Khudiram Bose (3 December 1889 – 11 August 1908) was a Bengali revolutionary, one of the youngest revolutionaries early in the Indian independence movement. At the time of his hanging, he was 18 years, 7 months 11 days old.
Khudiram Bose was born in a Bengali Hindu family on 3 December 1889 in the village Keshpur near the town of Midnapur in the Midnapore district of West Bengal.
In 1902 and 1903, when Sri Aurobindo (who was in the earlier stage of his life a revolutionary leader and ideologue) and Sister Nivedita respectively visited Medinipur and held a series of public lectures along with secret planning sessions with the revolutionary groups; Khudiram was among the teenage student community of the town which was fired up with a burning inspiration of revolution. It was from then that Khudiram took his first steps towards choosing the path that would make him a boy-martyr. Khudiram as a student, dared to request a teacher, Hemchandra Kanungo for a revolver.
At the young age of sixteen, Bose planted bombs near police stations and targeted government officials. He was arrested three years later on charges of conducting a series of bomb attacks. The specific bombing for which he was sentenced to death resulted in the deaths of 3 persons.
The Muzaffarpur killing
Khudiram was sent to the region called Motijhil in Muzaffarpur, Bihar. On reaching the town, he took up residence in the ‘dharmashala’ of Kishorimohan Bandopadhyay. He took on “code names”—Khudiram adopted the name “Haren Sarkar”, He gave himself a few days time to closely observe the daily routine, activities and movements of his target, Kingsford—taking note of his timings at the court, the club and his house.
On the evening of 30 April 1908, he waited in front of the gate of the European Club for the carriage of Kingsford to come. The time was around 8:30 pm. When the carriage came out, he responded quickly, holding his pistols in one hand as back-up and throwing his bombs. The hit was a success and the carriage blew up and started burning. But back at the spot, his quick departure did not allow him to hear the cries of women’s voices in the burning carriage, instead of Kingsford’s. The carriage was occupied not by Kingsford but instead the wife and daughter of barrister Pringle Kennedy, a leading pleader of Muzaffarpur Bar..
Capture and aftermath
Since the attack was made before 9 in the evening, even by midnight the entire town was aware of the incident and was in a state of chaos. By that time it was publicly announced that a prize of Rs. 1,000 would be given to anyone who could catch the attackers alive or help the police trace and reach them. All the stations in that rail-route were already occupied with armed police and the staff were ordered to keep a sharp eye on every passenger embarking or disembarking.
Khudiram meanwhile had continued to walk through the countryside instead of boarding a train, and had been walking non-stop all night. Having covered nearly 25 miles, he reached exhausted at a station called “Vaini”(Now known as Khudiram Bose Pusa Station or Pusa Road). As he asked for a glass of water at a teastall, he was confronted by two armed constables, who immediately suspected something upon seeing his dusty feet (without any footwear), exhausted and perspiring appearance. After a couple of questions, their suspicion became stronger, and unfortunately, they decided to detain Khudiram. Khudiram started struggling with the two men, and immediately, one of the two hidden revolvers fell out. Before Khudiram could use the other one to fire on the constables, one of them held him from behind in a bear-hug. The much younger and lightly built Khudiram had no more chance of defence or escape. On his person were found 37 rounds of ammunition, Rs. 30 in cash, a railway map and a page of the rail timetable. Khudiram’s fate was sealed. On 1 May, the handcuffed Khudiram was brought from that station to Muzaffarpur. The entire town descended at the police station to take a look at the teenage boy surrounded by a team of armed policemen. Khudiram was taken to the house of the district magistrate Mr. Woodman. The English daily Statesman wrote on the following day, 2 May 1908:
“the railway station was crowded to see the boy. A mere boy of 18 years old, who looked quite determined. He came out of a first-class compartment and walked all the way to the phaeton, kept for him outside, like a cheerful boy who knows no anxiety…..on taking his seat the boy lustily cried ‘Vandemataram’.”
