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Life of Savarkar -1: From Nashik to Andamans

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Life of Savarkar -1: From Nashik to Andamans
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Vinayak Savarkar was born on May 28, 1883, in a Marathi Chitpavan brahmin family of Bhagur village of Nashik, Maharashtra. Chitpavan brahmin clan had come into prominence a couple of centuries earlier, with the rise of Balaji Vishwanath Bhat who later became the first Chitpavan peshwa of the Maratha empire. Since then, the community was witness to the births of several stalwarts even during the British occupation, some of these names include Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Vasudev Balwant Phadke, Chaphekar brothers, Savarkar brothers, Senapati Bapat etc. In fact, the Chitpavan brahmin clan was considered the most dangerous caste by the British [1].

Vinayak had three siblings: two brothers and a sister. In his childhood, Vinayak’s mother Radhabai read to him the Hindu epics such as Ramayana, Mahabharata, and the life stories of prominent figures like Rana Pratap and Chhatrapati Shivaji. Vinayak started the school at the age of six, and started writing poetry since a very young age. In fact, one of his poems was published in a popular Marathi Newspaper when he was only ten [2]. During the time, Vinayak also studied the Hindu scriptures, and was well versed in Sanskrit [3].

Shortly afterwards, Vinayak lost his mother. He was very close to his mother, and therefore the death shattered him emotionally. His father took care of the four children.

Oath to fight the British rule

In late 1896, plague epidemic hit Pune. The mortality rate soared drastically. As a counter, A Plague Committee was formed with Walter Charles Rand being appointed as a chairman. Troops were called in, and were made to enter private homes, and strip individuals (including women) to examine them. Many properties were burnt, numerous occupants were evicted from their own homes. Hindu religious murtis and sacred places within the homes were defiled. Infuriated at this behaviour, the Chaphekar brothers of Pune (Damodar hari Chaphekar and Balakrishna Hari Chaphekar) shot dead the Plague Commissioner Rand and his military escort Lieutenant Ayerst, on 22nd June 1897. That was the day of diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria’s rule, with grand celebrations in Pune. Damodar Hari was arrested. He was betrayed by the Dravid brothers. Later, he was hanged. He carried Bhagavad Gita in his hands as he faced the gallows. His brother Balakrishna, who was absconding till then, was caught. He too was executed by hanging. The Dravid brothers- the police informants were eliminated by Vasudev Hari Chaphekar, Mahadev Vinayak Ranade and Khando Vishnu Sathe. Consequently, Vasudev and Ranade too were hanged, while Sathe, a juvenile, was sentenced to 10 years of rigorous imprisonment. Young Vinayak was shook after learning about the entire affair and the sacrifice by the Chaphekar brothers. He took an oath before the murti of Ashta-praharana Dharini (form of Durga), his family deity, to take the incomplete mission of the Chaphekar brothers to a conclusion, to free his motherland from the British rule.

Mitra Mela, foundation of Abhinav Bharat Society, bonfire of foreign goods

After the completion of the primary education, Vinayak, along with his elder brother Ganesh, moved to Nashik to pursue further education. It was here that the two brothers formulated a group known as Mitra Mela (literally: a group of friends). There were several other “melas” (groups) operating in Maharashtra, which indulged in revolutionary activities to overthrow the British rule. Young Vinayak, hardly seventeen years old at the time, used to write patriotic poems and recite it along with his fellow members of Mitra Mela. The Mitra Mela also organised collective (sarvajanik) celebrations of several festivals like the Ganeshotsav and Shivaji Mahotsav [2]. Vinayak wrote an article titled “Who was the greatest Peshwa?” for a competition and won the prize. The article was a life-sketch of Peshwa Madhavrao-1, and it encompassed the accomplishments under the brilliant leadership of the peshwa. It is noteworthy that the article was a part of the matriculation exam syllabus in the Independent India [3].

