The Ujjayanta Palace at Agartala recently underwent major renovations, including seismic protection, and was opened to the public as Tripura State Museum- Ujjayanta Palace on 25th September 2013.
Even though I have passed the majestic palace many times (it is in the very heart of the city), like all lazy people who make excuses for themselves, I was too busy to visit it- till recently.
Just outside the imposing gates, in a fenced green enclosure, stands a statue. It is of a young man, dressed in a long loose kurta and dhoti; his hands are joined behind his back. The posture is confident and erect. He appears to be striding; the neck is outstretched.
Like most people, I too can recognize almost all Indian historic figures in their statue avatars; but not this young man. The citation, indicating his name , was written in Bengali. The nearest candidate to ask for a translation was a street vendor, who unfortunately spoke no Hindi. Still by gesticulations and head-bobbing, I put my question across- Who is this? The vendor looked at me pityingly, but smiled and said- Khudiram Boshu (Boshu is the Bengali pronunciation of the surname “Bose”, which is also written as “Basu”); and added the word “Fasi” for good measure; pointing to the neck and making a circular motion. (Fasi is the Hindi word for noose, can also mean death by hanging.) Point taken, but still no wiser.
Later at home, on the net, I learned the identity of this boy; and felt tears sting my eyes. For boy he was- aged just eighteen years and seven months at the time of his execution.
Khudiram Bose, born 3rd December 1889, District Midnapore, West Bengal. Sentenced to death by a British court on 13th July 1908.
The crime- throwing a bomb and blowing up a British officer’s carriage at the European Club Muzzafarpur, Bihar, killing its two occupants, none of whom, unfortunately, was his intended target. The victims were two innocent British women- Mrs and Miss Kennedy., who were at the wrong place at the wrong time . The real target was the Chief Presidency Magistrate, Mr Kingsford, who during his previous tenure as the Chief Presidency Magistrate of Calcutta, was unpopular for passing heavy sentences on young political workers of Bengal. He was also noted for inflicting severe corporal punishments on such workers.
This was the first bomb hurled at the British by an Indian.
Khudiram and his partner-in-the-act were was arrested. The partner, also a teenage boy, shot himself to death on his capture.
After the arrest of Khudiram, many eminent Bengali lawyers – Kalidas Basu, Upendranath Sen, Kshetranath Bandopadhyay, Kulkamal Sen, Nagendra Lal Lahiri, Satischandra Chakraborty and subsequently Narendrakumar Basu – argued for sparing his life. But the appeals were summarily rejected by the British authorities.
Khudiram Bose was executed by the British on 11th August 1908 at Kolkata. He was the youngest revolutionary and martyr of the Indian independence movement.
The Amrita Bazar Patrika, under the headline “Khudiram’s End: Died cheerful and smiling” 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.”
What more I can add – except a salute and a hope that the younger generation will find a curiosity in their hearts to learn more about their history and heritage. And feel gratitude to these men (and women) who laid down their lives for their country and not just twice a year. And that we, the educated elite, should find it in our hearts to show at least a fraction of the courage this boy showed, in our daily lives while standing up for honesty and doing what we think is right!
Note1: Khudiram’s co-conspirator was Prafulla Chaki, another Bengali , born 10 December 1888 in Bogra District, Bengal Presidency, British India; now in Bangladesh. Prafulla committed suicide when he was about to get arrested. In an act of extreme dishonour and atrocity, not totally unknown to the British, his head was then severed from his body and sent to Calcutta for further identification by Khudiram who was captured and jailed by then.
The brain behind the plot was that of the Jugantar party, a revolutionary group of Bengal. One of the members of Jugantar arrested in this connection, was none other than Aurobindo Ghosh. Aurobindo was represented in the trial by Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das, who poured his heart and soul into obtaining an acquittal for his client.
Note 2: My memory may be failing- I really do not remember any mention of Khudiram Bose in my History textbooks; but then I was a Kerala State board student; I asked my daughter, who has completed her Class 12 CBSE last year and whose brain ought to be sharper and fresher. She is equally ignorant. This makes me wonder, is this how history is rewritten? Do we want to project ourselves as a people who are so non-violent, that we delete all references to violence in our independence movement?
Note 3: Bengal still remembers her brave sons. What about the rest of us? Were they fighting for the Independence of Bengal?