I knew that I was playing with fire. I ran the risk, and if I was set free, I would still do the same. I have felt it this morning that I would have failed in my duty, if I did not say what I said here just now.

I wanted to avoid violence. Non-violence is the first article of my faith. It is also the last article of my creed. But I had to make my choice. I had either to submit to a system which I considered had done an irreparable harm to my country, or incur the risk of the mad fury of my people bursting forth, when they understood the truth from my lips. I know that my people have sometimes gone mad. I am deeply sorry for it and I am therefore here to submit not to a light penalty but to the highest penalty. I do not ask for mercy. I do not plead any extenuating act. I am here, therefore, to invite and cheerfully submit to the highest penalty that can be inflicted upon me for what in law is a deliberate crime and what appears to me to be the highest duty of a citizen. The only course open to you, the Judge, is, as I am just going to say in my statement, either to resign your post, of inflict on me the severest penalty, if you believe that the system and law you are assisting to administer are good for the people. I do not expect that kind of conversion, but by the time I have finished with my statement, you will perhaps have a glimpse of what is raging within my breast to run this maddest risk which a sane man can run.

The statement was then read out.


Statement

‘I owe it perhaps to the Indian public and to the public in England to placate which this prosecution is mainly taken up that I should explain why from a staunch loyalist and co-operator I have become an uncompromising disaffectionist and non-co-operator. To the court too I should say why I plead guilty to the charge of promoting disaffection towards the Government established by law in India.

‘My public life began in 1893 in South Africa in troubled weather. My first contact with British authority in that country was not of a happy character. I discovered that as a man and an Indian I had no rights. More correctly, I discovered that I had no rights as a man, because I was an Indian.

‘But I was not baffled. I thought that this treatment of Indians was an excrescence upon a system that was intrinsically and mainly good. I gave the Government my voluntary and hearty co-operation, criticizing it freely where I felt it was faulty but never wishing its destruction.

‘Consequently when the existence of the Empire was threatened in 1899 by the Boer challenge, I offered my services to it, raised a volunteer ambulance corps and served at several actions that took place for the relief of Ladysmith. Similarly in 1906, at the time of the Zulu revolt, I raised a stretcher-bearer party and served till the end of the “rebellion”. On both these occasions I received medals and was even mentioned in dispatches. For my work in South Africa I was given by Lord Hardinge a Kaisar-i-Hind gold medal. When the war broke out in 1914 between England and Germany, I raised a volunteer ambulance corps in London consisting of the then resident Indians in London, chiefly students. Its work was acknowledged by the authorities to the valuable. Lastly, in India, when a special appeal was made at the War Conference in Delhi in 1918 by Lord Chelmsford for recruits, I struggled at the cost of my health to raise a corps in Kheda and the response was being made when the hostilities ceased and orders were received that no more recruits were wanted. In all these efforts at service I was actuated by the belief that it was possible by such services to gain a status of full equality in the Empire for my countrymen.

‘The first shock came in the shape of the Rowlatt Act, a law designed to rob the people of all real freedom. I felt called upon to lead an intensive agitation against it. Then followed the Punjab horrors beginning with the massacre at Jallianwala Bagh and culminating in crawling orders, public floggings and other indescribable humiliations. I discovered too that the plighted word of the Prime Minister to the Mussulmans of India regarding the integrity of Turkey and the holy places of Islam was not likely to be fulfilled. But in spite of the forebodings and the grave warnings of friends, at the Amritsar Congress in 1919, I fought for co-operation in working the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms, hoping that the Prime Minister would redeem his promise to the Indian Mussulmans, that the Punjab wound would be healed and that the reforms, inadequate and unsatisfactory though they were, marked new era of hope in the life of India.

‘But all that hope was shattered. The Khilafat promise was not to be redeemed. The Punjab crime was whitewashed and most culprits went not only unpunished but remained n service and in some cases continued to draw pensions from the Indian revenue, and in some cases were even rewarded. I saw too that not only did the reforms not mark a change of heart, but they were only a method of further draining India of her wealth and of prolonging her servitude.

