WAS IT CONTEMPT OF COURT ?
PROCEEDINGS AGAINST Mr. GANDHI
AND Mr. MAHADEV H. DESAI
This rule was heard by the Hon’ble Justices Marten, Hayward and Kajiji on the 3rd inst. (3rd March 1920). The Editor Mr. Gandhi and the Publisher Mr. Desai of Young India were to show cause why they should not be committed for contempt having published with comments in the issue of the 6th August 1919 of their paper, a letter addressed by Mr. Kennedy, District Judge of Ahmedabad, to the Registrar of the High Court complaining of the conduct of certain Satyagrahi lawyers of Ahmedabad.
This Hon’ble Sir Thomas Strangman, Advocate – General with Messrs Bahadurji and Pocock appeared for the applicant, Mr. Gandhi and Mr. Desai appeared in person.
The Advocate- General, in opening the case, said that the proceedings were in contempt against Mr. Gandhi and Mr. Desai, about whose being Editor and Publisher respectively there was no dispute. It appeared that Mr. Kennedy in April last, finding that certain lawyers in Ahmedabad had signed the Satyagraha pledge, asked them to explain why their Sanads should not be cancelled for their having signed the pledge, and as he did not consider their explanation satisfactory he addressed a letter to the Registrar of the High Court on the 22nd April 1919. In consequence, two notices were issued by the High Court to the lawyers concerned. A copy of Mr. Kennedy’s letter was given by the Registrar to Mr. Divetia, pleader for one of the lawyers, who handed the same to Mr. Kalidas J. Jhaveri, one of the Satyagrahi lawyers, who in turn handed it to Mr. Gandhi. On the 6th of August this letter was published in his paper under the heading. “O’Dwyerism in Ahmedabad” along with an article headed “Shaking Civil Resisters” commenting on the letter. (The Advocate – General at this stage read the letter and the article). It appeared from the article, said he, that by ‘O’Dwyer’, was meant a disturber of peace. The article said that District Judge was prejudging the issue. His conduct was described as not only ungentlemanly, but something worse, unpardonable. He was said to be fanning the fire of Bolshevism. Those were shortly the charges made against Mr. Kennedy. Then proceedings took place in the High Court. After the proceedings the Registrar addressed a letter to Mr. Gandhi requesting him to attend the Chief Justice’s Chamber to give an explanation as regards the publication of the letter. Mr. Gandhi replied by telegram explaining his inability to attend on the appointed date as he was going to the Punjab, and inquiring if written explanation would be sufficient.
The Registrar replied saying that the Chief Justice did not wish to interfere with Mr. Gandhi’s appointment and that a written explanation would do. On the 22nd October Mr. Gandhi sent a written explanation in which he stated that the letter was received by him in the ordinary course and that he published it as he believed it was of great public importance and that he thought that he was doing a public service in commenting on it. He, therefore, claimed that in publishing and commenting on the letter, he was within the rights of a journalist. In reply to this the Registrar wrote saying that the Chief Justice was not satisfied with the explanation, but that it would be considered sufficient if an apology was published in the next issue of Young India.