Dhingra died young but his life was one of heroisms and glory. In London, the heart of the British Empire, he killed an enemy of India. He died gladly for his country.
You have heard of the city of London, haven’t you? It is the capital of England. It is a very attractive city with wide roads, tall buildings and rows, and clusters of lights that arrest the eye. Some years ago it was famous as the capital of a very vast empire, the British Empire.
A road in London is called Cornwell Road.
About sixty-five years ago by the side of that road was situated a building known as ‘India House’. It has a small room upstairs. One day, a stove was burning in full blaze on a table in the middle of the room. On the stove was a glass vessel; some chemicals were boiling in it.
On either side of the table, there were cupboards containing bottles full of acids. Two persons were standing by the side of the burning stove, discussing something very important.
They were thinking of something else and had forgotten the stove and the chemicals.
The stove kept burning, and the vessel grew hotter and hotter. Just a few moments more, and the chemicals inside would have exploded with a deafening sound; the glass jar would have been shattered to pieces, and the two persons would have been badly hurt. What was worse, people outside would have heard the explosion and rushed inside. The Police would have come.
It would have been a great mishap.
The older one noticed it just in time. Oh, Lord!
That would be the end of their work. What could they do? They started looking for a pair of tongs with which to remove the vessel. There was no time even to search. The boiling grew more and more dangerous.
That Boy from Amritsar
Both of them were great men. The older of the two was Savarkar, the brave fighter for freedom.
He fought for nearly fifty years to drive out the British from India. The other one was Madanlal Dhingra, whose story you are going to read.
Punjab is one of the states of India. It is called Punjab because of the five holy rivers that flow in the area. ‘Paanch Aab’ means five number of waters, that is, five rivers.
From olden times the State has given birth to great saints and brave warriors. The Punjabis are great fighters. Some 450 years ago there was a danger to Hinduism from Islam. Guru Nanak founded the Sikh religion to save Hinduism at that time. It was here that Guru Govind Singh, the tenth ‘Guru’ of the Sikhs, fought for it.
That is why Punjab is known as ‘the Sword – Arm of India.’ Amritsar is a city in Punjab. Here is a great temple of the Sikhs, built in the middle of a lake.
It was here in Amritsar that Madanlal Dhingra was born.
Madanlal’s father was a rich man. He was called Doctor Sahib Ditta. He was a well-known doctor in Amritsar. He had earned a lot of money.
He respected the British as much as he respected God.
Dhingra was the son of such a father. He had a brother who had gone to England to study medicine; later he settled down there. Like his father, he too regarded the British as gods. Dhingra was unlike him. He was a smart lad from childhood.
He was good at sports as well as studies. He had his early schooling in Lahore and Amritsar. As a boy, he used to dream that he would study well, take a degree and somehow go to England to become an engineer.
But he would not ask his father for money. He, therefore, decided to work to earn the money he needed to go abroad. He was married by then and had a child too.
Dhingra went to Kashmir and got a job in a Government department. He worked at Simla and Kolkatanga also and was able to earn enough money to be able to go to England.
A Merry Life
Much against his father’s will Dhingra boarded a ship leaving for England in July 1906. After several days of sea travel, he reached England at last.
Dhingra joined a University for the engineering degree in October.
Dhingra was overjoyed to be in England. He felt like a bird released from the cage after many many days of imprisonment. He was free, he was happy.
Dhingra 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. He indulged in merriment in the company of friends, both boys, and girls.
Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the brave fighter for freedom from Maharashtra, was in England at the time. Although he was there to study law he had engaged himself in something else. He had founded the India House. He used to collect all young Indians who went to England for higher studies there. He explained to them the miserable condition of our country.
“Our mother, Bharat Mata, is being trampled underfoot by the British. She is groaning and in great misery. It is the bounden duty of her children to free her from the clutches of the inhuman brutes. If we all join and work together, we are sure to win freedom for the motherland. But we shall have to be prepared to face anything and even to lay down our lives.”
With such words, he filled their hearts with patriotism and made them brave heroes.
While roaming in the streets of London, Dhingra came to know of the India House.
One day he went there when Savarkar was making a speech before a gathering of enthusiastic young men. Savarkar was a very good speaker. All those present there were listening to him with rapt attention. Savarkar described the pitiable plight of our country. As he listened, Dhingra’s blood began to boil. Strong feelings were aroused in him and it was difficult for him to contain them.
A Needle Straight Through the Palm!