‘I came reluctantly to the conclusion that the British connection had made India more helpless than she ever was before, politically and economically. A disarmed India has no power of resistance against any aggressor if she wanted to engage in an armed conflict with him. So much is this the case that some of our best men consider that India must take generations before she can achieve Dominion status. She has become so poor that she has little power of resisting famines. Before the British advent, India spun and wove in her millions of cottages just the supplement she needed for adding to her meager agricultural resources. This cottage industry, so vital for India’s existence, has been ruined by incredibly heartless and inhuman processes as described by English witness. Little do town dwellers know how the semi-starved masses of India are slowly sinking to lifelessness. Little do they know that their miserable comfort represents the brokerage they get for the work they do for the foreign exploiter, that the profits and the brokerage are sucked from the masses. Little do they realize that the Government established by law in British India is carried on for this exploitation of the masses. No sophistry, no jugglery in figures can explain away the evidence that the skeletons in many villages present to the naked eye. I have no doubt whatsoever that both England and the town dwellers of India will have to answer, if there is a God above, for this crime against humanity which is perhaps unequalled in history. The law itself in this country has been used to serve the foreign exploiter. My unbiased examination of the Punjab Martial Law cases has led me to believe that at least ninety-five per cent of convictions were wholly bad. My experience of political cases in India leads me to the conclusion that in nine out of ten the condemned men were totally innocent. Their crime consisted in the love of their country. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred justice has been denied to Indians as against Europeans in the courts of India. This is not an exaggerated picture. It is the experience of almost every Indian who has had anything to do with such cases. In my opinion, the administration of the law is thus prostituted consciously or unconsciously for the benefit of the exploiter.

‘The greatest misfortune is that Englishmen and their Indian associates in the administration of the country do not know that they are engaged in the crime I have attempted to describe. I am satisfied that many Englishmen and Indian officials honestly believe that they are administering one of the best system devised in the world and that India is making steady though slow progress. They do not know that a subtle but effective system of terrorism and an organized display of force on the one hand, and the deprivation of all powers of retaliation of self-defence on the other, have emasculated the people and induced in them the habit of simulation. This awful habit has added to the ignorance and the self-deception of the administrators. Section 124A under which I am happily charged is perhaps the prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal Code designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen. Affection cannot be manufactured or regulated by law. If one has no affection for a person or system, one should be free to give the fullest expression of his disaffection, so long as he does not contemplate, promote or incite to violence. But the section under which Mr. Banker and I are charged is one under which mere promotion of disaffection is a crime. I have studied some of the cases tried under it, and I know that some of the most loved of India’s patriots have been convicted under it. I consider it a privilege, therefore, to be charged under that section. I have endeavoured to give in their briefest outline the reasons for my disaffection. I have no personal ill-will against any single administrator, much less can I have any disaffection towards the King’s person. But I hold it to be a virtue to be disaffected towards a government which in its totality has done more harm to India than any previous system. India is less manly under the British rule than she ever was before. Holding such a belief, I consider it to be a sin to have affection for the system. And it has been a precious privilege for me to be able to write what I have in the various articles, tendered in evidence against me.

‘In fact, I believe that I have rendered a service to India and England by showing in non-co-operation the way out of the unnatural state in which both are living. In my humble opinion, non-co-operation with evil is as much a duty as is co-operation with good. But in the past, non-co-operation has been deliberately expressed in the violence to the evil doer. I am endeavouring to show to my countrymen that violent non-co-operation only multiplied evil and that as evil can only be sustained by violence, withdrawal of support of evil requires complete abstention from violence. Non-violence implies voluntary submission to the penalty for non-co-operation with evil. I am here, therefore, to invite and submit cheerfully to the highest penalty that can be inflicted upon me for what in law is a deliberate crime and what appears to me to be the highest duty of a citizen. The only course open to you, the Judge, is either to resign your post and thus dissociate yourself from evil, if you feel that the law you are called upon to administer is an evil and that in reality I am innocent; or to inflict on me the severest penalty if you believe that the system and the law you are assisting to administer are good for the people of this country and that my activity is therefore injurious to the public weal.’

Mr. Banker: I only want to say that I had the privilege of printing these articles and I plead guilty to the charge. I have got nothing to say as regards the sentence.


The Judgment

The following is the full text of the judgment:

Mr. Gandhi, you have made my task easy in one way by pleading guilty to the charge. Nevertheless, what remains, namely, the determination of a just sentence, is perhaps as difficult a proposition as a judge in this country could have to face. The law is no respecter of persons. Nevertheless, it will be impossible to ignore the fact that you are in a different category from any person I have ever tried or am likely to have to try. It would be impossible to ignore the fact that, in the eyes of the millions of your countrymen, you are a great patriot and a great leader. Even those who differ from you in politics look upon you as a man of high ideals and of noble and of even saintly life. I have to deal with you in one character only. It is not my duty and I do not presume to judge or criticize you in any other character. It is my duty to judge you as a man subject to the law, who by his own admission has broken the law and committed what to an ordinary man must appear to be grave offence against the State. I do not forget that you have consistently preached against violence and that you have on many occasions, as I am willing to believe, done much to prevent violence. But having regard to the nature of your political teaching and the nature of many of those to whom it was addressed, how you could have continued to believe that violence would not be the inevitable consequence, it passes my capacity to understand.

