Madan Lal Dhingra
Madan Lal Dhingra (1883 – 1909) was an Indian freedom fighter, political activist, a revolutionary studying in England. There he killed Sir William Hutt Curzon Wyllie, a British official. It is hailed as one of the first acts of revolution in the Indian independence movement in the 20th century.
Madan Lal Dhingra was born on 18 Sept 1883 in a rich Hindu family of doctors in 1883 in Amritsar in the province of Punjab. His father was a wealthy eye specialist and Civil Surgeon of Amritsar. Some say he was the first Indian doctor to reach that eminent position. Madan Lal’s father, Dr Dhingra had seven sons in all: Kundanlal ( a businessman ), Dr Mohanlal, Dr Biharilal (MRCP 1895), Chamanlal (Barrister from Middle Temple 1899), Chunilal, MADANLAL and Bhajanlal (Barrister from Grays Inn 1911).
Dhingra’s family were loyalists of the British, and disowned him after his expulsion from college in Lahore owing to illicit political activities. Dhingra had to work as a clerk, a Tonga (rickshaw) puller, and a factory labourer. Dhingra attempted to organize a union there, but was sacked. He worked for sometime in Bombay before acting upon the advice of his elder brother and going to England for higher studies.
Madanlal Dhingra studied for Diploma in Civil Engineering at University College, London from 1906-09 (it is interesting to note that Dadabhai Naoroji was Professor of Gujarati in this college from 1856 to 1866. Ravindranath Tagore studied English Literature at the same college during 1878-1880. Dhingra’s elder brother Dr Biharilal passed MRCP from University College Hospital in 1895). Here he came in contact with Savarkar at India House. (This house at 65 Cromwell Avenue, London was purchased by Shyamji Krishnavarma in 1905. It was to be used as a students’ hostel.)
He reached England and joined a University for the engineering degree in the month of October. Dhingra was overjoyed to be in England and indulged in merrymaking. He was a happy-go-lucky man and used to take pleasure in wearing costly, smart suits; he used cosmetics and scents, and spent hours together before the mirror combing his hair. He liked to go for long walks in the streets of London in the evenings and spent much time in the company of friends. Dhingra was a highly emotional young man and was greatly attracted by the heroic deeds of Khudiram Bose and Kanailal. He came in contact with Vinayak Damodar Savarkar by whom he was greatly inspired. He also formed close contacts with Shyamji Krishna Verma, Har Dayal, Gian Chand and Kore Gakar, who were all revolutionaries and associated with the ‘India House’ in London. He was present at a meeting which was addressed by Lala Lajpat Rai during his stay in London. He was also associated with the Indian Home Rule Society and the Abhinava Bharat Society. His mind dwelt, during this period, on the British atrocities in India.
Savarkar believed in revolution by any means, and supposedly gave Dhingra arms training, apart from membership in a secretive society, the Abhinav Bharat Mandal. He was also a member of India House, the base for Indian student political activity.
During this period, Savarkar, Dhingra and other student activists were enraged by the execution of freedom fighters such as Khudiram Bose, Kannai Dutt, Satinder Pal and Kanshi Ram in India. It is this event that is attributed by many historians as having led Savarkar and Dhingra scheme of exacting direct revenge upon the British.
Curzon Wyllie’s assassination
National Indian Association was an association in London which tried to attract the Indian youths who went to England for higher studies. Miss Emma Josephine Beck was its secretary. Dhingra visited the office of the National Indian Association in the month of March 1909. He made friends with Emma Beck and expressed a desire to become a member. The very next month he enrolled himself as a member. He bought a revolver in London and another Belgian pistol from a private person. He started regular shooting practice and recorded his practice in his note-book.
On 1st July 1909, the National Indian Association was to celebrate its annual day. The venue chosen for the annual day celebrations was the Jehangir Hall of the Imperial Institute. Dhingra collected information from Emma Beck and discussed his plans with Savarkar.
Wearing a sky-blue turban in the Punjabi style and a smart suit, a necktie and dark glasses, Dhingra filled up his coat pockets with a revolver, two pistols and two knives.
Dhingra reached the party at eight. He went around talking to people there for some time. It was past ten when political aide-de-camp to the Secretary of State for India Curzon Wyllie and his wife arrived. Their arrival added zest to the merriment. It was about eleven when the proceeding ended. Wyllie got down from the dais. Then there was some music. Wyllie was moving around talking to people informally.
