October 4, 2022

Gandhi Murder Case-6: When trial was held at Red Fort

For better understanding, Read this article-Gandhi Murder case-5: When Godse and Aapte arrived Delhi to kill Gandhi

The lawmatics Series- Gandhi Murder Case-Part 6

When Justice Khosla[1] heard the news of Mahatma Gandhi’s Assassination

I was in Simla. It was a cold and foggy evening with a touch of frost in the air. My wife and I were walking back from the club.

We noticed a strange hush in the usually crowded and noisy street which in the main shopping centre of Simla. People were standing is twos or threes, and speaking in subdued voices. A phrase caught my ear: ‘… kill our leaders’. As we went by, another said: ‘absolutely mad’, and then ‘barbarous’. A sort of premonition made me stop and ask what had happened.

‘Mahatma Gandhi has been murdered. Somebody shot him dead’.

I could not believe that such an insane thing could come to pass. Our informer knew nothing beyond what he had told us, and we hurried home to switch on the wireless for more details of the horrible tragedy. There was no doubt at all about the truth of what we had heard. Mahatma Gandhi had been shot dead while walking to his prayer meeting, that day at 5 p.m., by Nathuram Godse, a Brahmin from Poona.

The assassin had fired three shots at point-blank range. Mahatma Gandhi was wounded in the chest and abdomen, and fell down on the spot saying: ‘Hai Ram’. The murderer was immediately apprehended and saved from a lynching by the crowd. The pistol from which he had fired the shots was recovered from his possession. Gandhiji was carried to his room in a state of unconsciousness, and he succumbed to his injuries within a few moments.

The whole country was in turmoil. In millions of homes no food was cooked or eaten that night, and a heavy cloud of gloom darkened the thoughts and feelings of the people.

Investigation by Police

While the whole nation mourned Gandhiji’s untimely death, the police took up the investigation of by far the most dastardly crime they had ever and occasion to handle. As the enquiries proceeded, it transpired that Nathuram Godse was not the only person concerned in the murder. His act of shooting Gandhiji was the culmination of a widespread and carefully laid conspiracy in which several persons were involved. It took the police nearly five months to complete the investigation and declare the case ripe for trial.

Trial at Red Fort

The trial commenced on June 22, 1948, before Mr. Atma Charan, a senior member of the judicial branch of the Indian Civil Service, who was specially appointed for the purpose and invested with powers to give him the requisite jurisdiction. I his was necessary because the judge would have to deal with offences committed beyond his normal territorial jurisdiction.

The trial was held inside the Red Fort. Delhi, but the court was open to the public and the Press, and the proceedings were extensively reported in all newspapers. The accused persons had full liberty to have the assistance of counsel of their own choice.

Accused in Gandhi’s Assassination Trial

The following eight persons were charged with murder, conspiracy to commit murder and offences punishable under the Arms Act and the Explosive Substances Act:

  1. Nathuram Godse, 37, Editor, Hindu Rashtra, Poona.
  2. His brother, Gopal Godse, 27, Storekeeper, Army Depot, Poona.
  3. Narayan Apte, 34, Managing Director, Hindu Rashtra, Prakasham, Ltd., Poona.
  4. Vishnu Karkare, 37, Restaurant Proprietor, Ahmed nagar.
  5. Madanlal Pahwa, 20, Refugee Camp, Ahmednagar.
  6. Shankar Kistayya, 27, Domestic Servant, Poona
  7. Dattatraya Parchure, 49, Medical Practitioner, Gwalior
  8. Vinayak Savarkar, 65, Barrister-at-Law, Landlord and Property Owner, Bombay.

Three others, viz. Gangadhar Dandwati, Gangadhar Jadhav and Suryadeo Sharma, were said to be absconding from justice, and the case against them was heard in absentia.

Evidence in Gandhi’s Trial

The prosecution case was opened by C. K. Daphtary, Advocate-General of Bombay (later Attorney-General of India), and on June 24 the examination of witnesses began. In all 149 witnesses were called and a large number of documents, letters, newspaper articles and other exhibits were produced in court.

The most important piece of evidence was the statement of Digambar Badge (pronounced Bahdgay), the approver in the case. He was alleged to be one of the conspirators and an active participant in the murder plan. Upon his arrest on January 31, the day after Gandhi’s murder, he was subjected to the usual police interrogation. It was not long before he made a statement admitting his own guilt and incriminating his accomplices. After a time, he expressed his willingness to appear before a magistrate and repeat his statement. He was tendered a conditional pardon and thus he became King’s evidence.

The examination of the witnesses and the recording of their evidence was concluded on November 6. The prisoners made long statements when asked to explain the evidence produced by the prosecution, but they chose not to call any witnesses, though a number of documents were placed before the court by way to defence. Arguments of counsel lasted a whole month, and the court pronounced judgment on February 10, 1949.

Out of the men Charged. Savarkar was acquitted, two, viz. Nathuram Godse and his friend Apte, were sentenced to death and the remaining five were awarded sentences of imprisonment for life. The trial judge, at the time of announcing his order, informed the convicted persons that if they wished to appeal from his order, they should do so within fifteen days. Four days later appeals were filed in the Punjab High Court on behalf of all the seven convicted persons. Godse did not challenge his conviction upon the charge of murder, not did he question the propriety of the death sentence. His appeal was confined to the finding that there was a conspiracy.

He assumed complete and sole responsibility for the death of Mahatma Gandhi, and vehemently denied that anyone else had anything to do with it.”

Reference

As mentioned in the book ‘The Murder of Mahatma’ by G.D.Khosla (Formerly Chief Justice of Punjab, who heard the appeal of Nathuram Godse & others and gave his most historic verdict in the case of assassination), First Published: 1965


[1] One of the judge who heard the case of Gandhi’s murder