There are probably few people in India who do not sincerely regret that you should have made it impossible for any government to leave you at liberty. But it is so. I am trying to balance what is due to you against what appears to me to be necessary in the interest of the public, and I propose in passing sentence to follow the precedent of a case in many respects similar to this case that was decided some twelve years ago, I mean the case against Bal Gangadhar Tilak under the same section. The sentence that was passed upon him as it finally stood was a sentence of simple imprisonment for six years. You will not consider it unreasonable, I think, that you should be classed with Mr. Tilak, i.e. a sentence of two years’ simple imprisonment on each count of the charge; six years in all, which I feel it my duty to pass upon you, and I should like to say in doing so that, if the course of events in India should make it possible for the Government to reduce the period and release you, no one will be better pleased than I.

The Judge to Mr. Banker: I assume you have been to a large extent under the influence of your chief. The sentence that I propose to pass upon you is simple imprisonment for six months on each of the first two counts, that is to say, simple imprisonment for one year and a fine of a thousand rupees on the third count, with six months’ simple imprisonment in default.


Mr. Gandhi on the Judgment

Mr. Gandhi said: I would say one word. Since you have done me the honour of recalling the trial of the late Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilka, I just want to say that I consider it to be the proudest privilege and honour to be associated with his name. So far as the sentence itself is concerned, I certainly consider that it is as light as any judge would inflict on me, and so far as the whole proceedings are concerned, I must say that I could not have expected greater courtesy.

Then the friends of Mr. Gandhi crowded round him as the Judge left the court, and fell at his feet. There was much sobbing on the part of both men and women. But all the while, Mr. Gandhi was smiling and cool and giving encouragement to everybody who came to him. Mr. Banker also was smiling and taking this in a light-hearted way. After all his friends had taken leave of him, Mr. Gandhi was taken out of the court to the Sabarmati Jail.


A Letter to Mahatma Gandhi from Prison

Near Etawa,

En route to Agra

Dated 10th morning.

I feel like one who has long been pent up in a dark and ill-ventilated cell and who all at once finds himself inhaling deep draughts of the fresh air of heaven. You can easily imagine what longing I must have had to write to you, I who was in the habit of writing to you almost daily and of thus easing the many troubles of my mind. We are permitted to write one letter in a fortnight; the letter again must be in English and must be forwarded through the Superintendent. How, then, could I hope to tell you everything that was happening behind the prison walls? But yesternight we were set free, at least till we reached Agra. And this morning we are on our way thereto.

Yesternight, thirty-nine of us started from Naini in a prison van comprising four barred compartments, each being three cubits long and five broad. The bars were apparently not considered to be an adequate safeguard; for the prison van has no doors and no windows. Only there are crooked holes, one inch broad by the side of the carriage for the passage of air. I asked the Sergeant who escorts us whether there was any intention of repeating the Moplah tragedy. The poor fellow naively replied that there was no fear, as it was winter and that it would have been intolerable, had it been summer. Besides the four prisoners’ compartments, there was a fifth which was like ordinary third class and was meant for our friends, the guard. Should they not have sufficient light and air to be able to keep us in a suffocated condition?

Devdas and Durga (Mrs. Desai) were at Allahabad Station to see us. They could not have a view of our faces, but they stood outside, near the place where I was, and we could have a hearty talk. From this Prison van I could inform Devdas of the many horrors about which I had been unable to tell him anything in the jail; for the police who escort us do not act as jailers. So some of the things in this letter will have already appeared in Devdas’ Independent before this reaches you.