Dhingra fired five shots right at his face, four of which hit their target. Cowasji Lalkaka, a Parsee doctor who tried to save Sir Curzon, died of Madan Lal’s sixth and seventh bullets, which the latter fired because Lalkaka had caught hold of him.
Dhingra was tried in the Old Bailey Court . The police started the trial in an alarming manner, producing five witnesses, including an Indian, Madan Mohan Sinha, who grappled with Dhingra.
On July 10, the accused made a statement that exposed the tyranny of the British and on July 23, he was indicted for murder and sentenced to death. He stated that he did not intend to kill Cowasji Lalkaka. Nevertheless, he was sentenced to death. After the judge announced his verdict, Dhingra is said to have stated, “I am proud to have the honour of laying down my life for my country. But remember we shall have our time in the days to come.” . When Madanlal shot dead Sir Wyllie, Bhajanlal was in London studying Law at Grays Inn. Four days after the event Bhajanlal attended the public meeting to condemn Madanlal. On account of that, Madanlal refused to see Bhajanlal when the latter visited him in the prison.
After he was hanged on 17 August 1909, his cremation was not allowed. The British had not the courage to allow the publication of Dhingra’s court statement which many British papers had quoted already His father, Sahib Ditta, sent a cable from India: “I disown Madan as my son. He has disgraced my fair name.” His brother declared that he had nothing to do with Dhingra any more, since what Dhingra had done was a serious crime. Soon after Dhingra’s martyrdom, his brothers dropped the surname Dhingra, with the exception of Dr Biharilal. As their first names ended in Lal they adopted that as the surname. e.g Chamanlal Dhingra became Chaman Lal.
While most of the British press, and liberal and moderate Indians condemned Dhingra’s act, it nevertheless excited the Indian community in England and back in India. Guy Aldred, the printer of The Indian Sociologist was sentenced to twelve months hard labour. The August issue of The Indian Sociologist had carried a story sympathetic to Dhingra. Dhingra’s actions also evoked some sympathy from the Irish, who were fighting their own struggle at the time.
Some modern historians claim that the trial was grossly unfair and biased. Dhingra was not given a defense counsel (though this was at his own request, in support of his contention that no British court had authority to try him), and the entire process was completed in a single day. Some legal experts claim that it was not the business of the court at the time to decide the time and location of execution.Gandhi condemned Dhingra’s actions. To quote,
It is being said in defense of Sir Curzon Wyllie’s assassination that…just as the British would kill every German if Germany invaded Britain, so too it is the right of any Indian to kill any Englishman…. The analogy…is fallacious. If the Germans were to invade Britain, the British would kill only the invaders. They would not kill every German whom they met…. They would not kill an unsuspecting German, or Germans who are guests.
Even should the British leave in consequence of such murderous acts, who will rule in their place? Is the Englishman bad because he is an Englishman? Is it that everyone with an Indian skin is good? If that is so, there should be [no] angry protest against oppression by Indian princes. India can gain nothing from the rule of murderers—no matter whether they are black or white. Under such a rule, India will be utterly ruined and laid waste.The Indian Opinion, August 14th 1909.
The shooting brought to the fore the facts related to economic exploitation of Indians. People like eminent historian Professor Bipan Chander said the young man had given us (Indians) back our pride. Thirty-one years later in 1940 Udham Singh repeated the act in London to avenge the massacre of Jallianwala Bagh Amritsar.
This statement was said just before he died at the gallows:
“I believe that a nation held down by foreign bayonets is in a perpetual state of war. Since open battle is rendered impossible to a disarmed race, I attacked by surprise. Since guns were denied to me I drew forth my pistol and fired. Poor in health and intellect, a son like myself has nothing else to offer to the mother but his own blood. And so I have sacrificed the same on her altar. The only lesson required in India at present is to learn how to die, and the only way to teach it is by dying ourselves. My only prayer to God is that I may be re-born of the same mother and I may re-die in the same sacred cause till the cause is successful. Vande Mataram!”
