Sri Aurobindo in Bengal, Part 16

Let us have a passing glimpse of the famous Alipore Bomb trial. We quote from an authentic book. The Alipore Bomb Trial, by Bejoy Krishna Bose, who was one of the pleaders for the accused, and also from the Foreword to this book by Eardley Norton, one of the counsels for the Crown.

“All the accused were produced before the Commissioner of Police and on the next day Mr. L. Birley, the District Magistrate of Alipore (24 Parganas District) by a written order took up the case himself…

“Several of the accused persons made detailed confessions and statements which were recorded by Mr. Birley. Mr. Birley inquired into the case and examined 222 witnesses and committed the accused to the Court of Sessions at Alipore on 19th August 1908.

“In the meantime a second batch was being formed by the subsequent arrests that took place and they were committed to the Court of Sessions on 14th September, to take their trial along with those previously committed….

“Sanction has been given to me by the Government of Bengal… to prosecute certain persons under Sections 121A, 122, 123,124 I.P.C.

“I now complain against

  • Barendra Kumar Ghosh [Barindra Kumar Ghose]
  • Indu Bhusan Rai
  • Ullaskar Dutt
  • Upendra Nath Banerji
  • Sishir Kumar Ghose
  • Nolini Kumar Gupta [Nolini Kanta Gupta]
  • Sachindra Kumar Sen
  • Poresh Chandra Maullik
  • Kunja Lai Saha
  • Bijoy Kumar Nag
  • Narendra Nath Buxi
  • Purna Chandra Sen
  • Hemendra Nath Ghose
  • Bibhuti Bhushan Sarkar
  • Nirapad Rai
  • Kanai Lal Dutt
  • Hem Chandra Das
  • Arabinda Ghose
  • Abinash Chandra Bhattacharji
  • Sailendra Nath Bose
  • Dindayal Bose
  • Narendra Nath Gossain
  • Sudhir Kumar Sarkar
  • Krista Jiban Sanyal
  • Hrishikesh Kanjilal
  • Birendra Nath Ghose
  • Dharani Nath Gupta
  • Nogendra Nath Gupta
  • Ashoke Chandra Nandi
  • Moti Lai Ghose
  • Bijoy Ratan Sen Gupta
  • Sushil Kumar Sen
  • Khudiram Bose.[1]

“These people are all accused of organising a gang for the purpose of waging war against the Government by means of criminal force.
(Sd.) L. Birley, 19.5.08”

“The trial of both the batches commenced before Mr. C.P. Beachcroft, I.C.S., Additional Sessions Judge, Alipur, on 19th October, 1908. Various objections were taken to the form of the charges, the joint trial, admissibility of evidence and other matters. Charu Chandra Roy, who was a French subject brought from Chandernagore on an extradition warrant, was ordered to be discharged on 5th November as the Government withdrew from his prosecution. Kanai Lal Dutt was in the meantime sentenced to be hanged before this trial began for murdering the approver Narendra Nath Gossain in the Alipur Jail compound on 31st August 1908.

“Altogether 206 witnesses were examined and cross-examined at length and then both sides argued the case at great length. The court was thus engaged till the 13th April 1909. On the 14th April the opinions of the Assessors were taken and judgment was delivered on the 6th May 1909.

“Accused Barindra Kumar Ghose and Ullaskar Dutt were sentenced to be hanged under sections 121, 121 A, and 122 I.P.C… The properties of all these accused were also forfeited to Government…. The rest of the accused, viz., Nalini K. Gupta[2], Sachindra K. Sen, Kunjo Lal Shah, Bejoy Kumar Nag, Narendra Nath Bukshi, Purna Chandra Sen, Hemendra Nath Ghose, Aravinda Ghose, Dindayal Bose, Birendra Nath Ghose, Dharani Nath Gupta, Nagendra Nath Gupta, Hem Chandra Sen, Debabrata Bose, Nikhileswar Roy Moulik, Bijoy Chandra Bhattacharya and Pravas Chandra Dev were acquitted.

“Thus the enquiry before Mr. Birley occupied 76 days and the trial in the Court of Sessions took 131 days. It will be seen hereafter that the appeal in the High Court was heard during 47 days and the reference by a Third Judge for 20 days. The mass of documents filed, if counted individually, were over four thousand and the material articles exhibited, i.e, bombs, tools, revolvers etc. were between three to four hundred.”

We give below short extracts from the Foreword to the above book by Mr. Eardley Norton Bar-at-Law, who was the principal Counsel for the Crown and whose forensic skill and sharp, perplexing cross-examination were a veritable terror to the witnesses. This Foreword was written long after the Trial.

