Nathuram Godse was yet to make his appearance in the world when Martyr Madan Lal Dhingra was sentenced to death in 1909 for assassinating Sir William Hutt Curzon Wyllie, a man who took great pride and pleasure in denying several Indian students their right to earn an honest livelihood in England and instead marked them down for apparent “seditious activities”. On 1 July 1909, Martyr Dhingra calmly shot Curzon Wyllie four times at point-blank range with a small Colt pistol causing a furore of immeasurable proportions across the world.
In his historic statement in court that left everyone spellbound, Martyr Dhingra said, “I do not want to say anything in defence 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 80 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 people 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.”
While the action of Martyr Dhingra inspired nationalists and revolutionaries in Akhanda Bharat and across the world, there were mixed reactions from the Indian National Congress, a creation of the British to control, manipulate and create communal rifts to prevent a repeat of 1857 (First War of Independence) that would shake their oppressive authority.
Either Mr. Gandhi was incredibly naïve and gullible and saw only goodness in all (earning the title of Mahatma), or he chose to look the other way at the sacrifice of many Indians to overthrow the British for reasons only known to him. His reaction to Martyr Dhingra has been documented, studied at length and is easily available in the archives.
Mr. Gandhi wrote, “It is being said in defence of Sir Curzon Wyllie’s assassination that it is the British who are responsible for India’s ruin, and 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. Every Indian should reflect thoughtfully on this murder.
It has done India much harm; the deputation’s efforts have also received a setback. But that need not be taken into consideration. It is the ultimate result that we must think of. Mr Dhingra’s defence is inadmissible. In my view, he has acted like a coward.
All the same, one can only pity the man. He was egged on to do this act by ill-digested reading of worthless writings. His defence of himself, too, appears to have been learnt by rote. It is those who incited him to this that deserve to be punished.
In my view, Mr. Dhingra himself is innocent. The murder was committed in a state of intoxication. It is not merely wine or bhang that makes one drunk; a mad idea also can do so. That was the case with Mr. Dhingra.
The analogy of Germans and Englishmen 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. Moreover, they would not kill an unsuspecting German, or Germans who are guests. If I kill someone in my own house without a warning—someone who has done me no harm—I cannot but be called a coward.
There is an ancient custom among the Arabs that they would not kill anyone in their own house, even if the person be their enemy. They would kill him after he had left the house and after he had been given time to arm himself. Those who believe in violence would be brave men if they observe these rules when killing anyone. Otherwise, they must be looked upon as cowards.
It may be said that what Mr. Dhingra did, publicly and knowing full well that he himself would have to die, argues courage of no mean order on his part. But as I have said above, men can do these things in a state of intoxication, and can also banish the fear of death. Whatever courage there is in this is the result of intoxication, not a quality of the man himself.
A man’s own courage consists in suffering deeply and over a long period. That alone is a brave act, which is preceded by careful reflection. I must say that those who believe and argue that such murders may do good to India are ignorant men indeed. No act of treachery can ever profit a nation.
Even should the British leave in consequence of such murderous acts, who will rule in their place? The only answer is: the murderers. Who will then be happy? Is the Englishman bad because he is an Englishmen? Is it that everyone with an Indian skin is good?
A second statement written by Martyr Dhingra was not permitted in the court and was later published on the insistence of Swatantrya Veer Savarkar that runs thus, “I admit, the other day, I attempted to shed English blood as a humble revenge for the inhuman hangings and deportations of patriotic Indian youths. In this attempt I have consulted none but my own conscience; I have conspired with none but my own duty.
I believe that a nation held in bondage with the help of foreign bayonets is in 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.
As a Hindu, I feel that a wrong done to my country is an insult to God. Poor in health and intellect, a son like myself has nothing to offer to the Mother but his own blood, and so I have sacrificed the same on her altar. Her cause is the cause of Shri Rama. Her services are the services of Shri Krishna. This War of Independence will continue between India and England so long as the Hindu and the English races last (if this present unnatural relation does not cease).
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. Therefore, I die and glory to my martyrdom.
My only prayer to God is: may I be reborn of the same Mother and may I re-die in the same sacred cause till the cause is successful and she stands free for the good of humanity and the glory of God. Vande Mataram!”
This act of heroism on the part of Martyr Dhingra must have had considerable impact on Godse while growing up and one must ponder over his sacrifice and criticism meted out to him by eminent personalities of the Indian National Congress who were “negotiating for a greater autonomy” with the British invaders.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)
* Information about Nathuram Vinayak Godse is taken from archives