In his memoirs, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, the British poet and writer who also served in the Diplomatic Service writes (entry dated 24 July 1909) writes, “No Christian martyr ever faced his judges more fearlessly or with greater dignity…if India could produce five hundred men, as resolutely without fear, she would achieve her freedom. It was recorded in medical evidence at the trial, that, when arrested, Dhingra’s pulse beat no quicker than normal, nor from first to last, has he shown any sign of weakening.” On the day of Dhingra’s martyrdom, leaflets entitled ‘Ireland Honours Dhingra’ were distributed and pasted on walls in Ireland. As chance would have it, Dhingra’s martyrdom day coincided with Blunt’s 69th birthday. Blunt remarked that they (meaning the British) had honoured him (Blunt) by choosing his birthday to hang Dhingra. For this day would be remembered as Martyrs’ Day for several generations, exclaimed Blunt!
At the time, Dhingra’s body was denied Hindu rites and was buried by British authorities. His family having disowned him, the authorities refused to turn over the body to Savarkar.
He was buried within the Pentonville prison yard in North London and a brick in the nearby wall was marked MLD which ultimately helped locate his remains.
Dhingra’s body was accidentally found while authorities searched for the remains of Shaheed Udham Singh, and re-patriated to India on December 13, 1976. Both men came from Amritsar.
Dhingra is widely remembered in India today, and was an inspiration at the time to revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh and Chandrasekhar Azad. Udham Singh’s coffin was exhumed on 11 July 1974 and flown back to India.
Madanlal Dhingra’s coffin was exhumed on 12 December 1976 in the presence of Natwar Singh, then Acting High Commisioner for India. This coffin too was flown back to India.
THE TRIAL OF MADAN LAL DHINGRA
DHINGRA, Madan Lal (25, student), was indicted for, and charged on the coroner’s inquisition with, the wilful murder of William Hutt Curzon Wyllie and Cowas Lalcaca.
On being called upon to plead to the indictment for the “wilful murder” of Sir W. H. Curzon Wyllie, prisoner said, “First of all I would say that these words cannot be used with regard to me at all. Whatever I did was an act of patriotism and justice which was justified. The only thing I have to say is in the statement which I believe you have got.”
The Clerk of Arraigns: The question now is whether yon plead “Guilty” or “Not guilty” to the indictment?
Prisoner: Well, according to my view I will plead “Not guilty. Whatever I want to say is in the statement that was taken from my
The Lord Chief Justice directed a plea of Not guilty to be entered.
To the indictment for the wilful murder of Dr. Cowas Lalcaca, prisoner pleaded Not guilty.
Asked whether he had any counsel to defend him, prisoner replied that he had not.
The Attorney-General (Sir William Robson, K. C., HP.), Mr. Bodkin, Mr. Rowlatt, and “Mr. Leycester prosecuted.
Mini HARRIS, 106, Ledbury Road, Bayswater. Prisoner came to lodge at my house on Easter Monday; he occupied a ground floor front room. On July 1 he left the house about two in the afternoon, returned just after eight and shortly afterwards went out again. He was then dressed an ordinary day clothes, with a blue turban; he left in a cab.
The Lord Chief Justice asked prisoner if he wished to put any questions.
Prisoner. No, I do not want to ask any questions; I want to say something.
The Lord Chief Justice. You can say what yon like afterwards. Do you want to ask any questions now?
Prisoner. No, I don’t want to ask anything.
WILLIAM BURROW, an assistant at Gamage’s, limited, Holborn, proved that prisoner on January 26 purchased there a Colt’s automatic magazine pistol for ₤3 5s. He produced a gun licence taken out in the name of Madar Lal Dhinghra, of University College.
HENRY STANTON MORLEY. I am proprietor of an exhibition of automatic machines and a shooting range at 92, Tottenham Court Road. About three months ago prisoner commenced to frequent the range w revolver practice; he attended two or three times a week, bringing his own revolver, an automatic Colt, and his own ammunition. He used to fire 12 shots on each visit. He took a lot of care in his shooting and acquired considerable proficiency. On July 1, about 5.30 p.m., he was at the range, and I saw him fire 12 shots at a target at a distance of 18 ft. (The target was shown to the Jury; there were 11 hits.)
Police-constable FREDERICK JAMES PALMER, D Division, produced a plan to scale of the Jehangir Hall and other portions of the Imperial Institute.