“…I chanced to lead for the Crown in the trial related in this volume in all three Courts — Magistrate’s, the Session Judge’s and the High Court — …
“The ringleader was a young man of unusual qualities. No lawyer can defend his action; no statesman applaud it. None the less Barendra Kumar Ghose was sincere and in a great measure chivalrous. Obsessed by conceptions of the injustice of the policy which severed his motherland, he believed that the only influence which could force recognition of views which appeared to him patriotic was recourse to violence. Himself imbued with the passionate fervour of the genuine military reformer, Barendra infected a large following of youthful adherents with his own unhappy enthusiasm. The gospel of the revolver and the bomb spread with alarming, if secret, success: a huge organisation developed throughout the country: inflammatory articles were openly disseminated by an able if disaffected press and the peace of the country was assuredly in peril. The Government had for long permitted revolutionary literature to pass unnoticed: the ferment grew under a misplaced sense of security till overt measures forced the authorities into action. Their intervention was swift and certain. Simultaneous raids on the 2nd May 1908 secured a large number who were the flower of the movement… among them were the two brothers Aravindo and Barendra Kumar Ghose….

“In the Sessions Court the accused were placed behind a net work of wire, police with fixed bayonets stood on guard throughout the room, and I had a five-chambered loaded revolver lying on my brief throughout the trial….

“Aravindo Ghose had been a brilliant scholar in England. He had been head of St. Paul’s and won a scholarship at King’s College, Cambridge. There he was a contemporary of Mr. Beachcroft I.C.S. who tried him at Alipore and who had been head of Rugby and had also won a scholarship at Cambridge. Both won honours at the University, and at the final examination for The Indian Civil Service Arabindo, the prisoner, beat Beachcroft the Judge in Greek!…

“…to me it appeared a matter for regret that a man of Aravindo’s calibre should have been ejected from the Civil Service on the ground he could not, or would not, ride a horse. Capacity such as his would have been a valuable asset to the State. Had room been found for him in the Educational Service of India I believe he would have gone far not merely in personal advancement but in welding more firmly the links which bind his countrymen to ours….”

 

This is a tribute from one who had employed all his forensic powers, intellectual ingenuity and professional tricks to prove that Sri Aurobindo was the source of inspiration and the directing brain and resourceful organiser of the whole movement of the armed revolution in Bengal.

Besides God’s infallible Will and, in fact, as an instrument of it, stood C.R. Das, Bar-at-Law, stirred by patriotic fervour and armed with an iron resolution to defend the accused.[3] He was a rising barrister, who laid aside all other practice in order to devote all his time and energies to this case which had made a sensation in the whole country. And fortune favoured his devoted services to the national cause. He proved up to the hilt the utter hollowness of the evidence so laboriously piled and craftily cooked up by the Prosecution. The fiery shafts of Mr. Norton were shattered by his incisive logic, and the imposing array of the prosecution arguments relentlessly torn to shreds. Norton had at last met more than a match in C.R. Das.

In the beginning of the case, Sri Aurobindo gave certain instructions to his Counsel, but he was asked by his unfailing guide, the Divine, to leave the entire charge and responsibility to C.R. Das, who conducted the case with an inspired zeal and ability. C.R. Das’s peroration was and has since remained a classic of intuitive prophecy, couched in a garb of glittering eloquence. We have already quoted some of the last lines of it, and need not repeat them here. In his Uttarpara Speech, Sri Aurobindo says in this connection: “Afterwards when the trial opened in the Sessions Court, I began to write many instructions for my Counsel as to what was false in the evidence against me and on what points the witnesses might be cross-examined. Then something happened which I had not expected. The arrangements which had been made for my defence were suddenly changed and another Counsel stood there to defend me. He came unexpectedly — a friend of mine, but I did not know that he was coming. You have all heard the name of the man who put away from him all other thoughts and abandoned all his practice, who sat up half the night day after day for months and broke his health to save me — Srijut Chittaranjan Das. When I saw him I was satisfied; but I still thought it necessary to write instructions. Then all that was put from me and I had the message from within: ‘This is the man who will save you from the snares put around your feet. Put aside those papers. It is not you who will instruct him. I will instruct him…. From that time I did not of myself speak a word to my Counsel about the case or give a single instruction, and if ever I was asked a question, I always found that my answer did not help the case. I had left it to him and he took it entirely into his hands with what results you know.”

