Shaheed Madan Lal Dhingra (Punjabi: ਮਦਨ ਲਾਲ ਢੀਂਗਰਾ) (18 September 1883 – 17 August 1909) was an Indian revolutionary independence activist. While studying in England, he assassinated Sir William Hutt Curzon Wyllie, a British official, cited as one of the first acts of revolution in the Indian independence movement in the 20th century.
Madan Lal Dhingra was born on 18 September 1883 in a Punjabi family in Amritsar, India. He was the sixth of seven children of a civil surgeon. All six sons studied abroad.
Dhingra studied at Amritsar in MB Intermediate College until 1900. He then went to Lahore to study at the Government College University. In 1904 he led a student protest against the principal's order to have the college blazer made of cloth imported from England. Dhingra was expelled from the college. At that time Dhingra was a student in the Master of Arts program. He was under the influence of the nationalist Swadeshi movement. He studied the literature concerning the causes of Indian poverty and famines extensively, and felt that the key issues in seeking solutions to these problems lay in Swaraj (self-government) and Swadeshi (independence). Dhingra had to work as a clerk, at Kalka in a Tanga (carriage) service being run to transport British families to Shimla, and as a factory laborer. He attempted to organise a union there but was sacked. He worked for some time in Mumbai before acting upon the advice of his elder brother, Dr. Bihari Lal, and going to England to continue his higher education. In 1906, Dhingra 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 arrived in London a year after the foundation of Shyamaji Krishnavarma's India House in 1905. This organization was a meeting place for Indian revolutionaries located in Highgate. Dhingra came into contact with noted Indian independence and political activists Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and Shyamji Krishna Varma, who were impressed by his perseverance and intense patriotism which turned his focus to the freedom struggle. Savarkar believed in revolution by any means and inspired Dhingra's admiration in the cult of assassination. He allegedly gave Dhingra arms training. Later, Dhingra became distant from India House and was known to frequent a shooting range on Tottenham Court Road. He joined, and had a membership in, a secretive society, the Abhinav Bharat Mandal founded by Savarkar and his brother Ganesh.
During this period, Savarkar, Dhingra, and other student activists were enraged by the Partition of Bengal (1905).
Dhingra was disowned for his political activities by his father Gitta Mall, who was the Chief Medical Officer in Amritsar, who went so far as to publish his decision in newspaper advertisements.
Curzon Wyllie's assassination
Several weeks before assassinating Curzon Wyllie, Dhingra had tried to kill Curzon, Viceroy of India. He had also planned to assassinate the ex-Governor of Bengal, Bramfield Fuller, but was late for a meeting the two were to attend could not carry out his plan. Dhingra then decided to kill Curzon Wyllie. Curzon Wylie had joined the British Army in 1866 and the Indian Political Department in 1879. He had earned distinction in a number of locations including Central India and above all in Rajputana where he rose to the highest rank in the Service. In 1901 he was selected to be Political Aide-de-Camp to the Secretary of State for India. He was also the head of the Secret Police and had been trying to obtain information about Savarkar and the revolutionaries. Curzon Wyllie was said to have been a close friend of Dhingra's father.
On the evening of 1 July 1909, Dhingra, along with a large number of Indians and Englishmen had gathered to attend the annual 'At Home' function hosted by the Indian National Association at the Imperial Institute. When Sir Curzon Wyllie, political aide-de-camp to the Secretary of State for India, was leaving the hall with his wife, Dhingra fired five shots right at his face, four of which hit their target. Cawas Lalcaca (or Lalkaka), a Parsee doctor who tried to save Sir Curzon, died of Dhingra's sixth and seventh bullets, which he fired because Lalcaca had come between them.
Dhingra's suicide attempt failed and he was overpowered. He was arrested immediately by the police.
Dhingra was tried in the Old Bailey on 23 July. He represented himself during his trial but did not recognize the legitimacy of the court. He stated that he did not regret killing Curzon Wyllie, as he had played his part in order to set India free from the inhuman British rule, and as revenge for the inhumane killings of Indians by the British Government in India. He also stated that he had not intended to kill Cawas Lalcaca. He was sentenced to death. After the judge announced his verdict, Dhingra is said to have stated: "I am proud to have the honor of laying down my life for my country. But remember, we shall have our time in the days to come". Madan Lal Dhingra was hanged on 17 August 1909 at Pentonville Prison. He also made a further statement, which is rarely mentioned.
Statement of Dhingra in the court
Dhingra made the following statement before the court:
I do not want to say anything in defense 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 eighty 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 sympathizers 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."
Guy Aldred, the printer of The Indian Sociologist, was sentenced to twelve months hard labor. The August issue of The Indian Sociologist had carried a story sympathetic to Dhingra. Dhingra's actions also inspired some of 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.
After Dhingra went to the gallows, The Times of 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."
Although the British were outraged publicly, admiration for Dhingra's act was privately expressed by David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill, who is reported to have called Dhingra's statement "[t]he 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! ("I praise thee mother!")
After his execution, 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 coffin was accidentally found while authorities searched for the remains of Shaheed Udham Singh, and re-patriated to India on 12 December 1976. His remains are kept in one of the main squares, which has been named after him, in the city of Akola in Maharashtra. Dhingra is widely remembered in India today, and was an inspiration at the time for revolutionaries such as Bhagat Singh and Chandrasekhar Azad.
There was a demand from some groups that his ancestral home be converted into a museum. However, his descendants refuse to acknowledge his legacy and refused to participate in events organised to honour his death in August 2015. The family sold his ancestral house and refused an offer to purchase it made by BJP leader Laxmi Kanta Chawla who intended to turn it into a museum.
In Popular Culture
In the movie Veer Savarkar, actor Pankaj Berry portrayed Madan Lal Dhingra.