Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Alipore Bomb case was bigger than 1857. Sadly, our 'eminent' historians never told us this

OPED Saturday, October 11, 2008 Pioneer.com Politics of reaching out Udayan Namboodiri

By taking the first steps to greater political inclusiveness this week, LK Advani practically asked the Hindu Right to mend its own ways -- a Saturday Special focus

On the whole during this trial at every stage I could find, in the British legal system, how easily the innocent could be punished, sent to prison, suffer transportation, even loss of life. Unless one stood in the dock oneself, one cannot realise the delusive untruth of the Western penal code. It is something of a gamble, a gamble with human freedom, with man's joys and sorrows, a life-long agony for him and his family, his friends and relatives, insult, a living death. In this system there is no counting as to how often guilty persons escape and how many innocent persons perish".

The writer of these lines was Sri Aurobindo; the book, Tales of Prison Life, which was based on his experiences as an accused in the Alipore Bomb Case of 1908. The parallels of the context with that of today are vaguely eerie. A hundred years ago this October, Anglo-Indian officers of Calcutta Police were randomly rounding up Bengali boys in connection with bomb discoveries in the unlikeliest of places. A garden house in Manicktola, the rest room of a girl's school in Hatibagan, a chummery of east Bengali clerks in Sealdah, it seemed no place was safe. Thanks to the The Statesman's tradition of reproducing quaintly relevant news items from a bygone era in its "100 Years Ago Today" column, we are now getting to read some of the reports that must have filled the minds of the white denizens of the imperial city with so much anxiety back then.

Those who treat Sri Aurobindo as an icon must understand that Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence, as played out in Independent India, is as much weighted on the side of the prosecution as in the famous savant's time. Draconian laws still insulate the police from critical inquiry and human rights are treated as so many doormats. Today's demanders of "tough laws" to fight terror must realise that without police reform and a thorough overhaul of the CrPC, a legislation like POTA-II would resemble a cart placed before the horse.

We are not commenting here on the content of revolutionary terrorism as celebrated by the Swadeshi movement as a necessary arm of resistance to British rule. Perceptions on what constitutes 'freedom fighting' and 'terrorism' are, as we well know, calibrated by the situation of the beholder. The intention is to point out how each age's law makers stand directly poised for confrontation by painting the guilty and the innocent with the same broad brush. Sri Aurbindo filled the pages of his dairy with heart wrenching stories of the degradations that perfectly honest human souls were subjected to under the pernicious British gaol system. He described in his subsequent book the farcical trials under the hypocritical jurisprudence that presided over the lives of ordinary mortals, filling them at once with great hope and depressing futility. He was eventually acquitted, but that's different. [...]

So, on the 100th anniversary of Sri Aurobindo's famous incarceration, they would do well to plunge into the ocean of Hindu philosophy in search of knowledge that could address the political insufficiency of some of their present postures. Advani, who would be 81 next month, has proved to them once again that majoritarianism could also mean the elder brother practicing what he preaches. Terrorism , like the black death, affects us all. Blaming "the Jews" didn't help last time and nor will it this time round. -- The writer is Senior Editor, The Pioneer

OPED Saturday, November 22, 2008 Pioneer.com 100 years of righteous terror Udayan Namboodiri

In terms of bequeathing a legacy, the Alipore Bomb case was bigger than 1857. Sadly, our 'eminent' historians never told us this

Exactly a hundred years ago today, 25-year-old Satyendranath Bose climbed the gallows at Calcutta's Alipore Jail with the cry Vande Mataram on his lips. His was the third hanging of the year. Fifteen-year-old Khudiram Bose and Kanailal Dutta (20) had preceded Satyen for bombing and shooting at representatives and agents of the British Empire. The entire country was left breathless by the competitive dare shown by middle-class, educated Bengali boys. All over Punjab, Maharashtra, Sind and, of course, Bengal, bards began spinning spectacularly panegyric yarns about boys, the milk still in their cheeks, merrily kissing the hangman’s noose before dying. Some of these songs have stood the test of time. Quite a few may have inspired a Bhagat Singh or a Subhas Chandra Bose. At any rate, India got its first batch of pure heroes.

This week, Saturday Special recalls the multi-layered impact of the Alipore Bomb Case that manifests in a variety of ways even today. We have just got over the 150th anniversary of the 1857 revolt. But, hype apart, how many scholars would disagree that its contribution to the future course of the freedom struggle was almost zero? Few actually. It's one thing to politely agree that it was the "first war of independence", but quite another to accept that its cause commanded widespread sympathy or that its actors were the stuff of folklore. Alipore, on the other hand, was both.

We feature alongside (main story), the noted American historian, Peter Heehs, whose authoritative work, The Bomb in Bengal: The rise of revolutionary terrorism, is respected as the first narrative history of the event even as it stops short of being uncritically laudatory.