Vinayak’s marriage took place a year later. By this time, his involvement in politics had grown rapidly. He was inspired by the Lal-Bal-Pal trio: Lala Lajpat Rai, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal. His articles continued to publish in the newspapers; “Hindustan Ka Gaurav” was one such article published in Nashik Vaibhav, which garnered huge popularity.

In 1902, Vinayak was admitted to the Fergusson College of Pune. Presently, he founded a Savarkar Group in Pune, which published a hand-written wallpaper in the name: “Aryan weekly”. It carried Vinayak’s articles and poems [2]. At the same time, the membership of the Mitra Mela kept growing, and the group transformed into a larger organisation: the Abhinav Bharat Society in May 1904.

On 16th October 1905, Bengal was partitioned. Protests erupted across India in opposition to the partition. Vinayak too coordinated protests in Pune. Inspired by Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s call for swadeshi, Vinayak organised a bonfire of foreign clothes and goods. Tilak himself was present at the event. This was the first bonfire of foreign goods in India [3]. It is noteworthy that Mohandas Gandhi, who was in South Africa at the time, had criticised this organisation of a bonfire. Ironically, Gandhi himself adopted the idea of bonfire, a few years later. Amongst the others who condemned the bonfire was Gopal Krishna Gokhale, who opposed the move in his presidential address of the Benares session of Congress [3]. Vinayak was later expelled from college due to his political activities. However, he was allowed by the Bombay University to take his BA exam. After his graduation, Vinayak moved to Bombay to study law.

Voyage to England

Vinayak had now grown into a popular leader, and was invited to speak at various assemblies. At the time, Shyamji Krishna Varma offered scholarships for Indian students who wished to study in London. Vinayak applied to this scholarship, and got the recommendations from Shivram Paranjape (a freedom fighter from Maharashtra) and Tilak. In the application, Vinayak wrote: “Independence and Liberty I look upon as the very pulse and breath of nation. From my boyhood, dear sir, upto this moment of my youth, the loss of Independence of my country- and the possibility of regaining it form the only theme of which I dreamt by night and on which I mused by day.” [3]. Tilak’s recommendation read: “When there is such a rush like that, it is no use recommending any one particularly to your notice. But, still, I may state, among the applicants there is one Mr. Savarkar from Bombay, who graduated last year and whom I know to be a spirited young man very enthusiastic in the swadeshi cause so much so that he had to incur the displeasure of the Fergusson College authorities. He has no mind to take up Government service at any time and his moral character is very good.” [3].

With the strong application and the recommendations, Vinayak got the scholarship, and he set off on his journey to London. He boarded the steamer S. S. Persia from Bombay, on 9th June 1906 [4]. Shyamji Krishna Varma had, in 1905, established the Indian Home Rule Society. Subsequently, he started the India House as a boarding facility for Indian students studying in London. Savarkar’s accommodation was arranged at the India House. And he was admitted to Gray’s Inn, which is one of the four Inns of Court in London.

Arrival in London, India House, and foundation of Free India Society

The years 1902-06 hold a great significance as far as the Indian politics is concerned. Anushilan Samiti came into existence in 1902. Dhaka Anushilan Samiti, its subsidiary, was founded in late 1905. The same year saw the rise of Maniktala Group. Abhinav Bharat Society was founded in 1904. Jugantar Group became prominent during the same time. Savarkar’s revolutionary activities in London began in 1906. Also, the Muslim League was founded in September 1906.

Vinayak started Free India Society to unite the Indian students studying in London at the time. The popularity of the group grew rapidly, and its membership exceeded a hundred. Some of these names include: Lala Hardayal, Pandurang (Senapati) Bapat, Bhai Parmanand, Madanlal Dhingra, Korgaonkar, Harnam Singh, Virendranath Chattopadhyaya (brother of Sarojini Naidu) etc. All of the aforementioned personalities are famous for their revolutionary activities against the British. The Free India Society held regular meetings, debates and discussions, and also organised gatherings on Indian religious festivals. In the group meetings, Savarkar stressed on the use of Guerilla Warfare techniques to free India. He said, “In the end, passive resistance falls because it has no backing of the army and because it presupposes all men to be selfless and believes that all men will not cooperate with the aggressor… Besides, it blindly presumes that the aggressor has a high sense of morality and will not resort to arms or enact new orders and ordinances” [3].

