By Rehna Iftikhar
Edited by Madhavi Roy
The theme of my article is the story of an emancipator, who forms resistance against the state. I want to throw some light on the famous trial of Gandhi after the Non-Cooperation Movement was called – off following the incident at Chauri- Chaura. This trial was a significant event in the history of India’s nationalist movement. The trial of Gandhi in the court resulted with a verdict in his favor due to his charismatic authority. It is a noted event because of Gandhi’s behavior at the trials and efforts of the prosecution. Gandhi’s trial was an important turning point and the verdict was appealing to the Indian middle-class as they interpreted it as the victory of courage against the coercive measures of the state of British India. It was equally appealing to the poor as they saw it as a fight against what they considered to be the ‘evil’ power of the state. And this is one of the reasons that people compared Gandhi to a saint.
Gandhi was standing trial on charges of sedition in 1922. He was being charged with “bringing or attempting to excite disaffection towards the British Government established by law in British India”. This trial, in many ways, shows how the man who was seen as the ‘half – naked fakir’ managed to win his trial in court and managed to incite people to rebel against the authority of the state as a way of showing resistance towards colonial rule.
It can be said that a political trial is like a drama enacted in a theatre, as political trials also have audiences. I wish to pay attention to not only the statements which Gandhi made, but the manner in which his statements were made, and how Gandhi’s oratory skills and his talent of rhetoric hinted different messages for different audiences. Gandhi’s trial was seen and interpreted differently by different viewers. Three types of audiences watched Gandhi’s trial. One was the British audience and the British public at home, another was the Indian educated middle-class, and lastly, the Indian peasantry. Gandhi through his rhetorical strategy managed to send a different message to each of his above mentioned audiences.
Gandhi bluntly reminded the Government that “affection cannot be manufactured, or regulated by, law”. After the charges were read out, he replied, “I plead guilty to all the charges”. Gandhi pointed out that he had no disaffection towards any particular person or administrator, but he emphasized that he was disaffected towards a government which has done more harm than good in India. He said, ”I had either to submit to a system which I considered had done an irreparable harm to my country, or incur the risk of the mad fury of my people bursting forth, when they understood the truth from my lips.”
Gandhi then made an extraordinary plea which, I think, he alone could have uttered. The only course open, Gandhi said to the judge, is to, ”resign your post which I know is impossible for you to do and dissociate yourself from evil if you feel that the law you are called upon to administer is an evil thing and that in reality I am innocent.” He told the Judge that he was not asking for mercy. He said that, which, according to the law is a deliberate crime, is what appears to him to be the highest duty of a citizen. He, with his impressive oratory skills, tried to sensitize the audience present in the courtroom that day. He said everything that was raging inside him, in his heart, by saying that, “No sophistry, no jugglery in figures can explain away the evidence the skeletons in many villages present to the naked eye. I have no doubt whatsoever that both England and the town-dwellers of India will have to answer, if there is a God above, for this crime against humanity which is perhaps unequalled in history”. It clearly defined the basic issues involved in any revolt against slavery and injustice. Every word uttered by Gandhi in the whole trial, and in the articles he wrote, was to defend his countrymen’s right of a non-violent non-cooperation movement against an unjust imperialist system.
This incident indeed is one of the most celebrated ones of the struggle for freedom. Trials are, on one hand, an opportunity for the plaintiff to state grievances, but on the other hand, they are also an opportunity for the defendant to reply. Gandhi’s task was to show that he could protect his countrymen who showed defiance against British rule.
On completion of Gandhi’s statement, the Judge cited the court trial of Lokmanya Tilak, and based on the same ruling announced six years of imprisonment to Gandhi and added that, “Nobody would be happier than me the day the Government releases you from the prison”. Gandhi accepted the judgment. Mr. Gandhi was taken out of the Court to Sabarmati jail as he got a sentence of simple imprisonment for six months, and thus the great trial finished.
The struggle between the colonial state and the nationalists grew more intense and became a battle of words. And, Gandhi’s use of rhetoric was exceptional. The trial was a victory for Gandhi and diminished the prestige of the colonial government. I conclude by saying that Gandhi’s trial was not a trial of a rebel, but the trial of an entire nation against the colonial state.
Rehana Iftikhar is a sophomore . Pursuing journalism and mass communication from Lady Shri Ram College for Women, Delhi. She aspires to be an eminent journalist. She likes to spend her time with her family and friends. If given a chance, she wants to explore the world with her family. A Fun loving girl who loves to sing. She is a friendly person, good thinker, flexible. She love to write and believes that a job should be like a hobby. Her basic instinct, is to keep learning and exploring, all the times.