We had had hardly a wink of sleep from about one or two o’clock, when at four we were roused at Cawnpore. The Sergeant said, ’Desi, Govind and Krishnakant Malaviya, Shahsaheb, and two others, follow me. We shall seat you elsewhere, so that there might be more room here.’ I could not understand how this selection was made, but it looked like segregation, and so I said that any seven of us would come, but not the seven that were named. The Sergeant replied that only those whom he named must come as he did not know the rest and therefore could not take the risk of seating any of them in an ordinary compartment. As ‘political’ prisoners, some of us had our own clothes on; with the exception of these three or four, the rest were in jail dress and in irons, so that our shame (even as it was) was boundless. To it was now added the insult of being considered more ‘trustworthy’ than the rest. I thought the three out of the seven would be ordinary prisoners, and that with the aid of light, I would have an opportunity of writing to you, an opportunity not lightly to be allowed to slip as I could not hope to have it anywhere else; and so we came out. I am writing this in an ordinary third-class compartment. Seven policemen are mounting guard over us seven!

But I must cut this story short, as there is little time and much to write. How can I give you an idea of the perplexities we have suffered on account of your injunction that we should obey all orders in jail? Every moment we are troubled by doubts as to what to obey and what not to obey, as always the sun sets on novel experiences and on various oppressions. So I am not all certain as to the propriety of my conduct on every occasion when I have been anxious to obey.

I am not going to detail here all the experiences in jai. That would take many letters like this, and this is hardly the time for it. I am going to give such select information as I think ought to be placed before the public.

I was take to Naini Jail on the 24th and was at once taken in the presence of the Superintendent, who said angrily, ‘Look here, you may be a non-co-operator or anything you please, but here you are a prisoner like all the others and will be treated accordingly. You will tire of your life out here, but I can’t help it. We will not trouble you so long as you so long as you do not trouble us.’

This homily over, I was soon taken to my own cell. I had previously resolved that I should accept everything cheerfully including jail dress and irons. So I put on jail dress as soon as it was given to me. Fifteen members of the Provincial Committee had arrived here a weak before me, and their cell was adjoining mine. I got the news, after I had changed my dress, that one of them had refused to put on jail dress and had consequently received a flogging. The jail authorities were somewhat surprised to find that I had accepted the change in dress without demur. I was given a rough woollen coat, worn almost threadbare by long use, a shirt worn out by some prisoner of twice my size and emitting horrible stink, an equally dirty pair of shorts and loincloth, along with two blankets as bedding. In a few minutes I felt an itching sensation, and an inspection at one or two places resulted in the find of a pretty big louse. It was difficult to say whether the vermin lived in the blanket or the shirt, but as there was fairly bitter cold, I had to choose between lice and offensive smell, I elected against the smell, placed the coat as a pillow, put away the shirt, and decided to pass the night under the sole protection of the blanket. I had thought that as I was dead tired, I would sleep soundly. But the lice in the blanket never ceased troubling me. My friends in the adjoining cell gave me from their place an account of the misbehavior of the jailer and the Superintendent. One of them was flogged for the grave offence of not standing up and pushing his hand out through the bars, when the jailer arrived! Another suffered the same punishment for refusing to wear dirty clothes! Add to the stings of lice, the noisy cries, rending the heavens, with which prisoners were counted every quarter of an hour from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. and you can understand that I got hardly any sleep. But I knew that sheer physical necessity would induce sleep on the following days, no matter if I was unable to sleep on the first.

I took no food in the evening, as I did not feel inclined. I was given a large iron bowl for eating and drinking. In spite of all the scrubbing I could give it, I found in the morning that the water in it had turned blood-red with rust. We were taken out thrice in the day for drinking water and for natural purposes. There was a paved reservoir from which all of us were to have our water by putting our bowls into it. Filtering the water was out of the question, as we were not provided with any extra piece of cloth.

(At this point the Sergeant sees me writing and gives me notice that I should not pass any of my writing to my friends. So I must be brief.)

For bathing purposes, there was a long paved channel joining with the reservoir mentioned above. We were all to sit in it and bathe. As for food, we were given dalia (a porridge of pounded wheat) in the morning, wheat bread and dal at noon, and the same bread and vegetable in the evening. What shall I say as to how I liked this appetizing menu? The other prisoners were taking it all right, and so I can hardly describe it as falling within your definition of food unfit for human consumption.

But let me now come to other matters. There is a rule that a newly arrived prisoner is only confined and not given any work for first ten days of his term. So my friends of the Provincial Committee and myself, having no work, were given books which we read, heard the bitter language of the jailer and the Superintendent in the mornings and saw prisoners striking and abusing one another. The second day, I requested the Superintendent to give us spinning wheels or let us have them from our homes. He replied that wheels were given to women and that the Government who spent ten rupees on each prisoner had somehow to manage to raise a like amount out of his labour and that therefore grinding was given to him. I said that, if the Government had common sense, they could earn 500 rupees out of our work. He angrily asked if he was to get us to write articles.

