In the previous post, we had seen the background of Madan Lal Dhingra, his assassination of Wylie and relationship with Savarkar. We now look at the trial, and the fallout .
Post the assassination of Wylie, Dhingra, was vilified, repeatedly in the British media. An ex army officer at Broadhurst Gardens, Capt Charles Rollerton, even made allegations that Dhingra assassinated Wylie under the influence of “Bhang”. The psychiatrists who examined him, his land lady however testified that Dhingra seemed absolutely normal, and gave no indication of the act he would commit. During the interrogation, Dhingra expressed deep regret for the shooting of Dr.Lalkaka, saying he had no reason to shoot him, and it happened as he came in between.
Dhingra was produced before Mr.Horace Smith, the Magistrate of Westminister Police Court, and he told him clearly
” I do not plead for mercy: nor do I recognize your authority over me…”ho
On being sent to the Sessions Court, Dhingra asked in a trial, in which Indians were not allowed.
“If the Germans have no right to rule over England what right have the English got to rule over India ?”
Though Dhingra willed that all his belongings, clothes, books be sold and the money, be given to the National Fund, it was no followed by the London Police. The police said that since Dhingra made no official will, his belongings were the property of the British Government, and they confiscated everything. Sadly Dhingra was disowned by his own family itself. His brother Bhajan Lal, who was in London, condemned him publicly in a meeting. His father publicly apologized and disowned his son. All his family members dropped Dhingra from their surname and adopted Lal, to avoid trouble with the British. The only person who actually stood by Madan Lal Dhingra was Savarkar, who visited him in prison. He was emotionally overwhelmed, when Savarkar told him “I have come here to seek your darshan”. For some one disowned by his family, it meant a lot that somebody out there still cared for him.
The Indian Association held a public meeting on July 5, 1909 to condemn Dhingra’s assassination of Wylie. The meeting was chaired by Aga Khan, and as he was prepared to pass the resolution, one hand raised in protest. It was Savarkar who said “No, not unanimously. There are opponents of the motion as well. Take down my name, Savarkar. I oppose the motion.”
The meeting went into a commotion, after Savarkar’s lone defiance. One of the members Bhavanagiri, tried assaulting Savarkar but was restrained by Aga Khan. A European member named Palmer, hit Savarkar with a stick, causing him to bleed in the eye. A defiant Savarkar refused to back down, sticking to his stand. Surendranath Banerjee was outraged at the assault ” Savarkar had a right to have his say. It was outrageous to attack him” and left the meeting in anger. The police had to rush in and prevent the situation from going out of control. That very night Savarkar wrote a letter to the Times, saying that since the matter of Dhingra was “subjudice”, no one had the right to discuss the case in public and using terms like criminal. It amounted to contempt of the court, the letter was published in the Times on July 6,1909.
Predictably most Indian leaders like Gokhale, NC Kelkar, condemned Dhingra’s act. Some like Hyndman, said that though Dhingra’s act was not acceptable, the allegations he raised against the British Govt, could not be swept away. The Media now turned their focus on Savarkar, claiming him to be the mastermind of the entire act. His relatives and colleagues in India were persecuted by the Govt, students going to London for studies had to produce certificates from the Local Government.
Dhingra meanwhile had some other admirers like W.T.Stead, editor of Reviews, an admirer of Savarkar, and believed in India’s freedom. Stead himself was arrested and put in prison for three months. In a letter to the Observer, Stead contended that Dhingra had committed the murder in a fit of insanity and hence should be given life imprisonment only. In the meanwhile VVS Aiyar,Nitisen Dwarakadas and JS Master, editor of the Gujarati daily Parsee, met the Secretary of India and requested that Dhingra’s dead body be given, so that they could perform the last rites. Savarkar wanted that Dhingra’s ashes, be sent to various parts of India. On the other hand, members of the Secretary’s Morley Council favored life imprisonment, as they felt execution would rather make him a martyr and ignite the volatile atmosphere even more.
King Edward VII was so infuriated with Dhingra’s act, that in a letter to Morley, he proposed that all Indian students should be barred from studying in England. Morley on the other hand was adamant that Dhingra be executed as it would set an example to potential assassins. This was what Wilfrid Blunt, the British poet had to say
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.
The Irish supported Dhingra with leaflets titled “Ireland Honors Dhingra” pasted all across the country.
August 17, 1909, Pentonville Prison.
