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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Bhagat Singh’s 90th death anniversary: New book explores British tyranny and a ‘trial’ that wasn’t

Written by Satvinder Singh Juss, a law professor at King's College, London, a barrister-at-law practicing from London and a former Human Rights fellow at Harvard Law School, USA, the book refers to a dozen unseen documents related to the trial.

Written by Divya Goyal | Ludhiana |
March 23, 2021 7:54:10 am
Written by Satvinder Singh Juss, a law professor at King's College, London, 'The Execution of Bhagat Singh: Heresies of the Raj' refers to a dozen unseen documents related to the trial.

Ninety years after Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev were hanged by the British on March 23, 1931, a new book, ‘The Execution of Bhagat Singh: Heresies of the Raj’ throws light on the “trial” that wasn’t.

Trial, meaning a process of law that is followed in court where a judge decides if a person is guilty or not after thoroughly listening to all sides, going through the evidences and giving an equal chance to the accused to present his/her side and to have a legal representative, and that’s what 23-year-old Bhagat Singh and his companions were gravely denied by the oppressive British government which hanged them to death at Lahore Jail (now in Pakistan).

Written by Satvinder Singh Juss, a law professor at King’s College, London, a barrister-at-law practicing from London and a former Human Rights fellow at Harvard Law School, USA, the book refers to a dozen unseen documents related to the trial.

Bhagat Singh and his companions faced trial in two cases: the Central Legislative Assembly Bombing Case in April 1929 (Delhi), and for the murder of British police officer John Saunders on December 17, 1928 (Lahore conspiracy case). In the first case, he was sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment, and in the second, to death.

Speaking to The Indian Express, author Satvinder Singh Juss says, “The book is an attempt to document each and every detail and legal aspect of the one-sided, biased and a farcical trial which led to the hanging of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev. A group of lawyers had tried really hard to save them but they are hardly talked about. The book also details their fight, struggle and ordeal they went through while fighting against the British. One among them was Amolak Ram Kapoor from Lahore who had fought a long battle to save Bhagat Singh and we managed to access his diary entries through his granddaughter. I have described in my book how Kapoor writes in his diary that because of the British, ‘India is becoming poorer day by day…The aliens have sucked off all the blood and vitality that was ever to be found.’ The book has many such documents which throw light on the legal aspects of the trial that was unfair in every aspect.” Juss says that while writing the book, he learnt of the “full-extent of the illegality and the denial of the rule of law in the trial and execution of Bhagat Singh”.

“This is because the trial had earlier been taking place before a proper magistrate in Lahore for a period of 10 months. From there it was shifted after over 200 witnesses had already being examined, and put before a ‘Special Tribunal’ convened under an unlawfully passed ‘Lahore Ordinance III of 1930’. This was done by Governor-General, Lord Irwin, despite the fact that Irwin could provide no evidence of a danger to ‘peace and good governance’ which was a pre-condition for the setting up of a Special Tribunal under the Lahore Ordinance III of 1930. Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, and Sukhdev were then hanged following an appeal to the London Privy Council, but which wrongly refused to hear the appeal in full, even though it was by that stage argued by renowned London Counsel, D N Pritt, who subsequently then went onto argue all the anti-colonial cases during the final phase of British Empire,” says Juss. The book also contains over a hundred images of unseen documents.

The author says, “There is a full 4-page document ‘challenge to jurisdiction’. On the very first day of the Special Tribunal’s sitting on May 5, 1930, Bhagat Singh and his lawyers had submitted, ‘We believe that freedom is the undeniable right of all people, that every man has the inalienable right of enjoying the fruits of his labour and that every nation is indisputably the master of its resources.’ The same letter throws the challenge before colonial rule with words, ‘We believe all such governments and particularly this British government thrust upon the helpless but unwilling Indian nation to be no better than an organised gang of robbers and a pack of exploiters equipped with all the means of carnage and devastations.’ Kuldip Nayar, journalist and former Indian High Commissioner to London, believed that not only was the Tribunal rigged but the Privy Council in London was rigged, and that one day secret telegrams will reveal that they were under instructions to reject the appeal of Bhagat Singh against the death sentence.”

“Documents showing that the president of the Tribunal refused interviews of the accused with their relatives (thus making it difficult for the accused to prepare their defence) have been shown for this first time in this book.

The removal of two of the three judges at the same time (one of whom was the Indian judge, Agha Haider, who favoured the accused) ‘for reasons of ill-health’ within two weeks of the Tribunal convening, have been shown for the first time,” he adds.

The Lahore Conspiracy Trial remains one of the most controversial trials of the British India, and the controversy continues.

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