In answer to my companions, the Superintendent said, ‘Owing to you disloyal people having arrived, I could not get my leave for ten days sanctioned. We have to suffer much on account of you. You must behave properly. Do not think I am alone. I have fifty millions of people behind me (referring to the population of England).’

This went on for a few days. The ten days’ period of the Provincial Committee people was soon over, and they were made to wear an iron neckring and a wooden tablet, showing the section against which they had offended and the term of the sentence of imprisonment. They already had irons on their feet. The same day they lost their lousy clothes and got new ones. My clothes were still the same, but I had remained bare-bodied for two days, and washed them thoroughly with earth. Thus the stink had disappeared and my friends had combined for one or two days to pick out the lice from my blankets in the sunshine.

When the friends left, I felt somewhat lonely and so gradually grew very friendly with the other prisoners, some of them dacoits. An old man with a term of seven years’ imprisonment came near my cell and sat near the door. I read the Ramayana to him and he expounded it. He was a man of much common sense and knowledge. He had the Ramayana by heart. Then we recited bhajans and many prisoners began to sit near my cell. Prisoners here are finely divided into two classes, national and Government prisoners, i.e. ordinary prisoners and political. The political are gratefully admired and served by the others.

While my new friendships were thus flourishing, I had heard that the provincial friends had been given hard labour. Eleven had to grind fifteen seers of corn every day, and the deputy jailer had ordered the convict warder to harass them in all possible ways, in order that they might weaken and apologize. One or two of these poor men fell ill in two days. All had warts on their palms, but had in three or four days progressed up to about nine seers, when I received the news that the Government had directed that I should be treated as political prisoner. I was sorry for this. While my friends were given hard labour, I was denied the privilege of spiritual elevation through physical suffering. My own clothes in which I had arrived in jail and in which I was furbished up for the day when Devdas and Durga were to see me in order that she might not take fright at the convict’s dress, were returned to me, but the ‘Gandhi cap’ was withheld. I asked the Superintendent what it was. He could not explain anything beyond saying that it was like the one I wore and that I would not be allowed to wear it. I might change the shape, he said, or wear a fez like Sherwani’s. I laughed and said that I would do neither. ‘Then you must go bareheaded,’ he said. I agreed. I had thought of refusing to take the other ordinary clothes, but then I remembered your ‘Model Prisoner’ and quietly submitted.

I passed my first day as political prisoner in great trouble. But the next day I was at ease, as I realized that even so there was an opportunity of suffering. Some of my friends described their personal experience. There is a young man, named Kailasnath, still in his teens, the son of a well-known pleader of Cawnpore, and a political prisoner. Being religiously minded, he takes food after bath, worship, and the application of sandal paint, etc., to the forehead. The jailer had admitted sandal and the other things for him, but when one day he saw the sandal mark, he ordered Kailasnath to rub it out. The young man obeyed but refused to take food. And so the jailer arrived on the scene and threatened punishment, but Kailsnath persisted in his refusal all the same. For this, he received filthy abuse, was severely flogged with a wooden cudgel and kicked with boots. His utensils were dashed to the ground. The hero responsible for this is Hamilton, an Englishman who has been promoted to jailership for his services during the war. This incident got into the newspapers, though not in detail, and there was an inquiry. The Inspector-General visited the prison and told Kailasnath that he must obey all orders. Apparently he took the jailer also to task, as the latter came to Kailasnath and abused the Inspector-General before him!

On hearing this, I could see that life even as a political prisoner need not be uneventful. Meanwhile the attitude of the jailer and the Superintendent towards me had changed and I had friendly conversations with them about non-co-operation and other topics. I did not quite relish this development, as I was afraid that these officers might be trying to win me over as prelude to oppressing the rest.

The same evening I heard successive cries of ‘Gandhijiki Jai’. In the morning, I had read your observations in Young India and wished I could communicate them to the friends who had been given hard labour. Here was no means of doing so. The cry started from one block and received a response from other blocks, one after another. To the Superintendent and the jailer it looked like mutiny. They ran up. One of those fifteen friends was seized and the warder fell upon him like a wolf. The poor man was greeted with foul abuse and flogged with lathis along with an ironical order to repeat ‘Gandhijiki Jai’. After he had received ten blows of a lathi, one inch and a half in diameter, his magnificent frame tottered to the ground and then he was beaten with fists, etc.

