'Alipore Bomb Case'
May 1908 - May 1909
Sri Aurobindo as under-trial prisoner in Presidency Jail
The 'Alipore Bomb Case' was "the first state trial of any magnitude in India". The British Government arrested Sri Aurobindo, a prominent Nationalist Leader at the time, Barindra Ghose, and many young revolutionaries. They were charged with "Conspiracy" or "waging war against the King" - the equivalent of high treason and punishable with death by hanging.
The case dragged on with preliminary hearings in the Magistrate's court, involving 1000 artefacts as evidence and 222 witnesses followed by a trial in Sessions Court, involving 1438 exhibits and 206 witnesses. During this period, the under-trial prisoners were illegally held in Presidency Jail under torturous conditions (including solitary confinement).
The judgment was finally delivered by Judge Beachcroft on 6 May 1909 after a protracted trial of one year. Sri Aurobindo was acquitted of all charges with the Judge condemning the flimsy nature of the evidence against him. Of the thirty-seven prisoners on trial, Barindra Ghose, as the head of the Secret society of revolutionaries and Ullaskar Dutt, as the maker of bombs, were given the death penalty (later commuted to transportation for life), seventeen others were given varying terms of imprisonment or transportation and the rest were acquitted.
Militant Nationalism : Repression & Revolt
The Partition of Bengal in 1905 led to a general outburst of revolt which favoured the rise of the extremist party and the great nationalist movement. The British Government responded with severe repressive measures against the Swadeshi Agitation, the Nationalist leaders, the vernacular Press of Bengal and in general. The element of violent revolutionary action grew up in Bengal as a result of the strong repression and the reaction to it in that province.
Barindra Kumar Ghose
Barindra Kumar Ghose
Barindra Ghose, was initiated with the revolutionary oath by his elder brother, Sri Aurobindo, in 1902 in Baroda. He spent some time in Bengal for recruitment and organization of the Revolutionary movement. In 1907, at Barin’s suggestion Sri Aurobindo agreed to the starting of a Bengali paper, 'Yugantar', which was to preach open revolt and the absolute denial of the British rule and include such items as a series of articles containing instructions for guerrilla warfare.
Manicktolla Secret Society
Barindra was convinced that a purely Political movement would be insufficient and wanted to train the people for a revolution. He formed his own revolutionary group in 1907, comprising of about twenty recruits, most in their late teens or early twenties. The property at Muraripukur in Manicktolla served as a 'Ashram for Revolutionary Sannyasins', where the young inmates underwent an unique program led by Barindra which included meditation, study of Gita and the Upanishads, classes on Indian History & revolutionary movements in other countries, physical training in jiu-jitsu, wrestling and 'lathi-play' and instruction in military strategy and the use of fire-arms. Barindra and his group dreamt of a far-off revolution and wanted to remain prepared for it.
There had awakened in the country a keen demand and aspiration: Must we bear in silence and give no answer to this tyranny and oppression that seemed to go on increasing day by day? So we started getting ready for a fitting reply... Thus we directed our efforts to shooting at the Lieutenant Governor, derailing his trains and assassinating tyrants in the official ranks. - Nolini Kanta Gupta
Pioneer of Militant Extremism
Barindra pioneered political assassination considering it to be the demand of the people in response to severe repression, fully aware that it could not lead to Independence by itself. The program of political assassination lasted briefly from November, 1907 to April 1908.
The first target was Sir Andrew Fraser. The plan was to blow up the train in which the Lieutenant Governor of Bengal was travelling on the night of 6th December, 1907. The attempt failed.
The next target was L. Tardivel, Mayor of Chandernagore who had prevented a Swadeshi meeting from taking place. This attempt too failed.
The third target was Magistrate Douglas Kingsford, who had incurred the wrath of the Revolutionaries because of his unconcealed leanings that led to harsh sentences for the Indian Nationalists, including the heartless caning of teen-aged Sushil Sen for a fracas with the Police.
Muzaffarpur Bomb-throwing Incident : Trigger-point
Khudiram Bose in Jail
Khudiram Bose & Prafulla Chaki
The British Government was aware of the threat to Douglas Kingsford's life and in March of 1908, transferred him to the district of Muzaffarpur, a remote area in Bihar. Barindra Ghose chose eighteen-year-old Khudiram and nineteen-year-old Prafulla Chaki for the difficult mission. The two young revolutionaries set out with three revolvers and a bomb prepared by Ullaskar Dutt.
