25. The Great Trial

[Editor's Note: Gandhiji was arrested at the Satyagraha Ashram, Sabarmati, Ahmedabad on Friday the 10th March, 1922 for certain articles published in his young India. On the 11th noon Gandhiji and Shri Shankarlal Banker, the publisher, were placed before Mr. Brown, Assistant Magistrate, the Court being held in the Divisional Commissioner's Office at Shahibagh. The prosecution was conducted by Rao Bahadur Girdharlal, Public Prosecutor. The Superintendent of Police, Ahmedabad, the first witness, produced the Bombay Government's authority to lodge a complaint for four articles published in Young India, dated the 15th June 1921, entitled "Disaffection a Virtue"; dated the 29th September, "Tampering with Loyalty"; dated the 15th December, "The Puzzle and Its Solution" and dated the 23rd February 1922, "Shaking the Manes". He stated that the warrant was issued on the 6th instant by the District Magistrate, Ahmedabad and the case was transferred to the file of Mr. Brown. Meanwhile warrants were also issued to the Superintendents of Police of Surat and Ajmer as Mr. Gandhi was expected to be at those places. The original signed articles and issues of the paper in which these appeared were also produced as evidence. Mr. Gharda, Registrar, Appellate Side, Bombay High Court. Second witness, produced correspondence between Mr. Gandhi as the Editor of Young India and, Mr. Kennedy, District Judge, Ahmedabad. Mr. Chatiield, Magistrate of Ahmedabad was next witness. He testified to the security deposited by Mr. Gandhi and the declaration of Mr. S. Banker as printer of Young India. Two formal police witnesses were then produced. The Accused Mr. Gandhi and Mr. Banker declined to cross-examine the witnesses and thereafter made the following statement.

Gandhiji's Statement as Recorded in Court

Mr. M. K. Gandhi, 53, Farmer and weaver by Profession, 'residing at Satyagraha Ashram, Sabarmati, Ahmedabad said: "I simply wish to state that when the proper time comes, I shall plead guilty so far as disaffection towards the Government is concerned. It is quite true that I am Editor of the Young India and that the articles read in my presence were written by me, and the proprietors and publishers had permitted me to control the whole policy of the paper." Mr. Shankarlal Banker, landed proprietor, Bombay, Second Accused stated that at the proper time he would plead guilty to the charge of having published the articles complained of. Charges were then framed on three counts under Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code and the two Accused were committed to the Sessions. The case having been committed to the Sessions, Gandhiji was taken to the Sabarmati Jail where he was detained till the hearing which was to cosie off on March 18. At last the trial came off on Saturday the 18th March, 1922 before Mr. C. N. Broomfield I.C.S., District and Sessions Judge, Ahmedabad. See Speeches and Writings of Mahatma Gandhi, 4th Ed., Natesan, Madras p. 693]

At the Government Circuit House at Shahibagh, Ahmedabad, the trial of Mahatma Gandhi and Mr. Banker commenced at 12 noon on Saturday, the 18th of March, 1922 before C. N. Broomfield Esq., i.c.s., District and Sessions Judge, Ahmedabad.

Sir Thomas Strangman, Advocate-General, Bombay assisted by A. C. Wild Esq., Legal Remembrancer to the Government of Bombay, and Rao Bahadur Girdharlal, Public Prosecutor conducted the prosecution. 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 under S. 124-A,* Indian Penal Code were then read out by the Registrar, the offence having been committed in three articles* published in the Young India on September 29, 1921, December 15, 1921, and February 23, 1922. The offending articles were then read out: first of them was, "Tempering with Loyalty", the second, "The Puzzle and Its Solution", and the last was "Shaking the Manes". [These three articles have been reproduced in Appendix I.]

The Judge said 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 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 charges, 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.

Advocate-General Urges Trial

Sir Thomas Strangman then wanted the Judge to proceed with the trial fully. He said that under Section 271, Criminal Procedure Code, it was open to the Judge to convict the accused on their pleas or to proceed with the trial. The Section says: If the accused pleads guilty, the plea shall be recorded and he may be convicted thereon.' The words were 'may', not 'must'. He asked his honour to proceed with the trial. In the first instance the charges were of a serious character and in the second place it was highly desirable in the public interest that those charges should be fully and thoroughly investigated. From a further and narrower point of view that was in regard to the sentence it was obvious that the Judge could not deal with the accused unless he had the full facts of the case before him. That was the view taken by the Bombay High Court, (19 Bombay Law Reports, p. 356). That was an extreme case. (The advocate-general then read out the case to the court and it was in regard to a murder charge in which the accused was sentenced to be hanged.) Those remarks applied to the present case, said Sir Strangman, and he also quoted 23 Madras 151. On these grounds the Advocate-General asked the court to proceed with the trial.

Court's Reply

The Judge said that he did not agree with what had been said by the Advocate-General. He had full discretion to convict on the plea if he thought it proper to do so, and in this particular case nothing would be gained by going once more into the evidence recorded by the committing Magistrate. As regards the question of the charges they would be fully investigated and as far as he was aware nothing more was needed to establish the offence going to show that Mr. Gandhi was responsible for those particular articles. In the face of the plea it seemed to him that it would be futile to raise the point. As regards the question of sentence, it went without saying that from the time he knew that 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 the Advocate-General had called for would make a 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 the sentence and before doing so, he liked to hear Sir Thomas Strangman. He was entitled to base his general remarks on the charges against the accused and on their pleas.

Sir Thomas 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 stated that it was the duty of a non-co-operator to create disaffection towards the Government. The counsel then read out portions of articles written by Mr. Gandhi in the Young India.

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

Sir Thomas Strangman said the question of sentence was entirely for the Court to decide. The Court was always 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 to his going into the charges in a general way.

Sir Thomas 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 8, 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 disobedience. Then in the same number there was an article on "Disaffection — a Virtue" or something to that effect. Then there was an article on the 28th of July, 1921, in which it was stated that "we have to destroy the system". Again, on September 30, 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 referred to the Governor 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 must 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 upon. He quoted Section 10 of the Press Act as bearing on the question of fine. When making a 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 it to me in writing to put it on record?

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

Mr. Gandhi's Oral Statement

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, I want 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, 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 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.

Mr. Gandhi's 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 dis-affectionist 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 despatches. For my work in South Africa I was given by Lord Hardinge a Kaiser-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 of 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 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 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 to be redeemed. The Punjab crime was white-washed and most culprits went not only unpunished but remained in 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 meagre 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 the work they do for the foreign exploiter, that the profit 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 hundred justice has been denied to Indians as against Europeans in the courts in 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 systems 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 or 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 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, 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 outlines 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 violence to the evil doer. I am endeavouring 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-co­operation 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 the 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 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 : "I would say one word. Since you have done me the honour of recalling the trial of the late Lokamanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, 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 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."

When the Judge left the court the friends of Mr. Gandhi crowded round him 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.

And thus the great trial finished.

Young India, 23-3-1922, pp. 165 et. seq.

Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code was as under: Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards His Majesty or the Government established by law in British India, shall be punished with transportation for life or any shorter term, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.

Explanation I. The expression disaffection includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity.

Explanation II. Comments expressing disaffection of the measures of the Government with a view to obtain their alteration by lawful means without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection do not constitute an offence under this Section.

Explanation III. Comments expressing disapprobation of the administrative or other action of the Government without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection do not constitute an offence under this Section.

The complaint in respect of the earlier article "Disaffection — a Virtue", seems to have been dropped subsequently after enquiry, by the Magistrate.