The Alipore Bomb Case got its name from the district court of Alipore in which a clutch of cases concerning the same group of accused persons was tried. But no bomb actually went off there. On April 30, 1908 two members of Barindranath Ghose's wider circle, Khudiram Bose and Prafulla Chaki, threw the famous Muzaffarpur bomb, whose target was Douglas Kingsford, an unpopular Judge, but actually killed two innocent Englishwomen. Chaki committed suicide but Khudiram entered folklore for the calmness he exuded when mounting the gallows on August 11. Just as soon as the news of the blast reached the authorities in Calcutta, the Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal, Andrew Fraser, himself an object of three assassination attempts for being the real author of the Partition decision, decided to crack down on a garden house that was engaging the attention of police detectives for quite some time.

This garden house was located in Manicktola, an eastern suburb of Calcutta and was an ancestral property of the Ghose brothers. Barindranath wished to operate an Ananda Math-like group from there. His followers lived a spartan life on the garden. They stocked a great deal of guns, ammunition and explosive chemicals. They read the Gita, meditated and trained themselves in martial skills. The police had been watching the property for quite some time. After the Muzaffarpur incident, they decided to move in. Early on May 2, a large posse of CID officers and men swooped down on the garden house and arrested everybody they could find. They also raided the office of Nabashakti, a paper run by Aurobindo from downtown Calcutta and rounded him up. The owners of shops and houses suspected to assist the operation were also hauled away.

Wide publicity followed the mystical leader and his band of boy revolutionaries after the arrests. For the first time we see the latitude enjoyed by the native Press, even in the heyday of Empire, to defend the revolutionaries. Moral support often came from unexpected quarters. For example, Kier Hardie, a Scottish socialist who was the first independent MP in Britain, said, "the outbreak of terrorism is the natural outcome of the policy now being pursued in India." Therefore you had not only 'terrorism', but also an early 'root cause' theory. In retribution, bombs began to go off at regular intervals all over India. Terror gripped the European and Anglo-Indian communities. A unit of the British Army posted in Calcutta wrote to Viceroy Lord Minto that its members would not hesitate to slaughter every available Bengali if a even one European was hurt. On November 8, a young boy called Jatin Roy Choudhury, who was connected to Barindra Ghose's group via two members, shot at Lieutenant Governor Fraser at Calcutta's Overtoun Hall. He missed, but went on record saying, "If we kill one LG, other LGs will listen to our grievances."

The case was heard in two stages. The first, against 30 of the 35 arrested, began within a month. Alongside, there were two other cases called the Harrison Road Arms Act case and the Alipore Jail Murder case. The latter was over the murder of Narendra Nath Goswami, a follower of Barin Ghose since the early days, who was killed by Dutt and Bose inside the Jail Hospital because he decided to spill the beans as an approver. This was achieved on August 31 and, after a speedy trial, they were sentenced to death. Dutt was hanged on November 10. His body was taken in procession to the Kalighat burning ghat by thousands of people. This unnerved the government and when it was Satyen's turn to hang 12 days later, his body was cremated within the jail premises.

Aurobindo Ghose's stood trial as part of the second batch, the Judge presiding being Charles Porten Beachcroft, his contemporary at Cambridge University. Chittaranjan Das, the famous barrister and Congress leader, defended him for a nominal fee. The eventual verdict and its place in history are still intensely debated. The Judgment itself is part of the curriculum of many law schools. It was an excellent opportunity for the British to showcase the liberal core of their jurisprudence and Judge Beachcroft exploited it to the hilt. Though there was a mountain of evidence implicating Aurobindo Ghose, he was acquitted. Barindra and Ulaskhkar were sentenced to death (commuted on appeal). Seven others were jailed for varying lengths of time and the rest were acquitted.

The legacy: The Alipore Bomb case marked a personal watershed for Aurobindo. It also changed the course of the freedom movement. He was left disillusioned by terrorist tactics and underwent a paradigm shift in his attitude, chosing thenceforth to become a great spiritual savant. But the spirit of righteous war did not leave successive generations of freedom fighters. Hundreds of so-called terrorist groups mushroomed all over India and even abroad. Though Nehruvian and Marxist scholars gave predominance to Mahatma Gandhi and non-violence in school history texts -- about the only ‘history’ most Indians ever get to read -- it cannot be denied that the British felt more exercised by those who followed Aurobindo's principle.

Academician Rakesh Sinha (The Other Voice) recounts some of the latter-day teachings of Aurobindo while Dr Heehs reflects on the conceptual divide between terrorism of the form we know today and what was celebrated by the early Bengal patriots. ry of the Indian freedom movement. -- The writer is Senior Editor, The Pioneer. The Search Results are given below using word ALIPORE BOMB CASE 'God cannot be jailed' 22 November, 2008 The bomb that shook an Empire 22 November, 2008 100 years of righteous terror 22 November, 2008 Politics of reaching out 11 October, 2008 Alipore bomb case to be exhibited at SC museum 12 May, 2006

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