Documents in the Life of Sri Aurobindo
THE JUDGMENT IN THE ALIPORE BOMB CASE
Materials from a Bengal Government File
D.O. No. 228 Political.
Simla, the 28th April 1909.
My dear Duke
I am directed to refer to the correspondence ending with your telegram no. 70 P.D.M. dated the 16th April, communicating the decision of the assessors in the Alipore Conspiracy Case, and intimating that the Judge had reserved judgment for a month.
2. It is possible that on the day when judgment is pronounced attempts may be made to create a disturbance. The Government of India do not doubt that this possibility has already suggested itself to the Lieutenant Governor, and that such police precautions will be taken as will render impossible any disorder or attempt at rescue, and will ensure the safety of the Judge and of all concerned.
3. I am to ask that the arrangements may be made for communicating to the Government of India by telegram direct from Calcutta, the finding of the Judge in respect of each prisoner and the sentences passed on those he convicts.
The Honble Mr. F.W. Duke I.C.S.
(Copy of telegram).
The Judge sentenced to death Barindra Ghosh, Ullaskar Dutt under Sections 121, 121 A, 122 Penal Code to transportation for life and forfeiture all property Upendra Nath Banerjee Bibhuti Bhusan Roy Hrishikesh Kanjilal Birendra Sen Sudhir Ghosh Indra Nundy Abinash Bhuttacharjee Soilendra Bose Hem Chunder Dass transportation for life and forfeiture property Indu Bhusan Roy Section 121 A 122 Penal Code to transportation for ten years and forfeiture property Poresh Mullick Sishir Ghosh Nirapado Roy Section 121 122 to transportation for seven years Asoke Nundy Balkrishna Kane Susil Sen Section 121 A to one years rigorous imprisonment Kristo Jiban Sanyal Section 121 A and acquitted Noren Buxshi Sochindra Sen Nolini Gupta Purno Sen Bijoy Nag Kanjilal Shaha Hemendra Ghosh Dharani Gupta Nogen Gupta Birendra Ghosh Bijoy Bhuttacharjee Hem Chundra Sen Provas Dey Dindayal Bose Debobroto Bose Nokhillessur Roy and Arabindo Ghosh.
Copy forwarded to the Chief Secretary to the Govt. of Bengal, Darjeeling, for information.
41 Park Street,
My dear Mr. Duke,
Beachcroft delivered judgment in the Alipore case at about 11 oclock this morning. Halliday and I had made all necessary arrangements and brought in some extra men of the Military Police Coy. from Hooghly, and Halliday had arranged for a large body of European sergeants to be ready in case of necessity.
However, in spite of all the newspapers yesterday having reported that Asoke Nandi had been called upon to surrender himself, the fact that judgment was to be delivered today does not appear to have leaked out, and there were very few people in or about the Court at the time it was delivered.
Beachcroft merely read out the sections under which he found the different people guilty and the sentences passed on them. I wired this to you as soon as possible, sending a copy to the Home Department, Government of India and to the Director of Criminal Intelligence.
Without seeing the full text of the judgment it will be rather difficult to understand on exactly what lines of reasoning the Judge has come to his decision in the case of some of the men acquitted. Seven of them I believe were actually arrested in the garden. The judgment is voluminous, and it will take several days to get a full copy; but I left Denham behind in the Alipore Court perusing it with Norton to take notes, and I will communicate to you the main points by todays post, should Denham arrive in time.
Arabindo Ghose and Nikhileswar Roy Mullik are the two whose acquittal may be regarded as of serious importance.
Two of those acquitted (Dharani & Nogen Gupta) are already undergoing sentence for conviction in the Harrison Road case, so were not released.
Probash Chunder Deb was re-arrested on a charge under Section 124A in connection with the publication of the Desh Acharjya.
We have a first information report already standing against the Garden boys under Section 19 of the Arms Act, which was dropped when they were committed to the Sessions in the case under Sections 121, etc. I considered the matter beforehand, and had decided not to arrest any of those acquitted with a view to pressing the case under the Arms Act against them.