The popularity of the Abhinav Bharat Society increased exponentially. Gyanchand Varma was the secretary of the Abhinav Bharat Society. V. V. S. Aiyer, a lawyer who was in London for qualifying for the bar, became vice-president of Abhinav Bharat. Amongst the others who joined the London branch of Abhinav Bharat were SardarSingh Rana, Sukhsagar Dutt, Dr Rajan, Sir Sikandar Hyat Khan and Madam Cama.

Vinayak was able to attract many young Indian students to the cause of Indian freedom. MPT Acharya, a colleague of Vinayak in London (also, later a founding member of the Communist Party of India) writes in The Mahratta, dated 27-5-1938: “His personal charm was such that a mere shakehand could convert men as V. V. S. Aiyer and Hardayal— not only convert but even bring out the best out of them. Sincere men always became attached to him whether they agreed with or differed from him. Not only men in ordinary walks of life but even those, aspiring to high offices, recognised the purity of purpose in him, although they were poles apart from him, and deadly opponents as regards his political objectives. They even opened their purse for his propaganda. That means Savarkar had a rare tact in dealing with men of every variety. Savarkar’s austerity was itself a discipline to others, which easy-going people hated and shimned. England was a country for amusement and most people wanted to make the most out of it” [3]. Senapati Bapat, in the same issue of The Mahratta, observes: “Before I met Savarkar, I had planned a revolutionary pamphleteer’s and lecturer’s life for myself. A few months after I met him, I cancelled my plan and took up the idea of going to Paris for learning bomb-making… One of the chief reasons was the impression that Savarkar made on me by his brilliant writing and speaking. ‘Here is a born revolutionary writer and speaker;’ I said to myself, ‘I may well leave writing and speaking to him and turn to some other work in the revolutionary field’.” [3].

The month of May 1907 marked the 50 years since the war of 1857. It was celebrated, in London, as the great crushing of the Indian mutiny. A play was staged in London which portrayed Rani Lakshmibai and Peshwa Nanasaheb-2 as hoodlums and murderers. In response, on 10th May 1907, Vinayak organised a meeting, celebrating the 1857 uprising as the first war of Indian independence. It was attended by about 200 Indian students from all over Europe [2]. The participants fasted, vowed their allegiance towards the nation, paid homage to the 1857 warriors, and wore a badge on their chests hailing the Indian warriors. This angered some Englishmen, and scuffles ensued. When some Indian students wore the badges to their classes, they were rebuked by the English students and professors [2]. Harnam Singh and R. M. Khan quitted their college as a protest when the Principal insulted the Indian warriors of 1857 [3].

Literary work in London, 1857 War of Independence

Within the first six months of his stay in London, Vinayak translated into Marathi the autobiography of the Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini. The book became extremely popular in Maharashtra, with more than 2000 copies sold within the first three months [5]. It proved to be an inspiration to many future revolutionaries of India. Sir Valentine Chirol characterised it as the Nationalist Textbook [3]. The book was suppressed by the government, and was restored only in 1946 after the ban of 40 years.

