46. Gujaratimal's Case

Gujaratimal is a lad eighteen years old, having received no more than middle school education. At the age of sixteen he got himself appointed as a dresser in the Military Department. After working for about a year in Multan Cantonment, he went to Egypt and spent one year there, also on service. He subsequently returned to the Punjab taking one month's leave. He reached Madhranwala, his native village, five miles from Hafizabad, on the 8th April. He remained at his village getting his shop repaired. But "to our astonishment some policemen came there on the 16th with warrants issued against him, and prosecuted him accordingly, leaving us in utter amazement, for we could not understand what the matter was." Thus writes the seventy years old father of Gujaratimal, This is not one of those cases in which a stranger can arrive at a firm decision merely on reading the evidence, which was reproduced in the last issue of Young India. It will be remembered that the case of Gujaratimal is one out of nineteen tried together. I had occasion to analyse the judgment in the case in connection with that of Karamchand, and all I have said about that judgment naturally applies in this case, as in that of the lad Karamchand. But upon reading the evidence it is not possible to come to a positive conclusion that the defence of alibi was completely established. The whole of the evidence, as the reader must have observed, has been taken in such a scrappy manner that one is unable to know what has been omitted. It is also clear from the evidence that the prosecution witnesses are mostly policemen or connected with the police, and that the accused were not arrested red-handed, but" most of them were arrested some time after the affair. Certainly Gujaratimal, who is said to have been the principal speaker and one of the assailants, was not arrested red- handed, but two days after the date of the alleged assault. Gujaratimal was sentenced to be hanged. His sentence was subsequently commuted to transportation, and still more subsequently, according to what his father has heard, to seven years' rigorous imprisonment. It is a serious matter to sentence a lad of eighteen years, who denies his guilt, who denies having been present at the scene itself and who has only lately rendered service to the Crown, to be hanged on the strength of the very questionable evidence of identification by witnesses of no standing.
To these observations I would add a summary of the facts supplied by the father of Gujaratimal, and respectfully submit that if the facts supplied by the father be true he is entitled to complete discharge without further investigation. And even without those the whole case requires a thorough investigation. The father says, "On the 23rd May, i.e. five weeks after the event, the Deputy Commissioner of the District ordered all the residents to assemble in one place to be identified by the prosecution witnesses, and Lieutenant Tatam." Gujaratimal was also among the crowd. Now comes the most material part of the father's statement. "At this occasion none of the prosecution witnesses Nos. 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 15, 16, 18, 19, who afterwards gave evidence against him could identify him, nor even Lieutenant Tatam." If this is true, Gujaratimal has certainly been wrongly convicted. And what shall we say of the value of the identification evidence when we read such a shocking deposition as this of prosecution witness No. 13: "Mr. Tatam identified Karam Sing, Jiwan Kishen, Mulchand. Mr. Tatam even pointed me out as one of the assailants, and when the Deputy Commissioner said that I was Tehsildar, Mr. Tatam said that the man he remembered was fatter than I." If this is true —and the prosecution surely cannot question its truth—this is a circumstance which must raise gravest doubts about the value of the identification evidence led by the prosecution. The father adds that the prosecution witness No. 3 says that Gujaratimal delivered an oration at the station, whereas P.W. No. 16 says that it was Gian Singh who delivered it. This discrepancy can be proved from the recorded evidence. Again the father says, prosecution witness No. 15 who could not identify Gujaratimal on the 3rd May says at the trial that Gujaratimal carried a flag, etc. The father has submitted already several petitions to the authorities. He is a man of poor circumstances. The accused is an insignificant lad. In my opinion, therefore, the case becomes all the stronger for a searching inquiry. His Excellency the Viceroy was pleased to say in his speech "for those cases which have come before the Government of India, I have no hesitation in claiming that they received the most careful consideration, and that orders were passed with the greatest possible despatch." The letter before me says that the father has petitioned His Excellency also. It is not impertinent to inquire what was the result of the "most careful consideration" given to the most damaging statements made in the father's petition. If his statements were considered to be worthless, he was and still is entitled to know on what ground the decision was based.

Young India, 13-9-1919