The great trial: Mahatma Gandhi

The great trial: Mahatma Gandhi

Sir J.T - The great trial: Mahatma Gandhi introduction. Strangman along with Rao Bahadur Girdbarlal spearheaded the prosecution of Mr. Gandhi and Mr. Banker who apparently were undefended during the trial at the Circuit House at Shahi Bag (The Great Trial; Ministry of Information and Broadcasting). A classic description of “the great trial” was given by Sarojini Naidu who claimed that there were slight misconceptions of the framed charges which needed to be corrected (The Great Trial; Ministry of Information and Broadcasting). The Registrar read the charges;the offence being written in three articles which the Young India had published respectively in September 29 and December 15, 1921 and February 23, 1922. The articles were entitled as follows: “Tampering with Loyalty”, “The Puzzle and Its Solution”and “Shaking the Manes”. According to the judge, the charge must also be explained as read in accordance to the law. Apparently, each case’s charge was designed to draw contempt, disaffection and hatred towards the accused, particularly towards the law-established His Majesty’s Government (created during British India).

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Under Section 124A, the High Court of Bombay had interpreted words which spoke of disloyalty and disaffection and had literally defined their meaning which obviously spoke of discontent and political alienation to the existing authority (The Great Trial; Ministry of Information and Broadcasting). Finally the Judge asked Mr. Gandhi if he preferred to be tried and whether he pleaded guilty or not. Mr. Gandhi answered: “I plead guilty on each account of the charge. I merely observe that the King’s name is omitted from the charge sheet and, in my opinion, very properly” (The Great Trial; Ministry of Information and Broadcasting). Mr. Banker had also pleaded guilty. The Judge was asked by Sir J. Strangman to move on with the prosecution. Although the Judge knew that he was in charged for the case, he did not agree with what the Counsel had mentioned during the trial. He believed that the evidence as recorded and the trial as called by the Counsel would somehow create a sense of difference towards the people.

The Judge proposed to hear Sir J.T. Strangman before passing the sentence as his general remarks would be based on the charges filed and pleas of the accused. Strangman, however, became hesitant and claimed that it was indeed not easy to do so. He further asked the court to properly consider the situation as a whole and claimed that if he elaborated what had happened in front of the Committing Magistrate, most likely he would also be revealing materials which are essentials to the question at hand. He pointed out that the subject of the current charges embodied a huge part of the campaign which aimed at spreading disaffection in a more systematic and openly manner towards the overthrow of the government.

On May 25, 1921, an earlier article was published in Young India which spoke of the non-cooperator’s obligation to manifest disaffection against the government; parts of articles were written by Mr. Gandhi himself. Sir J. Strangman was fully aware that the question of sentence lied in the hands of the Court. The Court was known to rely and deal generally rather than particularly with respect to the question of sentence. Strangman was not in the mood to push through with any specific matter which might trigger any form of dispute. He was more interested in showing that the articles were not at all isolated; that is, the articles formed an essential part of an organized and institutionally-recognized campaign which started its operation in 1921 (The Great Trial; Ministry of Information and Broadcasting).

In June 8, paper extracts about the non-cooperator’s duty were read out by the Counsel. The paper as read preached of disaffection against the government and was claimed as a preparation of the country towards civil disobedience; that is, there were articles on both disaffection and disobedience. On July 26, 1921, another article was written and stated that “we have to destroy the system” (The Great Trial; Ministry of Information and Broadcasting). It was followed by the “Punjab Prosecutions” on September 20, 1921, an article which claimed that a non-cooperator can only be worthy of his name if it preached of disaffection. The “Tampering of Loyalty” was made accordingly for the Governor of Bombay.

The Counsel further claimed that the harm brought by Ghandi was considerable given his high educational attainment and leadership capability as what is reflected in his writings. In short, his writing which fueled the campaign had become a threat to the general authorities. In the past several months, related mobilizations in Bombay (November of the prior year) and Chauri Chaura lead to the destruction of several property and murder cases. Although the articles spoke of non-violence, the Counsel was convinced that campaign’s item preached disaffection, capable enough to draw people’s attention and overthrow an existing government. Strangman asked the Court to take these incidents into account prior to deciding upon sentences of severity against the accused. Relative to the accusation against Ghandi, Banker’s was lesser by offence. Although he did not write, his publication appeared as a serious trouble before the Court. Banker asked the Court that a substantial fine should be imposed with such term of imprisonment. He further quoted Press Act Section 10 on basis of the imposition of fine (in many cases, Rs.1000 to Rs.10000 is often applicable upon fresh declaration) (The Great Trial; Ministry of Information and Broadcasting). Mr. Gandhi was also asked if he wished to make a statement with respect to the question of sentence. He consequently asked the Court’s permission to go through a written statement by which his writing should be based prior to putting it on the record.

