Revolutionary Freedom Fighters Must be Exonerated

Published: October 27, 2012 - 16:17

It is not only possible but quite desirable that in India too all the intrepid and selfless freedom fighters—Tilak, Bagha Jatin, Bhagat Singh et al being the more prominent among them—be duly exonerated with the necessary apologies to their families and friends by the [Indian] State
I Mallikarjuna Sharma

Bagha Jatin, (Jatindranath Mukherjee), the intrepid revo lutionary martyr of the Indian nationalist revolutionary organization Jugantar, who died valiantly consequent to a heroic armed clash with the British Indian police forces at Chashakhand, Balasore, called the new Haldighat of India by the Bengali revolutionary poet Nazrul Islam who incidentally inspired two nations—India and Bangladesh—in their freedom movement, was admiringly referred to as a 'divine personality' by Mahatma Gandhi in his talk with the notorious [then] Police Commissioner of Calcutta, Charles Tegart. Little did Gandhi know that Tegart himself, despite his terrific torture of 'terrorists' [i.e. national revolutionaries of the day] and ruthless repression of the revolutionary movement, greatly admired the Bengali revolutionaries of the day, describing them as 'the most selfless political workers in India', and in particular his admiration of Jatin was enormous. Tegart is reported to have regretfully admitted that "Though I had to do my duty, I have a great admiration for him. He died in an open fight" [on 9/10 September 1915]. Tegart was also reported to have stated: "Had Jatin Mukherjee been an Englishman, the English would have erected his statue at Trafalgar Square, by the side of Nelson's." However, in official records, Jatin Mukherjee remains and would still remain a fugitive from law, a hardened criminal whose single conviction, which 'alas' could not be secured, was said by no less a person than the then Viceroy Lord Hardinge himself to be sufficient than the acquittal of all the other 46 accused ['misguided youths'] in the Howrah Gang case, and a pivotal figure in the Indo-German conspiracy of the First World War times and hence a number one traitor to the Government established by 'law' as per the Indian Penal Code Sections 121 to 124A. True, the people of the present adore him and praise him as a great patriotic revolutionary, but unless they take a further step to legitimize his ideas and deeds by exonerating him of all the charges rightly or wrongly laid against him as per the then 'law of the land' i.e. the colonial law, which is sadly continued with few if any radical changes to this day, then the people of India would not be doing justice to the revolutionary concerned or to themselves in their march towards democracy, socialism and human welfare.

 Likewise the case of Lokmanya Balgangadhar Tilak, the great pioneer national leader who gave out the rousing call: "Swaraj (self-rule) is my birthright and I shall have it!" electrifying the whole nation and was a sort of guide and mentor to both Gandhi and Jinnah. Not many know that he was also a sort of mentor to the incipient national revolutionary movement in Maharashtra, which antedated the formidably revolutionary movement that arose in Bengal in the early 20th century. It is even rumored that right after the assassinations of the hated Plague Commissioner Mr Rand and a military officer Lt Iyerst in Pune in the night of the Victoria Jubilee day celebrations [22 June 1897] by Chapekar brothers, Tilak was given a crisp intimation: "Kam Jhale!" (Work is done!) by the revolutionaries' associates. Be that as it may, Tilak shot to fame by the prosecutions for sedition against him on two occasions —1897 and 1909—mainly under the hated Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code. The prosecution contended that the murders of the two officers were the direct result of the incitement caused by Tilak's speeches and writings and Tilak was tried before Justice Strachey and a special jury. In his address to the jury, Justice Strachey equated 'disaffection' with 'absence of affection' instead of saying it meant "contrary of affection," or hatred. This interpretation of Justice Strachey raised a storm of controversy and criticism and it is said Edwin Montagu even wryly remarked in the British Parliament that equating 'disaffection' with 'absence of affection' is just like saying disease means 'absence of ease'! Tilak was found guilty by the jury and sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment but later released after one year on appeals to the government by various luminaries including Prof Max Mueller. It is to be noted that the jury was divided 6:3 in convicting him and it seems all Indian members of the jury were for his acquittal. Later in the course of 1898, the Section 124A of IPC was itself amended in view of this judgment by Justice Strachey and the controversy it raised and the words hatred, contempt, etc. were also included in that section. Needless to say this was a purely British parliamentary affair and had nothing to do with any discussion or action by Indian politicians. A decade after this first sedition trial, in 1908 Tilak was again tried for sedition a second time, for supporting the cause espoused by the Bengali revolutionary martyrs Khudiram Bose and Prafulla Chaki and for saying some appreciative words about the advent of Bomb in Indian political scene. In this case too, the jury by a majority of 7:2 returned the verdict of guilty. Tilak uttered these memorable words on the sentence: "All that I wish to say is that, in spite of the verdict by the jury, I still maintain that I am innocent. There are higher powers that rule the destinies of men and nations; and I think, it may be the will of Providence that the cause I represent may be benefited more by my suffering than by my pen and tongue." The judge not only sentenced Tilak to 6 years transportation and Rs. 1000/- fine but also, throwing off his judicial restraint, condemned the articles as 'seething with sedition', as preaching violence and speaking of murders with approval. "You hail the advent of bomb in India as if something had come to India for its good. I say, such journalism is a curse to the country," Justice Davar thundered. Tilak was transported to Burma and incarcerated in Mandalay Jail for all the six years. This trial was recognized as a big political blunder even by prominent British leaders, with Morley, then Secretary of State for India, disapproving both the trial and the sentence, and commenting that "the mischief of the trial and condemnation of Tilak would be greater than if you left him alone."

