The man, the purpose
Chaman Lal

Tryst with Martyrdom: Trial of Madan Lal Dhingra
(July-August, 1909)
by Malwinder Jit Singh Waraich and Kuldip Puri. Unistar. Pages 160.

Tryst with Martyrdom: Trial of Madan Lal DhingraMadan Lal Dhingra, born in a rich family of doctors in Amritsar in1883, was the earliest to lay his life in the path of the freedom struggle when he was hanged on August 17, 1909, in a British jail. Later, Kartar Singh Sarabha in 1916, Bhagat Singh in 1931, Sewa Singh Thikriwala in 1935 and Udham Singh in 1940 also became known for their courage to rise against British imperialism.

Dhingra went to England in 1906 for the sole purpose of killing Sir Curzon Wylie, whom he eliminated on July 1, 1909. The Empire was shaken by this event in the heart of London and in order to demonstrate its crude power, the British trampled their own tradition of proper judicial process and after a farcical trial of just 40 days to so, they hanged Dhingra.

The young man faced the trial most calmly and went to the gallows cheerfully. Dr Dhingra condemned and disowned its own son, but the country was proud of her son because his act exposed British imperialism.

Malwinderjit Singh Waraich, lawyer and former college lecturer, has written extensively on the revolutionary struggles. He has been fighting the legal battle to get the martyrs of Kamagatamaru and Kuka movement recognised as freedom fighters. Dr Kuldip Puri of Punjab University, Chandigarh, has retold the story of the trial very well. The documents for presenting the story were from Giani Kesar Singh, who is over 90 and has written a number of novels on revolutionary struggles of the Punjabis.

The preface is by Giani Kesar Singh, the first two chapters by Waraich and the final chapter by Dr Kuldeep Puri. Extracts from the autobiography of Giani Kesar Singh, written in Punjabi, have been translated into English and notes from newspapers published from July 9, 1909, to August 31, 1909, have been squeezed into this slim book.

Giani Kesar Singh mentions two fellowships instituted by Ludhiana freedom fighter novelist Shyam Ji Krishan Verma in London in the name of Shivaji and Guru Gobind Singh. In India then, freedom fighters celebrated the golden jubilee of the Revolt of 1857. Madan Lal Dhingra, after reaching London in 1906, was influenced by this environment and took the decision to kill Sir Curzon, the British officer who kept an eye on revolutionary activities in London.

Giani Kesar Singh acknowledges the role of Punjabi poet Baba Balwant of Amritsar and Mukand Lal Dhingra, a nephew of Madan Lal Dhingra, who provided him with documents and photographs to recreate the story. Giani Kesar Singh has himself written a novel on Dhingra’s life. Waraich quotes from the biographical sketch of Madan Lal Dhingra drawn in Hindi by Bhagat Singh. He then describes the role of the Indian Sociologist, a journal edited by Shyam Ji Krishan Verma and Madan Bhikaji, which influenced Dhingra.

The London papers of the day had reported widely the murder of Sir Curzon Wylise at a house party of the National Indian Association on July 1. Around 11 pm, when guests were leaving, Wylie became target of Dhingra’s shot. Dhingra surrendered after this.

The police started the trial in an alarming manner, producing five witnesses, including an Indian, Madan Mohan Sinha, who grappled with Dhingra.

On July 10, the accused made a statement that exposed the tyranny of the British and on July 23, he was indicted for murder and sentenced to death. After he was hanged, his cremation was not allowed. The British had not the courage to allow the publication of Dhingra’s court statement which many British paper had quoted already.

Dr Puri says that the shooting brought to the fore the facts related to economic exploitation of Indians. The Maharaja of Ludhiana condemned Dhingra’s act, but people like Professor Bipan Chander said the young man had given us (Indians) back our pride. Thirty-one years later, Udham Singh repeated the act in London to avenge the massacre at Jallianwala Bagh.

An English priest had helped Gianiji retrieve the 15-page case file. Reports have also been quoted from The Times, The Pioneer and The Telegraph in London, The English Mail, The Daily News, Civil Revolutionary Gazette (India) and The Tribune and The Punjabi that were published from Lahore.