Irrfan Khan’s ‘Tokyo Trial’ Remembers a Forgotten Indian Judge

Every historical event, more often than not, has opposing narratives. And when it’s about World War II, the significance of the narratives is even more compelling.

‘Tokyo Trial,’ a four-part mini-series starring Irrfan Khan, looks like a compelling re-telling of a trial that happened in 1946 following the Second World War. Eleven judges from the Allied nations were called to Tokyo to deliberate the fate of 28 Japanese leaders who were being tried for “war crimes” including the Pearl Harbour attack.

The only dissenting voice in the entire panel of judges was an Indian – Radhabinod Pal – played by Khan in the series. Pal, a judge not many know in his homeland, is glorified as a hero in Japan.

Justice Pal: A Dissenting ‘Hero’, a Forgotten Judge

Pal was a distinguished judge of the Calcutta High Court and vice-chancellor of the University of Calcutta. All the judges constituting the tribunal believed all 25 defendants were guilty of Class-A war crimes (of the 28, one was declared mentally unfit, and two died during the trial).

It was only Pal who said that this idea of justice emanated out of a wish for vengeance and not judicial fairness. He is further believed to have said that the international community at that time did not possess the level of sophistication to declare war a crime.

For this reason, Pal is a hero in Japan. To honour him, Japan also built a monument at the Yasukuni Shrine in 2005. There have also been several books published in praise of him in the country.

To honour Radhabinod Pal, Japan built a monument at the Yasukuni Shrine in 2005. (Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

In a 1,235-page long dissent, Pal wrote that the exercise was a “sham employment of legal process for the satisfaction of a thirst for revenge.”

“I would hold that each and every one of the accused must be found not guilty of each and every one of the charges in the indictment and should be acquitted of all those charges,” Judge Pal wrote of the 25 Japanese defendants.

When Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited India in 2007, he mentioned Pal in his speech at the Parliament. “Justice Pal is highly respected even today by many Japanese for the noble spirit of courage he exhibited during the International Military Tribunal for the Far East,” he said. During his visit, Abe also met Pal’s son Prasanta, who believes his father has been forgotten in his homeland.

“For us, we were extremely grateful for Judge Pal’s presence – there was no other foreigner who said so clearly that Japan wasn’t the only country that had done wrong,” New York Times quoted Hideaki Kase, chairman of the Japan-India Goodwill Association, an organisation founded in part because of Judge Pal’s legacy, as saying.

Interestingly, appointing Pal as a judge to the tribunal was a political blunder. Long kept in the realms of uncertainty, it was after some documents were obtained by Nariaki Nakazato, a professor at the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Oriental Culture, that a confusion within the British authorities was revealed.

Pal was incorrectly appointed by the war department despite objections by the Indian governor general's secretariat. The war department conceded they overstepped their boundaries, also leading to the demotion of the person who made the appointment.