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A Grave Blunder: The Hindu on the execution of Bhagat Singh

Here’s an article published in The Hindu on March 24, 1931 hitting out at the execution of Bhagat Singh.

Today marks the 87th death anniversary of Bhagat Singh, one of the shining icons of the Indian freedom movement. A socialist revolutionary, his struggle for freedom was quite different from the non-violent movement led by Mahatma Gandhi. Arrested in April 1929 for exploding bombs inside the Central Legislative Assembly in Delhi and implicated in the killing of a British police officer in Lahore, he spent two years in jail. Bhagat Singh and two of his associates were hanged on March 23, 1931. He was 23 then. The Hindu published the following article on March 24, 1931, hitting out at his execution.

A Grave Blunder

The news of the execution of Bhagat Singh and his two comrades, accused in what is known as the Lahore Conspiracy Case, will come upon the public as a rude shock. For, although the petition for mercy made on their behalf had been rejected by the Viceroy, applications had been made before the High Court with a view to get a judicial pronouncement on the legality of the Local Government’s attempts to carry out the sentence on the prisoners in spite of the fact that the Court which, in the opinion of Counsel for the prisoners, was that only one competent to issue the death warrant, had ceased to exist. The issue raised by Counsel was obviously so complicated and the arrangements made on behalf of the prisoners to get the verdict of the highest tribunal available so advanced that the public felt that for some time at any rate – till, that is to say, the Privy Council had pronounced its final opinion, the execution could not come off and that therefore there was still hope of the prisoners being saved from the extreme penalty of the law. That the Government had every need to proceed with caution will be evident if one recalls the extraordinary circumstances connected with the trial of the accused. The accused were put up for trial before a Special Magistrate twenty months ago for the offence of conspiracy to wage war against the King by murder, dacoity, manufacture and use of bombs and other methods and, so far as Bhagat Singh was concerned, of having murdered a police officer, Mr. Saunders of Lahore. Subsequently, on the ground that the police ill-treated them, the accused refused to appear in Court. The Lahore Government sought to do away with the committal proceedings, but the Lahore High Court, whose help they sought, refused to be a party to dispensing with either the committal proceedings or the personal attendance of the accused. The legislature was moved in consequence to pass a law authorising ex-parte criminal trials in certain conditions, but finding the opposition so strong, the Government refrained from proceeding with the measure. The Executive then induced the Viceroy to promulgate as ordinance what the Legislature refused to countenance; and in pursuance of this ordinance, the case was withdrawn from the jurisdiction of the ordinary courts, placed before a special tribunal and provision was made for the trial of the accused in their absence. In spite of these extraordinary arrangements, the accused attended the court of the special tribunal for a few days, but following an incident the police handcuffed them and indulged in a lathi charge in the court premises --proceedings which moved one of the judges of the tribunal openly to express his disgust at the police action. The accused thereafter refused to attend the court and the trial was proceeded with in their absence. The trial went on in their absence without any counsel representing them; without any cross-examination of the approvers and without testing the evidence of other witnesses. Nor should it be forgotten that two of the seven approvers subsequently retracted their earlier story. To carry out a sentence of death passed as the result of a trial in such extraordinary circumstances will have been in any case to incur a very grave responsibility. But in this case the additional point had been raised that there was legally no authority competent to give effect to the sentence. Here was an important legal point raised and Government were duly informed that it would be carried to the Privy Council for its opinion. By the indecent haste with which they have proceeded in the matter they have defied public opinion and exasperated it in a manner that it is difficult to envisage the gravity of the reactions in this country to their latest blunder. As Gandhiji says, the Government “have lost a golden opportunity of winning over the revolutionary party. It was their clear duty, in view of the settlement, at least to suspend indefinitely the execution. By their action they have put a severe strain upon the settlement, and once more proved their capacity for courting public opinion.”

Source : the hindu

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