Legal Battles of the Freedom Movement
During the freedom struggle many Indian leaders had to face trials in the courts. Thanks to the British administration's deep-seated belief in constitutionalism, justice was never peremptory, a fair trial was always mandatory, even though there were times when injustice was obvious despite the British attempt to camoflague it in a legal shroud. We present here some of the more interesting trials that have recorded in history of the freedom struggle. The selection is based on B. A. Agarwala's Trials of Independence, published by the National Book Trust.
Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak
Bal Gangadhar Tilak represented the tough, hard-line, no-nonsense face of the Indian freedom struggle. He gave Indians the immortal slogan "Swaraj is my birthright and I shall have it." Born in 1856, a year before the great Indian mutiny, Tilak was one of the makers of modern India, and the founding fathers of the Indian National Congress. It was his firm belief that mere constitutionalism that the Congress leaders were advocating would not achieve political freedom. He advocated stringent opposition to the British by all means -- if necessary even unconstitutional ones.
Along with Gopal Ganesh Agarkar, Tilak started the Deccan Education Society and later the Fergusson College in Pune. He was of the view that while the Indian society needed social reforms, it was not for the British to enforce these reforms. He was also convinced that political freedom was a far important necessity compared to social reforms. His views alienated him from the then leaders who controlled the nationalist movement. But that did not prevent Tilak from launching mass movements to bring together political and social unity amongst Indians.
In 1893 he started the public celebration of the Ganapati festival with the view to uniting the caste-ridden Hindu society. A few years later he started the Shivaji Jayanti festival. As the editor of the newspapers that he had started -- Kesri (Marathi) and Mahratta (English) -- Tilak defied the British administration by publishing the Indian point of view. He had been sent to the prison for 18 months under the charge of sedition in 1897. But that did not deter him or his zeal to pressure the British.
When Lord Curzon partitioned Bengal, the entire country went up in flames. Tilak was charged with sedition for four of his editorials written in reference to the partition of Bengal in 1908. Earlier, in 1907, he had been expelled from the Congress along with other hard-liners for their uncompromising stance on complete and unqualified political freedom, as opposed to the Congress Moderates' stance of limited political rights under overall British rule.
His defence of the bomb blast at Muzaffarpur in Bihar against the partition of Bengal led to him being charged with sedition. This time he was jailed for six years and sent to Mandalay jail in Burma. His third trial was in 1916, when he was again charged with sedition, but no prison sentence was imposed on him. Following his conviction in the 1908 trial, Tilak said, "All I wish to say is that in spite of the verdict of the jury, I maintain that I am innocent. There are higher powers that rule the destiny of things, and, it may be the will of Providence that the cause I represent may prosper more by my suffering than by my remaining free."
Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the man who was to later become the architect of Pakistan, was Tilak's advocate initially in the case. He forcefully argued that the government should grant bail to Tilak because his prosecution was based on inaccurate English translations of the editorials written in Marathi. However, Justice Davar refused the bail. Coincidentally, Justice Davar had actually been Tilak's advocate in the 1897 sedition case.
The trial began on July 13, 1908. The jury comprised seven Englishmen and two Indians. Tilak was charged under section 124-A and 153-E of the Indian Penal Code for his editorial 'The Country's Misfortune', and again under the same sections for another editorial 'These remedies are not lasting'. Tilak pleaded not guilty. He claimed that a healthy criticism of administration was a part of his duty as a journalist. In a defence that lasted for nearly 22 hours, spread over six days, Tilak explained that the editorials were aimed at warning the government against using repressive measures, and to inform the government that political freedom was necessary to meet people's aspirations.
He ended his speech thus: "I have not come here to ask you any grace. I am prepared to stand by consequence of my act...the point is whether I was within my rights and whether a subject of His Majesty in India can or cannot enjoy the same freedom that is enjoyed by British subjects at home. It is not a matter whether the views are correct." The jury voted along ethnic lines. The Englishmen found Tilak guilty the Indians did not.
He was jailed from 1908 to 1914. During his imprisonment, he wrote two classic works -- Geeta Rahasya and The Orion -- Searches into the antiquity of the Vedas. After his release, he joined hands with Annie Besant and Jinnah to form the Home Rule League in 1916. Tilak died on August 1, 1920.
