Alipore Bomb Trial 1908–1910 (Volume 2)

Arguments in Courts and Judgements

— Compiled, Edited and with an Introduction by Amiya K Samanta

cover

Price: Rs 1495

Pages: 470
Dimensions (in cms): 15x23
ISBN: 978-93-81043-27-1
Hard Cover
   
Publisher: Frontpage, Kolkata

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About Alipore Bomb Trial 1908–1910 (Volume 2)

The second of two volumes bringing to light all the unpublished documents related to the Alipore Bomb Trial, this book deals with the arguments presented in the Sessions Court and the High Court and the judgements rendered in both. In the introduction, the editor revisits justice in colonial India, beginning with the East India Company’s efforts to protect colonial race relations. He argues that the bloodshed of the 1857 uprising made the British realise that a new and fair system of justice had to be implemented to quell the stirrings of a widespread revolt and cement the balance of power in favour of the colonial regime. The arguments and judgements presented demonstrate how far the principles of fair and impartial justice were actually adhered to.The epilogue details the British Government’s efforts to muzzle and condemn Sri Aurobindo and summarises the aftermath of the Alipore Bomb Trial in terms of how the authorities moved to tackle what they viewed as the problem of revolutionary terrorism.

REVIEW

Amiya K Samanta’s erudite presentation of the famous Alipore Bomb Trial is now complete with the publication of the second volume of the proceedings, which elaborates the arguments and judgements [or judgment, the conventional spelling in legal contexts] made both in the Sessions Court and, pertaining to the appeals, in the High Court. Mr. Samanta has done a yeoman service by presenting a rich database of documents relating to the Alipore Bomb Trial that will be used by future researchers for reconstructing that historic trial. Moreover, he has removed several misconceptions and myths through the use of sequenced evidence. As for many historic events, initial accounts are often based more on hearsay than on facts. A scientific presentation of facts has the advantage that future researchers can draw varying interpretations of the same event. It is this variability that adds richness to the discourse and stimulates ongoing research. Thus, the question of whether Barin’s confessions were aimed at saving his own skin or taking the blame to spare others has been kept open to debate. One has to consider several factors before making an assessment, and Mr. Samanta has wisely presented a great deal of data on which several assumptions can be made on a number of important issues. This dilemma is explicit even as Chief Justice Jenkins delivered his judgment in the appeals: “The question of punishment is one of considerable difficulty; those who have been convicted are not ordinary criminals: they are for the most part men of education, of strong religious instinct, and in some cases of considerable force of character.”

Mr. Samanta’s editing is highly commendable as he has methodically sequenced the data which otherwise would be difficult for the reader not versed in legal jargon. He has kept his editorial comments interspersed in the text precise so as not to interfere with the flow. He has also tried to present several viewpoints wherever there are controversial issues, such as when some British officials assumed a partiality in Beachcroft’s attitude that influenced his judgement— because he and Sri Aurobindo had been contemporaries at Cambridge University.  Certain issues have been painstakingly followed, such as that of Section 121 of the Indian Penal Code, mischievously added by Magistrate Birley, without any government sanction, to facilitate death sentences. The arguments, which are reproduced in detail, led the High Court to dispense with the unauthorised section.

As one follows the trail of arguments stretching from the Sessions Court to the High Court, one observes how Barrister C. R. Das’s stature and acumen grow from those of a pleader to those of a visionary and  statesman. Mr. Samanta has been able to re-create the distinctive character of that age, and his judicious editing has successfully conveyed the romanticism implicit in C. R. Das’s arguments before Beachcroft that culminated in the historic appeal of 31 March 1909, an appeal that resonated not only in the courtroom but in the annals of history, venerating Sri Aurobindo as “the poet of patriotism” and “the prophet of nationalism and the lover of humanity”.

This book is a treasure house for law researchers as it shows how arguments were put forward with force and tact to impress British judges, with a depth and acumen that at times surpassed those of the Englishmen themselves, not only by reasoning but also by oratory. At times, serious arguments were presented with a wry sense of humour. When Justice Carnduff wanted to know if bomb-making was being taught at the Garden House as a large number of chemicals were found there, Das replied that Chemistry was being taught; such a huge amount of chemicals was not needed for a few bombs. Das had earlier submitted to the Sessions Judge that chemical ingredients were not necessarily needed for bombs; they were being used to make matches as part of indigenous Swadeshi efforts.

There are numerous instances and anecdotes in the compilation which are not only interesting to read but can be useful material for further explorations. These few examples are noteworthy: Abinash Bhattacharya’s daring publication Bartaman Rananiti, a Bengali book on  “The Modern Art of War” whose introductory chapter was headed “War is the Order of Creation”; the inspired compilation of Jugantar articles Mukti Kon Pathe or Which Way Lies Salvation, a big seller until banned by the police; Lele’s presence at Sil’s Lodge, Baidyanath, ostensibly to impart yoga training to the bomb-making team, an effort that ultimately proved counterproductive; Beachcroft describing Sushil Sen as likely being flattered by the idolisation he received for being whipped at the behest of the dreaded Kingsford, and adding that the ceremonial lathi (staff), with a spearhead at one end and a heavy weight at the other, that Sen received from Leakat Hossain was  an extraordinary weapon, though in reality it was useless as a weapon of offence; and the confession of Inspector Narendra Kumar Mullik that he intentionally failed to identify a key accused in the test identification parade as the accused’s sister had approached his sister, a new bride in the same village as the accused, to weaken the case.

This book, rich with data and erudite scholarship, deserves a rightful place in the libraries of students of history, law, and Aurobindonian studies.

 

—Dr Soumitra Basu

Dr Basu is a psychiatrist exploring the consciousness paradigm of health, psychology, and psychotherapy from the integral perspective of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. His review of Volume 1 of Alipore Bomb Trial 1908–1910 appeared in the August 2017 issue of Recent Publications.

 

June 2019