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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 39, September 12, 2009

Centenary of Madan Lal Dhingra’s Martyrdom

Saturday 12 September 2009, by Chaman Lal


Madan Lal Dhingra is perhaps the first Indian freedom fighter, who was executed in London on August 17, 1909. But it is strange that no one in public or the government has thought of comme-morating the event. A brief life-sketch of Madan Lal Dhingra is being given here to draw attention towards his martyrdom, a century ago, for the freedom of the country.

Madan Lal Dhingra was born on February 18, 1883 at Amritsar in a very rich family. His father, Dr Ditta Mal, retired as the Government Civil Surgeon and had twentyone houses in Katra Sher Singh and six bunglaws on G.T. Road. Dr Ditta Mal had shifted from his village Sahiwal in Sargodha district, now in Pakistan, in 1850 and he held 10 bighas land and a haveli in his ancestral village. He was a Rai Saheb title holder from the British Government. He had six buggies and his car ran on Amritsar roads—he was the first Indian to have this privilege in the city. He had seven sons and one daughter. Three of his sons were trained medical doctors and three were Barristers. One of his brothers, Dr Bihari Lal Dhingra, was notorious as the Prime Minister of Jind state for his cruelties on people. It was in such a family that a rebellious son was born; he did physical labour while doing his B.Sc. from Lahore, where he was influenced by the Pagdi Sambhal Jatta movement of Lala Lajpat Rai and Ajit Singh, the uncle of Bhagat Singh.

Later he went to England for higher studies on a ship, reaching London in two months from Bombay. He took admission in the engineering course and became involved in the Indian freedom struggle. He was influenced by Shyamji Krishna Verma and Veer Savarkar. Veer Savarkar came on a scholarship established by Shyamji Krishna Verma, and arrived in England in 1906, the same year that Dhingra reached Britain. Both were of the same age group, but Savarkar was inclined to the Hindutva ideology. Shyamji Krishna Verma was more liberal and rational in his views, but he had to leave for Paris as the British Government was harassing him a lot.


Madan Lal Dhingra was now under the spell of Savarkar and it was the latter who inspired him to shoot Curzon Wylie, who was notorious for using Indians to serve as informers for Britishers in England. The pistol for this purpose was also provided by Savarkar to Dhingra, who shot Wylie dead at the end of June in 1909; and after a one-and-a-half month trial, he was executed on
August 17, 1909 at the age of 26 years.

Bhagat Singh wrote about Madan Lal Dhingra in his sketches about the revolutionary freedom fighters. It is the duty of the nation at both the government and people’s levels to commemorate the event in a befitting manner. The National Programme Implementation Committee to implement the government policy on national anniversaries should come out with detailed plans in this regard, while people’s organisations should chalk out their own commemorative programmes. Dhingra was perhaps the first Indian freedom fighter to be executed on British soil. Thirtyone years later Udham Singh followed the same path and was executed on July 31, 1940 under almost similar circumstances.

The author is a Professor and Chairman of Indian Languages, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He can be contacted at:

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