Manjiri Damle

It is known to be one of the most inspiring legal battles in the history of trials in the world. Some even liken it to a brilliant game of chess.
And the protagonist was a proud Puneite, the father of Indian unrest against the British, Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak.As Pune gets ready on Sunday to mark the centenary of Tilak’s release from Mandalay jail in Burma (now Myanmar) following his conviction in a sedition case, Vinay Dhumale, a noted researcher on Tilak, pointed out that the trial, Tilak’s almost impregnable defence of himself and his fight for freedom of expression have become an important milestone in India’s freedom struggle.

No wonder then that the final summation by Lokamanya Tilak, post the jury’s verdict, is inscribed in golden letters in the same central hall of the Bombay high court where the trial was conducted in 1908. There were many interesting aspects of Tilak’s trial, says Dhumale. When Ti lak was arrested for his “seditious” writings in daily Kesari, one advocate Davar had applied for his bail in the lower court, which was rejected. Interestingly, it was Davar’s father, justice Dinshaw Davar, who awarded the six-year jail term to Tilak for sedition.

“The son was very upset after the verdict and it was Tilak himself who consoled him and told him that his father only did his job and he (Tilak) bore no rancour toward him,” said Dhumale.

There was another attempt for bail where Tilak was represented by none other

than barrister Muhammad Ali Jinnah. This application too had come before Dinshaw Davar, who rejected it. The third bail appeal was, however, successful. The trial in the case started later.Dhumale said the period leading to Tilak’s trial is significant because it marked the spirited fight by Tilak against British repression. Tilak was facing sedition charges over his fiery articles that had appeared in Kesari. “Tilak unleashed the phenomenal might of his pen and wrote series of devastating editorials in Kesari. Some of the articles were also penned by K P Khadilkar, an associate of Tilak. Most of these articles have acquired an iconic status in the realm of Marathi journalism. Tilak and his associates not only challenged various governmental actions, which were draconian in nature, but challenged the very basis of the British government ruling the Indian population,“ he said.

A month before the trial started, on June 8, 1908, Tilak was about to leave for Mumbai (then called Bombay) to help another Marathi newspaper editor S M Paranjape from possible prosecution. He was cautioned at Pune railway station by a well-wisher connected with local police intelligence that he should cancel the trip as it was likely he too would be arrested and sent to jail. Dhumale said that Tilak had thanked the gentleman for the cautionary word but told him that when the entire country had been turned into one big jail by the British government it made no difference to him even if he was arrested.

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