The Alipore Bomb Case — A historic pre-independence trial

Noorul Hoda has brought out the contribution of the Bengal revolutionaries of the early part of the twentieth century to the freedom movement, says Prakash Rao.

Noorul Hoda has brought out the contribution of the Bengal revolutionaries of the early part of the twentieth century to the freedom movement, says Prakash Rao.

Khudiram Bose and Prafulla Chakki were youth inspired by the hunger for freedom, who threw bombs at a carriage in Muzzafarpur, Bihar, thinking that the hated magistrate Douglas Kingsford was in the carriage. Instead two ladies who were bridge partners of Kingsford were killed. Khudiram Bose, a young man of 18, was hanged. Prafulla Chakki shot himself to prevent his capture.

The Alipore bomb case trial followed hot on the heels of this, with dozens of revolutionaries arrested and charged with conspiracy against the British Crown.

Noorul Hoda’s book tries to place the action of the Bengal revolutionaries in the context of the struggle for freedom. With quotations from British rulers, as well as from the pen of the revolutionaries, it recreates the ongoing struggle in India and Bengal in a lively way.

Hoda points out how the partition of Bengal let loose a chain of events which had a direct bearing both on the struggle for freedom, and the eventual communal partition of the country.

Hoda paints the massive opposition to the partition of Bengal. 16th October 16, 1905 was declared a day of national mourning. A general hartal was called. Tagore led the people on the street, singing patriotic songs and tying rakhis on the wrists of Hindus and Muslims alike. Chants of "Bande Mataram" filled the air. Kitchens were shut down in houses as people observed arandham (abstinence from cooking). Millions fasted. And in a symbolic gesture celebrating the unbreakable unity of Bengal, protestors walked barefoot to the Ganga for a dip in the waters of the holy river that had cradled the great culture of this country.

The author points out that the Bengal revolutionaries’ aim was to stage a popular uprising to bring down the edifice of British imperialism. Through the assassination of British officials, they hoped to paralyse the administration and uproot all enemies of India’s freedom – Indians as well as foreigners.  Guerilla warfare, inciting the army to revolt, arranging arms supplies from nations hostile to Britain – the revolutionaries tried different methods.

A major portion of the book deals with the trial known as the Alipore Bomb Case.  A couple of days after the Muzzafarnagar bomb attack aimed at killing Kingsford, the police raided and arrested a number of revolutionaries in Bengal on May 2, 1908. 33 revolutionaries were charged with waging war against the government. The accused were all young men, many from highly educated background, who had decided to take to arms to liberate the motherland. The book contains interesting insights into the character of these young men. For instance, one of the main figures was Ullaskar Dutt, a young man of 22. He described his occupation as a cow keeper. He was one of two sentenced to death by hanging, the other being Barin Ghosh. The sentence of both was later turned into life imprisonment and Dutt was sent to the Andamans where he remained until a general amnesty, in 1920.

Barindra Kumar Ghose was a key player in the Alipore trial. It was in his house that the revolutionaries carried out their activities. Barin was born in England and came to India at the age of one. According to British Indian law, he was asked whether he would like to be tried as a British citizen! Barin, the patriot, refused. He was sentenced to death, with the sentence later commuted to life imprisonment in the Cellular Jail, in Andamans. He too was released in 1920.

The key figure in the trial was the revolutionary Aurobindo Ghose. He was the elder brother of Barin Ghose. His parents lived in Britain, and they gave Aurobindo and his brothers a European upbringing. Aurobindo completed his schooling and college education in England. Aurobindo came back to India and learnt Sanskrit, Marathi, Gujarati and Bengali in addition to English, Latin and so on, which he had learnt in England. He studied the epics, the Upanishads as well as other Sanskrit literature. Hoda brings out a little known fact that the judge who tried Aurobindo and others in the Alipore case was a former co-student of Aurobindo at Cambridge!
Aurobindo Ghose was acquitted in the trial. He was defended by none other than Chittaranjan Das. He later moved to Puducheri and established the famous Aurobindo ashram.

Hoda points out that the British learnt their lessons from the opposition to the partition of Bengal. They took three steps to turn the immediate defeat they had suffered in the form of widespread opposition into a benefit for their rule. Towards this end, they decided to shift the capital to Delhi and reduce the importance of Kolkata. Secondly, they rescinded the partition and reunited Bengal. Thirdly, they introduced the Morley-Minto reforms in 1909. As the author perceptively points out, the “British realized it was time to step back strategically. If only to jump a few steps forward…”

The British argued “The change (from Kolkata to Delhi)… would  be accepted by all as the assertion of an unfaltering determination to maintain British rule in India”.

The Morley-Minto reforms had deliberately introduced both direct elections of Indians in the provincial councils, and special seats for Muslims. The documents in the book clearly bring out how the colonialists played on the difference between Bengalis and Muslims (calling Bengali Muslims as Mohammedans, while Hindu Bengalis were called Bengalis). The British spoke of the “loyalty” of Mohammedans, and the resentment of the Bengalis,  and clearly revealed their aims of inciting communal  divisions where there were none. The fact that Bengal revolutionaries used the mother as a symbol to mobilize people for the revolt, and the fact that they drew moral sustenance from the Vedas and Upanishads and the Gita, were used to deliberately portray the revolt in communal colours. Such was the cunning of the British. The book points out that the second partition of Bengal, achieved in 1947, was not accidental. 

While “The Alipore Bomb Case” is well researched, it does not bring out the political strategy of the Bengal revolutionaries or their inspiration from the Ghadar of 1857 and other revolts of the people. It would also have been welcome if organisations of the Bengal revolutionaries were described and analysed in greater detail.
Noorul Hoda is a post graduate in Museology from National Museum Institute, Ministry of Culture. Hoda has been instrumental in setting up unique museums and archives in India, including the national Philatelic Museum, the Mineral Museum in Nashik, Supreme Court Museum and the Karnataka High Court Museum.
He is engaged in research on revolutionary groups on the Indian freedom movement. The book has been edited well by Shyam Banerji.

Prakash Rao is athe all India Convenor of Lok Raj Sangathan
and a well known activist in the people’s movement.


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