The Trials of Gandhiji – Court’s reply to Advocate-General’s Urge to Trial

The Judge said that he did not agree with what had been said by the Advocate-General. He had full discretion to convict on the plea if he thought it proper to do so, and in this particular case nothing would be gained by going once more into the evidence recorded by the committing Magistrate. As regards the question of the charges they would be fully investigated and as far as he was aware nothing more was needed to establish the offence going to show that Mr. Gandhi was responsible for those particular articles. In the face of the plea it seemed to him that it would be futile to raise the point. As regards the question of sentence, it went without saying that from the time he knew that he was going to try the case, he had thought over the question of sentence and he was prepared to hear anything that the Counsel might have to say, or Mr. Gandhi wished to say, on the sentence. He honestly did not believe that the mere recording of evidence in the trial which the Advocate – General had called for would make a difference to them one way or the other. He, therefore, proposed to accept the pleas.

Mr. Gandhi smiled at this decision.

The Judge said nothing further remained but to pass the sentence and being doing so, he liked to hear Sir Thomas Strangman. He was entitled to base his general marks general remarks on the charges against the accused and on their pleas.

SIR THOMAS STRANGMAN : It will be difficult to do so. I ask the Court that the whole matter may be properly considered. If I stated what has happened before the Committing Magistrate, then I can show that there are many things which are material to the question of the sentence.

The first point, he said, he wanted to make out was that the matter which formed the subject of the present charges formed a part of the campaign to spread disaffection openly and systematically to render Government impossible and to overthrow it. The earliest article that was put in from Young India was dated 25th May, 1921, which stated that it was the duty of a non-co-operator to create disaffection towards the Government. The counsel then read out portions of articles written by Mr. Gandhi in the Young India.

The Court said, a nevertheless, it seemed to it that the Court could accept a plea, on the materials of which the sentence had to be based.

Sir Thomas Strangman said the question of sentence was entirely for the Court to decide. The Court was always entitled to deal in a more general manner in regard to the question of the sentence, than the particular matter resulting in the conviction. He asked leave to refer to articles before the Court, and what result might have been produced, if the trial had proceeded in order to ascertain what the facts were. He was not going into any matter which involved dispute.

The Judge said there was not the least objection to his going into the charges in a general way.

Sir Thomas Strangman said he wanted to show that these articles were not isolated. They formed part of an organizes campaign, but so far as Young India was concerned, they would show that from the year 1921. The counsel then read out extracts from the paper, dated June 8, on the duty of a non-co-operator, which was to preach disaffection towards the existing government and preparing the country for civil disobedience. Then in the same number, there was an article on disobedience. Then in the same number there was an article on “Disaffection – a Virtue” or something to that effect. Then there was an article on the 28th of July, 1921, in which it was stated that “we have to destroy the system”. Again, on September 30, 1921, there was an article headed “Punjab Prosecutions”, where it was stated that a non-co-operator worth his name should preach disaffection. That was all so far as Young India was concerned. They were earlier in date than the article, “Tampering with Loyalty”, and it referred to the Governor of Bombay. Continuing, he said, the accused was a man of high educational qualifications and evidently from his writings a recognized leader. The harm that was likely to be caused was considerable. They were the writings of an educated man, and not the writings of an obscure man, and the Court must consider to what the results of a campaign of the nature disclosed in the writings must inevitably lead. They had examples before them in the last few months. He referred to the occurrences in Bombay last November and Chauri Chaura, leading to murder and destruction of property, involving many people in misery and misfortune. It was true that in the course of those articles they would find non-violence was insisted upon as an item of the campaign and as an item of the creed. But what was the use of preaching non-violence when he preached disaffection towards Government or openly instigated others to overthrow it? The answer to that question appeared to come from Chauri Chaura, Madras and Bombay. These were circumstances which he asked the Court to take into account in sentencing the accused, and it would be for the Court to consider those circumstances which must involve sentences of severity.

As regards the second accused, his offence was lesser. He did the publication and he did not write. His offence nevertheless was a serious one. His instructions were that he was a man of means and he asked the Court to impose a substantial fine in addition to such term of imprisonment as might be inflicted upon. He quoted Section 10 of the Press Act as bearing on the question of fine. When making a declaration, he said a deposit of Rs. 1,000 to Rs. 10,000 was asked in many cases.

COURT: Mr. Gandhi, do you wish to make a statement on the question of sentence?
Mr. GANDHI: I would like to make a statement.

COURT: Could you give it to me in writing to put it on record?
Mr. GANDHI: I shall give it as soon as I finish reading it.

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