Meanwhile, after a similar long journey, Prafulla, too, was exhausted with hunger and thirst. On that same day, 1 May, a local resident named Trigunacharan Ghosh, a civil servant, saw a young boy coming his way, totally exhausted in the midday heat at the peak of the summer. In the meantime the news of the bomb attack had also reached that area and the man could easily realize that he was another of the fleeing revolutionaries. Being an employee of the British government, he never could do anything for his country on a personal level, but he thought that if he could make a way for this boy to save his life, he could at least have his conscience clear and make at least one tiny contribution towards his country. He took “Dinesh”, i.e. Prafulla to his house, and let him bathe, eat and rest. After he gave the boy some new clothes to wear, he arranged for the boy’s safe return to Kolkata in a night train. But halfway on such a smooth road to safety, fate played a cruel trick on Prafulla, after such an initial smile, by a drastic turn-away and abandonment. After boarding a train From Samastipur, Prafulla was to get down at Mokamaghat, from where he intended to get on a train to Howrah. In the same compartment sat Nandalal Banerjee, a sub-inspector in the British police. He at once began to suspect the young Bengali student. He came up and started a conversation with the boy. After a few words from the unsuspecting, young boy, he realized that he was involved in the Muzaffarpur incident. When Prafulla, still unaware that his fellow traveller was a sub-inspector who has just trapped him, got down at the Shimuraighat station to drink water, the sub-inspector immediately telegrammed the Muzaffarpur police station about his encounter, suspicion and the conversation. The instructions immediately arrived to arrest Prafulla. Prafulla finished the journey up to Mokamaghat, and disembarked to get on the scheduled train to Howrah. Suddenly, he saw his fellow-traveller coming at him purposefully, with several policemen. Prafulla attempted to kill Nandalal Banerjee by firing on him, but was not successful. Determined not to end up in the hands of the British, he immediately shot himself dead.
Back in Muzaffarpur, Khudiram was made to give a statement or declaration to the magistrate Mr. Woodman. He was yet to know that Prafulla was dead. To save his partner, and to protect his revolutionary mentors and their entire group, Khudiram took up the full responsibility of the entire operation and the loss of lives solely upon himself. Only after Khudiram finished giving his statement that the body of Prafulla was brought to Muzaffarpur for identification. Khudiram realized too late that trying to save Prafulla was in vain. Even after he confirmed the identity of his partner, and even after they had previously received details of the encounter of Nandalal Banerjee with Prafulla aka “Dinesh’s”, the British, instead of believing Khudiram, thought it more proper to cut off the head from the body and send it to Kolkata for better confirmation.
Though a failed mission, Khudiram has been remembered for his attempt and martyrdom for reasons more than the attempt itself. His revolutionary attempt, along with that his partner in the mission, Prafulla Chaki, marked the beginning of the intense period of armed revolution against the British Raj which came to be known as the “Agni-Yuga” or the “fiery age”. Dozens and dozens of brave young men—many of them still in their teens like Khudiram, became inspired and fearless for a cause greater than themselves and gave themselves up one after the other as sacrificial offerings at the British gallows. He became the first of the revolutionaries of the said period to be martyred by being hanged, and the second to sacrifice his life (the first to die by taking own life being Prafulla Chaki).
Trial, sentencing and execution
The historical trial started on 21 May 1908. The Judge was Mr. Corndoff and two Indians, Nathuniprasad and Janakprasad, were appointed as jury. Along with Khudiram, two others were tried for assisting the boys in their mission—Mrityunjay Chakraborty and Kishorimohan Bandopadhyay, who had accommodated Khudiram and Prafulla in his dharmashala for their mission. The first man died during the trial, and subsequently the trail of Sri Kishorimohan was separated from that of Khudiram.
Mr. Mannuk and an Indian named Binodbihari Majumdar became the prosecutors for the British government, while eminent lawyers Kalidas Basu, Upendranath Sen and Kshetranath Bandopadhyay took up Khudiram’s defense. They were joined later in the trial by Kulkamal Sen, Nagendra Lal Lahiri and Satischandra Chakraborty—all of them fighting the case without any fees.
On 23 May, Khudiram was again required to give a statement for the second time after his Muzaffarpur statement to magistrate E.W. Bredhowd. Prafulla was dead—it was not a question any longer of saving or not saving him. But if Khudiram lived, he figured he could do much more with his life by way of serving his motherland. Under the guidance of his lawyers, Khudiram submitted a new statement denying any involvement or responsibility in any aspect or stage of the entire mission and operation down to the bombing. On 13 June, the scheduled date for the verdict and sentence, the judge and the prosecutors received and anonymous letter of warning, which told them that there was one more bomb coming for them from Kolkata, and that henceforth it will be the Biharis, and not the Bengalis, who are going to kill them. On the other hand, that made the defense lawyers more confident, that it was proof that there could be other masterminds and executors of the Muzaffarpur bombing other than Khudiram, and that along with Khudiram’s age, should make the judge deliver a sentencing other than death. But as was throughout the British Raj, and throughout the period of armed revolution, the British did not entertain any option of letting go any dangerous revolutionary, once they had him. The Judge pronounced the death sentence for Khudiram.