I trust this decision has your approval and His Honours. Of course if I am desired to proceed with the old case already decided on, it can be done.
The sentences were received in silence that is, silence compared to the turmoil that has usually been in the Dock. Arabindo, as usual, looked stoically indifferent, but seemed well pleased with himself when he was allowed to walk out and leave the Court. The accused all embraced Baren in turn. Hem Das for the first time looked seriously depressed. I think he was disappointed at not being sentenced to death.
I think there will possibly be a lot of information forthcoming from those who have been convicted, but I shall let them fully understand that they have nothing to hope for unless they give information that will really materially assist us in stamping out the remnants of their party.
The Honble Mr. F.W. Duke, C.S.,
To Sir Harold Stuart, K.C.V.O., C.S.I.,
The 12th May, 1909.
My dear Stuart,
I am desired to refer to your D.O. letter No. 228 Pol., dated the 28th April, 1909, in which you suggested that special police precautions should be taken on the day when judgment was delivered in the Alipore Bomb Conspiracy case, and asked that the Govt. of India might be informed by telegram from Calcutta of the finding of the judge in respect of each person and the sentences he passed on those he convicted.
2. It is understood that on the 6th instant, Daly D.I.G. C.I.D.II, sent you a telegram direct from Calcutta reporting the finding of the judge in the case. You will have seen that Beachcroft has convicted 19 persons, two of whom have been sentenced to be hanged. Ten others have got transportation for life and forfeiture of property; three, ten years transportation with forfeiture of property; three, seven years transportation, and one, one years imprisonment. He has acquitted 17 persons of whom two (Dhorani and Nogen Gupta) are already under sentence for seven years rigorous imprisonment under the Arms Act in the Harrison Road Case; and a third Probhat Chandra Deb who was the author of the seditious book, Descharyya, has been rearrested on a warrant under section 124A.
3. Among those acquitted were Arabindo Ghose, Nikhileswar Ray Mullick, Dababrata Bose and Bejoy Bhattacharjya. During the course of the trial the last named is supposed to have been very fully instructed by Hem Chandra Das in the manufacture of explosives. The sentences were received in comparative silence. The general public had no suspicion that judgment would be delivered so soon, and very few people went down to the Court. It is said that Arabindo Ghose looked stoically indifferent but seemed well pleased with himself when he was allowed to leave the dock. He went first to the Bar Library to see some of his friends there. The accused all embraced Barendra Kumar Ghose in turn; and it is reported that Hem Ch. Das looked disappointed at not being sentenced to death.
4. With the exception of Arabindo Ghose it is not proposed to take any further action against those who have been acquitted, but they will all be kept under surveillance. As to Arabindo, Mr. Norton who has seen the judgment thinks that there is an excellent case for appeal, but suggests a reference to Inverarity of Bombay for an unbiassed opinion. In the meantime the L.R. has been asked to give special consideration to the reasons which Beachcroft has advanced for the acquittal. At whatever decision we may arrive the Govt. of India will be addressed before anything is done.
5. As you are aware, no disturbance was created on the 6th May. Halliday and Daly had made all necessary arrangements to prevent anything of the kind. But Norton and Withall both need protection till the appeal is over and such special precautions as are possible are being taken in their case.
6. Every effort is being made to get a copy of the judgment, which is very voluminous. Four or five typists are at work with carbon paper and I have arranged that a copy shall be sent you direct as soon as one is ready.
Government of Bengal. Confidential file No. 194 of 1909.
Extracts from Beachcrofts Judgment
I now come to the case of Arabinda Ghose, the most important accused in the case. He is the accused, whom more than any other the prosecution are anxious to have convicted and but for his presence in the dock there is no doubt that the case would have been finished long ago. It is partly for that reason that I have left his case till last of all and partly because the case against him depends to a very great extent, in fact almost entirely, upon association with other accused persons.
Before dealing with the evidence against him I shall put as shortly as possible the ideal which his counsel claims that he has always set before himself. It is the case for the prosecution as well as for the defence that he is of a very religious nature, in fact counsel for the crown takes the line that his religious ideas combined with a desire for independence for India turned him into a fanatic.