The Trials of Bhagat Singh
Bhagat Singh was born in Lyallpur in West Punjab (now in Pakistan) in 1907. He was educated at the Lahore's Dayanand Anglo-Vedic (DAV) College. He quit the DAV College and enrolled himself at the National College founded by Lala Lajpat Rai from where he graduated in 1923.
From then, till he was executed in 1931, he was completely immersed in the struggle for India's freedom. Unlike others of his age, Bhagat Singh was not particularly impressed with Gandhi's non-violent methods. And in 1921, he founded the Nav Jawan Bharat Sabha, an organisation that espoused socialism as its credo and sought to imbibe into the youth of the day the spirit revolution.
When the Simon Commission came to India, the Congress boycotted the Commission. In Punjab, Lala Lajpat Rai was the head of the Congress, and he led a black flag demonstration against the Commission. The police showered the demonstrators with a cane charge, and Lala Lajpat Rai was seriously injured in this cane charge. Rai succumbed to his injuries. In retailiation, Bhagat Singh and his comrade friends decided to kill the Deputy Superintendent of Police, a certain Mr. Scott who was responsible for issuing the cane charge orders.
However, because of some confusion in the identity, Singh and his friend actually killed the Assistant Police Superintendent, J. P. Saunders in December 1928. They escaped after this, and resurfaced in April 1929 to throw a bomb into the central assembly. After they threw the bomb, they surrendered to the police.
The session's court trial commenced in June 1929, Bhagat Singh was charged under section 307 of the Indian Penal Code and under section 3 of the Explosive Substance Act. Asaf Ali, a young Congress leader who would play a prominent role during the Quit India movement, was Bhagat Singh's advocate. Bhagat Singh did not dispute the charge of throwing the bomb. Asaf Ali read out a statement prepared by Bhagat Singh in the court that espoused revolutionary path for India's independence.
Peppered with Marxist ideals and socialist thoughts, Bhagat Singh's statement said, "The bomb was necessary to awaken England from her dreams. We dropped the bomb on the floor of the Assembly chamber to register our protest on behalf of those who had no other means left to give expression to their heart-rending agony. Our sole purpose was to make the deaf hear and give the heedless a timely warning. Others have as keenly felt as we have done and from such seeming stillness of the sea of Indian humanity, a veritable storm is about to break out.
"We have only hoisted the 'Danger Signal' to warn those who are speeding along without heeding to the grave dangers ahead. We have only marked the end of an era of Utopian non-violence of whose futility the rising generation has been convinced beyond the shadow odf doubt. Force used in the furtherance of a legitimate cause had its moral justification. The elimination of force at all costs is Utopian and the new movement which has arisen in the country and of whose dawn we have given a warning is inspired by ideals which Guru Gobind Singh and Shivaji, Kamal Pasha and Reza Khan, Washington and Garibaldi, Lafayette and Lenin preached.
"We bear no personal grudge or malice against anyone of those who received the slight injuries or against any other persons in the Assembly. On the contrary, we repeat that we hold human lives sacred beyond words and would sooner lay down our lives in the service of humanity than injure anyone else."
The sessions judge Bhagat Singh and B.K. Dutt to transportation of life. The High Court did not see any reason to change the verdict. While he was in jail, the second trial -- of Saunders' murder -- began in the court of a special magistrate. Fifteen people were put under trial. All the accused who stood trial were young. They knew the outcome would be death penalty, and were completely indifferent to the case. Bhagat Singh and his friend would sing revolutionary songs inside the court room, raise slogans during the proceedings. The government had to pass a special ordinance to resolve the problems Bhagat Singh was creating by obstructing the court's proceedings. The ordinance was called the Lahore Consipracy Case. The trial began in May 1930. As he did in his previous trial at Delhi in the Assembly bomb case, Bhagat Singh declined to have a legal counsel to defend his case. He was convinced the exercise was a farce.
In September 1930, Bhagat Singh's father, Kishan Singh, without telling his son, wrote to the Viceroy seeking amnsety for his son. He submitted a petition which tried to establish an alibi that Bhagat Singh was not in Lahore on the day Saunders was murdered. Bhagat Singh was furious. "In spite of all the sentiments and feelings of a father, I don't think you were at all entitled to make such a move on my behalf without even consulting me. You know that in the political field, my views have always been differed with those of yours. I have always been acting independently, without having cared for your approval or disapproval."