Khudiram’s immediate and spontaneous response was to smile. The judge, surprised, asked Khudiram whether he had understood the meaning of the sentence that was just pronounced. Khudiram replied that he surely had. When the judge asked him again whether he had anything to say, in front of a packed audience, Khudiram replied with same smile that if he could be given some time, he could teach the judge the skill of bomb-making. By then the Judge was instructing the police to escort the boy out of the courtroom.
As per the legal system, Kudiram had 7 days time to appeal to the High Court. Khudiram refused to make appeal. He was by then on a different mental plane, and was fully prepared to embrace his destiny. However after some persuasion by his counsellors—with the logic that if he receives a life sentence instead of getting hanged because of this appeal, he would live to serve his nation once free and he would have age on his side when that happens—Khudiram finally agreed, in a detached manner to go along with his defense team.
The High Court hearing took place on 8 July. Narendrakumar Basu came to Khudiram’s defense, and concentrated all his legal skills and experience on this case to save the precious life of a boy who had overnight become a wonder and a hero for the whole country. He challenged the verdict of the session court by saying that the judging was not according to law and was flawed. He reasoned that according to article 164 of the penal code, the accused is required to submit his statement in front of a first class magistrate (which Mr. Woodman) was not, and moreover during the first statement Khudiram was not told anything of the person’s identity and position. Secondly, pointed out Basu, the article 364 requires that all questions to the accused be made in the mother tongue of the same, and all answers from the accused in his mother tongue be documented verbatim in that language, but which was done in English in Khudiram’s case. Moreover, Khudiram’s signature was required to be given on the statement on the same date and at the time of the statement in the presence of the magistrate, but in reality Khudiram was made to sign the day after, and in front of a different person, who was an additional magistrate. Lastly, since such a statement are by definition required to be totally voluntary, with the magistrate being sure that it was so, there was no proof that Khudiram was allowed to give a voluntary statement without any direct or indirect manipulation after his capture. Lastly Narendrakumar Basu said that Prafulla aka “Dinesh” (the name used in the trial) was stronger than Khudiram was, and he was the bomb-expert among the two of them, thus it is highly likely that the actual thrower of the bomb was “Dinesh”. Further Prafulla’s suicide on the verge of capture only reinforces the possibility of his being the actual thrower of the bombs. After the defense, it was announced by the two British judges that the final verdict will be passed on the 13th of July.
Since Khudiram was the only of the two alive, and since therefore only his lone statement of a two-man team was the foundation for the entire case, and since all the points By Narendrakumar Basu were technically correct, it was hoped that, for the sake of the law—about which the British prided themselves ad infinitum—Khudiram’s life would at least be spared.
But on the historical day, the British judges, representing an entire colonial government who had already made decided what to do, allowed a farce of a trail to go on for several hours. At the end, turning a blind eye to their own law, they passed the sentence that they had decided on before that day started.
As a final attempt, an appeal was made to the Governor General to overrule a death sentence for Khudiram. But the appeal was summarily turned down—the British was not going to let an Indian like that get way. On the contrary, the order came to carry out the death sentence latest by 11 August 1908. Kolkata erupted in intense protest from the entire student community. The streets of Kolkata started to be choked up with processions all at the same time, for several days.
On 11 August, the region around the prison became packed with a swelling crowd before it was 6 am—the scheduled time. People holding flower garlands filled up the front rows of the crowd. Upendranath Sen, the lawyer-journalist of the Bengali news daily “Bengali”, who was close to Khudiram, reports having reached the venue by 5 am, in a car with all the necessary funerary arrangements and clothes. After the hanging, the funeral procession went through Kolkata, with police guards holding back the crowd all along the central artery street. The people kept throwing their flowers on the body as the carriage passed by.
The Amrita Bazar Patrika, one of the prominent dailies of that era, carried the story of the hanging the next day, on 12 August. Under the headline “Khudiram’s End: Died cheerful and smiling” the newspaper wrote: “Khudiram’s execution took place at 6 a.m. this morning. He walked to the gallows firmly and cheerfully and even smiled when the cap was drawn over his head.” An established British newspaper, The Empire, wrote: “Khudiram Bose was executed this morning…It is alleged that he mounted the scaffold with his body erect. He was cheerful and smiling.” The Bengali poet Kazi Nazrul Islam wrote a poem to honor him. Soon after, practically a “competition” among the youth of Bengal began, to kill Britishers and embrace martyrdom.