Madan Lal Dhingra was born on 1883 in Punjab, British India & died on 1909 in Pentonville Prison, London, Britain, was an Indian revolutionary freedom fighter. While studying in England, he assassinated Sir William Hutt Curzon Wyllie, a British official, hailed as one of the first acts of revolutionin the Indian independence movement in the 20th century.
Dhingra had to work as a clerk, a Tonga (horse-driven cart) puller, and a factorylabourer. Dhingra attempted to organise a union there, but was sacked. He worked for sometime in Bombay, before acting upon the advice of his elder brother and going to England for higher studies. In 1906, Madan Lal 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 came into contact with noted Indian independence & political activists Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and Shyamji Krishna Varma, who were impressed by Dhingra’s perseverance and intense patriotism which turned his focus to the freedom struggle. Savarkar believed in revolution by any means, and supposedly gave Dhingra arms training, apart from membershipin a secretive society, the Abhinav Bharat Mandal. He was also a member of India House, the base for Indian student political activity.
During this period, Savarkar, Dhingra and other student activists were enraged by the execution of freedom fighters such as Khudiram Bose, Kanhai Lal Dutt, Satinder Pal and Pandit Kanshi Ram in India. It is this event that is attributed by many historians as having led Savarkar and Dhingra to exact direct revenge upon the British.
On the evening of 1 July 1909, a large number of Indians and Englishmen had gathered to attend the annual day function of the Indian National Association. When Sir Curzon Wyllie, political aide-de-camp to the Secretary of State for India, entered the hall with his wife, Dhingra fired five shots right at his face, four of which hit their target. Cowasji Lalkaka, a Parsee doctor who tried to save Sir Curzon, died of Madan Lal’s sixth and seventh bullets, which the latter fired because Lalkaka caught hold of him.
Failing to commit suicide by turning his pistol on himself, Dhingra was arrested after a brief struggle.
Dhingra was tried in the Old Bailey on 23 July. He stated that he did not regret killing of Curzon Wyllie as he had played his part in order to set India free from the inhuman British rule. Also, that he had not intended to kill Cowasji Lalkaka. He was sentenced to death. After the judge announced his verdict, Dhingra is said to have stated, “I am proud to have the honour of laying down my life for my country. But remember we shall have our time in the days to come.” Contemporary press reports record a somewhat different version. Dhingra was hanged on 17 August 1909. Given the somewhat arrogant comment he made upon hearing the verdict, there is a further comment which is rarely mentioned. According to John Laurence in A History of Capital Punishment on page 138, H. A. Pierrepoint, his executioner gave him a long drop of eight feet, three inches at the execution.
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.”
The Lord Chief Justice. Mr. Tindal Atkinson, although the course may have seemed somewhat unusual, having regard to the nature of this crime and the wicked attempt at justification in some quarters, I am very glad you should have said that on behalf of the members of the family.
While most of the British press, and some liberal and moderate Indians condemned Dhingra’s act, it nevertheless excited the Indian community in England and back in India. Guy Aldred, the printer of The Indian Sociologist was sentenced to twelve months hard labour. The August issue of The Indian Sociologist had carried a story sympathetic to Dhingra. Dhingra’s actions also inspired some in 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 defence 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.
At the time, 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 body was accidentally found while authorities searched for the remains of Shaheed Udham Singh, and re-patriated to India on 13 December 1976. Dhingra is widely remembered in India today, and was an inspiration at the time to revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh and Chandrasekhar Azad.