Dhingra was capable of bearing a lot of physical pain. He hated idle talk and pointless discussions. He was ever ready for constructive work.
One day Dhingra and his friends had gathered in the India House and were discussing the heroic qualities of the Japanese, their courage and fortitude.
Dhingra did not like the attitude of his friends.
“Enough of this praise of the Japanese,” he said.
“Do you suppose we Hindus are in any way inferior to them? Let the time come, and the Hindus will show their mettle to the whole world!” In the eyes of many people, Dhingra was just a dandy; they thought he was a good-for-nothing fellow. So they burst into laughter at his words.
“O we know you! You have a quick pair of heels”, they taunted. Dhingra would not agree that his words were words of empty boast. The friends continued to taunt and jeer. The quarrel took a serious turn. It was decided to put Dhingra’s bravery to the test and he agreed to it. One of them brought a long thick needle. He asked Dhingra to place his right hand on a table, and Dhingra did so.
All eyes were on the hand. The man put the point of the needle on Dhingra’s palm and started pressing it down. It cut into his flesh.
But not a sound came from Dhingra’s lips. The man pressed the needle harder still. It passed through the palm and ran into the wooden top of the table. It was painful and the blood was freely flowing. But Dhingra sat still as a stone statue. Then the needle was removed. Dhingra was smiling as if nothing had happened.
All the same, Dhingra’s nature was strange.
He had a sense of humor and would always be teasing somebody. When he went to India House, he would not attend any lecture other than Savarkar’s.
One evening an important meeting was going on in India House. Dhingra had no mind to attend it. Then what else should he do?
He thought of a plan. He brought a gramophone and placing it near the window facing the road, started playing a record. When the music started, many girls gathered in the street near the window and started clapping rhythmically and dancing to the tune.
Dhingra joined them, at the same time whistling the tune. It was a noisy scene. The meeting inside was very much disturbed by this. Savarkar rushed out and was shocked to find Dhingra there. He felt like beating him black and blue then and there. “Madan!” thundered Savarkar, “Stop that wretched music!” Dhingra obeyed.
While with anger, Savarkar looked at Dhingra and shouted,
“Madan! You should be ashamed of yourself. There is a meeting going on inside. You don’t attend it, but here you are making a fool of yourself. You stay away from the meeting and become a nuisance to those who attend it.
O, shame upon you Madan! What is the use of all that you talk about?
Fight-to-the-finish and self-sacrifice if this is what you do in practice?”
Dhingra hung his head in shame and walked away. Days passed. Two months rolled by and Dhingra did not step into India House. He was angry, perhaps. He must have felt offended that everybody thought him irresponsible. Savarkar was worried about Dhingra. What had happened to him? Where was he? Why had he not come again!
Ready for a Great Event
One evening Dhingra walked in all of a sudden and stood before Savarkar. There was no one else there. Looking straight into his eyes, Dhingra asked, “Savarkar, tell me now, has the time come for me to sacrifice myself?”
“Madan Bhai, if the person ready to sacrifice himself feels the time has come, it means it has!” replied Savarkar. “Then, Savarkar, I am ready,” said Dhingra.
Savarkar took him inside his room. They had a long discussion. The stage was set for a great event in Dhingra’s life. The struggle for freedom was in full swing in India at that time. Processions by the people, lathi-charge, and firing by the Police – these were daily affairs. The British did not want to let India out of there stranglehold.
They used to take away raw materials like mineral ores and cotton to England and use them; then they brought the finished goods to India and made money. They paid their people high salaries and sent them to India to extract hard work from the Indians and to exploit the wealth of this country.
If the Indians woke up, if India became free, what a terrible loss to the English! So those who voiced the demand for freedom became the enemies of the British Government. They were beaten up mercilessly with the help of the Police and the army. Arrests and self-sacrifice were daily happenings. Lokamanya Tilak, Lala Lajpatrai and such other leaders guided India’s struggle for freedom.
On the other hand, some young revolutionaries fought with arms. Khudiram Bose and Praphullachandra Chaki exploded the first bomb in Bengal.
Dhingra felt a strange urge within him when-ever he heard such news. He hated the British with all his heart. Something happened in the meantime as if to add fuel to the fire.
Savarkar’s elder brother, Ganesh Damodar Savarkar, affectionately called Babarao Savarkar, was a revolutionary. The British Government had arrested and awarded him a transportation sentence. This meant being taken away by sea to the Island called the Andamans and jailed there.
