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Monday, August 17, 2009

Death centenary of forgotten revolutionary Madan Lal Dhingra

Exactly a century ago, a pioneering revolutionary and freedom fighter, Madanlal Dhingra, was hanged in Britain. He was just 26.

The young and bright, Madan Lal Dhingra, had fired five shots at Sir Curzon Willie, at a gathering in London. The daredevil assassination of a British official outside Indian soil, had caused ripples. Willie was killed on July 9 and after a speedy trial, Dhingra was hanged on August 17, 1909.

Today Dhingra's act may seem reckless or foolhardy and he may be termed a militant, but he was a hero to the generation of early freedom fighters including Chandrashekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh and the entire generation of freedom fighters.

India was subjugated then and there were no signs of any change in the condition of the masses, due to the repressive policies of the British government. He knew the adage, 'One man's freedom fighter, another man's terrorist', too well.

But Dhingra wasn't a militant. He belonged to a generation for which 'slavery' was the biggest curse. He had gone to study Engineering but came in contact with revolutionary activists and ultimately shot dead the political aide of the Secretary of State for India.

When brought before the magistrate, he said, "I do not want to say anything in defence of myself but simply to prove the justification of my deed. As for myself I do not think any English law court has any authority to convict me or detain me in prison or to pass any sentence to me.

And I maintain that if it is patriotic for any 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 eight million of my countrymen in the last 50 years. And they are also responsible for taking away 100 million pounds every year from India to this country. I also hold them responsible for the hanging and deportation of thousands of my countrymen."


Dhingra's statement before he was hanged, is also historic. It is oft-quoted and inspired the later revolutionaries. He said, "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....."

The sentiments aren't surprising if one considers the hurt and the desperation among Indians in the era. Congress was yet to become a major political force and the end of the Raj was nowhere in sight.

Dhingra was hanged just a year after Khudiram Bose was sent to gallows. Even after death, his body was denied a proper Hindu funeral. His family had disowned him. And it took nearly seventy years before the mortal remains were accidentally located and brought back to India.

Dhingra died when Bhagat Singh was barely two years old. However, along with many other revolutionaries and freedom fighters, today he is also a nearly forgotten name. Even the hundredth death (martyrdom) anniversary passed without a mention to the revolutionary. As India celebrated Independence Day, it is more pertinent for us to remember these sacrifices.

Also read earlier post on this blog:

Sher Ali: The forgotten revolutionary who killed British Viceroy on Indian soil