Alipore bomb case

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The trial room, Alipore Sessions Court, Calcutta in 1997.

The Alipore Bomb Case, variously called Muraripukur conspiracy or the Manicktolla bomb conspiracy was the trial of a number of revolutionaries of the Anushilan Samiti in Calcutta under charges of "Waging war against the Government" of the British Raj held at Alipore Sessions Court, Calcutta, between May 1908 and May 1909. The trial followed in the wake of the attempt on the life of Presidency Magistrate Douglas Kingsford in Muzaffarpur by Bengali nationalists Khudiram Bose and Prafulla Chaki in April 1908, which was linked to the attempts derail the train carrying the Lieutenant-Governor Sir Andrew Fraser in December 1907. Among the famous accused were Aurobindo Ghosh, his brother Barin Ghosh as well as 37 other Bengali nationalists of the Anushilan Samiti. Most of the accused were arrested from Barin Ghosh's Garden house in 36 Murarirupukur Road, in the Manicktolla suburb of Calcutta. The accused were held in the Presidency Jail in Alipore before the trial, where Narendranath Goswami, approver and Crown-witness, was shot-dead by two fellow accused Kanailal Dutta and Satyendranath Bose within the jail premises. Goswami's murder led to collapse of the case against Aurobindo allowing him to walk-free. However his brother Barin and a number of others were convicted of the charges and faced varying jail terms from life-imprisonment to shorter jail terms.[1]

Background[edit]

Political consciousness and opposition to British raj in Bengal had grown steadily over the last decades of the 1800s. By 1902, Calcutta had three societies working under the umbrella of a nationalist organisation called Anushilan Samity ("Body-building society") which arose from conglomerations of youth-organisations and gyms. These included a society earlier founded by a Calcutta student named Satish Chandra Basu with the patronage of a Calcutta barrister by the name of Pramatha Mitra, another led by a Bengalee lady by the name of Sarala Devi, and a third one founded Jatindranath Bannerjee and Aurobindo Ghosh. Ghosh was propunder of militant nationalism.[2] Having forsaken a potential career in the Indian Civil Service, Ghosh had returned to India and taken up an academic post under the patronage of the Maharaja of Baroda. His younger brother Barin joined Aurobindo in Baroda. Baroda offered Barin to obtain training in military strategies and armed conflicts.In 1903, Aurobindo Ghosh sent his younger brother Barindra Kumar Ghosh to Calcutta to rally the nascent organisation. By 1905, the controversial 1905 partition of Bengal had a widespread political impact: it stimulated radical nationalist sentiments in the Bhadralok community in Bengal, and helped Anushilan acquire a support base among of educated, politically conscious and disaffected young in local youth societies throughout Bengal. The works of Aurobindo and his brother Barin Ghosh allowed Anushilan Samity to spread through Bengal. Anushilan began a program of slowly building a support base, preparing slowly and steadily for a nationalist uprising, on the lines of the Italian Carbonari.[3] Aurobindo returned to Bengal in 1906, and with the assistance of Subodh Mallik and Bipin Chandra Pal, founded in 1907 the radical Bengali nationalist publication of Jugantar and its English counterpart Bande Mataram. After a slow start, the journal gradually grew to acquire a mass appeal in Bengal through its radicalist approach and message of revolutionary programmes. Aurobindo, active in nationalist politics in the Congress, increasingly became the prominent voice of radical nationalists including Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bipin Pal who advicated break-away from Britain and justified violent revolution as a means to this end. Nationalist writings and publications by Aurobindo and his brother Barin included Bande Mataram, Jugantar had a widespread impact among the youth of Bengal. By 1907 it was selling 7,000 copies which later rose to 20,000. Its message, aimed at elite politically conscious readers was essentially critique and defiance of British rule in India, and justification of political violence.[4] The publication inspired a proportion of the young men who joined Anushilan Samiti cited the influence of Jugantar in their decisions.[citation needed] In 1907, Bipin Chandra Pal and Aurobindo faced prosecution for the message emanating from Bande Mataram, with Pal being convicted. Meanwhile, Jugantar was also subject to close scrutiny.