Bhagat Singh was convicted under section 121, 302 of the Indian Penal Code and under section 4 (b) of the Explosive Substances Act read with Secion 6 (f) of that Act and with section 120 (b) of the Indian Penal Code. The judgement was pronounced on October 7, 1930: "Having regard to the deliberate and cowardly murder in which he took part and to his position as a leading member of the conspiracy, he is sentenced to be hanged by the neck till he is dead." Sukhdev and Rajgru were also sentenced similarly. The execution was slated for 7.00 pm on March 23, 1931 and it was to take place inside the prison in Lahore. The people would be informed of the execution the next day. The government announced on March 24: "The public are hereby informed that the dead bodies of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev who were hanged yesterday evening (March 23) were taken out of the jail to the bank of Sutlej where they were cremeated according to Sikh and Hindu rites and their remains were also thrown into the river."
The Daily Worker, a New York-based socialist newspaper said, "The three Lahore prisoners, Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev, fighters for the independence of India, have been executed by the British Labour Government in the interest of British imperialism. This is one of the bloodiest deeds ever undertaken by the British Labour Government under the leadership opf Ramsey MacDonald." Said Pantid Nehru, "...Whether I agree with him or not, my heart is full of admiration for the courage and self-sacrifice of a man like Bhagat Sngh. Courage of the Bhagat Singh type is exceedingly rare. If Viceroy expects us to refrain from admiring this wonderful courage and high purpose behind it, he is mistaken. Let him ask his own heart what he would have felt if Bhagat Singh had been an Englishman and acted for England."
The Alipore Bomb conspiracy case (Sri Aurobindo and others):
The partition of Bengal in 1905 created a tremendous ferment in the Indian society. For the first time, perhaps, the English-educated elite of the Indian society realised the oppressive nature of the British rule. There was a clear divide in the national movement, with two groups being formed within the Congress – the moderates and the extremists. While the moderates found the British attitude as repugnant as the extremists, they were not as willing to initiate violent measures to register the protest. They were keen to engage the British in a dialogue. Not convinced about the British government’s sagacity, the extremists launched their own movement. Sri Aurobindo, who had written on the futility of the Congress methods way back in 1893, began to organise a young band of revolutionaries to start a violent uprising against the British. He was arrested in 1907 for writing incendiary articles in Bipin Chandra Pal’s Bande Matram, but he was acquitted. In 1908, he was arrested with 38 others for the famous Alipore bomb case.
The British administration cracked down the nationalist activists. Newspapers were closed down, writers and journalists were prosecuted. The Chief Presidency Magistrate of Calcutta, a certain Kingsford, was the chief perpetrator of this oppression. Fearing for his safety, he was transferred to Muzaffarpur (in Bihar, but then a part of Bengal). Prafulla Chaki and Khudiram Bose decided to murder Kingsford. Unfortunately, the bomb they threw at a carriage, thinking its occupant was Kingsford, actually had two women inside. Both were killed. Later, Khudiram Bose was arrested. Prafulla Chaki shot himself dead when he was about to be arrested. Khudiram Bose was tried and convicted with execution.
The British launched an investigation into this episode to trace the main strategist behind the bomb attack at Muzzafarpur. Sri Aurobindo and others were arrested for the conspiracy. They were brought to trial in May 1908 and charged with the following crimes:
Attempt to wreck His Honour’s special train between Mankundu and Chandernagore Railway stations.
Attempt to wreck His Honour’s special train near Narayanagarh Railway station.
The French Chandernagore bomb outrage.
The Muzaffarpur murder case.
These accused were all members of a secret society run by Sri Aurobindo. They were charged under the Indian Penal Code’s sections 143, 145, 150, 157, 121, 121-A, 122, 123, and 124. The trial started in October 1908. Mr. E. Norton opened the case for the Crown and called 206 witnesses to testify. The Crown counsel closed his evidence, and then the judge examined the accused. The arguments of Crown’s counsel ended in March 1909, and then the defence counsels began their arguments. Chittaranjan Das pleaded for Sri Aurobindo for eight days. Das tried to establish that Sri Aurobindo was a deeply religious person and a Vedantist.
Commenting Sri Auroibindo’s influence over the young generation of Bengal and his alleged role as the mastermind (on the basis of which he was tried to spread the cult of violence across India), Das explained, “Your honour will find that my learned friend’s case is that Aurobindo is the head of this conspiracy. He has credited Aurobindo with vast intellectual attainments and with vast powers of organisation, and his case was that he was directing this conspiracy, and was working from behind. Now it is with reference to this that I make my submission before Your Honour, that having regard to the nature of the conspiracy which has been established by the evidence, if it has been established at all, it is impossible that Aurobindo could ever have believed that the conspiracy was likely to succeed.”
