On August 15, India’s Independence Day, I am thinking about how long and laborious a march it had been to get to that day in 1947. A march on a path beaten by countless martyrs who didn’t live to see that day.
This year the world is torn with so much protest, sometimes bursting into violence born of desperation, in response to seemingly unending cycles of injustice. And we witness the crushing of those protests, of dissents. It triggers thoughts of those early days of India’s struggle for freedom and a particularly poignant martyr story: the story of Khudiram Bose.
I wonder what Khudiram was thinking at the exact moment when he was being hanged. What was the last conscious thought of the eighteen-year-old orphan from a remote village in Bengal, who had tried to kill the British judge, Magistrate Douglas Kingsford, notorious for torturing and putting to death Khudiram’s fellow freedom fighters?
According to accounts of the time, the young man was smiling as he was being led to the gallows by prison guards. Not a tinge of fear on his face. No regret. Indeed, he had reportedly had the same grin on his lips when the judge sentenced him to death by hanging and asked whether he had any regrets, to which Khudiram replied that he wished he had not missed his target.
Khudiram and his companion Prafulla Chaki, as members of an anti-colonial revolutionary group, had been sent on a mission to assassinate Kingsford. They hurled their bombs on the wrong carriage, mistakenly believing it to be carrying their target.
It was widely noted that, on the day he was hanged, there was no change in his demeanour, his countenance. Prison guards and even the hangmen who tied the noose around the neck of this scrawny teenager – who kept smiling throughout the process— were puzzled.
In that last moment before he lost his consciousness permanently, did he believe that his movement would succeed someday? If the smiles are any indication, he seemed to have felt the satisfaction of having done whatever was in his power to do to free his motherland, at least.
Khudiram was killed by the British imperial “authority” on August 11, 1908. Thirty-nine years and three days later the British had to quit India.
Dissent, born of desperation, cannot, ultimately, be crushed. If anything, it will eventually eradicate the injustice that bred it in the first place.
Thinking about Khudiram today, I can’t help but wonder if he was smiling because he knew, that in the long run, he did NOT miss his true target.