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Special Exhibition at Library of Congress To Mark 150th Anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s Birth

The following is a guest post by Tariq Ahmad, a foreign law specialist in the Global Legal Research Directorate of the Law Library of Congress. Tariq has previously contributed posts on The Constitution of India – Pic of the Week,  Islamic Law in Pakistan – Global Legal Collection Highlights, India’s Regulatory Approach to UberSedition Law in India, and FALQs post on Beef Bans in India and Proposals to Reform Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws 

Picture of Gandhi from Indian Courts  and Characters, //lccn.loc.gov/32030920. Picture by Tariq Ahmad.

On Wednesday October 2, 2019, there will be an exhibition at the Library of Congress that will mark the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth and feature special collections from various reading rooms and divisions around the Library. A recent blog post highlighting the event was published by South Asia Reference Librarian Jonathan Loar from the Asian Reading Room and states:

This exhibition will draw from the Library’s vast collections to showcase the legacy of India’s social and political leader known by the honorific title “Mahatma” (great soul). It is also an opportunity to learn how Gandhi became one of the most recognizable figures in the Indian independence movement and one of the world’s foremost models of nonviolent resistance.

The one-day display exhibition will be presented on October 2 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Whittall Pavilion on the ground floor of the Thomas Jefferson Building. The free display is presented together with the “Embassy of India as part of India’s ongoing celebration of Gandhi’s legacy of peace and nonviolence.”

The Law Library of Congress will be showcasing a number of rare and interesting items from our law collections at the exhibit to commemorate the life and legacy of Mahatma Gandhi. A few of the items are from the early period of his life when he was a practicing lawyer in South Africa including the case of In re Gandhi (1894) when Gandhi’s application for admittance as an advocate of the High Court of Natal which was being opposed by the Law Society of Natal.  The Law Society claimed their opposition was based on procedural grounds but they were suspected of racist motivations due to Gandhi’s Indian origin.  We will also be sharing items related to the historic 1922 trial when Mahatma Gandhi was tried before the District & Sessions Court of Ahmedabad for sedition under section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) based on certain articles he published in his weekly journal, Young India. He was charged with “bringing or attempting to excite disaffection towards His Majesty’s Government established by law in British India.”

Indian Courts and Characters. Photo by Tariq Ahmad. //lccn.loc.gov/32030920.

Gandhi was sentenced to six years in prison for his involvement in protesting the British colonial government in India, and served two years before being released for medical reasons. We will be showcasing a book by Sir Thomas Strangman, who was a an advocate-general during the trial, called Indian Courts and Characters, which provides a summary account of this trial. We will also be displaying parts of the famous speech Gandhi delivered during the trial (from his collected works) where he declared that he accepted the charge, stating, “I have no desire whatsoever to conceal from this court the fact that to preach disaffection towards the existing system of Government has become almost a passion with me” and that  “Section 124A under which I am happily charged is perhaps the prince among the political sections of the IPC designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen.”

Printed Records of Mahatma Gandhi Murder Case vol. 1. Photo by Tariq Ahmad. //lccn.loc.gov/2003586650.

One of the most interesting items that the Law Library will be showcasing is the printed record of the Mahatma Gandhi murder case. A rare book acquisition by the Law Library in 2002, it details a significant event of Indian history, the assassination of Gandhi on January 30, 1948. This item, an eight-volume record of the Gandhi murder trial, had originally belonged to the main assassin, Nathuram Vinayak Godse, before he was executed in November 1949. The margins of the volumes contain the handwritten notes of the defendant and his counsel during the trial. The first volume of the Gandhi trial set, which will be displayed, contains the verbatim testimony of the one hundred forty-nine prosecution witnesses. The second volume includes the written statements of several of the twelve defendants and the third is the judgement of the trial court. Volumes 4 through 6 contains the printed record of the trial and all the related trial documents and exhibits. Volumes 7 and 8 reprint the record used in the appeal and the judgment of the High Court of Punjab. The exhibit will also be showing a rare book of memoirs by the Chief Justice of the Punjab, G.D. Khosla, who heard the appeal of Gandhi’s murder trial. The book, Murder of the Mahatma, and other cases from a judge’s note-book, includes chapters on criminal cases that he personally adjudicated—on arson, dacoity, poisoning, and vendettas. The book ends with an authoritative account of the murder of Gandhi.

Constitution of India. Photo by Tariq Ahmad. //lccn.loc.gov/57026883.

The Law Library will also be presenting in the exhibit one of the photolithographic reproductions of the Constitution of the Republic of India, which came into effect on January 26, 1950, after being approved by the Constituent Assembly on November 26, 1949. The original of this elaborate edition of the Constitution of India took nearly five years to produce. According to information from the World Digital Library and the Survey of India, it is  signed by its framers or the founders of the Republic of India and “the original is kept in a special helium-filled case in the Library of the Parliament of India.” The illustration represent styles from various civilizations of the subcontinent, ranging from the prehistoric Indus Valley Mohenjo-Daro to the present. The calligraphy in the book was done by Prem Behari Narain Raizda. It was illuminated by Nandalal Bose and other artists, and photolithographed at the Survey of India Offices in Dehra Dun in 1950. Though Gandhi was not directly involved in the drafting of India’s Constitution, the liberal and secular principles he espoused and the importance he placed on social and institutional change had a significant impact on the finished document. For example, the political debates between B. R. Ambedkar, the chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee and prominent leader of Dalits or Scheduled Castes, and Mahatma Gandhi helped shape the Constitution’s system of reserving seats for historically disadvantaged castes and tribes in the national and provincial legislatures.

Indian Constitution. Photo by Tariq Ahmad. //lccn.loc.gov/57026883.

The following are some of the items from the Law Law Library collections that will be displayed in the exhibit:

One Comment

  1. Brandon Fitzgerald
    October 4, 2019 at 1:00 pm

    Quite the compelling display overall, and I appreciated the selections from the Law Library. Thank you, Tariq.

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