Alipore Bomb Case
Last updated: 10 October 2017 From the section Khudiram Basu
Large scale arrest of Bengali revolutinaries
The attempted assassination of Kingsford on 30 April 1908 galvanised the police. News of the Khudiram's and Prafulla's bombing reached Calcutta on 1 May 1908, and suspicion was immediately on Aurobindo and his brother Barin. In the early hours of the following morning warrants were obtained, houses were raided and the police arrested a number of Indian nationalists of Anushilan Samiti and Jugantar they suspected of planning the Muzaffarpur bombing, as well as the train wreck on 6 December 1907. Raids continued throughout the month a total 39 nationalists were arrested, including Aurobindho Ghosh and his brother Barin Ghosh. These young men were suspected of having been involved in bringing down the British government by planning acts of political violence, including men who would later become well-known leaders of the movement: Sachindranath Sen, Pandit Hrishikesa, Nalini Kanta Gupta, Hemchandra Das, and others.
Most of the accused were arrested from Barin Ghosh's Garden House in 32 Muraripukur Road in the Maniktolla suburb of Calcutta which served as the group headquarter and which had been under police watch for some time. Hidden away in the house, police found stocks of arms, ammunitions, chemicals for making bombs and documentary evidence.
The property at Muraripukur in Manicktolla served as a 'Ashram for Revolutionary Sannyasins', where the young inmates underwent a 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.
Situated in a secluded place, in the midst of a thick mango grove, the house was ideal for the group of young men led by Barin Ghosh to start the manufacture of bombs and lethal weapons. The back portion of the house was used for this purpose, while in the front rooms devotional songs were continuously sung, accompanied by harmonium as a camouflage for the benefit of the passers by.
Historic trial in pre-Independence India
The accused were held in the Presidency Jail in Alipore. Initially isolated from one another, they were eventually allowed to live together when the jail became over-crowded. This was a joyous moment for the freedom fighters as it gave them an opportunity to engage with each other and share ideas.
The accused were formally charged on 18 May 1908 of "conspiracy" against the British Crown or "waging war against the King" - the equivalent of high treason and punishable with death by hanging.
The trial was held at Alipore Sessions Court, Calcutta. Spread over a year between 18 May 1908 and 6 May 1909, the case was officially called 'Emperor vs Aurobindho Ghosh and others'. However, it was commonly referred to as the 'Alipore Bomb Case', the 'Muraripukur Conspiracy', or the 'Maniktolla Bomb Conspiracy'. It was the first major trial of a revolutionary group in Bengal.
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 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.
The 'Alipore Bomb Case' was "the first state trial of any magnitude in India".
Murder of the mole Narendranath Goswami
Flooding the Alipore jail, the prisoners discovered their was a mole in the group. Narendranath Goswami had become an informer and was going to provide state's evidence. Goswami belonged to the family of a landowner in Bengal, of a wealthy background and social standing. He turned "King's witness" or prosecution witness, in return for a pardon. In September 1908 Goswami was shot dead by two fellow accused Kanai Lal Datta and Satyendranath Bose within the jail hospital. On 8 November 1908, three months after Khudiram's execution, Kanai Lal has hung at the Alipore jail. Satyen Bose was also hanged to death.
Khudiram became the revolutionary movement's first martyr; Kanai Lal became the movement's second hero, executed for killing an informer who had turned against the movement. These two men would become important icons for the movement, as accounts of their sacrifices become canonic in encouraging others to follow suit. Eulogies, published deathbed images, and witness accounts of the final moments before martyrdom would become recurring features for revolutionary texts, as the life narrative became a vehicle to tell the history and ideology of a movement.
In the course of the trial, the Public Prosecutor, Ashutosh Biswas, was shot dead in broad daylight in February 1909 in Alipore Cort compound by a youth named Charu Basu. Shortly afterwards, the Deputy Superintendent of Police, Khan Bahadur Shamsul Alam, was murdered by Birendra Nath Datta Gupta in the corridor of the Calcutta High Court.
The murder of approver and crown-witness Goswami led to the collapse of the case against Aurobindo. However, his brother Barin and number of others were convicted of the charges and faced varying jail terms from life-imprisonment to shorter jail terms when Justice Charles Poten Beachcroft delivered the final verdict on 6 May 1909.
Aurobindo, whose verdict was passed last, was found not guilty along with 17 others. He was acquitted of all charges - owing to the brilliant pleading of his counsel 'Deshbandhu' (Friend of the country) Chittaranjan Das - with the Judge condemning the flimsy nature of the evidence against him.
Barin Ghosh, as the head of Jugantar, and Ullaskar Dutt, as the maker of bombs, were found guilty. They were both sentenced to death by hanging. However, this was later commuted to life imprisonment in the infamous Cellular Jail in Andaman Islands in Bay of Bengal. Both men remained in that jail for next 11 years until a general amnesty saw them released in 1920.
Thirteen others, including Upendra Nath Banerjee and Hem Chandra Das, were sentenced to transportation for life and forfeiture all property. Three others, Poresh Mullick, Sishir Ghosh, Nirapado Roy were sentenced to ten years incarceration along with forfeiture of property. A further three, Asoke Nundy, Balkrishna Kane, Sushil Sen were sentenced to seven years jail terms.
Though this was a major blow for the Indian freedom fighters, it did not deter them at all. On the contrary, for the next few years, the revolutionary organisations spread quickly, especially in the districts of eastern Bengal (present day Bangladesh).
A list, compiled in 1912 by the intelligence branch of the police, of those suspected of being members of secret groups in the different districts of Bengal had more than 800 names, along with information about the activities and associations of each person.
On the occasion of Khudiram Basu's execution for the Muzaffarpur bombing, the Bande Mataram commented that "he not only read the Gita but also acted on it". Such a focus on action as its own justification was still not the same as the reveling in destruction that was liable to be associated with nihilism, however - or with the similar characterisation of Bengali shaktism [strength].
Among the Bengali militants, it was typical to fixate on the climatic moment of sacrifice itself rather than on the tactical outcome or mode of social organisation to come afterward. But there was nevertheless a tactical goal: to use the symbolic violence to rouse quiescent popular consciousness, by punching a hole in the complacent functioning of an intolerable system.