The bomb in Bengal[edit]

Maincktolla ashram[edit]

By 1907, Barin Ghosh had begun gathering around groups of young men attracted to the Jugantar message. This was at a time that the Dhaka Anushilan Samiti under Pulin Das was becoming active in seeking to target British administrative officers and interests as targets. Police searches and surveillance of Jugantar became routine, and the younger Ghosh cut his ties with the paper. A close group of approximately a dozen young men gathered around Barin, some of who lived in his garden house in 36 Muraripukur lane, in the Manicktolla suburb of Calcutta. The house was intended by Barin to be organised along the lines of an ashram or hermitage away from public eye where revolutionaries could live in strict discipline and prepare for a future revolution. Barin's group had been experimenting with production of explosives from 1906. In 1907, they were joined by Ullaskar Dutt, a self-taught chemist from the Howrah suburb of Calcutta who was attracted to the Jugantar message. The group had targeted the Lieutenant Governor of Bengal since 1906. In autumn 1906 Charu Chandra Dutt and Prafulla Chaki had made a failed attempt to assassinate the governor at Darjeeling.[3] With Dutta's expertise, the plans were revisited. By October that year, Dutta was in a position to manufacture a bomb powerful enough to blow up a train. With dynamite obtained by Barin's group, Dutt produced a bomb with a detonator of his own manufacturing. intended target was the train carrying the lieutenant governor of Bengal, Andrew Fraser. Through November 1907, two attempts were made to target the train carrying the Lieutenant governor, which were unsuccessful. However, the group was at last successful on 5 December when Bibhutibhushan sarkar and Prafulla Chaki successfully detonated Dutt's bomb under the Governor's train at Narayangarh, near Midnapore. The Governor escaped unhurt, but security was tightened around him in the investigation that followed. In January 1908, Dutt successfully produced a more powerful Picric acid bomb that was tested in Deoghar. However, by this time Bengal police had infiltrated the Medinapore branch of the Samiti through an infiltrator, who was able to pass on information on the Manisktolla ashram, which he obtained from Satyendranth Bose. This included the names of Barin Ghosh and Aurobindo, and both were soon the subject of surveillance by Calcutta police. However, the Government desisted from acting against Ghosh's group, fearful they would melt away to regroup in secret.[5]

Douglas Kingsford[edit]

In 1907, Barin Ghosh arranged to send to Paris one of his associates by the name of Hem Chandra Kanungo (Hem Chandra Das), who was to learn the art of bomb making from Nicholas Safranski, a Russian revolutionary in exile in the French Capital.[6] Returning to Bengal, Hem began working with Barin Ghosh again. With Fraser alerted, a new target was selected in Douglas Kingsford. Kingsford was the Chief Magistrate of the Presidency court of Alipore, and had overseen the trials of Bhupendranath Dutta and other editors of Jugantar, sentencing them to rigorous imprisonment.[7] Jugantar itself responded with defiant editorials.[7] The defiance of Jugantar saw it face five more prosecutions that left it in financial ruins by 1908. These prosecutions brought the paper more publicity, and helped disseminate the Samiti's ideology of revolutionary nationalism. Shukla Sanyal notes in 2014 that revolutionary terrorism as an ideology began to win support amongst a significant populace in Bengal, tacitly even if not overt.[8] Kingsford also earned notoriety among nationalists when he ordered the whipping of a young Bengali boy by the name of Sushil Sen for participating in the protests that followed the Jugantar trial. The first attempt to kill Kingsford was in the form of a book bomb that Hem constructed. An empty tin of Cadbury's cocoa was packed with a pound of picric acid and three detonators. This was packed into a hollowed section of Herbert Broom's Commentaries on the Common Law and delivered wrapped in brown paper to Kingsford's house by a young revolutionary named Paresh Mallick. Kingsford placed the unopened package in his shelf to examine it later. By March 1908, fearful of the judge's safety, he was promoted to District Judge and transferred by the government to Muzaffarpur in northern part of Bihar. With him went his furniture, library and the book bomb made by Hem Chandra.

