Monday, 6 April 2015

The Hindu Editorial-24th March 1931-A Grave Blunder-first editorial in country?!

It is possible that The Hindu editorial may be the first in whole country after execution of martyrs on 23rd March evening. Since The Hindu was evening daily in those days, so its 24th March carried editorial and other reports, as issue of 23rd March also carried many reports. Surprising part of it is that how Bhagat Singh phenomenon in those days had overtook even South India, no wonder another first also took place in Madras, when E V Ramaswamy Naicker, popularly known as Periyar came out with his own editorial in his Tamil weekly 'Kudai Arsu', which got translated in English only 75 years later in 2005 in their English journal Rationalist. The Hindu reproduced it its 22nd August 2011 issue, link given here:

On the 84th anniversary of the execution of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru in Lahore, we reproduce our Editorial from the issue dated March 24, 1931

The news of the execution of Bhagat Singh and his two comrades, accused in what is known as the Lahore Conspiracy Case, will come upon the public as a rude shock. For, although the petition for mercy made on their behalf had been rejected by the Viceroy, applications had been made before the High Court with a view to get a judicial pronouncement on the legality of the Local Government’s attempts to carry out the sentence on the prisoners in spite of the fact that the Court which, in the opinion of Counsel for the prisoners, was the only one competent to issue the death warrant, had ceased to exist. The issue raised by Counsel was obviously so complicated and the arrangements made on behalf of the prisoners to get the verdict of the highest tribunal available so advanced that the public felt that for some time at any rate...the execution could not come off and...there was still hope of the prisoners being saved from the extreme penalty of the law. That the Government had every need to proceed with caution will be evident if one recalls the extraordinary circumstances connected with the trial of the accused.
The accused were put up for trial before a Special Magistrate twenty months ago for the offence of conspiracy to wage war against the King by murder, dacoity, manufacture and use of bombs and other methods and, so far as Bhagat Singh was concerned, of having murdered a police officer, Mr. Saunders of Lahore. Subsequently, on the ground that the police ill-treated them, the accused refused to appear in Court... the Lahore High Court... refused to be a party to dispensing with the committed proceedings ...the case was withdrawn from the jurisdiction of the ordinary courts, placed before a special tribunal and provision was made for the trial of the accused in their absence. In spite of these extraordinary arrangements, the accused attended the court of the special tribunal for a few days, but following an incident the police handcuffed them and indulged in a lathi charge in the court premises — proceedings which moved one of the judges of the tribunal openly to express his disgust at the police action.
The accused thereafter refused to attend the court and the trial was proceeded with in their absence. The trial went on in their absence without any counsel representing them; without any cross examination of the approvers and without testing the evidence of other witnesses. Nor should it be forgotten that two of the seven approvers subsequently retracted their earlier story. To carry out a sentence of death passed as the result of a trial in such extraordinary circumstances will have been in any case to incur a very grave responsibility. But in this case the additional point had been raised that there was legally no authority competent to give effect to the sentence... By the indecent haste with which they have proceeded in the matter they have defied public opinion and exasperated it in a manner that it is difficult to envisage the gravity of the reactions in this country to their latest blunder. As Gandhiji says, the Government “have lost a golden opportunity of winning over the revolutionary party. It as their clear duty, in view of the settlement, at least to suspend indefinitely the execution. By their action they have put a severe strain upon the settlement and once more proved their capacity for flouting public opinion”
The Hindu carried its editorial of 24th March 1931 in its 23rd March 2015 issue as tribute to martyrs, since I did not know that it was evening daily in those days, I expressed my doubt about its date, so today's Reader's Editor column has clarified it. It is interesting reference to the history of The Hindu newspaper itself and its coverage of freedom struggle and Bhagat Singh related news in such detail in 1931! Sharing it here and also sharing my response to it.
A couple of weeks ago, this newspaper decided to shift the section, “From the Archives”, from the Variety page to the Comment page. Readers liked the move and felt that this, indeed, gave a glimpse into our past and provided an opportunity to view our present without losing the historical perspective. It also helped us realise that though much has changed, some undercurrents remain constant. For instance, the two news items from April 2, 1965, reproduced on April 2, 2015, read as if they are reports of the present. “Pakistan in no mood for talks” is about the competitive dynamics that defined the relationship between India, Pakistan and China over the last half a century. “Rift in world trade union body” reminds us that the political orientation of the member-nations determines the trajectories of any multilateral negotiation.
The query
On March 23, 2015, the newspaper reproduced its Editorial of March 24, 1931 on the execution of Bhagat Singh and his colleagues in Lahore on its 84th anniversary. One of the foremost chroniclers of Bhagat Singh’s life, Prof. Chaman Lal, expressed doubts about the date of the Editorial. His contention was that Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev were executed on March 23, 1931 between 7 to 8 p.m. He said that even the Lahore newspaper, The Tribune , could carry the news only in its March 25 issue. “News to papers in Delhi, Calcutta, Madras, etc. is not likely to reach faster than Lahore. Even if it would have been known to The Hindu or other papers, writing an Editorial on the same, which is generally written and finalized in the daytime itself, is not possible under the communication and printing technology of those days. So in all probability, the Editorial could have been written on 24th March, 1931 day time, as news became known by that time and may have been carried in the issue of 25th March, 1931,” he wrote.