 A decade after this first sedition trial, in 1908 Tilak was again tried for sedition a second time, for supporting the cause espoused by the Bengali revolutionary martyrs Khudiram Bose and Prafulla Chaki and for saying some appreciative words about the advent of Bomb in Indian political scene

 The famous words uttered by Tilak underscoring the wise Indian adage 'Vinashakale Vipareeta Buddhi' [strange, perverse ideas/senses strike in the hours of total ruin] just before the verdict was delivered, are now inscribed in a tablet fixed outside the Court in which Tilak was tried in the Bombay High Court premises and it seems Justice Chagla, then Chief Justice of Bombay High Court, had adoringly spoken of Tilak in these patriotic terms: 

"There is no honour and no distinction which I have valued more than the privilege of being able to unveil the tablet to Lokamanya Tilak's memory this morning. In this very room on two occasions within the space of 12 years, Lokamanya Tilak sat in the dock as an accused; and on two occasions he was convicted and sentenced to a term of imprisonment. We have met here today to make atonement for the suffering that was caused by these convictions to a great and distinguished son of India. That disgrace tarnished our record and we are here to remove that tarnish and that disgrace. It may be said that those convictions were a technical compliance with justice; but we are here emphatically to state that they were a flagrant denial of substantial justice. He was sentenced for the crime of patriotism. He was sentenced because he loved his country more than his life or his liberty. Ladies and gentlemen, the verdict that our contemporaries passed on us, the verdict that our times passed on us, is not of much value. We must always await the inevitable verdict of history; and the inevitable verdict of history is that those two convictions are condemned as having been intended to suppress the voice of freedom and patriotism, and the action of Lokamanya Tilak has been justified as the right of every individual to fight for his country. Those two convictions have gone into oblivion-oblivion reserved by history for all unworthy deeds. The fame and lustre of Tilak has grown and increased with the passage of time..." "May I be permitted a slight personal reminiscence. As a boy Tilak was always my hero. I remember the day when he was sentenced to six years' imprisonment in 1908, when I was a school boy studying in a school at Dadar; and I remember serious riots broke out in Parel; and so great was my anger and indignation at what happened to Tilak, that I almost felt like joining the rioters; but I suppose my deep law-abiding instinct prevented me from doing that…".

