Martyrs of Punjab: Madan Lal Dhingra
Madan Lal Dhingra
Dhingra Studied at Amritsar in MB Intermediate college up-till 1900 and then went to Lahore to study in Government College Lahore. In 1904 he led a student protest against the principal’s order to have college blazer made out of imported cloth from England. He was thrown out of college. At that time he was Student of Masters of Art. He was under the influence of Nationalist Movement of Swadeshi. He deeply studied the literature concerning the cause of Indian Poverty and famines, as solution to these problems Swaraj and Swadeshi became key issues. Then Dhingra had to work as a clerk, at Kalka in A Tonga Service being run for British family’s transport to Shimla Tonga (horse-driven cart) puller, and a factory labourer. Dhingra attempted to organise a union there, but was sacked. He worked for sometime in Mumbai, before acting upon the advice of his elder brother Dr Bihari Lal and going to England for higher studies. In 1906, Madan Lal departed for England to enroll at University College, London, to study Mechanical Engineering. He was supported by his elder brother and some nationalist activists in England.
Dhingra came into contact with noted Indian independence & political activists Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and Shyamji Krishna Varma, who were impressed by Dhingra’s perseverance and intense patriotism which turned his focus to the freedom struggle. 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, Kanhai Lal Dutt, Satinder Pal and Pandit Kanshi Ram in India. It is this event that is attributed by many historians as having led Savarkar and Dhingra to exact direct revenge upon the British.
Curzon Wyllie’s assassination
On the evening of 1 July 1909, a large number of Indians and Englishmen had gathered to attend the annual day function of the Indian National Association. When Sir Curzon Wyllie, political aide-de-camp to the Secretary of State for India, entered the hall with his wife, 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 caught hold of him.
Later he stood without regretting for his action and was caught by the police.
Dhingra was tried in the Old Bailey on 23 July. He stated that he did not regret killing of Curzon Wyllie as he had played his part in order to set India free from the inhuman British rule. Also, that he had not intended to kill Cowasji Lalkaka. He was sentenced to death. After the judge announced his verdict, Dhingra’s 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”. Dhingra was hanged on 17 August 1909. Madan Lal also made a further statement which is rarely mentioned. According to John Laurence in A History of Capital Punishment on page 138, H. A. Pierrepoint, his executioner, gave him an unnecessarily and inhumanely cruel long drop of eight feet, three inches at the execution. The reasons behind this remain unknown and can only be speculated at.
Statement of Dhingra in the court
Dhingra had given the following statement before the court:
“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.”
“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, but, remember, it shall have our turn in the time to come, when we can do what we like.”
Verdict of court
While he was being removed from the court, he said to the Chief Justice- “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.” 
In response, the Chief Justice said: 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.
And then Dhingra replied: 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.
While most of the British press, and some 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 inspired some in 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 defence 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.
Gandhiji condemned Dhingra’s actions. To quote,
It is being said in defence 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.
After Dhingra went to the gallows, the Times, London wrote an editorial (24 July 1909) titled “Conviction of Dhingra”. The editorial said, “The nonchalance displayed by the assassin was of a character, which is happily unusual in such trials in this country. He asked no questions. He maintained a defiance of studied indifference. He walked smiling from the Dock.”
Grudging admiration from the British Cabinet
Dhingra’s martyrdom evoked the respect of some members of the Cabinet. This was disclosed later to Blunt by Winston Churchill. Blunt writes (My Diaries, Vol.2, p. 288, entry for 3 October 1909), “Again we sat up late. Among the many memorable things Churchill said was this. Talking of Dhingra, he said that there has been much discussion in the Cabinet about him. Lloyd George had expressed to him his highest admiration of Dhingra’s attitude as a patriot, in which he shared…He will be remembered two thousand years hence, as we remember Regulus and Caractacus and Plutarch’s heroes and Churchill quoted with admiration Dhingra’s last words, as the finest, ever made in the name of patriotism…”
Last words from gallows
The following are said to be Madan Lal Dhingra’s last words, 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 wealth 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!”
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. Dhingra’s body was accidentally found while authorities searched for the remains of Shaheed Udham Singh, and re-patriated to India on 13 December 1976. His remains are kept in one of the main squares of Akola city in Maharashtra, India, which has been named after him. Dhingra is widely remembered in India today, and was an inspiration at the time to revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh and Chandrasekhar Azad, and there is a demand to convert his ancestral home into a museum.