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Madan Lal Dhingra (1883 - 1909) was an Indian freedom fighter, political activist, a revolutionary studying in Englandmarker. There he killed Sir William Hutt Curzon Wyllie, a Britishmarker official, hailed as one of the first acts of revolution in the Indian independence movement in the 20th century.

Early life

Madan Lal Dhingra was born on February 18, 1883 to a prosperous Hindu family in the province of Punjab. His father Ditta Mal was a wealthy civil surgeon.Dhingra's family were loyalists of the British, and disowned him after his expulsion from college in Lahoremarker owing to illicit political activities. Dhingra had to work as a clerk, a Tongamarker (rickshaw) puller, and a factory labourer. Dhingra attempted to organize a union there, but was sacked. He worked for sometime in Bombaymarker, before acting upon the advice of his elder brother and going to Englandmarker for higher studies. In 1906, Madan Lal departed for Englandmarker to enroll at University Collegemarker, Londonmarker, to study Mechanical Engineering. He was supported by his elder brother and some nationalist activists in England.

With Savarkar

Dhingra came into contact with noted Indian independence & political activists Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and Shyamji Krishnavarma, who were impressed by Dhingra's perseverance and intense patriotism, and turned his focus to the freedom struggle. Savarkar believed in revolution by any means, and supposedly gave Dhingra arms training, apart from membership in 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, Kannai Dutt, Satinder Pal and Kanshi Ram in India. It is this event that is attributed by many historians as having led Savarkar and Dhingra scheme of exacting direct revenge upon the British.

Curzon Wyllie's assassination

On the evening of July 1, 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 Court on July 23. He stated that he do not regret the killing of Curzon Wyllie as he had played his part in order to set India free from the inhuman British rule. Also, that he did not intend 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 August 17, 1909.


While most of the British press, and some liberal and moderate Indians condemned Dhingra's act, it nevertheless excited the Indian community in Englandmarker and back in Indiamarker. 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 Irishmarker, 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.

Mohandas Karamchand 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 Germanymarker invaded Britainmarker, so too it is the right of any Indian to kill any .... The 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. The Indian Opinion, August 14th 1909


This statement was said 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 health 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!"


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 December 13, 1976.

Dhingra is widely remembered in India today, and was an inspiration at the time to revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh and Chandrasekhar Azad.

See also


Further reading

  • Waraich, Malwinder Jit Singh & Kuldip Puri (2003). Tryst with Martyrdom: Trial of Madan Lal Dhingra (July-August, 1909), Chandigarh: Unistar, ISBN 81-86898-72-7.

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