NASIK CONSPIRACY CASE-1910
On the 21st of December 1909, Mr. A. M. T. Jackson, the then Collector of Nasik, was shot dead in a theatre at Nasik. Jackson was an I.C.S. officer. Unlike other English district officers, he was sympathetic towards Indian aspirations, was a student of Sanskrit, and generally was popular as a man of learning and culture. It was his interest in Indian history and culture, which induced him to attend the performance of a Marathi drama at Nasik. During an interval in the performance, a young Brahmin student of Aurangabad, named Anant Kanhere, stepped forward, drew out a pistol and shot Mr. Jackson through the heart at point blank range. The murder created a great deal of sensation in Nasik, Poona and Bombay; and it even created consternation in the ranks of Indian Nationalists, because of Jackson's reputation as a very sympathetic and popular district officer. Many Indians could not understand why such a good man ("good Topivalla ", as such Englishmen were called in those days) was singled out for such a dastardly murder. But it seems that there was a school of extremists at the time, who believed perversely that, these "good Topivallas" were really more dangerous than officers of the type of Dyer and O'Dwyer, for instance; for, it is the good popular government officials who reconcile Indians to foreign rule.
However, whatever the reason, the fact remained that the executive head of the district was shot dead openly in a blaze of light, and in the sight of hundreds of people. Several persons were arrested; and in the course of the police investigation, it was found that there was a deep-laid, widespread conspiracy to overthrow British Government in India, by means of an armed rebellion or revolution, and to overawe the government established by law by force or show of criminal force. It seemed that there were branches of this conspiracy at various places at Nasik, Poona, Bombay, Aurangabad, Pen and Yeola. The murder of Jackson was the result of this conspiracy. In view of the evidence collected by the police, the Government of Bombay, with the sanction of the Government of India, set up a special tribunal for trying the persons involved in this conspiracy, as provided by Act XIV of 1908. The Special Tribunal consisted of Sir Basil Scott, the Chief Justice, Mr. Justice Chandavarkar and Mr. Justice Heaton. In the first place, about six or seven persons who were directly implicated in the murder were tried by this Special Tribunal; and three of the accused, viz., Kanhere, Karve and Deshpande, were sentenced to death.
Thereafter, thirty-eight persons accused of being members of this criminal conspiracy, who were all Brahmins except one, were put up for trial before the same Special Tribunal. The accused were jointly charged under various legal heads; but in brief the charge against them amounted to this, that they were all members of a conspiracy which advocated, prepared for, and conspired to bring about an armed rebellion against Government. Among these thirty-eight persons, one was Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. From the evidence, it was clear that Savarkar (with his two brothers,) was the brain, leader, and moving spirit of the conspiracy. He was the most active and stimulating member thereof; and various groups of patriots were formed for the purpose which the conspirators had in view. Savarkar along with some others had been working at it from before 1906. In 1906, he went to England with a scholarship given by Shamjee Krishna Varma, another Extremist and founder of the India House in London. Even in London, Savarkar was the leader of Indian revolutionaries. He was being brought to India in a ship under an extradition warrant in about 1909, when he attempted to escape from the ship by jumping into the sea, near the coast of France; but he was overtaken and reshipped.
At the trial before the Special Tribunal all the accused except three were defended by counsel. Savarkar himself stated to the court that he declined to take any part in the trial; but practically he was defended by Mr. Joseph Baptista, a well-known and capable barrister of those days with nationalist feelings.
The hearing lasted for sixty-nine days. Various questions of law were raised by the defence in the course of the trial. The line of defence taken on behalf of the accused persons, as indicated by the cross-examination, was to the effect that the prosecution was mainly based upon the unreliable, if not false, evidence of approvers and accomplices; that the evidence of the searches and of finding of various incriminating articles by the police was in several cases a fabrication or a delusion; and that the police evidence whether relating to the searches or other matters was dominated by an unscrupulous determination to secure a conviction by any means. Further, the defence attacked the confessions and the statements made by the accused as evidence extracted by ill-treatment or inducement, and that they were not free or voluntary as required by the law.
At the conclusion of the trial, the Tribunal delivered judgment. Having regard to the magnitude and complexity of the case, the judgment of Sir Basil Scott is really admirable for its brevity, clearness and convincing analysis of the charges and of the evidence. After dealing with the general aspects of the case, and the evidence relating to the existence, ramifications and the developments of the conspiracy at various places, the judgment dealt with the case of each individual accused, and the charges preferred against him. It is remarkable that, in spite of the magnitude of the case, the large number of accused involved, the great volume and intricacy of the evidence, the judgment covers just 20 printed pages. It is illustrative of the usual brevity and lucidity of the judgments of Chief Justice Scott. After carefully considering the case collectively as well as individually, the Tribunal came to the following conclusion, and these orders were passed: eight out of the thirty-eight accused persons were acquitted and discharged. The rest were sentenced to various terms of transportation or imprisonment, ranging from transportation for life and rigorous imprisonment for ten years to imprisonment for six months. Vinayak Savarkar as the soul, inspiration, and moving spirit of the conspiracy extending over a number of years, was sentenced to transportation for life and forfeiture of all his property. Another accused person Keshav Shripad Chandvadkar was sentenced to transportation for fifteen years. Three other accused persons were sentenced to ten years' Rigorous Imprisonment, one 7 years, 5 five years, 4 four years, 5 three years, 3 two years, and the remaining 4 six months each. The case concluded and the sentences were passed on 24th December 1910.
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