 This is in a sense the personal exoneration of Tilak by the distinguished Chief Justice of Bombay High Court but not by the people of India through the highest Court or legislature of the country. And also one finds caustic criticism of this 'impropriety' spelled by Justice Chagla in the Bombay High Court website, not known by whom but presumptively by a person of the stature of another Chief Justice, that—

"It is rather strange that the 'deep law-abiding instinct', which curbed the law-breaking impulse of the precocious school-boy, should have momentarily deserted the Chief Justice, so that he overlooked the fact that the previous verdicts and judgments, which were condemned as having 'tarnished' and 'disgraced' the judicial record of the High Court, were, perhaps, inspired and impelled by a similar sense of loyalty to the law then prevailing. The C.J.'s speech is admirably patriotic, or patriotically admirable; but legally and judicially inexplicable and indefensible; and was delivered from a wrong platform. The tablet, taken in conjunction with this illuminating speech, is also unfortunate as establishing a very undesirable precedent. If successive generations of judges, with fluctuating loyalties and ideologies, are to be at liberty to put up memorial tablets, "atoning" for the misdeeds of previous generations, there would be no end of such memorial tablets; and judges henceforth will have to decide cases with an eye, not to the law and evidence, or even to the Supreme Court, but to the "Inevitable verdict of History", which, of course, is to be taken as always infallible and final—Pace Herodotus, Tacitus, Gibbon, & Macaulay! In point of fact, the verdicts of History are no more inevitable or infallible than those of judges and juries; and, in any case, are utterly irrelevant in the context of judicial pronouncements. It is also an irony of human life that the "inevitable verdict of History" occasionally overtakes people sooner than they anticipated.

In this very room on two occasions within the space of 12 years, Lokamanya Tilak sat in the dock as an accused; and on two occasions he was convicted and sentenced to a term of imprisonment.

 This interesting debate or controversy right on the website of the Bombay High Court brings to the fore two conflicting perspectives, two contrasting standpoints on how to look at the ideals and actions of the national revolutionaries during the colonial phase with the eyes of the present and how to judge their actions committed in the days of lawless laws ordained by the British executive or parliament with no representation from the Indian people in general. In spite of the existence of the Government of India Act 1935, the Indian Independence Act 1947 and the subsequent Constitution of India 1949 based on a substantial legacy of the past, there are two perspectives to look at the evolution of Indian political and constitutional development. The predominant one is the orthodox, continuity-oriented interpretation which the unknown writer, probably a Chief Justice, of the Bombay High Court above undertakes in criticism of Justice Chagla's glorification of Tilak and his deeds. The other is akin to that of Justice Chagla and others who see a clear break in the post- and pre-constitution laws and developments and would like to atone for the past misdeeds of an imperialist government although not prepared to completely give up the legacy of the colonial past. In the absence of a violent revolution resulting in a near-total break with the past a la the American or the French or the Soviet or the Chinese revolutions, and in view of the substantial continuity factor present in the constitutional and legal developments in the country, the second viewpoint seems more preferable for ushering in radical changes in the socio-politico-economic development of the society and as such the question of exoneration of the patriotic persons convicted for the wrong reasons by the wrong developments of law comes to the fore or otherwise even the concept of exoneration is considered deficient in revolutionary terms because even that presupposes an element of guilt from which the particular person or persons have to be or ought to be exempted. But exoneration can also mean vindication and in that sense, an exoneration declaration with an open apology by the State would come nearer to the revolutionary ideal of a complete break with the past - i.e. with the oppressive and near-lawless atmosphere and frameworks of the past [and not just any and every thing in the past] to usher in a salutary progressive transformation of society.

 Then, there lies the case of Bhagat Singh and his co-workers. Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt were convicted for life transportation in the Assembly Bomb case and then Bhagat Singh and two others —Rajguru, Sukhdev—were sentenced to death in the Lahore Conspiracy Case and these three were ultimately hanged. In their appeal against life imprisonment in the Assembly Bomb case, Bhagat Singh and Batukeswar Dutt themselves did not complain of failure of the existing law process in that course but only of the imposition of a harsher penalty overlooking the real facts and circumstances of the case. But as far as the Lahore Conspiracy Case trial is concerned, which resulted in the ultimate execution of Bhagat Singh and two others, there is a clear failure of ordinary legal processes of trial and conviction and the issuance of the Lahore Conspiracy Case ordinance by the Viceroy using his special certifying powers even though an attempt to get a bill passed in the Central Legislative Assembly for an Act in similar terms has failed due to the spirited opposition of Jinnah and other patriotic members of the Assembly, can be seen as a clear legal lacuna in this regard. Here it would be apt to quote from the version of India Law Journal as posted on the net


"On 1 May, 1930, the viceroy, Lord Irwin, promulgated an Ordinance to set up a tribunal to try this case. The Ordinance, LCC Ordinance No.3 of 1930, was to put an end to the proceedings pending in the magistrate's court. The case was transferred to a tribunal of three high court judges without any right to appeal, except to the Privy Council.