Das added, “Long after this controversy is hushed in silence, long after this turmoil, this agitation ceases, long after he is dead and gone, his words will be echoed and re-echoed not only in India but across distant seas and lands.” Sri Aurobindo was acquitted in May 1909. No serious sentences were passed against the others, too. Death sentences passed against two of the accused were later commuted to life sentences. As an undertrial, he was put in Alipore jail. His detention at Alipore jail was an important period of his life. He had profound religious experience while in prison. It led to his withdrawal from political activities to the life of yoga at Pondicherry. In 1910, Sri Aurobindo withdrew from political activities and went to Pondicherry, founded his Ashram Aurovile. He is remembered for his spiritual creations such as Life Divine, Essays on the Gita, The synthesis of yoga and Human Cycle
Sri Aurobindo passed away in 1950.
Mahatma Gandhi and Shankarlal Banker, the editor and publisher of Young India were tried and convicted for sedition under section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code in 1922. The real reason for the arrest of Gandhi was to remove him from the scene and take the wind out of the non-cooperation movement that he had started. Charges were brought against the duo for articles published in Young India in June 1921, September 1921, December 1921 and February 1922. The matter came up before the additional district magistrate, L. N. Brown. Gandhi readily admitted that "I want to state that when the proper time comes, I shall plead guilty so far as disaffection towards the government is concerned." The magistrate committed the case to the Court of Sessions.
The hearing began on March 18, 1922 in the court of R. S. Broomfield, the Sessions judge. After the charges were read, the court asked the accused to state whether they plead guilty. Gandhi declared, "I plead guilty on each count of the charge." In his defence, he said, "Preaching disaffection has become a passion with me...I admit the blame for the crimes of violence committed in Bombay and Madras and elsewhere. It is true that I ought to know the consequence of my acts. I admit that I have been playing with fire, but should do so again if released. I feel it necessary that I should do this as my duty to my people. I do not ask for any mercy. The court must do its duty."
Then Gandhi launched a memorable verbal assault on the British rule in India. "My public life began in 1893 in South Africa in troubled weather. My first contact with British authority in that country was not of a happy character. I discovered that as man and an India, I had no rights; more correctly, I discovered that I had no rights as a man because I was an Indian." Explaining his non-cooperation movement, Gandhi observed, "In my opinion, non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as cooperation with good." For good measure, he added, "Non-violence implies voluntary submission to the penalty for non-cooperation with evil. I am therefore to invite and submit cheerfully to the highest penalty that can be inflicted upon me for what in law is a deliberate crime, and what appears to me to be the highest duty of a citizen. The only course open to you, the judge, is either to resign your post, disassociate yourself from evil if you feel that the law you are called upon to administer is an evil, and that in reality I am innocent, or to inflict on me the severest penalty if you believe that the system and the law you are assisting to administer are good for the people of the country and that my activity is injurious to the public weal."
Justic Broomfield rose to the occasion. In his statement, that won the hearts of the Indians, he observed, "Mr Gandhi, you have made my task easy in one way by pleading 'guilty'. What remains -- the determination of a just sentence is, perhaps, as difficult a proposition as a judge in this country could have to face. The law is no respecter of persons. Nevertheless, it would be impossible to ignore the fact that you are in a different category from any person I have ever tried or am likely to try." He added, "I propose in passing sentence to follow the precedent of a case, in many respects similar to this case, that was decided some twelve years ago. I mean the case against Mr. Bal Gangadhar Tilak...the sentence that was passed upon him was a sentence of simple imprisonment for six years. You will not consider it unreasonable that you should be classed with Mr. Tilak."
Gandhi reply was equally memorable: "I would say one word. Since you have done me the honour of recalling the trial of the late Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, I just want to say that I consider it to be the proudest privilege and honour to be associated with his name. So far as the sentence itself is concerned, I certainly consider that it is as light as any judge would inflict on me, and so far as the whole proceedings are concerned, I must say that I could not have expected greater courtesy."
Gandhi was sentenced to six years of simple imprisonment in 1922, but was released from jail in 1924. It was a unique case. The accused did not get the services of any lawyer, he did not spend any money on his own defence. His fight was simple: to observe the law or to listen to his moral duty. He decided that to him his moral duty was of far more importance than adherence to the law of the land. And for that he was willing to suffer penalty.