Muzaffarpur bombings[edit]

Anushilan, under Barin, persisted in their attempts to kill Kingsford. In April, a two-man reconnaissance team visited Muzaffarpur, which included Parfulla Chaki.[9] On their return, Hem provided the bomb that was to be used, composed of 6 ounces of dynamite, a detonator and a blackpowder fuse. Prafulla returned to Muzaffarpur with a new man, Khudiram Bose. However, the outlines of these plans to attempt to take Kingsford's life had also become known to Calcutta police, and commissioner F.L. Halliday had passed on the alert to Muzaffarpur superintendent of police. Kingsford was thus alerted by the superintendent, but had ignored the warnings. Four men were assigned to guard the magistrate's house.[9] On the evening of 29 April Bose and Chaki were in place to execute their plans. Pretending to be schoolboys, they surveyed the Muzaffarpur park, opposite The British club frequented by Kingsford. They were noticed by a constable. The next day they returned and, being noticed by the same constable, they were scurried away. The duo moved away, then doubled back, hiding in a tree with the bomb.[9] Kingsford was playing bridge that night at the club with his wife and the wife and daughter of a local barrister, Pringle Kennedy. Finishing the last game at 8:30 in the evening, the group broke up to head home. Kingsford and his wife were in a carriage identical to and immediately behind that carrying the Pringles.[10] As the first carriage passed the tree hiding Chaki and Bose, Bose ran up to the carriage and threw his bomb through the carriage window. Both the occupants were fatally wounded. Escaping in the ensuing confusion, Bose and Chaki broke up and left the town separately. Bose walked through the night, reaching a small town called Waini, from where he intended to take the train back to Calcutta. Unfamiliar with the place, he came under the scrutiny of two constables and was caught while attempting to escape. Chaki, in the meantime, was able to take a different train, but came under the suspicion of an off-duty policeman named Nandalal Bannerjee. Bannerjee telegraphed Calcutta, and upon receiving instructions to detain Chaki, attempted to arrest. Chaki attempted to escape from the paltform fighting his way through with his revolver and, down to his last bullet, shot himself in the mouth.[10]

Muraripukur arrests[edit]

The cell in the court room in 1997, where all the suspects were kept during the trial.

News of the bombings reached Calcutta on 1 May 1908, and suspicion was immediately on Aurobindo and Barin. Fraser, the Governor of Bengal, contemplated arrest and deportation of the Samiti leadership, fearing that the evidence may not be sufficient to obtain conviction in a formal trial. By the time Fraser had wired the Government of India, however, Halliday began the process of charging Aurobindo and the Manicktolla group. By 7'o clock in the evening, an arrest warrant had been obtained, and the arrests began in an operation involving all of Calcutta's police superintendents, nearly twelve inspectors and more than a hundred constables.[9] A news of the killings broke in the evening newspapers in Calcutta Barin and his group, warned by Aurobindo, began hiding away arms, ammunitions and bombs in various stages of preparation at the house in Muraripukur lane that served as the headquarters. The place also contained substantial amount of incriminating papers which the group attempted to burn. On 2 May 1908, police arrested an initial 33 suspects. The local police immediately raided a property of Aurobindo Ghosh. His writings and letters were confiscated by the police. The Maniktala garden premises where Barin and other activists had been training was also raided. Along with many activists, Aurobindo Ghosh was also arrested on charges of planning and overseeing the attack and imprisoned in solitary confinement in Alipore Jail.

The trial[edit]

The trial soon began - 49 people stood accused, 206 witnesses were called, around 400 documents were filed with the court, and more than 5000 exhibits were produced including bombs, revolvers, and acids. The trial continued for a year (1908-1909), and Bose was found guilty and later hanged. Aurobindo Ghosh, however, was defended by the young lawyer Chittaranjan Das, who concluded his defence:

My appeal to you is this, that long after the controversy will be hushed in silence, long after this turmoil, the agitation will have ceased, long after he is dead and gone, he will be looked upon as the poet of patriotism, as the prophet of nationalism and the lover of humanity. Long after he is dead and gone, his words will be echoed and re-echoed, not only in India but across distant seas and lands. Therefore, I say that the man in his position is not only standing before the bar of this Court, but before the bar of the High Court of History.[1]

The verdict[edit]

On 6 May 1909,[1] Judge Beachcroft delivered the verdict involving over 36 suspects. The Judge sentenced: [1]