The results which Sri Aurobindo speaks of were his acquittal along with that of a few others, and the sudden shooting up into the judicial firmament of Chittaranjan Das as the brightest luminary in the Calcutta Bar. Everywhere he was now in demand, and his practice increased by leaps and bounds. But his munificence was as great as his income — his unstinted generosity became a legend. His heart overflowed with kindness and sympathy for the needy and the distressed. Later, he became the undisputed leader of Bengal nationalism and one of the foremost leaders in the Indian National Congress. He worked as a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi, and afterwards of Motilal Nehru in the Council Entry movement, and fought for his country till the last breath of his life. He once came to Pondicherry and saw Sri Aurobindo by a special appointment. But of this we shall speak in its proper context.

Some of the co-accused of Sri Aurobindo in the Alipore Bomb Case appealed to the High Court and, in consequence, a few sentences were reduced and few rescinded. Barindra, Ullaskar, Upendra etc., were sentenced to transportation for life instead of being hanged.

It is interesting to note that all the young accused, whose ages varied from sixteen to twenty, divided themselves into several groups in the iron cage in which they were locked, and engaged in animated discussions on political, literary, philosophical and religious subjects. They took no notice of the fateful trial — indeed, they treated it as a prodigious farce — which was going on before them in the Court, and on which depended their life and death. Sri Aurobindo sat, silent and serene, rapt in meditation.

A few remarks made by Sri Aurobindo much later in answer to questions and in correction of certain mis-statements about his life in the Alipore jail are given below:

“Ferrar who had been my class-mate could not come and meet me in the Court when the trial (Alipur) was going on and we were put in a cage lest we should jump out and murder the judge. He was a barrister practising at Sumatra or Singapore. He just saw me in the cage and was much concerned and did not know how to get me out. It was he who had given me the clue to the Hexameter in English. He read out a line from Clough which he thought was the best line and that gave me the swing of the metre.”[4]

“This reminds me of a compliment given to my eyes by Sir Edward Baker, Governor of Bengal. He visited us in Alipur Jail and told Charu Chandra Dutt, ‘Have you seen Aurobindo Ghose’s eyes? He has the eyes of a mad man!’ Charu Chandra Dutt I.C.S. took great pains to convince him that I was not at all mad but a Karma-Yogi.”[5]

“I knew something about sculpture, but I was blind to painting. Suddenly one day in the Alipore Jail while meditating I saw some pictures on the walls of the cell and lo and behold! the artistic eye in me opened and I knew all about painting except of course the more material side of the technique. I don’t always know how to express though, because I lack the knowledge of the proper technique but that does not stand in the way of a keen and understanding appreciation….”[6]

About levitation, he says, “That was once in jail. I was then having a very intense sadhana on the vital plane and I was concentrated. And I had a questioning mind: ‘Are such Siddhis as Utthānapāda (levitation) possible?’ I then suddenly found myself raised up in such a way that I could not have done it myself with muscular exertion. Only one part of the body was slightly in contact with the ground and the rest was raised up against the wall. I could not have held my body like that normally even if I had wanted to and I found that the body remained suspended like that without any exertion on my part…. In the jail there were many such extraordinary, and one may say, abnormal experiences. As I was doing sadhana intensely on the vital plane I think these might have come from there. All these experiences passed away and did not repeat themselves.”[7]

It was during his jail life that Sri Aurobindo resorted to fasting to see how far spiritual results could be attained by it. In Alipore jail though he fasted for eleven days and lost ten pounds in weight during that period, he felt none the worse for it.

Acknowledging Swami Vivekananda’s help in his spiritual life, he says in Sri Aurobindo on Himself and on The Mother, “…It is a fact that I was hearing constantly the voice of Vivekananda speaking to me for a fortnight in the jail in my solitary meditation and felt his presence…. The voice spoke only on a special and limited very important field of spiritual experience and it ceased as soon as it had finished saying all that it had to say on that subject.”

In a casual reference to the power of prediction, Sri Aurobindo once remarked in his evening talks, “When I was arrested, my maternal grand aunt asked Vishuddhananda[8] ‘what will happen to our Aurobindo’? He replied, ‘The Divine Mother has taken him in Her arms. Nothing will happen to him. But he is not your Aurobindo, He is world’s Aurobindo, and the world will be filled with his perfume.’”


[1] In the second batch there were nine persons. The total number was, then, forty-two.
[2] Nolini Kanta Gupta has given a vivid account of the jail life of the accused in his Bengali book, Smṛtir Pātā.
[3] His mother, to whom he was passionately devoted, had urged him to take up Sri Aurobindo’s defence even at the cost of all his practice.
[4] Life of Sri Aurobindo — A.B. Purani.
[5] ibid.
[6] ibid.
[7] ibid.
[8] A well-known Yogi at Varanasi who died only a few years ago.

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