The world has seen how the mighty British Empire had to bow down and accept the very much wanted outlaws like Michael Collins, Arthur Griffith, et al as honourable negotiators on behalf of Sin Finn, the Irish freedom fighting organization, and also how they ultimately became prominent executives in the Irish Free State —Griffith as President and Collins as a Minister.

 The case opened on 5 May 1930 in the stately Poonch House. Rajguru challenged the very constitution of the tribunal and said that it was illegal ultra vires. According to him, the Viceroy did not have the power to cut short the normal legal procedure. The Government of India Act, 1915, authorized the Viceroy to promulgate an Ordinance to set up a tribunal but only when the situation demanded whereas now there was no breakdown in the law and order situation. The tribunal however, ruled that the petition was 'premature'. Carden-Noad, the government advocate elaborated on the charges which included dacoities, robbing money from banks and the collection of arms and ammunition. The evidence of G T Hamilton Harding, senior superintendent of police, took the court by surprise as he said that he had filed the FIR against the accused under the instructions of the chief secretary to the government of Punjab and he did not know the facts of the case. Then one of the accused J N Sanyal said that they were not the accused but the defenders of India's honour and dignity.

 There were five approvers in total, out of whom Jai Gopal, Hans Raj Vohra and P N Ghosh had been associated with the HRSA for a long time. It was on their stories that the prosecution relied. The tribunal depended on Section 9 (1) of the Ordinance and on 10th July 1930, issued an order, and copies of the framed charges were served on the fifteen accused in jail, together with copies of an order intimating them that their pleas would be taken on the charges the following day. This trial was a long and protracted one, beginning on 5 May 1930, and ending on 10 September 1930. It was a one-sided affair which threw all rules and regulations out of the window. Finally the tribunal framed charges against fifteen out of the eighteen accused. The case against B K Dutt was withdrawn as he had already been sentenced to transportation for life in the Assembly Bomb Case.

 On 7 October 1930, about three weeks before the expiry of its term, the tribunal delivered its judgment, sentencing Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru to death by hanging. Others were sentenced to transportation for life and rigorous imprisonment. This judgment was a 300-page one which went into the details of the evidence and said that Bhagat Singh's participation in the Saunders' murder was the most serious and important fact proved against him and it was fully established by evidence. The warrants for the three were marked with a black border.

 The under-trials of the Chittagong Armoury Raid Case sent an appeal to Gandhiji to intervene. A defence committee was constituted in Punjab to file an appeal to the Privy Council against the sentence. Bhagat Singh did not favour the appeal but his only satisfaction was that the appeal would draw the attention of people in England to the existence of the HSRA. In the case of Bhagat Singh v. The King Emperor, the points raised by the appellant was that the ordinance promulgated to constitute a special tribunal for the trial was invalid. The government argued that Section 72 of the Government of India Act, 1915 gave the governor-general unlimited powers to set up a tribunal. Judge Viscount Dunedin who read the judgment dismissed the appeal. Thus from the lower court to the tribunal to the Privy Council, it was a preordained judgment in flagrant violation of all trends of natural justice and a fair and free trial."

 As per Dr Chaman Lal, of the JNU, who did considerable research on the life and trial of Bhagat Singh and seems to have carefully gone through the various documents exhibited by the Supreme Court of India in its special exhibition in commemoration of Bhagat Singh, due to the perverse impact of this Ordinance as many as 457 prosecution witnesses could not be cross examined by the counsel for the accused. This is what Dr Chaman Lal writes about the Ordinance and post-Ordinance part of the trial :


"The British colonial regime led by Viceroy Irwin took the unprecedented step of issuing the Lahore conspiracy case ordinance on May 1, 1930. Under this, the proceedings that were being conducted by a Special Magistrate in Lahore were transferred to a three-judge Special Tribunal established to complete them within a fixed period. The Tribunal's judgment was not to be challenged in the superior courts; only the Privy Council could hear any appeal. This ordinance was never approved by the Central Assembly or the British Parliament, and it lapsed later without any legal or constitutional sanctity. Its only purpose was to hang Bhagat Singh in the shortest possible time. That judgment sentencing Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru to the gallows was delivered on October 7, 1930.