The friend who thus suffered is Lakshminarayana Sharma, a pious and inoffensive young man of twenty-two, who used to be secretary, Aligarh Congress Committee. The other prisoners could not bear the sight of this suffering, and offered to retaliate upon the warder. But Lakshminarayana prevented them all and said it was their duty to suffer. The others, however, were greatly enraged and continued the cries of ‘Gandhijiki Jai’ for which about fifty or sixty of them were cruelly flogged. As if this were not enough, the next morning all the prisoners were taken outside, including the Provincial Committee men, and in the presence of all of them, two prisoners who were suspects had their hands fastened with a stick and then caned. The caning was so severe that the cries of the sufferers could be heard in my cell at a distance of two or three furlongs. When a prisoner swooned after some blows, he was given rest; and as he revived, the caning was continued. In this way, two of them received twenty-three cuts. It is worthy of remark that at each cut the sufferer and his fellow prisoners sent up a joint cry of ‘Gandhijiki Jai’ in spite of the jailer and the Superintendent, and these cries stopped only when the authorities were tired of inflicting any more punishment. After this, three or four were flogged with sticks and fists. One of them suffered so severely that there was an involuntary discharge of excreta and urine. Two or three are in hospital. I was told that prisoners had died in this jail before, in consequence of such oppression.

Having performed his ‘dirty job’ (Dyer’s phrase) in this way, the jailer came to see me. I asked him for an explanation of the trouble. He replied that there might have been a big mutiny and that severe punishment was necessary to prevent it. I told him that, be that as it might, I would fast and pray for the day. He asked me why. I said I would pray not only for my brethren who were no doubt in error, but for those who despitefully used them. The jailer asked me what was the value of prayer. The talk then turned upon the Bible. I explained to him that Jesus and the Bible were not the sole property of Christians like himself, but the joint estate of humanity at large. He then appeared to melt somewhat. I said how good it would be, if I was permitted to read to the prisoners Mr. Gandhi’s observations pertinent to their case, and I offered to meet all of them and talk to them about our duty. But this was not at all acceptable to the jailer. Only last evening, he was saying to the prisoners, ‘There is no victory to Gandhi here, the victory is to Government. So you must cry victory to Government.’ He was however abashed a little, said it was no use crying over spilt milk and then left me.

After the jailer came the Superintendent. He also tried to tease me, saying ironically how obedient my non-co-operator friends were. I was quiet and only said that he at least was amused by the whole affair. Then he told me I did not know the utility of punishment. I replied I did not care to, as there was a world of difference between his mentality and mine, and that he on his part had no appreciation of our methods. He then expatiated upon the value of ‘force’ and said, ‘You Indians are unpractical visionaries. We are practical. You only talk big.’ I was listening quietly and contented myself with asking whether it was I or he that was talking big. He said nothing more and left me. Meanwhile I had obtained permission to see Lakshminarayana, that friend who had been so cruelly dealt with. I saw him. He showed me terrible marks of the flogging upon his body. I told him we were forbidden to cry ‘Gandhijiki Jai’ and that I read about it in the papers only the other day. On hearing this the young man burst into tears and said at once he must then tell the Superintendent that he had done wrong. Thus he evidenced the incomparable tenderness of his soul. But what does the enemy know or care about our tenderness? So that we can only learn to send forth like sandalwood greater fragrance, the more roughly we are handled. I assure you, after the experiences that I have had, that our people are mastering this lesson in some miraculous method.

But now I must close. There is much to say, but I shall rest content if this much reaches you by post for the present. We are not permitted to post letters, but how long should these facts be kept from the public? It is also a question to be considered how far we should obey the order not to give out anything.

I have had no sleep last night, am thoroughly fatigued and must seize an early opportunity of posting this. I will write in English if possible, but perhaps there may be no time.

We are all on our way to Agra, thirty-nine in all, including members of the Provincial Committee and some Allahabad volunteers. Since he received the orders of removal, the Superintendent was kindness itself to us. He must have haved a sigh of relief at our departure as of some great trouble. On the last day he said: ‘You are an awful nuisance. I should get an allowance of Rs. 50 for each one of you.’ We are being removed, for fear that we might influence the prison population and bring them to a knowledge of their slavery and ignorance.


1  The complaint in respect of the earlier article, ‘Disaffection, a Virtue’ seems to have been dropped subsequently after inquiry by the magistrate.