After reaching Muzaffarpur, they kept a close watch on Kingsford for several days to work out his daily routine. Finally on the evening of 30th April, they positioned themselves beside a tree across Kingsford's house and waited for him to return from his club as usual in a carriage. At about 8:30, the carriage appeared. Khudiram wasted no time. He ran up and hurled the bomb into the carriage. There was a loud explosion and the impact appeared to have mortally wounded the occupants. The young boys fled the scene thinking that the mission was accomplished. But they were unaware that the occupants of the bombed carriage were in fact two English-women. Kingsford had been in a similar carriage just behind them and was thus saved.
The British Reaction
The year of 1908, Friday, first of May. I was seated in the 'Bande Mataram' office, when Shrijut Shyamsundar Chakravarty handed me a telegram from Muzaffarpur. It contained information pertaining to a bomb explosion in Muzaffarpur that had killed two European ladies. I further gathered from the day's issue of the "Empire" newspaper, that the Police Commissioner had claimed knowledge of the identity of the people involved in this murderous act and assured of their imminent arrest. I was not aware at the time that the prime suspect was none other than me and the Police investigation featured me as chief accused as well as the initiator and secret leader of the young Nationalist revolutionaries.
Police Raids and Arrests of Revolutionaries
On 1.May.1908, the Police Commissioner called an emergency meeting in the aftermath of the Bombing at Muzaffarpur. In the early hours of 2.May.1908, the Police carried out simultaneous raids in Calutta at several locations and arrested around twenty suspected revolutionaries including Sri Aurobindo, who was believed to be their real leader. The Police succeeded in recovering arms, ammunition, explosives and other documentary evidence. The raids continued through the month and other arrests were made bringing the total number up to around forty.
48, Grey Street
I had gone to sleep in a peaceful state on Friday night. I woke up abruptly at about five in the morning when my niece anxiously rushed into the room and called me by name. The very next moment, armed policemen entered the room. The party comprised of Superintendent Cregan, Clark Saheb of 24-Parganas, Sriman Benod Kumar Gupta, who was well-known to us, several other Inspectors, "red-turbans", spies and 'search-witnesses'. They all came charging in, pistols in hand... As I sat up on my bed, not yet fully-awake, Cregan inquired, "Who is Aurobindo Ghose, is that you?" I answered, "Yes. I am Aurobindo Ghose." He immediately ordered a policeman to put me under arrest... I was handcuffed, as per Cregan's instructions, and a rope was tied around my waist. A North-Indian constable stood behind me holding the rope-end. At that point the police brought Shrijut Abinash Bhattacharya and Shrijut Sailen Bose upstairs to my room, similarly handcuffed and with ropes tied around their waists....
Arrests of Revolutionaries
32, Muraripukur Road
The Police raided the property at 32, Muraripukur Road in the early hours of 2.May.1908. A Bomb-factory was discovered as was a cache of arms, a large quantity of ammunition, bombs, detonators and other tools. They also confiscated Revolutionary literature. Fourteen inmates were taken into custody:
- Barindra Kumar Ghose
- Ullaskar Dutt
- Indu Bhusan Roy
- Nolini Kanta Gupta
- Bibhuti Bhuson Sarkar
- Bijoy Kumar Nag
- Sachindra Kumar Sen
- Upendra Nath Bannerjee
- Narendra Nath Bakshi
- Paresh Chandra Moulik
- Kunjolal Saha
- Sishir Kumar Ghose
- Hemendra Ghosh
- Purnachandra Sen
The Police also conducted raids at various other places in Calcutta and took several other revolutionaries in custody. The raids continued through the month of May at places across Bengal and more arrests were made:
- Hem Chandra Das
- Kanailal Dutt
- Sushil Sen
- Hrishikesh Kanjilal
- Sudhir Kumar Sarkar
- Nirapodo Roy
- Ashok Nandi
- Nagendra Nath Gupta
- Dharani Nath Gupta
- Bejoy Ratna Sengupta
- Motilal Bose
- Hem Sen
- Birendra Sen
- Dindoyal Bose
- Narendra Nath Gossain
- Birendra Nath Ghosh
- Krishna Jibon Sanyal
- Debabrata Bose
- Charu Chandra Roy
- Indra Nath Nandy
- Nikhileshwar Nath Moulik
- Bijoy Chandra Bhattacharya
- Provas Chandra Deb
- Balkrishna Hari Kane
Presidency Jail (Old Alipore Jail)
...The legal system disallowed under-trial prisoners to be subjected to solitary confinement or to be held under such torturous conditions. But such niceties of law were dispensed with when dealing with those accused in affairs related to the Swadeshi movement or 'Bande Mataram' and hence arrangements were promptly made for them as desired by the Police....