 The Tribunal began its proceedings on May 5, 1930. The accused in the Lahore conspiracy case refused to attend the proceedings after May 12. On that day they raised slogans and sung revolutionary songs. Brutalities were repeated on them, as in October 1929, in front of the Special Magistrate. This time Ajoy Ghosh, Kundan Lal and Prem Dutt fell unconscious. The accused remained absent during the whole proceedings and remained unrepresented by counsel. Advocates engaged to defend them were insulted by the Tribunal. Subsequently, the accused themselves directed them not to defend them in their absence…

 What remained out of view all these years were the many letters that Bhagat Singh wrote and the petitions he sent to either the jail authorities or to the Special Tribunal or to the Punjab High Court, during the period 1929-1930 [in which] … Bhagat Singh sought to expose the British colonial regime's determined efforts to get him hanged by denying the accused any defence during the trial. Even though the accused were choosing not to be present in the court, they were participating in the legal proceedings through counsel. The Tribunal refused the revolutionaries' counsel, Amolak Ram Kapoor, permission to cross-examine 457 prosecution witnesses and allowed the cross-examination of only five approvers. This was a farce." [The Hindu, dt. 15-08-2011]

 Bhagat Singh himself in his letter to 'His Excellency the Governor-General at Simla' dated 2 May 1930 did try to expose the repressive nature of the Lahore Conspiracy Case Ordinance 3 of 1930 as follows :

"…You have mentioned [in] your statement issued alongwith the Lahore Conspiracy Ordinance, our hunger strike. As you have yourself admitted, two of us had begun the hunger strike weeks before the commencement of the inquiry into this case in the court of R.S Pt. Sri Krishan, Special Magistrate. Hence any man with the least common sense can understand that the hunger strike had nothing to do with the trial. … what we want to emphasise here is that the hunger strike was never directed against the proceedings of the court.

In their appeal against life imprisonment in the Assembly Bomb case, Bhagat Singh and Batukeswar Dutt themselves did not complain of failure of the existing law process in that course but only of the imposition of a harsher penalty overlooking the real facts and circumstances of the case

 You may crush certain individuals but you cannot crush this nation. As far as this Ordinance is concerned, we consider it to be our victory. We had been from the very beginning pointing out that this existing law was a mere make-believe. It could not administer justice. But even those privileges to which the accused were legitimately and legally entitled and which are given to ordinary accused, could not be given to the accused in political cases. We wanted to make the Government to throw off its veil and to be candid enough to admit that fair chances for defence could not be given to the political accused. Here we have the frank admission of the Government…" []


 It is to be noted that in the Statement appended to the Ordinance the Viceroy does not even make mention of his earlier futile attempt to get passed a bill in similar terms in the Central Legislative Assembly and as Dr Chaman Lal points out the Ordinance was not approved by the British Parliament or the Central Legislative Assembly at any time, perhaps not placed on the floor of the Legislatures even, and was just a six-month affair to serve the temporary purpose of trying, convicting, sentencing and hanging Bhagat Singh and others. It was clearly a mala fide act on the part of the highest executive in India of the British Rule, and moreover it is obvious that fair trial was not at all dispensed even under the Ordinance which does not contemplate denial of rights of cross-examination, etc. to the accused. No doubt the Privy Council in Bhagat Singh v. The King Emperor [131 I.C. 1931 at 415-416 = (2005) LAW 44 (P.C.)] had put its stamp of approval on the Ordinance passed by the powers given to the Governor-General under section 72 of the Government of India Act, 1915 saying "the power given section 72 is an absolute power, without any limits prescribed, except that it cannot do what the Indian Legislature would be unable to do, although it is made clear that it is only to be used in the extreme cases of necessity where the good Government of India demands it." The power is to be used in cases of emergency and for the Governor-General to find such emergency in case of a single case and on grounds not related to trial as such [hunger-strike of the prisoners] etc. and making the G-G the sole judge of whether such emergency existed or not i.e. conferring unfettered discretion on him, etc. may not look proper and legal in a democratic perspective and even under this count the Apex Court of India would be, if it so desires and undertakes, justified in revisiting the trial of Bhagat Singh and others and striking down the Ordinance as emanating from the exercise of arbitrary discretion of the highest executive and that too despite its rejection by the Central Legislative Assembly.