Miss BECK, 168, Kensington Park Road. I am honorary secretary of the National Indian Association. Her Majesty the Quean is patroness of the association; Lieutenant-Colonel Sir William Hutt Canon Wyllie was a member of the council and honorary treasurer. The object of the association is the promotion of social intercourse between the English people and the Indian people in London, one of the methods being entertainments or conversaziones. I first knew of prisoner in March last. In May I sent him an invitation to call upon me; he did not call. I tent him an invitation for our entertainment at the Jehangir Hall of the Imperial Institute on July 1. I attended that evening and saw prisoner there. About half past ten I spoke to him, asking him what he was doing in his work; he said he had finished his course at University College and that he would be taking the examination for a.m. I. C. E. in October, and then going home. I asked him whether he knew many of those present and he said he knew some.
DOUGLAS WILLIAM THORBURN. journalist. I was present at the entertainment at the Imperial Institute on July 1. About 11 o’clock I was in the main hall. On looking through the doorway of the vestibule I saw prisoner apparently speaking to Sir Curzon Wyllie. Prisoner raised his arm and rapidly fired four shots in Sir Curzon’s face—into his eves. Sir Curzon collapsed at the fourth shot. Aftar a short interval there were two more shots, but I did not see in what direction they were fired. I ran to prisoner to prevent anything further being done, and others also rushed to the spot. Prisoner had his right hand free and he placed the revolver to his own temple, but there was merely a click. With assistance I got him down. I asked him, “What have you done? Why did you do it? ” Prisoner looked at me quietly but did not say anything. He later on said, “Let me put my spectacles on.”
Sir LESLIE PROBYN.I was present at this entertainment. About 11 o’clock I was in the Jehangir Hall, going towards the exit door, when I heard the sound of three or four shots. On going forward I saw the prisoner, who fired another shot; he then held the pistol straight in front of him and apparently fired another shot. He next turned the pistol round to his own temple. I immediately went at him, held his arms, and got the pistol from him. There was a struggle, and I hardly know what happened, as I fell down and injured my nose and rlbs. I handed the prisoner over to a police-constable, also the revolver.
Captain CHARLES ROLLESTON, another guest at the entertainment, spoke to hearing five shots. One shot was fired deliberately by Prisoner at a native Indian gentleman in evening dress. The gentleman—Dr. Lalcaca—fell backwards. The body of Sir Curzon Wyllie was lying three or four yards away. Witness asked prisoner his name and address, and he gave them as ” Dhingra, Ledbury Road.” Witless, speaking to him mostly in Hindustani, asked what could be his motive for the crime. He replied, “I will tell the police.”
Police-constable FREDERICK NICHOLLS, 476 B said that on being called to the Imperial Institute he found prisoner being held by several gentlemen, and he took him into custody. On his being searched there were found in prisoner’s waistcoat pocket the pistol and the dagger produced.
Detective-sergeant FRANK EADLEY, B Division, who was with Nicholls, spoke to the arrest and the finding upon prisoner of the second revolver and cartridges.
Superintendent ALFRED ISAAC, B Division. On the early morning of July 2 I saw prisoner at Marylebone Police Station. The charge was read over to him and he nodded his head.
Sub-Divisional Inspector CHARLES GLASS, B Division. At the police station I took the charge against prisoner. On its being read over he said, “Yes, ” nodding his head. I said, “Do you wish any of jour friends to be communicated with? ” He replied, “I do not think it necessary to-night, they will know later on.
Inspector ALBERT DRAPER, B Division. I was present at Westminster Police Court on July 2. Just before being remanded, prisoner said to the magistrate, “The only thing I want to say is that there was no wilful murder in the case-of Dr. Lalcaca; I did sot know him; when he advanced to take hold of me I simply fired is self-defence. ”
Dr. THOMAS NEVILLE, 123, Sloane Street. On July 11 went to the Imperial Institute and there saw the dead body of Sir Curzon Wyllie. Later that night I saw prisoner at the police station; he seemed quiet, calm, and collected. I asked him whether he was hurt, and he said “No.” I felt his pulse; it was quite regular and normal. On making a post-mortem examination of Sir Curzon Wyllie I found a bullet entrance wound on the right eye, with an exit wound at the hack of the neck; another two wounds on the left eye and at the hack of the neck; two other wounds, one below the left ear, the other over the left eyebrow, the bullets being found in the head. The cause of death was injury to the brain; death must have been instantaneous.
