(The historical trial of Mahatma Gandhi and Shri Shankarlal Ghelabhai Banker, editor, and printer and publisher respectively of Young India, on charges under Section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code, was held on Saturday, 18th March 1922, before Mr. C.N. Broomfield, I. C.S., District and Session judge, Ahmedabad.
Sir J. T. Strangman, Advocate General, with Rao Bahadur Girdharlal Uttamram, Public
prosecutor of Ahmedabad, appeared for the Crown. Mr. A. C. Wild, Remembrancer of
Legal Affairs, was also present, Mahatma Gandhi and Shri Shankarlal banker were undefended.
Among the members of the public who were present on the occasion were : Kasturba Gandhi,
Sarojini Naidu, Pandit M. M. Malaviya, Shri N. C. Kelkar, Smt. J. B. Petit, and
Smt. Anasuyabahen Sarabhai.
The judge, who took his seat at 12 noon, said that there was slight mistake in the charges
framed, which he corrected. The charges were then read out by the Registrar.
These charges were of “bringing or attempting to bring in to hatred or contempt
or exciting or attempting to excite disaffection towards His majesty’s
Government established by law in British India, and thereby committing offences
punishable under Section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code,” the offences being in
three articles published in Young India of September 29 and December 15
of 1921, and February 23 of 1922. The offending articles were then read out:
first of them was, “Tampering with Loyalty”; and second, “The Puzzle and its
Solution”, and the last was “Shaking the Manes”.
The Judge said that the law required that the charges 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 124 A, contained in the
articles read out, written by Mahatma Gandhi and printed by Shri Banker.
The charges having been read out, the Judge called upon the accused to plead to the
charges. He asked Gandhiji whether he pleaded guilty or claimed to be tried.
Gandhiji said : “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 asked Shri Banker the same question and he too readily pleaded guilty.
The Judge wished to give his verdict immediately after Gandhiji had pleaded guilty, but
Sir Strangman insisted that the procedure should be carried out in full. The
Advocate General requested the Judge to take into account “The Advocate-General
requested the Judge to take into account “the occurrences in Bombay, Malabar and
Chauri Chaura, leading to rioting and murder”. He admitted, indeed, that “in
these articles you find that non-violence is insisted upon as an item of the
campaign and of the creed,” but he added “of what value is it to insist on
non-violence, if incessantly you preach disaffection towards the Government and
hold it up as a treacherous Government, and if you openly and deliberately seek
to instigate others to overthrow it?” These were the circumstances which he
asked the Judge to take into account in passing sentence on the accused.
As regards Shri Banker, the second accused, the offence was lesser. He did the publication
but did not write. Sir Strangman’s instructions were that Shri Banker was a man
of means and he requested the court to impose a substantial fine in addition to
such term of imprisonment as might be inflicted upon.
Court : Mr. Gandhi, do you wish to make any statement on the question of sentence?
Gandhiji : I would like to make a statement.
Court : Could you give me in writing to put it on record?
Gandhiji : I shall give it as soon as I finish it.
Gandhiji then made the following oral statement followed by a written statement that he read.]
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 Advocate General is 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 a 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 things 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 know them. 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 going to say in my statement, either to resign your post,
or 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 have a
glimpse of what is raging within my breast to run this maddest risk which a sane
man can run.
(He then read out the written 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 the ‘rebellion’. On the both 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 be 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 Baug
and culminating in crawling orders, public floggings and other indescribable
humiliations. I discovered too that the plighted word of the Prime Minister to
the Musalmans 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 and working of the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms, hoping that the
Prime Minister would redeem his promise to the Indian Musalmans, that the Punjab
wound would be healed, and that the reforms, inadequate and unsatisfactory
though they were, marked a new era of hope in the life of India.
But all that hope was shattered. The Khilafat promise was not be redeemed. The Punjab
crime was whitewashed and most culprits went not only unpunished but remained in
service, and some 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 the 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
witnesses. 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 their 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 dewellers 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, in nine out of every ten, the
condemned men were totally innocent. Their crime consisted in the love of their
country. In ninety-nine cases out of 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 greater 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 systems
devised in the world, and that India is making steady, though, slow progress.
They do not know, 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 or self-defence on the other, has 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 124 A, 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 to 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; 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 endeavored 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 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
violence to the evil-doer. I am endeavoring to show to my countrymen that
violent non-co-operation only multiplies 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 deliberate crime, and what appears to me to be the highest duty of a
citizen. The only course open to you, the judge and the assessors, is either to
resign your posts and thus dissociate yourselves 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 common weal.