  • to death Barindra Ghosh and Ullaskar Dutt under Sections 121, 121 A, 122 Penal Code; but sentences were commuted to life in prison, and both released in 1920;[11]
  • to transportation for life and forfeiture all property Upendra Nath Banerjee, Bibhuti Bhusan Roy, Hrishikesh Kanjilal, Birendra Sen, Sudhir Sarkar, Indra Nundy, Abinash Bhuttacharjee, Soilendra Bose, Hem Chunder Dass;
  • transportation for life and forfeiture property Indu Bhusan Roy Section 121 A 122 Penal Code;
  • to transportation for ten years and forfeiture property Poresh Mullick, Sishir Ghosh, Nirapado Roy Section 121, 122;
  • to transportation for seven years Asoke Nundy, Balkrishna Kane, Susil Sen Section 121 A;
  • to one year's rigorous imprisonment Kristo Jiban Sanyal Section 121 A;
  • and acquitted Noren Buxshi, Sochindra Sen, Nolini Gupta, Purno Sen, Bijoy Nag, Kunjalal Saha, Hemendra Ghosh, Dharani Gupta, Nogen Gupta, Birendra Ghosh, Bijoy Bhuttacharjee, Hem Chundra Sen, Provas Dey, Dindayal Bose, Debobroto Bose, Nokhillessur Roy and Arabindo Ghosh.[1]

Two of the 17 acquitted, Dharani Gupta & Nogen Gupta, were already undergoing a 7-year sentence for conviction in the Harrison Road case, so they were not released.[1] Probash Chunder Deb was re-arrested on a sedition charge under Section 124A, in connection with the publication of the book "Desh Acharjya".[1]

Of the two sentenced to death by hanging (but released in 1920), Ullaskar Dutt, a young man of 22, described his occupation as a cow keeper.[11] Barindra Kumar Ghosh, younger brother of Aurobindo Ghosh, was a key player in the Alipore trial. It was in their house that the revolutionaries carried out their activities. Barindra had been born in England and came to India at the age of one. According to British Indian law, he was asked whether he preferred being tried as a British citizen. Barin, as a patriot, refused. Those two were sentenced to death, with the sentence later commuted to life imprisonment in the Cellular Jail in Andamans, where they remained until a general amnesty, in 1920.[11]

Aurobindo Ghosh was acquitted of the charges (among 17 acquitted)[1] and came out of the affair with a new outlook on life and spirituality (see final conversion).

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Documents in the Life of Sri Aurobindo: The Judgment in the Alipore Bomb Case", Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 2007, webpage: SriAurobindoAshram.org-doc16.
  2. ^ Sen 2006, p. 148
  3. ^ a b Heehs 2008, p. 133
  4. ^ Sanyal 2014, pp. 90–91 "[Sanyal translates from Jugantar:] "In a country where the ruling power relies on brute force to oppress its subjects, it is impossible to bring about Revolution or a change in rulers through moral strength. In such a situation, subjects too must rely on brute force." ... The Jugantar challenged the legitimacy of British rule ... [its] position thus amounted to a fundamental critique of the British government ... By 1907 the paper was selling 7000 copies, a figure that went up to 20,000 soon after. The Jugantar ideology was basically addressed to an elite audience that was young, literate and politically radicalized."
  5. ^ Heehs 2008, p. 153
  6. ^ Popplewell 1995, p. 104
  7. ^ a b Sanyal 2014, pp. 91–92 "Bhupendranath Dutt, the editor and proprietor of the Jugantar was arrested in July 1907 and charged under section 124 A ... Bhupendranath was sentenced to a year's rigorous imprisonment ... The Jugantar's stance was typically defiant ... The paper did nothing to tone down the rhetoric in its future editions."
  8. ^ Sanyal 2014, p. 93 "This attitude cost the paper dearly. It suffered five more prosecutions that, by July 1908, brought about its financial ruin … The trials brought the paper a great deal of publicity and helped greatly in the dissemination of the revolutionary ideology ... testimony to the fanatical loyalty that the paper inspired in its readers and the deep impression that the Jugantar writings made on them ... revolutionary terrorism as an ideology began to win if not overt, then at least the tacit, support of Bengalis."
  9. ^ a b c d Heehs 2008, p. 156
  10. ^ a b Heehs 2008, p. 157
  11. ^ a b c "Book Review: The Alipore Bomb Case - A historic pre-independence trial", Prakash Rao, Lok Aawaz Publishers and Distributors, 2007, webpage: Ghadar-review.

References[edit]


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