41. Jagannath's Case

It is not without extreme sorrow that I have to invite public attention to a third miscarriage of justice in the Punjab. This time it is not a case of a celebrity like Babu Kalinath Roy or a lesser light like Lala Radha Krishna, the Editor of the Pratap. The case of which the papers have been furnished me relates to one Mr. Jagannath, unknown to fame and unconnected with any public activity. He has been sentenced by one of the Martial Law Tribunals to transportation for life, with forfeiture of property under section 121 of the Indian Penal Code, i.e., for waging war against His Majesty. The facts of the case are lucidly set forth in his petition to be found elsewhere*. It is addressed to the Hon. Sir Edward Maclagan, the Lieut. Governor of the Punjab. The reader will find also the judgment in the Gujaran-walla case in respect of fifteen accused of whom Mr. Jagannath was one. The following is the text in the judgment dealing with the case:

"Jagannath, accused 10, had the notices convening the meeting of the 5th, printed in Lahore and was present at the meeting. He denies his presence at the meetings of the 12th and the 13th. But we have no hesitation in holding that he was present at both and that his defence is worthless. There is ample evidence to show that on the 14th April, he took a very active part in having the shops closed. We are satisfied of his guilt and convict him under sec. 121, I. P. C."

I submit that it was no crime on the accused's part to have the notice convening the meeting of the 5th printed, nor to have been present at the meeting, unless the notices or the meetings were of an incriminating character. This is what the court has to say about the meeting of the 5th April:

"It is alleged that the people of Gujaranwalla knew little and cared less about the Rowlatt Act and that on the 4th April certain of the accused decided to start an agitation against this Act on the same lines as had been adopted in other parts of the country at the instance of Gandhi. A mass meeting was accordingly convened and held on the evening of the 5th April when the Rowlatt Act was condemned."

Under no Statute known could these facts be held to involve any crime. The Judges themselves have stated as much:

"We are not however satisfied in this case, that prior to the 12th April any indictable conspiracy had come into existence. We therefore feel constrained to acquit those of the accused who are shown only to have taken part in the proceedings prior to that date."

It is difficult therefore to understand the reference of the court to the accused's presence at the meeting of the 5th or his having been an agent for getting the notices printed. The court proceeds, "On the evening of the 12th and during the day of the 13th certain of the accused in consultation with Bhagat agreed that they should follow the example set at Amritsar of burning bridges and cutting telegraph wires." Now these facts, it is plain, undoubtedly prove a criminal conspiracy but the court is silent as to which accused agreed upon the crimes recited in the paragraph. It should be remembered that there was a meeting on the 12th, of the District Congress Committee held prior to the evening meeting of the 12th referred to in the sentence quoted above. I submit that it was necessary for the court definitely to find that the accused was present at the agreement alleged to have been arrived at, for burning bridges and cutting telegraph wires. But there is nothing in the finding of the court beyond a vague general statement about the accused's presence at the meetings of the 12th and 13th. I would suggest that even if the accused was in Gujaranwalla on the 14th April and took a very active part in having the shops closed, it would be no offence, unless he could be proved to have been party to the criminal agreement referred to.
Whilst, therefore, the judgment seems to afford no evidence of the accused's crime, statements, most damaging to the court and conclusive in favour of the accused, have yet to follow. The accused's defence rested upon an alibi. He stated that he left Gujaran walla on the 12th April by the 5 p.m. train enroute for Kathiawad where he had a case. Now I admit that it is as easy to set up an alibi as it is difficult to prove it. But anyone reading the petition can only come to one conclusion, viz., that the defence of alibi was completely established. Mr. Jagannath produced local respectable witnesses to show that he had left Gujaranwalla on the 12th. He applied for subpoena to summon witnesses from Kathiawad to show that he was in Dhoraji on the 16th April. The court rejected the application, but granted interrogatories, put the accused, a poor man, to the expense of Rs. 250 for the expenses of the Commission, and yet strange as it may appear, pronounced judgment against the accused without waiting for the return of the Commission. He made an application for the stay of argument, till after the receipt of replies to interrogatories. The application was rejected. In a second application he urged that the court should ascertain by telegram the result of the interrogatories. Even that application was proved unavailing. The accused has rightly contended in the petition that on this ground alone the conviction was illegal and ought to be set aside. The petition refers to the register of the Foujdar of Dhoraji saying that he reached Dhoraji on the 16th April. The accused shows also by the examination of 10 independent witnesses that he was in Dhoraji on that date. He shows further by extracts from Railway Time Tables, that it takes 44 hours to reach Dhoraji from Delhi by the fastest train, and shows conclusively that it was physically impossible for him to be in Gujaranwalla after 6 p.m. on the 13th; though as a matter of fact he shows by other conclusive evidence that he left Gujaranwalla on the 12th. He produces proceedings of Jetpur Court where he had his case in Kathiawad. There is, therefore, no ground whatsoever for keeping the accused in jail for a single moment.
The accused on his own showing is "a petty shopkeeper at Gujaranwalla, paying no income tax, being ignorant of Urdu as well as English and not possessed of any influence in a big town like Gujaranwalla with a population of 30,000 persons. He, being a man of humble position and status in life, with no education, has never taken part in politics, nor was he a member of the local District Congress Committee or any other political body or association." The humbleness of his position makes the injustice all the more galling and makes it doubly incumbent on the public to see that the meanest of the subjects of the King suffers no wrong. The decision of His Honour the Lieut. Governor in the case of Lala Radha Krishna raises the hope that speedy justice will be done in this case. Bad as Babu Kalinath Roy's and Lala Radha Krishna's cases were, this, if possible, is worse in that Martial Law Judges in their impatience, shall I say, to convict, declined to wait for a return of the Commission they themselves had granted—a Commission on whose return hung the liberty, and might have been, even the life of the accused.

Young India, 30-7-1919

* This petition is not included in this book.