The place was full of snakes, scorpions and wild animals. Those who were a danger to the society, such as murderers and dacoits, were usually sent to the Andamans and put in prison there. And it was to such jails that those who fought for India’s freedom were sent!
Dhingra was unable to control his anger when he heard of the arrest of Babarao Savarkar and the transportation sentence. He was already determined to make the British taste a Hindu youth’s revenge. The Government’s action served to feed the fire.
To put his plan into practice, he bought a revolver and practiced shooting.
A Cunning Fox
There was an association in London called the National Indian Association. It aimed to make the Indian youths that went to England for higher studies great admirers of the British. It used to transform patriotic young men into traitors by teaching them all soft of vices. One Miss Emma Josephine Beck was its secretary.
Dhingra visited the office of the National Indian Association in March 1909.
He met and talked to Emma Beck. He made friends with her. He made interesting inquiries about the Association. He expressed a desire to become a member. The very next month he enrolled himself as a member.
The British Government was very cunning. It had formed a committee to poison the minds of the Indian youths about their nation. Sir William Curzon Wyllie was one of the three important members of this committee. He was a cunning fox.
He was an expert in talking sweetly and poisoning others’minds. He was an adviser in the office of the Secretary of State for India. He had many opportunities to work out his evil plans.
The Indian students, therefore, hated him. They wanted to finish him if they get an opportunity.
This Curzon Wyllie was a good friend of Dhingra’s father as well as of his brother. His father used to write to Wyllie asking him to take care of Dhingra. Accordingly, Wyllie met Dhingra off and on and pretended to take an interest in his welfare. Dhingra, in return, pretended to have faith in him.
Gradually Wyllie started persuading Dhingra to tell him all the secrets of the India House.
But Dhingra used to meet Savarkar quite often; he used to tell him all that was going on. He even told Wyllie a few important things about the India House, but he always informed Savarkar about it and took his permission to do so. Letting on the secrets to Wyllie was just a bit of play-acting.
The First of July
Babarao Savarkar was sentenced to transportation for life on 8th June. Dhingra tried to murder Curzon Wyllie the same day. But his victim escaped. So Dhingra the huntsman was biding his time.
First of July 1909. The National Indian Association was to celebrate its annual day. Dhingra met Emma Beck and collected information. He was happy to learn that Wyllie would attend the function.
Dhingra met Savarkar secretly on 20th June.
He explained his intentions and plans to Savarkar.
Savarkar was quite pleased. The First of July was a Thursday and Dhingra was determined to take revenge for the dishonor done to India, on that day.
He had food early that day. Taking his revolver he went to the training institute to practice shooting. He fired twelve shots to improve his aim.
It was six o’clock in the evening when he returned to his room. He had a hurried wash and changed his clothes. He put on a sky-blue turban in the Punjabi style and a smart suit, a necktie, and dark glasses. He filled up his coat pockets with a revolver, two pistols, and two knives. He was now ready to sacrifice the sheep called Wyllie to Kali Mata.
The venue chosen for the annual day celebrations was the Jehangir hall of the Imperial Institute. Dhingra reached the place at eight.
He went straight and talked to people there for some time. Smartly dressed men and colorfully attired women had assembled in the hall which was tastefully decorated with balloons and paper flags in various hues. There was a gay atmosphere.
Dhingra’s friend Emma came to greet him. He talked to her as if he was very happy to see her.
It was past ten. Now and then Dhingra was looking eagerly towards the entrance. 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 approached Wyllie who raised his eyebrows and said, “Hullo.” Dhingra drew nearer. He stood quite close to Wyllie and pretended to tell him something in confidence. He lowered his head to hear Dhingra’s secret.
Suddenly Dhingra took out his revolver from his pocket. Aiming at Wyllie’s chest, he fired two shots: “Bang! Bang!” the shots rang out. With a scream, Wyllie fell to the ground. Dhingra fired two more shots at him. Curzon lay dead on the floor. A Parsi gentleman called Cowasjee Lalkaka rushed to the aid of Wyllie. Dhingra fired a shot at him and Cowasjee fell to the ground too. He died in the hospital a few days later.
There was utter chaos in Jehangir Hall. All those who had gathered there stood shocked and shivering. “Catch him, thrash him,” some shouted. One man rushed to Dhingra to disarm him. Dhingra hit him on the neck with his left hand. The man’s neck was swollen. His bones broke. He fell, blood flowing from his mouth.