...To the normal vision however, the British conduct would qualify as mean and reprehensible. After all, the accused were gentlemen; many were scions of Zamindars; some were, in terms of their lineage, education, qualities and character, the equal of the highest classes in England. The charges too were not ordinary. We stood accused of insurrection to liberate the country from foreign rulers and conspiracy for armed revolution. As for evidence or proof, there was none against many of the accused and arrests had been made merely on the basis of suspicion. Hence it was most unbecoming of the British Imperial officers to treat us like ordinary criminals in a prison, nay, like animals in a cage, to serve us food unfit even for animals, to make us endure scarcity of water, thirst, hunger and to keep us exposed to the sun, the rain and the cold...
Sri Aurobindo's Account of Prison-life
Trial in the Magistrate's Court
Alipore Sessions Court
The court trial had an air of unreality about it. The Magistrate, the prosecution counsel, the witnesses, the evidence, the exhibits, the accused and practically everything else associated with the trial had an oddness about it. Day after day, as we were subjected to an endless stream of witnesses and exhibits, the play-acting of the prosecution counsel, the magistrate's childish behaviour and his fickleness and levity, there were times when we felt as if we were not in a British Court of Justice but on a stage of a theatre or within a fictional world out of some novel...
Prosecution Counsel Eardley Norton
Prosecution Counsel Norton
Mr. Norton, the government counsel, was not only the leading actor of this theatrical production but also its author, Sutradhar and a prompter for court-witnesses - such wondrous talent in one man is a rare phenomenon indeed...His legal expertise, if one could call it that, was like snow in summer. Nevertheless it was difficult not to be charmed by Mr Norton's verbal dexterity and unceasing flow of commentary, his amazing ability to make inconsequential evidence appear important, the audacity of his baseless deductions, his bullying of witnesses and junior barristers and his hypnotic powers of persuasion to make white appear black.
The leading barristers may be broadly classified into three categories... The third kind comprises those whose strategy is to disorient the witness through a play of words or intimidation or by subjecting them to a verbal barrage, in order to splendidly confuse the entire issue and to deliberately mislead or confuse the judge or the jury to win the case. Mr. Norton was amongst the foremost practitioners of the third kind.
Grave Threat from Traitor
Naren Goswami - the Traitor
...there was one person who would sometimes try to strike up a conversation with me - this was none other Narendranath Goswami, who later turned into a State 'approver'. He was neither quiet nor well-behaved like the other boys but impudent, frivolous and unrestrained in character, speech and act. At the time of his arrest his natural courage and boldness came to the fore but later on he found himself incapable of bearing even the slightest suffering and inconvenience of prison life. After all, he was a landlord's son, with a spoilt upbringing amidst luxury, pomp and moral indulgence. The severe austerity and constraints of prison life had driven him to despair and he expressed these feelings freely and openly to all. Gradually, he became possessed by an intense desire to escape the torturous conditions by any means possible. At first he had hoped to retract his confession and prove that the Police had used physical torture to force his confession of guilt. He mentioned that his father was determined to make requisite arrangements for false witnesses. A few days later, a new aspect was revealed to us. His father and a moktar (a pleader's agent) began to visit him frequently in the prison. Eventually detective Shamsul Alam also started holding long conversations with him in secret.
Turning King's Evidence
When this matter first came to light, Gossain confessed that the police were trying to persuade him to turn "King's Witness". He once mentioned this matter to me in the court. I asked him: "What has been your response?" He said: "Am I going to fall for that! And even if I do agree, how much do I really know, to give the kind of evidence they want me to?" After a few days, when he broached the subject once again, I noticed that substantial progress had been made in the matter... My own sense was that Gossain had not yet committed himself to the idea of turning an 'approver'. Although he was leaning more and more in that direction, he also nurtured hopes of damaging the Police case by misleading them. The ones of a wicked disposition are naturally inclined to achieve their ends through deception and dishonesty. It became evident to me that the Police now held sway over Gossain and he would say or do anything under their influence to save his own skin. The degradation of a base nature through successively more ignoble acts was being enacted before our very eyes like the acts of a play. I noticed the changes in Gossain's mental make-up, his appearance, his expression and mannerisms and even in his speech.