His counsel argues that he is a Vedantist and that he has applied the doctrines of Vedantism to mould his political views; that as the doctrine of Vedantism applied to the individual is to look for the Godhead within oneself & so realise what is best within oneself, so in the case of a nation, it can only grow by realizing what is best within itself, that no foreigner can give it that salvation, which it can only attain by methods indigenous to the country. His doctrines are not those of passive resistance, but of the realization of salvation by suffering. If the law is unjust dont obey it, and take the consequences. Do not be violent, but if the law is unjust, you are not bound morally to obey it; refuse to obey it and suffer. He has been saying to the people, You are not cowards, believe in yourselves and attain salvation, not by assistance from outside, but through yourselves. And this Mr. Dass says is the key of his case.
A written statement was put in by the accused1 to which it is unnecessary here to refer at length, but I shall refer to two points because counsel for the crown took up a great deal of time in arguing his case as if the accused had made two statements which in fact he nowhere did make. The first assumption which he made was that Arabinda says that he had nothing to do with politics, the second is that he says that he did not know Abinash before he engaged his services in setting up a house. With regard to the first assumption I need only point out that Arabinda says that while in Baroda he took no part in the politics of Bengal, with regard to the second I need only refer to para 9 of the written statement, which gives no justification at all for the assumption.
In dealing with the case of this accused I propose to take the evidence in seven groups (1) letters that passed between Arabinda & his wife (2) letters between Arabinda & other persons (3) Arabindas speeches (4) his writings (5) letters between other persons (6) entries in documents (7) facts, whether depending on oral evidence or deducible from documents. Finally I shall deal with certain important documents which require consideration by themselves.
He points out [in a letter of 1905] that his views and mental attitude are different from those of the people of this country and goes on to say that an extraordinary man is generally looked upon as either great or mad: and then says that he had got three ideas, which he characterises as mad, in what is doubtless a play on the word used in the earlier part of the letter. The first idea is that gifts given by God should be used in the service of God and he refers more particularly to their use in works of charity. The second idea is that he is realizing the teachings of Hindu religion & feeling God within himself. The third idea is the one in which occur the passages on which the prosecution lays stress: I know I have the strength to deliver this fallen nation. I may not have bodily strength, but I am not going to fight with sword or gun but with the power of knowledge. In the last paragraph but one of the letter he speaks of deliverance of the country. And in the last paragraph he speaks of all this as a secret.
Mr. Dass argues that the 3rd idea is drawn from Vedantism. The idea is that the whole world is divinity: if you cant see that, it is Maya, or illusion. The country should not be regarded as so many rivers, fields etc but as a manifestation of the divinity. And if that be the true view of the passage it is only natural that he should speak of removing anything which stands in the way of the ideal.
Taking the letter as a whole, it is a discussion with his wife, asking her whether she is going to follow the Hindu religion, which is his religion, or some other. He points out that she has been brought up in Brahmo schools, but is a Hindu none the less. Will she be a help to him in his religion, or will she follow foreign ideas? And as regards keeping the matter a secret, we find a reference to the same idea in the moral precepts in Biren Sens book, do not disclose the principles of your religious faith.
If we start with the knowledge that the writer of this letter is a conspirator we can find passages in it that are suspicious, viewing it in an unprejudiced way there is nothing in it that really calls for explanation.
Ex 294/4 dated 17th February 1907, obviously a mistake for 1908 relied on as showing that he felt that a crisis was on him. If that be a correct view it suggests that he was not at any rate previously a party to the conspiracy & if that be the case all the previous letters must bear an innocent meaning. The last words I have not written or said anything about this to anybody except you: mention is forbidden, may refer to the secrecy enjoined as to his religious principles. The letter reads like that of a man filled with religious zeal and unless he is deliberately trying to deceive his wife, shows the connection in his mind between religion & the doctrine of self education that he was preaching in Bombay. The result of the letters taken together is to show that he was a man of strong religious convictions and that he wanted his wife to share those convictions. There are some passages which may be suspicious, but which are also capable of an innocent explanation.