Vinayak Damodar Savarkar is not a name that is often heard in the context of the Indian freedom movement. The main reason for this is that he did not belong to the mainstream Congress party, and was one of the accused in the assassination of Gandhi. Savarkar was not found guilty in the conspiracy to kill Gandhi by the court that passed the death sentence on Nathuram Godse, though Godse knew Savarkar closely. Also, Savarkar formed the Hindu Mahasabha, the political outfit that openly espoused Hindutva as its political philosophy, opposed the partition of the subcontinent and held the Congress’s policy responsible for the creation of Pakistan. Godse was a member of the Hindu Mahasabha.
The trial of Veer Savarkar is of historic importance to the Indian freedom struggle. It was for the first time that an Indian freedom movement activist was involved in a case involving France and England and was contested at The Hague’s Permanent Court of International Arbitration. But to begin at the beginning…Savarkar had gone to London on a scholarship provided by an Indian barrister settled in London, Shyam Krishna Verma. Savarkar got this scholarship because of Lokmanya Tilak. Savarkar studied in London for four years 1906 to 1910. However, the British government found his activities a bit too disconcerting for its comfort, and as he had not committed any offence on the British soil, the British government in India made a request to the British government at extradite him to India. He was accused of waging a war against the King Emperor of India, procuring and distributing arms, delivering seditious speeches in India.
Savarkar was put in custody and put aboard a ship (S.S. Morea) to be brought to India. When the ship reached Marseilles in France (it was an unscheduled stop to take care of some urgent repairs), Savarkar escaped from the ship. He landed on French shores, but was apprehended by the British officers who were behind him in hot pursuit. He was then brought to Bombay. Savarkar continued to argue that the British Indian government in India could not try him because he had been wrongfully arrested in France. But the objection was not taken into account. Savarkar said, “I am quite innocent of the charges laid against me. I took part in the proceedings of the trial in England where the courts are established by democratic rules sanctioned by the people. In such courts, one can expect to get justice. There the authority does not rely upon brute force. The conditions of Indian courts of law are quite the reverse. I am not amenable to the jurisdiction of Indian courts of law. I, therefore, decline to give any statement or bring any evidence for my defence.”
In December 1910, the Special Court found Savarkar guilty as charged and passed the sentence of transportation for life. The sentence was passed even while the international court at The Hague was looking into his petition, and the French government had actually stated that the British government in India should return Savarkar to France. The life sentence, apparently, was not enough. And another case was started against Savarkar, this one implicating him in the murder of the collector of Nasik. Again, the sentence was transportation for life (the two sentences together meant imprisonment for 50 years). He was sent to Andaman Islands (the dreaded Kalapani). However, thanks to the continued efforts by the Congress and other political activists, Savarkar was finally released in 1924. Even the proceedings before the parmanent court of international arbitration at The Hague went in favour of Britain.
Narandranath Bhattacharya (1887-1954) better known as Manabendra Nath Roy is perhaps one of the least known leaders of the Indian freedom struggle, and without doubt he is one who will be remembered most for the depth and range of his contribution to the leftist ideology in India. He travelled extensively across the world and was one of the front-ranking leaders of the communist movement in the world. He looked for assistance from Germany and Japan to over throw the British from India, and clandestinely travelled to these countries in 1915. But soon he realised that Japan and Germany would be no less imperial and colonist in their designs. He discovered Karl Marx’s writing in a New York library, and established the first communist party outside of Soviet Union in Mexico in 1917. He was instrumental in the formation of the Communist International and was elected to the highest decision making body of the organisation.
He represented the Communist International in China. In 1920, he had differences with Lenin on the National and Colonial Question. During the 1920s, Roy traversed the globe and in about 15 years (from 1915-1930) visited about 17 countries. He was a friend of the great Marxist intellectual and philosopher, Antionio Gramsci, and was also well acquainted with Albert Einstein. Jawaharlal Nehru wrote about Roy in his Autobiography, “I was attracted to him because of his remarkable intellectual capacity. I was attracted to him because he seemed such a lonely figure, deserted by everybody. The british government was naturally after him; nationalist India was not interested in him; and those who were called communists in India condemned him as traitor to the cause.” Roy was far too independent minded for anyone’s liking. The Indian communists shunned him, and even the Communist International expelled him for his “heretical and non-doctrinaire views”.