 The mammoth people's movement and more particularly people's express will and massive pressure on Gandhiji and other leaders of the Indian National Congress to secure commutation of the death sentences on Bhagat Singh and his associates in the background of the then Gandhi-Irwin talks and just concluded Gandhi-Irwin Pact in the wake of the great Civil Disobedience movement 1930-31 should also be noted by all the discerning persons in this context. Subhas Chandra Bose especially was for even making the commutation a condition for approving any pact with Viceroy Irwin. He wrote in his Indian Struggle : 1920-1934 as follows :

"I ventured the suggestion that he [Gandhi] should, if necessary, break with the Viceroy on this question, because the execution was against the spirit, if not the letter, of the Delhi Pact. I was reminded of a similar incident during the armistice between the Sinn Fein Party [Ireland] and the British Government, when the strong attitude adopted by the former, had secured the release of an Irish political prisoner sentenced to the gallows."

 Another glaring instance is the trial of Indian National Army (Azad Hind Fauz) prisoners. Right or wrong, the valiant nationalist leader Subhas Chandra Bose sided with the fascists i.e. the Axis powers during the Second World War and with their aid and assistance built up the Indian National Army and in due course established a Provisional Government of India too which was recognized by some of the Axis Powers including Japan and its Headquarters was temporarily set up in the Andamans. This provisional government declared a war on Britain, US and other Allied Powers (and not on the USSR, though) and fought pitched battles in the Northeast sector of India. Toward the end of the war it met with defeat and then surrender, after its supreme leader Netaji died [or reported to have died] in an air-crash. However, it strikes quite odd and also painful that the INA captives were not treated as prisoners of war but sought to be tried and sentenced under the ordinary and emergency criminal law processes in the country for treason, sedition, waging war against the established government and sundry charges. People know how the patriotic furore in support of the INA prisoners had in those times given rise to mammoth popular demonstrations all over India and even Nehru, who had suspended his practice and given up going to courts, had after decades turned up in the court to defend the INA accused. Needless to say, an official exoneration coupled with a state apology is due for these prisoners/accused freedom fighters also.


 In this context one can cite various instances from several countries of the world of the erstwhile tormented and persecuted revolutionaries being installed as the rulers of independent revolutionary governments which vindicated and glorified their ideas and actions. The world has seen how the mighty British Empire had to bow down and accept the very much wanted outlaws like Michael Collins, Arthur Griffith, et al as honourable negotiators on behalf of Sin Finn, the Irish freedom fighting organization, and also how they ultimately became prominent executives in the Irish Free State —Griffith as President and Collins as a Minister. Nelson Mandela of South Africa, who was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Apartheid regime and had actually served 27 years in prison, had become the President of the liberated South African republic in relatively recent times. Persecuted revolutionaries of America, France, Russia and China have become the drivers of new democracies and republics in those countries and in case of revolutionary upsurges the process of exoneration does not seem that much necessary or demanded since there occurs a patent and abrupt break in history which is near-total and only in cases of a continuity existing side by side with such breaks. The course of exoneration of the freedom fighters of a country derives real meaning and impetus. One stark example is the post-revolutionary France which has exonerated its sterling scientist Antoine Lavoisier who was unjustly executed by the reign of terror under Marat. Then there is the Dreyfus Affair in which Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish Artillery officer in the French Army, was maliciously charged with and unjustly sentenced for treason and in whose defence the famous French writer Emile Zola wrote the famous J'accuse letter to the French President and persisted in his fight for justice to Dreyfus all along. For this letter, Emile Zola was tried for criminal libel against the military and in the surcharged anti-semetic atmosphere of those days was convicted and sentenced to the maximum penalty of one year in jail. However, Zola fled to England and took refuge there for almost a year. Meanwhile the sentence on Dreyfus himself was reversed by an appellate court which ordered his retrial and so Zola too returned to France and got the libel charge against him dismissed soon. But, surprisingly in the retrial Dreyfus was convicted and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment but due to the change of public opinion by then, he was very soon pardoned and set free. However, he appealed to the highest Court—the Court of Cassation. As the appeal was pending Emile Zola died due to carbon monoxide poisoning in his Paris home, asphyxiated by fumes from a fireplace, in 1902. Many historians believe he was murdered by right-wing extremists who, hating him for defending Dreyfus, stopped up his chimney. Dreyfus attended Zola's burial services at Paris's Montmartre Cemetery. The Court of Cassation ultimately acquitted Dreyfus of all the charges in 1906. It is stated on the French Court of Cassation website that—

