Picture of Veer Savarkar at Cellular Jail
  • Part two covers his entry into Cellular Jail, activities to stop conversions-writing poetry-German efforts to rescue him, his release from jail-move to Ratnagiri jail and eventual release.

Part ONE covered childhood and college, revolutionary activities in London, epic escape & trial, period 1866 to 1911. Part two starts with his entry into Cellular Jail, education of fellow prisoners, preventing conversions to Islam, German efforts to rescue him, war against British by 8,000 predominantly Sikh revolutionaries. Lastly, release from jail & return to India.

Content herein is verbatim from book Veer Savarkar’ by well-known biographer Dhananjay Keer. Credits and copyright Popular Prakashan Private Limited. Keer was fortunate to study Savarkar closely and discuss with him his views and work. This has given the book a stamp of authority.

The Indian Bastille


With a blanket on his head and a platter in one hand, Savarkar stood in chains before the ferocious lofty gates decorated with all kinds of chains, handcuffs, fetters, guns and bayonets. Mr. Barrie was coming. A voice roared, Leave him, he is not a tiger! Barrie, as the jailer of Andamans, had gained notoriety among the criminals & political prisoners of India.

He was locked in a cell on the 3rd floor of yard no 7 of the Cellular Jail. The most wicked and vicious Pathans drilled in the methods of torturous jail administration were posted to guard his cell. It had been the policy of the Brits to use the fanatic Muslim mind against Hindu forces and fighters. Pg. 108

Savarkar’s arrival deeply stirred the whole of the Andamans. Ocean-going ships would sojourn to give leisure to their men of authority or fame to have a talk with Veer Savarkar. Barrie tried to incite Savarkar by condemning rebels like Nana and Tatya Tope as being self-centered.

Savarkar said you describe them as self-seekers. For, Nana wanted to be king and Tatya wanted to attain glory. But is it not true that Victor Emmanuel wanted to be king, Washington had an eye to the Presidentship and Garibaldi craved for greatness? The fact is that they all fought for national independence. Barrie went quiet.  

Being knowledgeable Savarkar would throw an argument back at you by quoting an example from your part of the world.

Barrie violently abused prisoners and wickedly harassed them. The revolutionaries were yoked to the oil-mill. Its working squeezed life out of you. Pathans, warders gulped down the share of prisoner’s food and milk. What’s more, the doctor followed the jailers diagnose?

Savarkar wrote from the Cellular Jail. In morning & evening I try a bit of Pranayam. Solitary monotony for 12 years in a cell  made him disinclined to mix freely with people in later life.

For the first fortnight, Savarkar was given the work of chopping the barks of coconuts with a heavy wooden mallet. His hands bled. Barrie tried his best to overpower, overawe but failed.

There were rumors afloat that all political prisoners were to be released in memory of the Delhi Durbar held in December 1911. Except Savarkar and a Bengali political prisoner all were given remission of a month per year. The capital was to be transferred to Delhi as foretold by Savarkar, but he said from the standpoint of history, culture, politics and geography Ujjain should be the proper place for capital of Bharat.

Savarkar had high regard for Surendranath Banerjee of Bengal. Another patriot on whose mind the personality of Savarkar had an indelible impression was Lala Lajpat Rai of Punjab. A great Russian literary figure, Maxim Gorky praised Savarkar’s heroism. 

Savarkar resolved to resort to agitation, within the four corners of law, to secure physical & culture amenities for political prisoners. To get there he realized that education was needed. So he decided to drill them in those fundamentals which gave them a solid base of knowledge of political science, economics and Constitutional law. The task of educating was difficult.

Prisoners resisted, why us? Savarkar impressed upon them that for future work, struggle this knowledge would help. It was Savarkar’s belief that knowledge without action was lame and action without knowledge was blind. He convinced European officers of the need for a library. Many prisoners completed a course & were appointed Munshi–clerks. Criminals became sober. 