In Arabindas speeches there is not much of importance. Evidence was given of his itinerary during January and February 1908 in the Bombay Presidency & reports of speeches made there. The whole of this evidence might very well have been omitted as it proved nothing beyond the fact that he was received with acclamation wherever he went, a fact which the defence have never attempted to deny. So far as these speeches went they help the defence more than the prosecution. From them we get an idea of the stress that he laid on national education, on lines other than those laid down in Government schools, and this is in accordance with what is claimed as the ruling thought in his policy, that India is to find her salvation from within & not from without. The only passage that can be construed as at all inflammatory is the concluding sentence of one of his speeches, live for your swadeshi & die for your swadeshi, which may well be excused as a mere piece of hyperbole.
More violent remarks are those which he is said to have used at a meeting on the 3rd April 1908, when he proposed a resolution of sympathy for the Tirunevelly rioters. The meeting was as usual attended by volunteers carrying lathis. From the short note made by the police officer who reported the proceedings, he appears to have spoken in support of swadeshi & used the expression, now is the time when the brain is to be prepared for devising plans, the body for working hard and the hand for fighting the countrys cause. The explanation given for this is that what he meant was it was too late merely to write and speak, the people must now be ready to put their whole heart into the cause. It is pointed out, with truth, that Arabinda constantly uses metaphors and figures of speech.
His writings are more important. I do not propose to refer to his writings in the Bande Mataram: I have already referred to the character of those, but to two documents that were found in his house. They are Exhibits 283 & 299/9. They appear to be articles written for some paper of review, in fact in the latter he speaks of a former article in this Review, but whether they were ever published or not we dont know. In the absence of evidence of publication or of the intention for which they were written, they can only be treated as showing the trend of his ideas. The first, Ex 283, is headed, The Morality of Boycott.2 There are passages in it which taken by themselves certainly indicate support of the use of violent methods & suggest that his line was that revealed by this conspiracy, first inspire your followers with religious enthusiasm and then get them to take up arms.
[Here several passages from the article are quoted.]
The argument of the whole article shortly is this. To drive out that which is evil violence is justifiable. We dont hate the English, but we object to their exploiting the country, for the interests of the two nations must be different: and we can stop that exploitation by boycott. Boycott is not morally wrong for the ends at which it aims are the interests of the people. And that being so we should be morally justified in using force, if we were strong enough to do so.
As a mere piece of philosophic writing there is no special harm in this. The danger is the state of feeling in the country at the time, & the suggestion that violence is justifiable if the nation wishes for a particular thing: the fact that in the circumstances the nation should not use violence is relegated to the background, equally so the questions who is to decide what are the best interests of the nation. It is left for the reader to come to the conclusion that those who can make their voices heard most are to decide what are the interests of the nation and impose on the inarticulate masses a tyranny far worse than that which they themselves condemn.
Ex 299/9 is a still more extraordinary article.3 I shall not quote from it, as the omission of any sentences would affect the whole. The gist of it is that the object of the nationalist is to build up the nation. The nationalist has a deep respect for the law, because without it the nation cannot attain proper development. But the law must be in accordance with the wish of the nation. If it is not, it is utilitarian & not moral. And if immoral it should be broken. The nationalist is not afraid of anarchy & suffering. He welcomes them if the result is the building up of the nation.
Mr. Dass argues that the real point of the passage dealing with anarchy & suffering lies in the 3 questions which the nationalist puts to himself with regard to a method, (1) whether it is effective (2) is it consistent with the traditions of the people (3) is it educative of national strength, and he admits that Arabindas views are that if violence answers those tests, it is a method to be adopted: that when strong enough to fight the nationalist will fight, but at present he must merely disobey the law, if he thinks it wrong, and suffer. He puts this supposition; suppose the people refused to pay taxes, their lands would be seized & put up to sale, no one would buy, then shooting by the English would begin to compel them to pay taxes & that would be the suffering contemplated. One cannot but regret that Mr. Dass should attribute such a character to the English race: he forgets the intermediate stage & that shooting would not begin till rioting had begun & that rioting would be the inevitable result of fields lying fallow & the means of sustenance gone; and who would be responsible for the intermediate stage?
