38. Babu Kalinath Roy
By the courtesy of the Young India Syndicate, composed as it is largely of Satyagrahis, since the deportation of Mr. Horniman I have been permitted to supervise the editing of this journal. I asked for such supervision because I was anxious that nothing should appear in it that was in any way inconsistent with the general principles of Satyagraha, i.e., of truth and nonviolence to person or property. In pursuance of the plan I have hitherto also written some leading articles in the usual editorial style. But for this issue I wish to take the sole responsibility, if there be any, of writings on the case of Babu Kalinath Roy, the editor of the now defunct Tribune. Personally, I consider that even from the point of view of the authorities, there is nothing wrong or out of the way in what I am about to say. But lest they may think otherwise, it is due to the public and to the Young India Syndicate that the authorship of this writing should be known.
With reference to the Punjab disturbances, by my complete silence over them I have allowed myself to be misunderstood by many friends and, as is now well known, I have been deprived of the co-operation, though never the friendship, of so respected and renowned a leader and co-worker as Sannyasi Swami Shri Shraddhanandaji. But I still believe that I have done well in persisting in my silence, for I had no conclusive data to go upon. No public declaration of mine could have in any way affected for the better the action of the authorities. But Babu Kalinath Roy's case materially alters the situation. In my humble opinion the case represents a manifest and cruel wrong. I have not the honour of knowing him personally. When I took up the judgment in the case, I approached it with a feeling that there would be at least a prima facie case made out against the accused on some isolated passages in his writings. But as I proceeded with it, the impression grew on me that it was a kind of special pleading in order to justify a conviction and heavy sentence. In order to check myself I took up the numbers of the Tribune referred to in the judgment and on which the serious charge against Babu Kalinath Roy under Sec. 124 A of the Indian Penal Code was based, and a careful reading of everyone of the writings in the Tribune more than confirmed the impression produced by a perusal of the judgment and led me to think that the martial law court had allowed its judgment to be warped and clouded by the atmosphere of suspicion and distrust surrounding it. The best proof of my statement must be the judgment and the writings on which it is based. They are therefore reproduced in this issue in full. I have prefaced the judgment and the offending articles in the Tribune with extracts from the other numbers, showing the whole tendency and tone of the writings, from the beginning of April just after the Delhi affairs. They are not extracts torn from their context, but they are representative of the issues of the Tribune published after the 30th March last. The dominant note pervading all the issues is that the agitation against the Rowlatt Legislation should be conducted with sobriety, truth and non-violence. I could nowhere trace in them ill-will, either against Englishmen in general, or against the English Government in particular. Indeed, it would be difficult to surpass the Tribune in calmness and self- restraint in the face of circumstances brought about by the Delhi affairs.
This is the test that the Special Tribunal put before itself for its guidance:
"You will have to consider whether this publication was or was not a calm and temperate discussion of the events that had occurred. The people have a right to discuss any grievances that they may have to complain of, but they must not do it in a way to excite tumult. . . . You may point out to the Government their errors. . . . The question is always as to the manner. A question is made whether they (writings) show an intention to instruct by appealing to the judgment or to irritate and excite to sedition. In other words, whether they appeal to the sense of the passions."
Judged by the standard set before the court the articles complained against do not warrant a conviction. They cannot excite tumult, when daily during a period of exceeding stress, the writer asks his readers to refrain from all violence telling them in unmistakable terms that disturbance can only damage their cause. The editor has continuously appealed to the judgment of the readers by asking them not to prejudge, but to await the results of an inquiry which he persistently asked for. The court's discussion of the passages and articles fails to convince one of the propriety of its decision. The court has resented the use of the term "Delhi Martyrs" in the issues of the 6th and the 8th April. When you read the contents under the headings, the one has reference to prayers at the Jumma Masjid and the other to a relief and Memorial Fund. The crime in the language of the court was that "the accused chose to emphasize the memorial for martyrs and not the relief," and the court proceeds, "the inference from this is plain." The plain inference from this is that whoever put the heading felt that those who were shot down at Delhi were so dealt with, without sufficient cause. Why this should be considered seditious passes comprehension. And if such inference shows, as it undoubtedly does, that the action of the Magistrate who gave the order for firing was wrong, is the drawing of such a deduction to be punished? We are told by the court that one may point out to Government their errors. I submit that Mr. Roy justly points out the error of one of the local authorities. (Incidentally I may mention that there is not such editorial headings as "Memorial to Delhi Martyrs" referred to in the judgment.)
The next indictment consists in the editor having used the word "dupe" in connection with the action of some Honorary Magistrates and Municipal Commissioners who tried to dissuade shopkeepers from closing their shops. This is what the article describing the demonstration of the 6th April says:
"The masses of India are no fools... That they cannot be successfully duped ought to be clear from the very ignominious failure in this very case of certain Municipal Commissioners and Honorary Magistrates and several others who went round the city trying to persuade shopkeepers to keep their shops open."
This is a bare statement of fact as the accused knew it. Then follows an examination of the other articles as to which the gravamen of the charge is the assertion of the editor that the action of the Punjab Government was both "unjust and unwarranted", and that it had "exposed itself to the severest criticisms at the bar of public opinion". Here, too, the editor has, after having reasoned to the reader, led him to the conclusion to which he himself has arrived, — a procedure held to be entirely justifiable under the test accepted by the court itself. The wrong would undoubtedly be if the editor had misstated facts. But in every case, as would appear from the articles reproduced herewith, the writer has fortified himself with what he believed to be facts, and which, so far as the judgment allows us to see, have not been controverted.
The other two articles referred to by the court are "Delhi Tragedy" in the issue of the 9th, and "Blazing Indiscretion" in the issue of the 10th April. The "Delhi Tragedy" is a dispassionate review of the tragedy of the 30th March, and ends with an exhortation to the Government of India to appoint a public inquiry. "Blazing Indiscretion" is undoubtedly an indictment against Sir Michael O'Dwyer about his speech before the Punjab Legislative Council. The speech, analysed in the article in question, certainly contains more than one "blazing indiscretion". The truth of the matter is that the wrong man was in the wrong box; the right man to have been in the box of the accused should certainly have been Sir Michael O'Dwyer. Had he not made inflammatory and irritative speeches, had he not belittled leaders, had he not in a most cruel manner flouted public opinion and had he not arrested Drs. Kitchlew and Satyapal, the history of the last two months would have been differently written. My purpose, now is not to prove Sir Michael O'Dwyer's guilt, but it is to prove Babu Kalinath Roy's complete innocence, and to show that he has suffered a grievous wrong in the name of British justice, and I do not hesitate to ask Englishman as I ask my countrymen to join me in the prayer for Babu Kalinath Roy's immediate release. As Mr. Norton had shown, and quite recently Sir P. S. Shivaswamy Aiyer, a Martial Law Tribunal was never contemplated to be one for the trial of cases involving delicate interpretations of difficult sections of ordinary enactments. Such tribunals are properly designed only for summary justice being meted out to men who are caught red-handed in acts of rebellion or crimes which mean, if left unchecked, complete disruption of society.
One thing more remains to be considered. Why should this case be singled out for special treatment when it is highly likely that an independent and impartial committee is likely to be appointed to overhaul the Martial Law administration in the Punjab and so revise the sentences passed by the Martial Law Court? My answer is that Mr. Roy's case does not admit of any doubt about it. It is capable of being immediately considered by the Government and if the articles on which the charge against Mr. Roy was based do not amount to sedition — as I hold they do not — he should be immediately set free. Moreover time is an important consideration in this case, for Mr, Roy, as Mr. Andrews has pointed out, has a very delicate constitution.
Young India, 11-6-1919