Savarkar taught criminals & colleagues with the endurance, insistence and patience of a teacher. But none of his moves aroused so vigorous an opposition, as did his efforts for investing Hindi with the importance of the Lingua Franca of India. South Indians and Bengalis opposed it but what Savarkar said was, know both, your state and national language. The British officers knew Urdu, it was the second language of the jail & opposed the introduction of Hindi and Nagari. After a long struggle Savarkar’s efforts paid off.  Some prisoners from Punjab got themselves accustomed to Nagari-Hindi and re-wrote their poems in Hindi.

Cellular Jail.  

To alleviate the tortures etc Savarkar realized that their condition must be known in India. Hotilal Varma’s secret letter to Surendranath Banerjee giving details of his jail life reached the Bengal leader through secret channels who published it in his Bengali under the signature of Hotilalji with the number of his cell and chawl. Barrie was upset.

Among the heroic sufferers in the Andamans was Indu Bhushan Roy (Manikotla case), Ullaskar Dutt (Alipore case-tortured with electric shocks) and Nani Gopla a Bengali revolutionary. Meanwhile these stories appeared in the Indian Press alarming the Brit officers.

The protests in the press, questions in the Imperial Council, growing volume of public opinion forced the Government of India to send a Home Member, Sir R Craddock, to visit Andamans in 1913. Craddock and Savarkar had a very interesting conversation.

Things hardly changed. Some political prisoners went on a sympathetic fast since Nani Gopal had not taken food for 45 days. So the third strike began. Savakar joined the strike and went on fast too. He was allowed to meet Nani after which Nani broke his fast.

Years rolled by and at last came the news that the Govt of India had decided to bring back the termed convicts to Indian jails, only for those convicts whose conduct was satisfactory.

Genius Thrives in Jail

Savarkar was frustrated with his life but a truly ascetic and action man as he was, decided to make the most of life as it existed.

He composed some 10,000 odd lines of poetry of great imagination, thought and wrote them on the prison walls with thorns and pebbles and learnt them by heart. One of the jail mates Ram Hari (Prayag) was in Savarkar’s cell where he learnt by heart Marathi poems written on the walls of his cell. These poems were published in 1922 under the title Kamala.

His ballads and poems are full of our glorious past, patriotism and inspired thousands of people. G T Madkholkar, an eminent Marathi critic describes Savarkar as a poet who rivals Kalidas in the use of similes. He combined the luster of the spear of Maratha warriors and the sweetness of the Maratha saint-poets & introduced blank verse metre called Vinayak into Marathi poetry.

It is clear that Savarkar’s outlook on life was that of an ascetic moving in great events. Love of action and not renunciation of action was the predominant and positive note of his life and literature. Savarkar was guided by the noble precept laid down by Lord Krishna. “Do to others as thou wouldst be done by”. 

In Andamans Savarkar’s thoughts, reading and experience evolved into a definite ideology. The decrease in Hindu population & consequent danger to Hinduism by proselytizing faiths absorbed his mind. Almost all-Indian jails had a majority of Hindu prisoners. The authorities would invariably appoint Muslims to the post of petty officers, havaldars esp. the Pathans. They turned this into an opportunity to harass Hindus and force Hindu convicts to convert to Islam. 

Savarkar decided to put a stop to the conversion activities by Muslims. He tried to instill some pride in the minds of Hindu there. One day he heard about a prisoner about to convert. He spoke to the Suptd who said let Hindus convert. Savarkar replied that Hinduism does not believe in conversions and was based on noble principles. The Suptd understood & prisoner was not converted. However, he was not allowed by other prisoners to sit in their file for meals. Ultimately Savarkar prevailed upon them to discard their suicidal attitude. He reconverted some Muslims to their original faith.

He succeeded in infusing an organic feeling among Hindu prisoners. Just then the census hour struck. Savarkar persuaded the Arya Samajis and Sikhs to record their religion as Hindu with the words Arya or Sikh in bracket.

