On January 30, 1948, Mahatma Gandhi was murdered by Hindutva fanatic Nathuram Godse as he made his way to a prayer meeting. Godse, who had been a member of the extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Hindu Mahasabha and the Hindu Rashtra Dal, shot Gandhi in the chest. The Mahatma died on the spot.

This silent video takes us into the courtroom where Godse and seven co-conspirators were tried in 1948-’49.

The footage opens with shots of the Red Fort in Delhi, where the trial began on June 22, 1948. The accused, including lawyer VD Savarkar, Narayan Apte, Madanlal Pahwa and Vishnu Karkare, can be seen in the dock having conversation and exchanging grins with the press corps. Only Godse is impassive.

Godse and Apte got the death sentence, Savarkar was acquitted, and the other five accused were sentenced to life imprisonment. Except for Godse, the convicted men filed appeals, which were heard at the Peterhof building in Shimla, which housed the Punjabi High Court at the time.

As Justice GD Khosla described the process in Murder of the Mahatma [PDF], his 1965 account of the trial,
“An appeal in a murder case is, according to High Court Rules and Orders, heard by a Division Bench consisting of two judges, but owing to the unique position which the deceased had occupied, the complexity and volume of the evidence which would have to be considered and appraised and the unprecedented interest aroused by the case, the Chief Justice decided to constitute a bench of three judges to hear the appeal by Godse and his accomplices. The judges were Mr. Justice Bhandari, Mr. Justice Achhruram and myself. We decided that as a special measure we should resume the old practice of wearing wigs, and that on our entry into the court-room we should, as in the olden days, be preceded by our liveried ushers carrying silver-mounted staffs.”

The first hearing was held on May 2, 1949.  Godse declined a lawyer and fought his own case. Khosla wrote:
“His small defiant figure with flashing eyes and close-cropped hair offered a remarkable and immediately noticeable contrast to the long row of placid and prosperous-looking lawyers who represented his accomplices. The plea of poverty on which Godse had based his request to be present in person was only an excuse, and the real reason behind the maneuver was a morbid desire to watch the process of his disintegration at first hand and also to exhibit himself as a fearless patriot and a passionate protagonist of Hindu ideology. He had remained completely unrepentant of his atrocious crime, and whether out of a deep conviction in his beliefs or merely in order to make a last public apology, he had sought this opportunity of displaying his talents before he dissolved into oblivion.”

Two of the accused, Dattratreya Parchure and Shankar Kistayya, were acquitted during the appeal, while the conviction and sentence of the remaining five appellants were confirmed.  Godse and Apte were hanged in Ambala Jail on November 15, 1949.