Incriminating Evidence against Sri Aurobindo
During the preliminary hearings in the Magistrate's Court, Naren Goswami, who had turned State's evidence in exchange for a full pardon, claimed in his testimony that Sri Aurobindo was not only aware of several dacoities and bombings attempted by the Maniktolla Secret Society but had even helped in the planning. Naren also claimed that Sri Aurobindo was the boro karta or Principal Leader of the Secret Society, and that his younger brother, Barin was only the chhoto karta or the Deputy.
The testimony in the Magistrate's Court was a curious mixture of fact and falsehood. Still if it were to be admitted in the Sessions Court, it would be sufficiently incriminating to prove the Prosecution's charges against Sri Aurobindo. The legal consequences could be the worst possible.
Retribution for the Traitor inside Presidency Jail
Satyendra Nath Bose
Kanailal Dutt and Satyen Bose
The prison authorities had shifted Narendra Goswami to the Jail Block where European prisoners were kept, fearing retribution from his revolutionary associates. Kanailal Dutt and Satyen Bose were admitted as patients in the Jail Hospital. Satyen sent a message to Naren expressing his desire to also turn King's evidence. Naren came to the Jail Hospital along with an escort. Naren, Satyen and Kanai went out to the Verandah to converse in private.
Replica of revolvers used by Kanailal and Satyen Bose for assassinating Naren
Revolutionary Justice Served
Suddenly, Satyen and Kanai took out revolvers, previously smuggled in for a planned Jail-break. Naren ran into the room followed by the revolutionaries. There was a scuffle and shots rang out. Nine bullets were fired in total. Naren ran out of the Hospital Gate with Kanai and Satyen in pursuit. Abruptly Naren spun around and fell down dying into the drain. A bullet from Kanai's revolver had punctured his spine. Justice had been served on the traitor in true revolutionary style.
Satyen Bose and Kanailal Dutt (with spectacles) after shooting Naren Goswami in the Jail (From L to R)
Punishing the Traitor
Kanailal's statement to the District Magistrate about his motive for assassinating Naren was touchingly direct and simple: "I wish to state that I did kill him. I do not wish to give any statement why I killed him. Wait, I do wish to give a reason. It was because he was a traitor to his country."
Alipore Jail Murder Case
The Alipore Jail Murder Case in which Kanailal and Satyen were tried for the killing of Naren Goswami lasted only 2 days. Kanailal was found guilty immediately. Satyen Bose was later found guilty by the High Court. Both men were sentenced to death by hanging.
How many more do you have like him?
Hanging of Kanailal
He was serene in his final days. On the eve of his execution he slept soundly. At six in the morning he walked briskly to the gallows and stood firm and erect as the noose was placed around his neck. A quiet smile remained on his lips. An Englishman who witnessed the hanging later asked Barin, "How many more do you have like him?"
The Motive and Consequence of Naren's assassination
The law stipulated that a testimony in the Magistrate's Court could only be admitted as evidence in the Sessions court after the Defence had exercised its right to cross-examine the witness. This was no longer possible in the case of Naren Goswami's testimony. Hence Satyen and Kanailal by assassinating Naren had rendered his testimony inadmissible in the Sessions Court.
Nullifying the Threat
The motive behind assassinating Naren was more than just serving justice to a traitor. As an immediate practical consequence, the potentially incriminating evidence provided by Naren was rendered inadmissible in Court and hence the legal threat posed to Sri Aurobindo and other revolutionaries by it was nullified.
Trial in Alipore Sessions Court
Defence Counsel Chittaranjan Das
Barrister Chittaranjan Das
Afterwards when the trial opened in the Sessions Court, ... something happened which I had not expected. The arrangements which had been made for my defence were suddenly changed and another Counsel stood there to defend me. He came unexpectedly, - a friend of mine, but I did not know he was coming. You have all heard the name of the man who put away from him all other thoughts and abandoned all his practice, who sat up half the night day after day for months and broke his health to save me, - Srijut Chittaranjan Das. When I saw him, I was satisfied, but I still thought it necessary to write instructions. Then all that was put away from me and I had the message from within, "This is the man who will save you from the snares put around your feet. Put aside those papers. It is not you who will instruct him. I will instruct him." From that time I did not of myself speak a word to my Counsel about the case or give a single instruction, and if ever I was asked a question, I always found that my answer did not help the case. I had left it to him and he took it entirely into his hands, with what result you know.