Finally the date had come, many of Dhingra’s friends made a request to meet him for one last time. JS Master, made a request to the Under Sheriff of London and Home Office, stating he was Dhingra’s close friend and needed to meet him. However the request was turned down at both places. Dhingra however remained calm and composed, slept well on his last night, and after performing his chores, was ready for the hanging. As the clock struck nine, Dhingra walked to the gallows. Many of his friends and some from the media were waiting outside, all of them in a state of mourning.
When a Christian preacher Hudson, walked up to him, for the last prayer, Dhingra turned him down, saying he was born as a Hindu and would die as one. Metcalfe, the Dy. Under Sheriff of London, read out the death warrant to Dhingra, asked him the usual questions. Dhingra just ignored, walked calmly to the noose, to Officer Pierpoint who was waiting for him there. The noose was put around his neck, and the levers pulled, the life of a brave revolutionary was snuffed out.
JS Master who attended Dhingra’s post mortem, requested that he be taken the body for funeral rites. Dhingra wanted to be cremated as per Hindu custom, but Master’s request was turned down. And Dhingra’s body was buried in Pentonville Prison itself in a coffin.
On being asked if Dhingra would be considered a martyr, Master replied
“Certainly. He has laid down his life for his country’s good. Whether his idea of this ‘good’ was right or wrong is a matter of opinion”.
“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.”
As desired by Gyan Chand Verma, Dhingra’s last statement was published on a postcard by Sardar Singh Rana in Paris, along with his photograph. The statement was underlined by Vande Mataram, below which it was written “To the sacred and inspiring memory of patriot Madan Lal Dhingra, who died for his country”. The copies of this statement were sent by Rana to Savarkar in London, who in turn sent a large number of them to India. Though banned, neverthless the last statement titled “Challenge” became popular in the public. This was the text of it.
1. “I admit the other day; I attempted to shed English blood as an humble revenge for the inhuman hangings and deportations of patriotic Indian youths. In this attempt, I have consulted none but my own conscience; I have conspired with none, but my own duty.
2. “I believe that a nation held down in bondage with the help of 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.
3. “As a Hindu I felt that a wrong done to my country is an insult to God. Her cause is the cause of Sri Ram! Her services are the services of Sri Krishna! 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.
4. “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. Therefore I die and glory in my martyrdom! This war of Independence will continue between India and England, so long as the Hindu and the English races last (if the present unnatural relation does not cease!)
5. “My only prayer to God is: May I be reborn of the same Mother and may I redie in the same sacred cause, till the cause is successful and she stands free for the good of humanity and the glory of God!”
-Vande Mataram- From the Hindu Jagruti article here on Dhingra
In another note, the Indian revolutionaries in London, paid tribute to him with the following words
“This day, the morning of 17th August 1909, will remain engraved in red letters in the heart of every Indian who loves his Motherland. This is the morning that our great patriot, our beloved Dhingra, is swinging to and fro with his sacred neck in the grip of the execution ropes in Pentonville prison. His high soul is rising from his earthly body but in spirit, he is with us, will remain with us, will guide us in the battle of freedom of our Motherland and his name, written in the history of India, will go down to posterity. The alien oppression of his Motherland he could not bear and he decided to help the movement, which is engaged in freeing Her, by giving his life. “I told you that the English Court has no authority over me. I do not care for my life. You are all powerful. You can do what you like. But remember, that one day we shall be powerful and then we shall do what we like” were his last words when the English judge, who must have been feeling demoralized in his inner heart, told him that his life would be taken…And now our enemies have killed him. But let them remember that they will never; never succeed in suppressing or killing the movement. “Moral force, like gentle tides at the touch of storm, sweeps away hills and lands. The act of a patriot comes like a storm to the moral waves of human society, and sweeping away barriers, leads the cause to success.”
From the Hindu Jagruti article here on Dhingra
Mahatma Gandhi however condemned Dhingra’s action, calling him and other revolutionaries as “anarchists” saying “Is killing honourable? Is the dagger of an assassin a fit precursor of an honourable death?”.
Dhingra, the immortal, has behaved at each stage of the trial like a hero of ancient times. England thinks she has killed Dhingra; in reality he lives for ever and has given the death-blow to English Sovereignty in India .- Lala Hardayal in Vande Mataram in 1909.
Finally on December 12, 1976 in the presence of Natwar Singh, then High Commissioner of India, Dhingra’s coffin was exhumed, and his mortal remains bought back to India.