But Dhingra was calm and collected. He was smiling. “Just a moment, let me wear my glasses,” he said and put them on. The Police arrested him. A doctor came forward to feel his pulse. It was normal and calm as ever. On the other hand, the doctor was shivering from head to foot.
Although he had committed such a grim murder, Dhingra was not in the least afraid.
He firmly believed that what he had done was right. He was taken to the Police station. He slept soundly even in Police custody!
London is rocked
All the newspapers in London carried the news of the cold-blooded murder of Wyllie.
People were shocked. Dhingra had a written statement in his pocket; the Police snatched and hid it. Savarkar came to know of the incident.
Information about it reached India in no time.
Indian revolutionaries rejoiced over it.
Dhingra’s name became a household word in England and India. Patriotic Indians regarded him as a great hero. But some Indians disapproved of Dhingra’s act. They openly condemned what he had done. Even 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.
He was thus let down by the members of his own family. But the patriotic among Indians regarded him as their brother. They praised him as a great son of India who had brought her honor.
But there were some Indians who were puppets in the hands of the British. They wanted to hold a meeting to condemn Dhingra’s conduct.
They decided to meet in Caxton Hall in London on the Fifth of July for the purpose.
Dhingra’s friends came to know of it. Savarkar was furious. “A brave Indian youth is ever ready to sacrifice his life, he performs a heroic act. And here are Indians out to condemn him. It is shameful, he thundered. It was decided to see that the resolution condemning Dhingra’s deed was not passed without opposition.
Savarkar went to attend the meeting accompanied by a few friends. They all sat very near the dais. The meeting started. The Aga Khan, who presided over the meeting, rose to read out the resolution. “This meeting has unanimously passed the resolution condemning the conduct of Dhingra….” he began. But a voice thundered from somewhere:
“No, the resolution is not unanimous!” The whole gathering was stunned.
“Who is that?” the Aga Khan shouted.
“It is me, Savarkar, and I oppose it!” was the reply. People began to disperse on seeing him.
They were afraid to face him. But a young Englishman rushed towards Savarkar and hit him hard in the face with his fist. “Just have a taste of an Englishman’s anger!” he said. Savarkar’s spectacles were broken into pieces. Blood started flowing down his face. But Savarkar did not mind it.
“Happen what may, I oppose this resolution,” he insisted. Then, Thirumalacharya, a revolutionary who had accompanied Savarkar, raised his lathi. Rushing towards the English youth, and saying, “Just have a taste of an Indian’s anger!” he thrashed him soundly. The Englishman ran for his life.
Such was the love of Savarkar and his friends for Dhingra and their pride in him. They would not tolerate any insult to his honor.
In the Witness Box
Dhingra was tried in the London High Court.
He was just indifferent. All he said was: “I never intended to kill Lalkaka. But I had to shoot in self-defense.”
Madanlal Dhingra was put within the four walls of the Brixton Jail. Savarkar went to see him there. He was proud of his disciple’s courageous achievement. “Savarkar, after my death, the funeral rites should be performed in the Hindu way. No Non-Hindu should touch my body. Auction my belongings and donate the money to the ‘National Fund,” Dhingra told Savarkar.
He made his statement in the court on the Tenth of July. It echoed everywhere. This is what he said: “Just as the Germans have no right to occupy England, so the British, have no right to occupy India. It is legal to kill the Englishmen, who have set their unholy feet on our motherland. Do sentence me to death! That is what I ask for. For that will fan the fire of revenge in the hearts of my countrymen!” The evening newspapers contained Dhingra’s statement. “Dhingra’s statement is strange,” the papers commented; “He says he is a patriot who is sacrificing his life for the good of his motherland, and his Indian brethren will avenge his death!”
The trial was over on July the Twenty-fifth.
The court delivered judgment. What was it?
Death. The date for it was fixed too. It was the Seventeenth of August 1909.
Dhingra’s Statement Appears outside England
The Police had stolen and hidden the statement prepared by Dhingra. When Dhingra asked them to read it in the court they pretended as if they knew nothing about it. Savarkar came to know of it. He had a copy of the statement. An idea struck Savarkar. ‘I must do something to get this historic statement published in all the papers of important countries before Madanlal breathes his last. That will give him some consolation at the time of his death’, he thought.
Savarkar called a revolutionary friend of his called Gyan Chand Varma and told him to get the statement printed in all the important papers of European countries. Gyan Chand Varma took it and went to Paris secretly. There he printed thousands of copies of the statement.