 In 1906 after 12-year struggle, Alfred Dreyfus and those who had fought with him prevailed over the accusation of treason and the Army's dark conspiracies. On 12 July 1906, the Court of Cassation definitely overturned the judgments handed down by the Military Courts. The key passages of the judgment of the Court of Cassation, read by the President of the Court, Alexis Ballot-Beaupre, [declared]: "Whereas in the final analysis nothing whatever remains of the charges brought against Dreyfus and that the quashing of the verdict by the Court Martial leaves nothing that could be qualified as a crime or misdemeanor committed by him, Whereas this being the case, by application of the last paragraph of Article 445 no appeal may be pronounced. On these grounds the Court quashes the verdict of the Rennes Court Martial and states that this sentence was passed wrongly and in error."

 It may also be curious to further note that "On June 4, 1908 Zola's remains were transferred to the Pantheon, where France's greatest citizens are interred. Dreyfus attended the solemn ceremony. During the proceedings a right-wing journalist named Gregori pulled out a revolver and fired two shots at Dreyfus, slightly wounding him in the arm. Right-wing newspapers praised the attempted murder as a ‘gesture for France!’ Put on trial for shooting Dreyfus, Gregori was acquitted!" It would also be interesting to note that on the centennial anniversary of J'accuse…!, Jacques Chirac, President of the French Republic, formally apologized to Zola and Dreyfus families, expressing France's gratitude to their courage that defied hate, injustice and intolerance and paid glowing tributes to both Dreyfus and Emile Zola [See (2004) 1 LAW, 31 August 2004 bulletin for the full text of Chirac's speech dated 13 January 1998]. There is another strange such incident connected with the French Army when it officially and publicly exonerated Thomas Lally (Comte De Tollendal)—whose cause was strongly espoused by the great Voltaire but to no avail—in 1929, after 163 years of his execution! [See (2004) 1 LAW, 30 September 2004]

It is not only possible but quite desirable that in India too all the intrepid and selfless freedom fighters—Tilak, Bagha Jatin, Bhagat Singh et al being the more prominent among them—be duly exonerated with the necessary apologies to their families and friends by the [Indian] State. And this could materialize through the Supreme Court revisiting their cases and like the Court of Cassation in France declaring their sentences to be wrong and in error for historical and legal reasons. Here it may also be noted that a case for revisiting the case of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto has been recently referred by the President of Pakistan Zardari (Bhutto's son-in-law) to the Supreme Court of Pakistan, naturally desiring and expecting such exoneration for that prominent Pakistani leader who was unjustly killed by the cruel military dictator Zia-ul-Haq in the garb of a fake trial and consequent execution, and the same has been taken up as a case for priority hearing by the Chief Justice of Pakistan and it would be quite interesting to watch its subsequent developments too. Or another, perhaps a better, course would be for Indian Parliament convening a special and joint session of the Houses and moving a resolution for exoneration of all such noble freedom fighters who shed their blood for the liberation of motherland, declaring in no uncertain terms that it was in the dark phase of colonial rule and imperialist excesses that such grave injustices were committed against the entire nation and also victimized these sterling revolutionaries. And this could be further taken to the extent of enactment of an appropriate Act in that direction.

Courtesy: Frontier

 Vol. 45, No. 14 - 17, Oct 14 - Nov 10 2012

It is not only possible but quite desirable that in India too all the intrepid and selfless freedom fighters—Tilak, Bagha Jatin, Bhagat Singh et al being the more prominent among them—be duly exonerated with the necessary apologies to their families and friends by the [Indian] State
I Mallikarjuna Sharma

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