In 1930 he returned to India. He was arrested in 1931 and sent to jail for 12 years (the sentence was later reduced to six years). Despite the difficult conditions of his imprisonment as an ordinary criminal and not as a political prisoner, Roy continued with his prolific writing, and produced 9000 pages of writings. On release from prison in 1936, Roy formally announced his break with Marxism. He now felt that without a cultural and philosophical revolution no social, political and economic revolution was possible. Roy founded the Indian Renaissance Institute in 1946 for spreading the spirit of enlightenment, humanism and the search for truth’. Roy’s attempt was to restore 19th century radicalism with a humanist essence. His philosophy was called Radical Humanism (a philosophy that integrates scientific attitude and the democratic spirit).
Roy was sent to trial for his role in the Kanpur Bolshevik case. Kanpur was selected as the venue for the trial to avoid a trial by jury. He was charged with depriving the “King Emperor of his sovereignty of British India”. He was linked to the left group within the Congress, especially in Bengal, and the charge sheet accused him of trying to exhort these leaders to start a proletariat direct action after the failure of the Congress’s non-cooperation movement. Roy’s trial was conducted within the prison, and when he applied for a trial by jury, his appeal was rejected. At the Sessions Court, Roy wanted to make a statement, but he was not allowed to do. The document, My Defence, was later smuggled out of the prison and published. It has an established place in legal history.
In 1932, he was sentenced to 12 years of rigorous imprisonment. Roy appealed against the order and it was reduced to six years. The contents of his defence speech were later utilised by the Indian leaders in arguing for the under trials of the Indian National Army almost a decade-and-a-half later.
Meerut Conspiracy Case:
The communist movement in India began to acquire significance and make major inroads in the trade unions by the 1920s. M.N. Roy, the leftist leader who had acquired a considerable reputation across the world for his deep links with the Soviet communists, had begun to propagate the idea of a workers’ and peasants’ revolution to over throw the British rule. The communists began to infiltrate workers’ unions in the urban areas, and with the help of the Communist International of Moscow (the goal of this organisation was to facilitate a communist revolution throughout the world) and the European Communist Party, the Communist Party of India began to spread its influence. The British government was alarmed at this development, and launched an offensive against the communists. The Meerut conspiracy trial was one of the measures initiated by the British to curb the rise of communism in India.
Thirty-two communist leaders (all except Lester Hutchinson and M.N. Roy) were arrested. Roy was arrested in 1929. The Director of the Intelligence Bureau, Sir David Petrie and the Police official R.K. Horton were of the view that enough evidence existed to establish the presence of a communist conspiracy “to deprive the King of his sovereignty of British India”. Meerut as the venue of the trial was deliberate. It would deprive the accused a trial by jury, which could not have been avoided by law at Bombay or Calcutta. Among the 31 leaders arrested were P.C. Joshi, S.A. Dange, two British nationals Phillip Spratt and Benjamin Bradley. Hutchinson was arrested a little later, though Roy evaded arrest. The trial lasted for four-and-a-half years, the accused were refused bail during the trial.
The event created a major upheaval in the country. Gandhi visited the under-trials in jail. Nehru issued a statement saying that the arrests were aimed against the labour movement and the Youth League. The preliminary inquiry began before the special magistrate, Milner White, at the district court of Meerut. Langford James was the chief of the prosecution. His initial speech continued for ten days. The defence was represented by several important lawyers like K.F. Nariman, D.P. Sinha, M.C. Chagla, C.B. Gupta, K.C. Chakravarty. Chakravarty declared that the government had actually launched a case against the Soviet government as much as against the accused. “Hence, the only law which applied to such a conspiracy case was the ‘Law of Nations’ and a municipal tribunal as the district court of Meerut had no true jurisdiction over the case,” he said.
In 1930, after the preliminary inquiry was over, the magistrate committed 31 of the 32 accused to trial. Roy, who had not yet been arrested, was tried separately. The second phase began with the formal trial before R.L. Yorke and five Indian assessors in the court of Special Sessions at Meerut in 1930. It lasted till 1932. The final verdict was delivered in 1933. Twenty-seven of the accused were given sentences lasting from three years to life imprisonment. The appeal in higher court was dismissed within four months.
In the words of B.R. Agarwala, from whose book this episode has been taken, notes, “the trial was a farce throwing all established legal norms and procedures to the winds.”