Ghandi’s Introductory Remarks

Gandhi made his introductory remarks prior to reading the written statement. He stated his endorsement of the remarks made by the Advocate General as fair and true. He further elaborated that he had no desire to conceal his disaffection of the government system from the Court and that the commencement of his preaching in fact occurred earlier even prior to his connection with Young India ( a revelation which also favored the Advocate General’s remarks). Moreover, he endorsed the violent incidents in Madras, Bombay and Chauri Chaura as true related circumstances triggered by his campaign. “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 know the consequences of everyone of my acts” (The Great Trial; Ministry of Information and Broadcasting). Gandhi was aware that he played with fire and that even if he was set free by the authorities, still there would be no assurance that he would not do such operation again in the future.

He further reiterated that the first article of his faith clearly spoke of non-violence; that is, he had always wanted to avoid violence and that even the last article of his creed spoke of it. Gandhi did not have a choice but either to submit into a system which he claimed had done everything with its power to harm the nation or, to take the risk of seeing anxious individuals who have come to understand the truth of his preachings. “I do not ask for mercy. I do not ask for any extenuating act of clemency” (The Great Trial; Ministry of Information and Broadcasting). At that point, all Ghandi had wanted was to willingly submit to the highest penalty with cheer and invitation as the law according to him was a “deliberate crime” and at the same time, a citizen’s highest duty. His introductory statement left the Judge with two choices: either to submit a resignation from his post or to inflict Ghandi with the highest possible penalty if he personally believed that the law and system he was administering was proven efficient for his countrymen and that if Ghandi’s activity had become disruptive to the public.

The Statement

His general statement embodied his debt of gratitude for both the Indian and England public and his explanation as to why he chose to become a non-cooperator and disaffectionist. During his first encounter with the British authority (from when his public life had become active in South Africa, 1893), it appeared to Ghandi that his being an Indian deprived him of rights as a man. First, he thought of this treatment as a by product of a system which is relatively better. In fact, he even cooperated and volunteered with the government; although with occasional criticisms, he did not cheerfully aim for its destruction. Amidst subsequent threats to the Empire (by the Boer) in 1899, Ghandi offered his service by raising a volunteer ambulance corps; in the same manner, he spearheaded a stretcher-bearer party during the Zulu revolt in 1906 and an ambulance corps during the England-Germany War in 1914 (The Great Trial; Ministry of Information and Broadcasting).

It was during the birth of the Rowlatt Act that he was forced to lead an agitation in opposed to it. The law was designed to steal real freedom from the people as what had been reflected in the Jallianwala Bagh massacre (Punjab horrors). The Prime Minister’s failure to fulfill the promise to India’s Mussalmans with respect to the integration of Turkey and other Islam-dominated places had further worsened the situation and made him question the government’s credibility. “The reforms were not made by heart; they were methods to preserve foreign interests and to further drain India’s wealth. In short, the British connection had drowned India economically and politically. India had been disarmed and therefore had no means for resistance against her aggressor.

Agricultural resources, which once had been the main source of India’s livelihood and food, were further ruined brought about by inhuman processes. The law was made to further interests of the foreign exploiter. With respect to Ghandi’s examination of the Punjab Martial Law cases, 95% of the convictions were worse; that is, nine out of ten convicts were innocent (The Great Trial; Ministry of Information and Broadcasting). What was more ironic was that out of a hundred cases, 99 were often denied of justice by the Europeans in Indian courts. “In my opinion, the administration of the law is thus prostituted consciously or unconsciously for the benefit of the exploiter”.

Section 124A by which Ghandi was charged was the most significant part of the Indian Penal Code as it was responsible for the suppression of the citizen’s liberty (The Great Trial; Ministry of Information and Broadcasting). The law, however, cannot regulated affection; that is, a system or a person is given the right to exercise and express one’s disaffection towards a given entity as long as it does not promote or contemplate violence in the process. Ghandi had claimed that what was charged to him and Banker pertained to the promotion of disaffection in the form of crime. Most of India’s patriots were convicted in the same manner and it was inthis respect that Ghandi felt the prosecution as a privilege and thus, was willing to be charged with it. He had nothing against any administrator or the King himself. However, his sentiment of disaffection against the government remained and that he would further consider it a sin to hold affection for the system.

His statement boasted of having served both India and England with non-cooperation. “In my humble opinion, non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as is cooperation with good” (The Great Trial; Ministry of Information and Broadcasting). He also made it clear through his statement that violent non-cooperation would only cause evil to multiply; that is, there is a need to abstain from violence if one wished to withdraw one’s support for evil and as such, voluntary submission before a penalty inflicted for non-cooperation with “evil” is also implied in Ghandi’s notion of non-cooperation. To sum it up, although the prosecution was relatively made easy for the Judge, the latter had found it difficult to propose a just sentence. Although the law was designed not to respect persons, it appeared impossible to ignore the fact that Ghandi was a great patriot and leader in the eyes of his countrymen.

Ghandi was sentenced a simple imprisonment of one year including a R.s.1000 fine – a trial which shed light to his prosecutor’s view on justice including his fellow men.


“The Great Trial”; The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (March 1922 to May 1924); Ministry

of Information and Broadcasting: Government of India.


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