- The Indian National Army trials (also known as the INA trials and the Red Fort trials) was the British Indian trial by court-martial of a number of officers of the Indian National Army (INA) between November 1945 and May 1946, on various charges of treason, torture, murder and abetment to murder, during the Second World War.
- The accused had, like a large number of other troops and officers of the British Indian Army, joined the Indian National Army and later fought in Burma alongside the Japanese military under the Azad Hind.
- By 1943 and 1944, courts martial were taking place in India of former personnel of the British Indian Army who were captured fighting in INA ranks or working in support of the INA’s subversive activities.
- These did not receive any publicity or political sympathies till much later.
- The charges in these earlier trials were of “Committing a civil offence contrary to the Section 41 of the Indian Army Act, 1911 or the Section 41 of the Burma Army Act” with the offence specified as “Waging War against the King” contrary to the Section 121 of the Indian Penal Code.
- However, the number of INA troops captured by Commonwealth forces by the end of the Burma Campaign made it necessary to take a selective policy to charge those accused of the worst allegations.
- The first of these was the joint trial of Shah Nawaz Khan, Prem Sahgal and Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon.
- The decision was made to hold a public trial, as opposed to the earlier trials, and given the political importance and significance of the trials, the decision was made to hold these at the Red Fort.
INA Defence committee
- The Indian National Congress made the release of the three defendants an important political issue, during the agitation for independence of 1945-46.
- The INA Defence Committee was a committee established by the Indian National Congress in 1945 to defend those officers of the Indian National Army, who were to be charged during the INA trials.
- Additional responsibilities of the committee also came to be the co-ordination of information on INA troops held captive, as well as arranging for relief for troops after the war.
- The committee declared the formation of the Congress’ defence team for the INA and included famous lawyers of the time, including Bhulabhai Desai, Asaf Ali, Sharat Chandra bose, Tej Bahadur Sapru, Kailash Nath Katju.
The outcome of the Trial
- The Red Fort trials, resulted in many Indians getting acquainted with a force that had fought for independence.
- It led to sympathy for the INA across the country, and before long, demonstrations began springing up in different parts in solidarity with the captured troops.
- The Congress also took notice of the widespread support for the INA soldiers and realised that this could be a way to reignite the enthusiasm and hunger in the country for independence.
- The INA defence Committee put up an impeccable defence, arguing that the actions of the INA troops were legal and within the terms of the Indian National Army Act, and thus exempt from the Indian Penal Code and the Indian Army Act.
- As compelling as the arguments of the defence were, the three INA members were found guilty of waging a war. They were, however, not given the death sentence but dismissed from service and handed transportation for life, which too was remitted.
- The three INA members were then released and welcomed as heroes, with the Congress showing full support in the celebration.