Mr. Dass also argues that the idea is the same that has been elaborated by European philosophers, that a Government cannot exist against the will of the people, and that fact has been the explanation of all revolutions in Europe. The difference is that in Europe rulers & ruled have been of the same race, here they are not.
As an essay this article is a splendid piece of writing. The danger lies in the effect that it might have on ill balanced & impressionable minds. And that it is argued is perhaps the reason why it was not published. The fact that neither of these articles was published is again a point in Arabindas favour. For though philosophic reflections may show the trend of a mans mind, it very much affects the question of whether he is a conspirator or not, if he does not publish writings which doing no harm to a careful reader might be misinterpreted by those of less mature understanding.
Mr. Norton lays great stress on the passage where he refers to the other papers including the Jugantar & Sandhya. Wrongly I think, as the next sentence shows. The writer says the methods advocated are different, though all have the same ideal, & it is conceded that there is no harm in independence as an ideal, the offence lies in the methods by which it is sought to be attained.
The next class of evidence is letters passing between other persons. At any rate in Ex CVI, from Ram Chandra to Hrishikesh we have indications that Ram Chandra did not know where Upen was. In this letter there is a reference to Arabinda, Ram Chandra speaks of him as a simple childlike, saintly soul yet withal burning with a true patriots passionate enthusiasm, such as I have rarely seen. Then he speaks of Baren & says, He asked me to go over to Bengal & join them in their work. The sentences is open to two constructions. Them might refer to Baren & Arabinda as having a work in which both were interested, it might refer merely to Baren & his party, without having any reference to Arabinda. I have already referred to Ram Chandra & the fact that his name and address is also found in the garden in Ex CXVIIa.
Ex 385/2 is a letter on which the prosecution lays much stress. It is the letter from Gobin to brother doctor found at No. 15. It is written on 24th April 1908. The writer says I went to the house No. 23 at 3 p.m. on Wednesday & came to understand from Karta that you had left the place that very day at that very time after taking your meals there. When I asked Karta about Baren he said to me that he is in Calcutta but the address of both him & you were unknown to him. Thank you that you have set up such a Karta (sarcastic). The prosecution suggests that the house is No. 23 Scotts Lane & that Karta means Aravinda & as I pointed out before that brother doctor means Upen.
In the defence it is suggested that there was a doctor living at No. 15 just before it was taken by the conspirators, (see witness No. 118), & the letter may be one written to the former tenant. It is also suggested that No. 23 may refer to 23 Sib Narain Dass lane.
Possibly the most dangerous piece of evidence against Arabinda that comes under this head is to be found in Ex 239. In the entries under 11th Jan & onwards4 we find 3 which may refer to Arabinda. They are, J.B. to be informed of A.Gs movements. A.Gs rules to be got out of him. Dr. Dhande to be kept in the garden and letters & A.G. & B.G. informed. If A.G. refers to Arabinda this is a most damaging piece of evidence. The defence says it is not proved that A.G. stands for Arabinda. It could not be proved. The only person, who could & was willing to speak, is Narendra Gossain. He is dead. The other persons to be informed are Ullas & B.G. Evidently the prominent persons are to be informed & we have no knowledge of any other prominent person suggested, who bears those initials. In conjuction with B.G. they are insignificant.
It is suggested that if A.G. means Arabinda, Baren may have told him they had a religious organization for the purpose of concealing facts from Arabinda. That might explain the 2nd entry, but what of the other two?
Aravindos connection with the garden is sought to be established by the fact that persons from the garden frequently visited No. 23. That Sailendra was more than a mere casual visitor, we have evidence of it in the post card, Exhibit No. 305/5 which was addressed to him at No. 23 from 48 Grey St. I have already pointed out that visits to 23 of conspirators may be explained by the fact that Abinash was living there.