He tried to check the archives of The Hindu in Delhi for confirmation, but access to the 1931 issues of The Hindu was not immediately available and hence, he wanted the office of the Readers’ Editor to clarify the dates. His letter drove me to the index and library of The Hindu . I found that the date of the Editorial, “A grave blunder”, was indeed March 24, 1931 and was on page 8. But, I was stumped to see detailed reportage of the executions, performance of last rites, protests, and statements from leaders like Gandhiji, Nehru, Malaviya and Patel on page 9 with the dateline March 24. How did the newspaper manage to carry the statements issued on March 24 in its March 24 edition? Was Prof. Chaman Lal right? Was there a problem in ascribing the dateline in those days?
The answer lies in history
The answer lay in the history of the newspaper. The Hindu was launched as a weekly in September 20, 1878. It became a tri-weekly, published on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, from October 1, 1883. On April 1, 1889, it became an evening daily. In 1939, in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, the newspaper moved to its present premises in Chennai, and became a morning daily on November 7, 1940. In fact, this year marks the 75th anniversary of the newspaper becoming a morning broadsheet. As an evening paper in 1931, it had enough time not only to carry an Editorial but also to look at the multiple strands of events that followed the execution of Bhagat Singh across the Indian subcontinent.
My search, following Prof. Lal’s query, also helped me realise that this newspaper was committed to providing comprehensive coverage of the day’s events to make sense of the prevailing politics and current affairs. Let me look at the coverage of two days — March 23, 1931 and March 24, 1931. A report from the correspondent in Lahore on March 23, gave details of the last petition heard by the Chief Justice of the Punjab High Court as the possibility of the execution was looming large before the Karachi Congress that was slated from March 24, and there was a report from Karachi about doubting the party’s continued participation in the Round Table Conference.
The March 24 issue recorded the fact that the Congress leadership, comprising Gandhi, Nehru, Rajaji, Patel and other members of the Congress Working Committee, was at the New Delhi railway station on the night of March 23 en route to Karachi when the news of the execution reached them. The newspaper also documented the series of futile legal attempts made on March 23 to save the Lahore Conspiracy Case prisoners: filing of a habeas corpus petition and its failure, the next attempt to get leave for appeal to the Privy Council and its rejection, leading to the final move of sending a special leave petition to Viceroy Irwin and the Law Member. There was also a detailed report that recollected the facts of the case starting from the murder of Saunders, ASP, Lahore to the Special Tribunal’s verdict of pronouncing the death sentence.
For me, reading the pages of the 1931 copies of this newspaper provided an insight into the present architecture of the paper, whose foundations were laid many generations before: a credible suturing process of multiple pieces of information to create an integrated narrative that offers trustworthy news, enabling readers to form a perspective.
My comment
Thanks a lot for clearing my query on the editorial A Grave Blinder in your column of today-6th April. It was really interesting to know the history of The Hindu itself in this context, which I am sharing through The Hindu link & text on my blog-bhagatsinghstudy, face book etc.However it has made me little more keen to know more about The Hindu's coverage of freedom struggle. While writing to you and copying it to Editor and Chairman The Hindu, I wish to request that The Hindu archives may be extended to at least from the beginning of year 1900, ideally from the day it became daily in 1889. The Hindu coverage of freedom struggle period must be one of the most significant, which if shared on website, would be of immense help to historians and general readers interested in freedom struggle chronology. I remember on an earlier occasion, another The Hindu book helped me in tracing the personality of Bibi Amtus Salam, a Gandhian who lived in Rajpura-Punjab after partition and I wrote a piece on her in The Tribune.
I did come across some documentation, which mentions the last petition in Punjab High Court Lahore being disposed off at 3 pm on 23rd March 1931 and within four hours executions were done. But these days people hardly know these facts. The Hindu also must have carried the news of cremation of three martyrs bodies at village Ganda Singhwala first during 23-24th March midnight, but later at Ravi Banks of Lahore on 24th March evening with huge procession of people and strike on Lahore. The Tribune carried the picture and report on 26th March 1931 of this cremation, now everyone is made to believe the cremation at Hussainiwala near Ferozpur. I wish to consult all these reports on The Hindu pages, if only they could be put on the website.
8th April 1929 is again a historic day, the day which Bhagat Singh and BK Dutt threw bombs in Central Assemble(Today's Parliament) against anti people bills like that of Land Acquisition anti people bill. The Hindu must have carried 1929 news in great detail in its 8th April issue itself, being evening-er, as the bomb explosions took place around 11 am that day. Probably Editor-The Hindu can reproduce that news on its oncoming 8th April issue as it reproduced 24th March editorial.

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