C.R. Das's Address
C.R. Das's address on behalf of Sri Aurobindo in the Sessions Court spanned across eight days. He concluded with an impassioned appeal:
Poet of Patriotism, Prophet of Nationalism, Lover of Humanity
My appeal to you therefore is that a man like this who is being charged with the offences imputed to him stands not only before the bar in this Court but stands before the bar of the High Court of History and my appeal to you is this: That long after this controversy is hushed in silence, long after this turmoil, this agitation ceases, 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.
The time has come for you, sir, to consider your judgment and for you, gentlemen, to consider your verdict...
Sri Aurobindo never made a public statement in the Court.
When asked by the Court, he said he would leave the case to his lawyers, they would speak for him; he himself did not wish to make any statement or answer the Court’s questions. If any such statement as the one spoken of was made, it must have been drawn up by the lawyers on his behalf, not made by himself.
Sessions Court Judgement
Sessions Judge Charles Porten Beachcroft
Acquittal of Sri Aurobindo
I now come to the case of Arabinda Ghose, the most important accused in the case. He is the accused, whom more than any other the prosecution are anxious to have convicted and but for his presence in the dock there is no doubt that the case would have been finished long ago. It is partly for that reason that I have left his case till last of all and partly because the case against him depends to a very great extent, in fact almost entirely, upon association with other accused persons..."
The point is whether his writings & speeches, which in themselves seem to advocate nothing more than the regeneration of his country, taken with the facts proved against him in this case are sufficient to show that he was a member of the conspiracy. And taking all the evidence together I am of opinion that it falls short of such proof as would justify me in finding him guilty of so serious a charge.
I convict Barindra Kumar Ghose and UIlaskar Dutt under section 121 of waging war on the King and sentence them to be hanged by the neck till they are dead...
(This was later commuted to transporation for life on appeal in the High Court.)
Cellular Jail, Andamans
Transportation (Kālā Pānī)
Hem Chandra Das, Upendra Nath Bannerjee, Bibhuti Bhuson Sarkar, Hrishikesh Kanjilal, Birendra Sen, Sudhir Kumar Sarkar, Indra Nath Nandy, Abinash Ch. Bhattacharya, Sailendra Nath Bose, Indu Bhusan Roy were sentenced to transportation for life
Paresh Ch. Moulik, Sishir Kumar Ghose, Nirapodo Roy were sentenced to transportation for 10 years.
Asoke Chandra Nandy, Balkrishna Hari Kane, Sushil Sen were sentenced to transportation for 7 years.
Krishna Jibon Sanyal was sentenced to one year's rigorous imprisonment.
The rest of the accused were acquitted.
The sentences were received in silence — that is, silence compared to the turmoil that has usually been in the Dock. [Sri] Aurobindo, as usual, looked stoically indifferent, but seemed well pleased with himself when he was allowed to walk out and leave the Court. The accused all embraced Barindra in turn. Hem Das for the first time looked seriously depressed. I think he was disappointed at not being sentenced to death.
To the Editor of the Bengalee
Sir, — Will you kindly allow me to express through your columns my deep sense of gratitude to all who have helped me in my hour of trial? Of the innumerable friends known and unknown, who have contributed each his mite to swell my defence fund, it is impossible for me now even to learn the names, and I must ask them to accept this public expression of my feeling in place of a private gratitude. Since my acquittal many telegrams and letters have reached me and they are too numerous to reply to individually. The love which my countrymen have heaped upon me in return for the little I have been able to do for them, amply repays any apparent trouble or misfortune my public activity may have brought upon me. I attribute my escape to no human agency, but first of all to the protection of the Mother of us all who has never been absent from me but always held me in Her arms and shielded me from grief and disaster, and secondarily to the prayers of thousands which have been going up to Her on my behalf ever since I was arrested. If it is the love of my country which led me into danger, it is also the love of my countrymen which has brought me safe through it.
6, College Square, May 14 (Published on 18 May 1909)