Afterwards, Vinayak took upon himself the task to write a comprehensive history of the 1857 war of independence. He accessed numerous original letters, documents, and hundreds of books and references in London, especially the British Museum [3]. After a thorough research encompassing more than a year, by April 1908, he finished the manuscript of his famous book- “The First War of Indian Independence” in Marathi. Judging from the fiery nature of the book, Vinayak anticipated a prohibition on the book, hence he sent a copy of his manuscript to his brother in Nashik. Crime Branch searched all the printing press of Nashik, but couldn’t get hold of the manuscript [2]. Vinayak’s brother Babarao had sent it to his friend in Paris, and from there it was sent to Germany. But it couldn’t be published at both the places due to the unavailability of certain blocks and fonts of the Devanagari script. It was therefore translated into English by W. B. Phadke under the guidance of Aiyer, but it could not be printed in England and France, due to the active efforts of the CID. The British government finally enforced a ban on the book, even before its publication. Dhananjay Keer, a biographer of Savarkar, describes this event in his book: “This book of Savarkar was the first book of its kind in the treasury of world literature that was proscribed before it saw the light of day! Unique honour to the author who stands unparalleled in this respect in the domain of the literary world.” [3]. Finally, the manuscript was smuggled to Holland where it was published. The copies of book were sent to France, and were stored in SardarSingh Rana’s house [2]. The popularity of the book steadily increased with its publication. The book reached India, Japan, China and America as well. A. K. Gandhi writes- “The book had delineated a great event of history, but its publication became a great event of history by itself” [2]. The book was translated and published in various languages. Madam Cama and MPT Acharya undertook its translation in French, and its foreword was written by E. Perion, a French revolutionary [2].

The book continued to inspire generations of future revolutionaries. It was a major source of inspiration for the Ghadar Revolution of 1914-15. All the leaders of Komagata Maru rebellion of Ghadar Party had studied the book [3]. Lala Hardayal had published the Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi translations of the book in his newspaper Ghadar [2]. Bhagat Singh, much later, published two thousand copies of the book, and sent first two copies to Savarkar as a mark of respect [3]. Even later, its fourth edition was published by Subhas Bose. It was also published in Germany in 1942, in German language by Friends of India Society [3]. G. V. Subbarao writes in Free Hindusthan Weekly: “If Savarkar had not intervened between 1857 and 1943, I am sure that the recent efforts of the I.N.A. would have been again dubbed as an ignoble mutiny effectively crushed by the valiant British-ciun-Congress arms and armlessness! But thanks to Savarkar’s book, Indian sense of a ‘Mutiny’ has been itself revolutionised. And not even Lord Wavell, I suppose, can now call the Bose effort a Mutiny! The chief credit for this change of values must go to Savarkar and to him alone. And that is why I call him the sun of our Indian firmament” [3]. Sir Valentine Chirol, in his book Indian Unrest, describes the book as “a very remarkable history of the Mutiny combining considerable research with the grossest perversion of facts and great literary power with most savage hatred!” [3]. Sir Chirol’s bitterness is obvious, considering the fact that he was a staunch supporter of British imperialism.

The ban on the book continued for 38 years. The original Marathi manuscript was in the possession of Madam Cama. During the World War 1, it was handed over to D. Y. Coutchino, a member of Abhinav Bharat. He later escaped Portugal with the manuscript, and landed in US. The manuscript was secure with him for 38 years in Washington, where he was a professor. After India’s independence, he returned the manuscript to Ramlal Vajpayee and Dr Moonje, who then gave it back to Savarkar.

By 1909, Savarkar had finished his book: History of the Sikhs. It was sent to India, but was suppressed by the Indian Post Office. Dhananjay Keer writes: “The Government’s one obsession was to crush ruthlessly whatever emanated from Savarkar’s brain. “Savarkar” had become synonymous with “sedition”.” [3]. Around the same time, at the beach of Brighton, sitting by Niranjan Pal (son of Bipin Chandra Pal), he composed his famous poem- “Sagara Praan Tala-mala-la” in Marathi. Niranjan Pal, in The Mahratta dated 27-5-1938, wrote: “It has been my supreme good fortune to have met and known almost all the great patriots and personalities of modern India, but I have yet to know of a patriot who loved his Motherland as dearly as Vinayak Damodar Savarkar.” [3].

References

[1] Gandhi and Godse, Koenraad Elst

[2] The Life and Times of Veer Savarkar, A. K. Gandhi

[3] Savarkar and His Times, Dhananjay Keer

[4] Veer Savarkar: Father of Hindu Nationalism, Jaywant Joglekar

[5] History of The Freedom Movement in India Vol. 2, R. C. Majumdar

Featured Image: AajTak

Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. IndiaFacts does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness,suitability,or validity of any information in this article.
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