[There follows the judges consideration of the really important documents as against Aravinda. These documents, the Sweets letter and the Scribblings were discussed in the last issue of Archives and Research.]
What then are the chief points against Arabinda. In the letters we have the ambiguous references to the movement requiring unlimited money, and Abinash no longer doing Arabindas work. As regards association with persons we have the fact that he was a friend of Subodhs, that he was acquainted with Lele and Ram Chandra Prabhu: that he employed for the purpose of looking after his house, Abinash, who is a conspirator: the possibility that he knew Upen & Birkumar, a name appearing in the garden, because a letter comes for the first to No. 23 & a telegram from someone given the name Birkumar goes from the second from No. 23: the possibility that he knew Hrishi Kesh, by the finding in the latters house of the slip with the address 19/3, Choku Khansamas Lane, and the probability that he knew Biren Sen & Sushil, and tracing [?] the whereabouts of the latter [?] at the end of April. As regards connection with association[s] we have the suggestion that he was connected with the Midnapore Chhattra Bhandar, arising out of the reference to him in the letter of Manik to Nikhil. As regards association with the garden we have the fact that he was part owner of the garden, but no evidence that he ever went there. It was argued that he did not attempt to sell it as he wanted it to be kept for the purposes of the conspiracy. He says that he asked people to try to sell it, and so far as one can gather from his letters & writings, personal attention to business is not what one would expect from him. There is the further fact that 3 entries with the initials A.G. were found in the garden Exhibit 239, and that the draft telegram, which may be his, was found in a book in garden. As regards No. 15 there is the finding of No. 385/2, a letter which was not addressed to him. And as regards knowledge of the conspiracy there is this letter 385/2 and Ex 774, and they only connect him with the conspiracy if it be clearly established that he is the Karta referred to. In the case of the first letter I have pointed out that there is reason to think he is the Karta because of the mention of Baren & No. 23. But it is not clear who was the writer or who the addressee, & its connection with the conspiracy can only be assumed from the fact of its being found at No. 15 & the mention of Baren. The other contains direct reference to a garden & being addressed to Upen at Sils lodge, doubtless has connection with the conspiracy. And further as regards knowledge of the conspiracy there is the piece of scribbling found in the old note book in his house.
I should hesitate before saying that his complicity in the conspiracy can be considered established on these facts.
In his favour we have the fact that he has in the columns of the Bande Mataram deprecated violence: there is such an article dated 28th May 1907. And so late as 10th April 1908 there is an article saying that the national movement cannot be allowed to be driven inward & made an affair of a secret society as it would if outward expression were stopped. His connection with the conspiracy can only be considered established if we find that while writing one thing he has been doing another.
Of course it is possible that a man might join a conspiracy to deprive the King of the sovereignty of British India, in which his share would be to preach discontent with the existing order of things and that he might be entirely ignorant of that branch of the conspiracy which commenced the collection of arms & ammunition. It is possible that Arabinda may have been in that position in this case, but in such a case it must be clearly shown that his preachings were part of such a conspiracy, and in the present case it would be difficult to do that without showing some connection with the part which the garden plays in the case. Considering the circumstances of India it may be dangerous for a man to publish doctrines inconsistent with the existing order of things, in certain circumstances it might justify a charge of sedition. Whether such a charge could be laid at Arabindas door does not now concern me. The point is whether his writings & speeches, which in themselves seem to advocate nothing more than the regeneration of his country, taken with the facts proved against him in this case are sufficient to show that he was a member of the conspiracy. And taking all the evidence together I am of opinion that it falls short of such proof as would justify me in finding him guilty of so serious a charge.
Transcript of the Judgment of C.P. Beachcroft, Alipore Bomb Case Trial, Alipore Sessions Court.
1 This written statement was prepared by Sri Aurobindos lawyers and merely signed by him. See On Himself (1972), p. 53.
2 See Archives and Research, Vol. 3, No. 1, pp. 1-4.
3 The Heart of Nationalism, published in Archives and Research, Vol. 2, No. 2, pp. 109-112.
4 These entries mentioned a certain A.G..