He sent it to the leading newspapers of several important countries like Germany, Italy, and America. ‘The Daily News’ was an important newspaper published in London. An English friend of Savarkar’s was working in the ‘Daily News’. While the paper was being printed at night, he inserted Dhingra’s statement; no one else knew what he was doing. So on the 16th of August, a day before Dhingra’s death, the statement appeared in the ’Daily News. Dhingra was overjoyed when he came to know of it. He danced for joy inside the jail.
The following is the gist of Dhingra’s statement.
It is true I tried to shed the blood of an Englishman. It is a small measure of revenge against the British who are torturing the Indian youths.
I alone am responsible for my actions.
My country is enslaved. We are struggling hard to achieve independence. We are not at al’ owed to have arms. We are not allowed to carry guns. So I had to attack with a pistol!
I am a Hindu. I believe an insult to my Nation is an insult to my God. I am not intelligent. I am not mighty. What can I offer to my Mother except for my blood? Therefore I am shedding my blood in the service of my Motherland. To me, the service of Lord Bharat Mata is the service of Sree Rama.
Service of my Mother is the service of Lord Krishna.
Therefore I am sacrificing my life for her sake, and I am proud of it. I wish to be born-again and again in India until she achieves independence. I wish to sacrifice my life again and again for India!
May God grant me this one wish of mine!
Vande Mataram (read more about Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, author of Vande Mataram, here!
The Moment of Martyrdom
August the 17th was the day set for Dhingra’s death. It was decided to hang him in the Pentonville Jail. It was a day of great sorrow for his friends. Outwardly he had looked like a dandy but what patriotism flooded his heart! His friends wept in grief and admiration.
Savarkar and his friends were not idle on that day. They printed a handout. They stood in the streets, their hearts heavy with sorrow, their minds tense and anxious. They distributed copies of the handout to passers-by pleading,
“Read this, we beg of you, read this.” And this is what it said:
“Today is the 17th of August, 1909. This is a date that should be written in the heart of every patriotic Indian in blood. Today will Dhingra, our best friend, and greatest patriot, be hanged in the Pentonville Jail. His spirit will guide us. His sacred name will adorn the pages of history. Our enemies will kill him. But they cannot kill our struggle for freedom. Let them never forget this!”
This happy-go-lucky young man came to London in July 1906. He used to take pleasure in wearing smart clothes and roaming about in the streets of London. He was fond of cosmetics and used to sit before the mirror for hours on end making him handsome.
Just three years later the same young man welcomed his death with a smile. What a great change in so short a time! Wearing nice clothes, going to parties with friends, whistling and roaming about in the streets, they were al natural to a young man of his age. If Dhingra had remained just a dandy, nobody would have remembered him today. He would be just one of the many nameless ones of the earth that are born and die and are heard of no more.
But Dhingra wanted to be of use to his country.
He died for its sake, but he lives in our hearts. He is immortal. He went to England to study engineering. As an engineer, he could have earned heaps of money, acquired status, and led a comfortable life. He would have lived longer and lived happily.
But his countrymen were living like slaves.
They were dead though living. Dhingra died so that we could live. He and martyrs like him laid down their lives and gave life to us. His body died, but he lives in the hearts of his countrymen.
What Shall We Do?
Madanlal Dhingra went to the gallows that day. With the holy Gita in his hands and the sacred names of Rama and Krishna on his lips he smilingly embraced death. We remember him today with reverence; we bow to him in gratitude.
In those days when the British tried to suppress the Indians cruelly, thousands of brave men and women fought and sacrificed their lives. They sacrificed their happiness.
They had to be away from their beloved wives and children. “Let us free Bharat Mata from foreign rule first and then think of our happiness!” – this was the ideal they had before them.
Indian’s independence is a plant they watered with their blood; it is the fruit of their toil and the result of their self-sacrifice.
Years have passed since we achieved independence. It is our responsibility to preserve what those martyrs won by sacrificing their lives. They fought to win freedom; we have to fight to preserve freedom.
Let us draw our inspiration and strength to serve our nation from the glorious examples of Madan Lal Dhingra and the thousands of martyrs like him. May they shower their blessings on us!
May the patriotism, the courage and the loyalty of those great men guide us! Let our one prayer be may these heroic martyrs inspire us to serve our beloved motherland! With the grace of God, may we be fit to serve our beloved motherland!