Where Jinnah defended Tilak
Just outside the grand, wood-panelled Central Court stands a marble tablet with these lines inscribed in stone: “In spite of the verdict of the Jury, I maintain that I am innocent. There are higher powers that rule the destiny of men and nations and it may be the will of providence that the cause which I represent may prosper more by my suffering than my remaining free.”
The lines were spoken in the Central Court by perhaps the greatest historical figure to ever be tried here — freedom fighter Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak.
Tilak was tried on three occasions by the Bombay High Court, for inflammatory speeches and sedition. On one occasion — the occasion on which Tilak spoke those line — his defence lawyer was Muhammad Ali Jinnah, then just 32 and still five years away from joining the Muslim League.
But Jinnah was still a rookie in 1897, when Tilak had his first brush with the high court.
The British government had charged the nationalist, then 42, with writing inflammatory articles in his Marathi newspaper Kesari during the bubonic plague epidemic in Poona.
As a result of the articles, the government claimed, the collector of Poona — responsible for controlling the plague epidemic — and a young military officer were shot dead.
Tilak was found guilty and sentenced to 18 month in prison.
Tilak’s next appearance at the high court was in 1909, before Parsi judge Justice J. Davar and a special jury. He was charged with sedition, once again for articles published in Kesari.
Tilak had spoken up in support of two young Bengalis who had thrown a bomb onto a train carriage. While one of the two men had committed suicide when caught, the other was tried and hanged.
Hauled up in court for demanding Swaraj or self-rule in the wake of the execution, Tilak called on up-and-coming lawyer Jinnah to defend him. But the jury, by a majority of 7:2, returned a verdict of guilty and Tilak was sentenced to six years.
On being asked by the judge whether he had anything to say, Tilak uttered the words now carved into the marble plaque.
Soon after his release upon completion of his sentence, Tilak had his third run-in with the law — over a series of lectures he gave in 1916, on obtaining swaraj through constitutional means.
This time, he was ordered to supply a bond of Rs 20,000 “to guarantee good behaviour”.
In this instance, though, the freedom fighter triumphed.
The high court ruled that, while certain passages were objectionable, read as a whole, the series of speeches did not offend the law. The order of the magistrate was deemed unjustified and was set aside.