The country and its legends before 1947, had assured generations of hero worship and spawned hundreds of literary interpretations of the pre-Independence fireworks. However, while martyrs engaged our memories, the radical legal systems that had a penchant for sentencing revolutionaries to death remained synonymous to colonial atrocities. Khudiram Bose, merely 19, and Prafulla Chaki, another teenager, courted death in a way legends are made of. While their exploit was made of stuff least likely to dim on public memory, Bose’s conviction (Chaki shot himself before the Brits could nab him) occasioned a legal procedure unprecedented in its complexities in the history of British India. Noorul Hoda, a Jawaharlal Nehru University pass-out, was left spellbound by the enormity of the case and decided to entreat readers to a slice of his experience of digging out facts long relegated behind the glory of the martyrs in The Alipore Bomb Case: A Historic Pre-Independence Trial.
“It was an exhibition organized at the Supreme Court in 2005 that incited my interest in pre-Independence trials. Among the documents exhibited at the exhibition were papers related to the Alipore Bomb Case of 1908. That is how I started on the book,” says Hoda. The case witnessed trials on 49 accused, saw 400 documents filed, and involved 5,000 exhibits. “The case had the most potent emotional difficulties with the judge who convicted Bose being a former classmate of another convict Sri Aurobindo Ghose,” says Hoda. The sheer extent of intellectual involvement was also mindboggling, recounts the author.
Hoda’s exploration took him to the National Archive and the Police Museum. “The most difficult part of the research was reading up all the original documents stored up in the police museum. Often the handwritten scripts were found to be illegible, and at other times, the English diction of the time seemed extremely unfamiliar. Add to them legal jargon,” explains Hoda. A part of his motive behind writing the book, which has the body of text interspersed with some rare photo plates, was to increase awareness about the museum in the ground floor of the Alipore District Court. “The rooms which saw the trials have been transformed in a museum with some rare documents and exhibits. But people are hardly aware of it,” rues Hoda.
While writing the book meant giving the neglected slice of history its due, the legal extremities that had the likes of Chittranjan Das up battling against it, would glaringly contrast the priorities and difficulties of two generations of the youth - pre-Independence and now. “When we see drug addicts, rash drivers of today and realise how the law is empathetic to their problems to some extent, it makes sense to recount how this freedom was achieved. And how youth, were sent to the gallows for even a minor offence,” says Hoda.