October 4, 2022

Gandhi Murder Case-9: A Vivid Depiction of the Courtroom at Peterhoff Shimla

For better understanding, read this article- Gandhi Murder Case-8: When Peterhoff Shimla became venue for Gandhi Murder Case

The lawmatics Series- Gandhi Murder Case-Part 9

The hearing of Gandhi’s murder began on May 2, 1949. It was a bright day with the gold of the sun lying in a thin layer on the lawns of Peterhoff. There was a cold breath in the air, and the ball-room was warmed by a dozen or so electric fires. Policemen stood guard at the entrance, and admission to the court-room was regulated by passes issued by the Registrar. This was done partly for reasons of security, but chiefly to limit the number of persons who could be accommodated without taxing the patience of our staff or disturbing the proceedings. When we took our seats on the dais, I saw that the room was full to capacity.

All the black-coated and gowned lawyers who were not engaged in arguing their cases before other judges had spread themselves over the privileged front rows in a large inky splash. Behind them sat the members of the gentry of Simla, who had succeeded in exercising a sufficient measure of their influence to secure passes. There were separate seats for pressmen and reporters, and to the right of the dais a score or so of chairs had been reserved for the V.I.P.’s. These comprised the wives and daughters of hon’ble judges and high Government officials.

Lawyers in Appeal

At a long table in front of the dais sat an impressive row of advocates representing the appellants and the King. There was Mr. Banerjee, a senior advocate from Calcutta, for Apte and Madanlal Pahwa, Mr. Dange for Karkare, Mr. Avasthi of the Punjab High Court, engaged at public expense to represent Kistayya, who was too poor to pay counsel’s fees, and Mr. Inamdar from Bombay for Parchare and Gopal Godse.

On the right-hand end of the front row sat four lawyers who were appearing for the prosecution-Mr. Daphtary, Advocate-General of Bombay, Messrs. Patigar and Vyavakarkar, also from Bombay, and Mr. Kartar Singh Chawla of our own High Court.

Why Godse declined to be represented by a lawyer?

Nathuram Godse had declined to be represented by a lawyer, and had made a prayer that he should be permitted to appear in person and argue his appeal himself. This prayer had been granted, and so he stood in a specially constructed dock. His small defiant figure with flashing eyes and close-cropped hair offered a remarkable and immediately noticeable contrast to the long row of placid and prosperous-looking lawyers who represented his accomplices.

The plea of poverty on which Godse had based his request to be present in person was only an excuse, and the real reason behind the maneuver was a morbid desire to watch the process of his disintegration at first hand and also to exhibit himself as a fearless patriot and a passionate protagonist of Hindu ideology. He had remained completely unrepentant of his atrocious crime, and whether out of a deep conviction in his beliefs or merely in order to make a last public apology, he had sought this opportunity of displaying his talents before he dissolved into oblivion.

What was the evidence in Gandhi’s Case?

For weeks before the appeal of Godse and his accomplices came up for hearing, he had been studying the bulky volumes in which the entire evidence, oral and documentary, was contained. There were -in all 1,131 printed pages of foolscap size and a supplementary volume of 115 pages of cyclostyled foolscap paper. He had taken pains to look up a number of reported cases dealing with some legal aspects of the trial, and had made a note of these rulings. So, when he came to court on the morning of May 2, he showed a complete understanding of the facts of the case as well as of the points of law raised in the memoranda of appeals.

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