In his book Azaadi!, English author Reginald Massey, who was born and raised in pre-Partition Lahore, recalls the reception of three INA generals shortly after they were acquitted, which he witnessed as a teenager:
There were thousands who greeted them at the historic Minto Park. In unison they chanted loudly:
“Chaalis crore-on ki awaaz! (Forty crore people shout in unison!) (Editor’s note: India’s population was 40 crores – 400 million – at that time.)
Sehgal – Dhillon – Shah Nawaz!!“
When the Japanese routed the Allies in south east Asia, they took some 60,000 soldiers of the British Indian army prisoners. 20,000 of them agreed to switch sides and go to war against their former masters — the British, in the Indian National Army under the command of Subhas Chandra Bose.
After the Allies won the war, the INA soldiers once again became prisoners — this time of the British. The military logic of the British India government was clear — they considered the INA joinees to be traitors, deserving of severe punishment. The furious, self-righteous government decided to make an example of the the INA leaders by performing their court martial and treason trial — the first one was to take place in Delhi’s iconic Red Fort, the same place from where Bose promised that INA would declare India’s independence.
Of the three INA generals arraigned for the first trial were a Hindu (Prem Kumar Sehgal), a Muslim (Shah Nawaz Khan) and a Sikh (Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon). The cause of their defence was taken up by the Congress, whose leaders toured the country, mobilizing support for the soldiers awaiting the trial. Jawaharlal Nehru was among the defence lawyers. While the defense lost the case and the defendants were declared guilty, the British sensed the popular mood, including within the British India Army, which was far from unsympathetic toward the INA. This was a time when the Muslim League was on the threshold of winning Pakistan, by dividing the territory of British India along communal lines. Yet, Indians, irrespective of religion were united in feeling that the ruling power was out for vengeance and in heaping curses upon it. The government was forced to commute the sentences of the convicted trio and release them.
Photojournalist Kulwant Roy (1914-1984) had been among the handful of Indians who lived and worked through the exciting times before and after India’s Independence. His archive of mostly unpublished prints and negatives lay forgotten in boxes for more than 20 years after his death in 1984 until they were discovered by Aditya Arya, to whom he had left his work. Here are a few snapshots from the time around the INA trials of 1945 that Roy captured through his lens:
Kulwant Roy gifted his work to Aditya Arya, who has since archived them under the aegis of the India Photo Archive Foundation. Arya can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org