This concluded the case for the prosecution.
The Lord Chief Justice (addressing the prisoner.) Do yon wish to give evidence in the box or say what you have to say there?
Prisoner. I have nothing to say. I admit that I did it. This evidence is all true. I should like my statement read.
The Lord Chief Justice. Do you wish your statement read that yon made at the police court?
The statement was read, as follows: ” I do not want to say anything in defence of myself, but simply to prove the justice of my deed. As for myself, no English law court has got any authority to arrest and detain me in prison, or pass sentence of death on me. That is the reason I did not have any counsel to defend me.
“And I maintain that if it is patriotic in an Englishman to fight against the Germans if they were to occupy this country, it is much more justifiable and patriotic in my case to fight against the English. I hold the English people responsible for the murder of 80 millions of Indian people in the last fifty years, and they are also responsible for taking away ₤100, 000, 000 every year from India to this country. I also hold them responsible for the hanging and deportation of my patriotic countrymen, who did just the same as the English people here are advising their countrymen to do. And the Englishman who goes out to India and gets, say, ₤100 a month, that simply means that he passes a sentence of death on a thousand of my poor countrymen, because these thousand people could easily live on this ₤100, which the Englishman spends mostly on his frivolities and pleasures. Just as the Germans have no right to occupy this country, so the English people have no right to occupy India, and it is perfectly justifiable on our part to kill the Englishman who is polluting our sacred land. I am surprised at the terrible hypocrisy, the farce, and the mockery of the English people. They pose as the champions of oppressed humanity—the peoples of the Congo and the people of Russia—when there is terrible oppression and horrible atrocities committed in India; for example, the killing of two millions of people every year and the outraging of our women. In case this country is occupied by Germans, and the Englishman, not bearing to see the Germans walking with the insolence of conquerors in the streets of London, goes and kills one or two Germans, and that Englishman is held as a patriot by the people of this country, then certainly I am prepared to work for the emancipation of my Motherland. Whatever else I have to say is in the paper before the Court I make this statement, not because I wish to plead for mercy or anything of that kind. I wish that English people should sentence me to death, for in that case the vengeance of my countrymen will be all the more keen. I put forward this statement to show the justice of my cause to the outside world, and especially to our sympathisers in America and Germany.”
The Lord Chief Justice. Do you wish to call any evidence?
Prisoner. No. I only want the statement to be read.
The Lord Chief Justice. Do you wish to say anything more?
Prisoner. There is another statement on foolscap paper.
The Lord Chief Justice. Any other statement you must make now yourself.
Prisoner. But I don’t remember it now.
The Lord Chief Justice. If there is anything you wish to say to the Jury say it now. You can say anything you wish.
Prisoner. It was taken from my pocket among other papers.
The Lord Chief Justice. I don’t care what was in your pocket. The question of what you have written before has nothing to do with this case. You have got to say anything you wish to the Jury. What you have written on previous occasions or what was in your pocket is no evidence in this case. If you wish to say anything to the Jury in defence of yourself say it now. Do you wish to say anything more?
The Clerk of Arraigns. Prisoner at the bar, you stand convicted of the crime of wilful murder; have you anything to say why the Court should not give you judgment of death according to law f
Prisoner. I have told you over and over again that I do not acknowledge the authority of the Court, You can do whatever you like. I do not mind at all. You can pass sentence of death on me. I do not care. You white people are all-powerful now, hut, remember, it shall have our turn in the time to come, when we can do what we like.
Prisoner, as he was being removed, said. Thank you, my Lord. I don’t care. I am proud to have the honour of laying down my life for the cause of my motherland.
Mr. Tindal Atkinson, K. C. I have been instructed to watch this case on behalf of the family of the man who has just been convicted. I here been instructed to say that they view this crime with the greatest, abhorrence, and they wish to repudiate in the most emphatic way the slightest sympathy with the views or motives which have led up to the crime. Further, I am instructed to say, on behalf of the father of this man and the rest of his family, that there are no more loyal subjects of the Empire than they are.
The Lord Chief Justice. Mr. Tindal Atkinson, although the course may have seemed somewhat unusual, having regard to the nature of this crime and the wicked attempt at justification in some quarters, I am very glad you should have said that on behalf of the members of the family.