According to Savarkar, “A Hindu is a person who regards his land as Bharat-Varsha from the Indus to the Seas as his fatherland as well as his Holyland that is the cradle land of his religion”. 

Savarkar did not hate Muslims but abhorred the aggressive, unjust and wild designs of the Muslims and Missionaries. Except for these points, Savarkar fought for all prisoners.

World War I broke out in August 1914. He was happy to hear that Indian troops were allowed to go to Europe to fight against the best military in the world and see they acquainted themselves with such splendor.

The Indian revolutionaries in Europe and America decided to throw their weight into the direction of a revolt and wanted to overthrow British rule in India.

Leaders like Lala Hardayal, V Chattopadhyaya of Abhinava Bharat were discussing plans and had negotiations with Germany. As planned the German war machine began to operate. The German submarine Emden, moved into the Bay of Bengal raiding British cargo ships. Now Savarkar was strictly watched. Unfortunately on 14/11/1914, the Emden was destroyed. Thus, attempts by the French and Germans to rescue him failed.

But the revolutionaries had other plans. About 8,000 Sikh revolutionaries arrived in India from America, Canada and Far East in 1915 and situation in Punjab became tense and menacing. The 1857 War of Independence had been suppressed with the help of the Sikhs. To wash out this stigma this Second War of Independence was started by overwhelming number of Sikh revolutionaries. They tried to induce the Indian troops to take up the cause of freedom. Pg.149

Vishnu Ganesh Pingle was arrested with ten loaded bombs inside the line of the 12th Cavalry at Meerut and hanged. In Bengal too leaders like M.N Roy tried hard to achieve their goal. Money received from Germany was used by revolutionaries of Bengal to have a training camp but the camp was discovered, the plot collapsed. Another plan of the Ghadr Party was to enter Burma through Thailand and then proceed to India.

Armed with extensive powers and help of 6,000 troops from Nepal, the British govt suppressed the uprising. Rivers of blood flowed. Some 5,000 men were put on trial for treason in Punjab alone. Yet the leaders and historians of Gandhian persuasion keep saying that they won Independence without shedding blood500 were sent to Andamans. These revolutionaries told Savarkar how his great book on ‘1857’ made them patriots & warriors.

During the War Savarkar made efforts for his release. He made petitions and appeals to the Indian Govt that he be released with or without conditions. His wife too petitioned. Surprisingly none from the Indian National Congress said a word about the release of political prisoners. He wrote to the Viceroy that while they were considering the question of Reforms in India they should release all political prisoners.

The Indian govt wanted to know views of the revolutionaries on proposed reforms. In 1920 Savarkar sent a petition to the Indian govt depicting his ideal of Human Govt. Viewed from the angle of truth, sympathy, justice, impartiality the letter revealed why Guy Aldred of Britain claimed for Savarkar a place in the line of prophets and humanists of the world.  Whenever he turned introvert the philosopher in him dominated the politician & he breathed great thoughts.

How Indian prisoners were treated in Cellular Jail.

Out of Grave                                    

After World War I in 1918, there was a systematic demand for release of all political prisoners. In December 1919, all provincial govts opened their prisons. Many political and ordinary prisoners were set free from provincial and the Cellular Jail too.

But the government of India held Savarkar’s release as incompatible with public safety. He had passed through a critical illness in 1919 & was in jail hospital on deathbed. He had improved. 

The pain, though born silently, was too much to handle. He often fell into dead faints, body burnt with constant fever. Now death began to hover over his head. The jail life of any other Indian leader pales into insignificance compared to Savakar’s horrible life at Andamans. Yet he faced jail life with great fortitude. Pg.156

Vithalbhai Patel, Tilak, Gandhi made efforts and wrote about the need to release the Savarkar brothers all around 1920.

Years passed by. The death of Tilak in 1920 shocked all, the prisoners observed a day’s fast in the memory of the Father of Indian Unrest. Writing on the Movement, Shri J C Ker, a member of the ICS observed: “The death of Tilak in 1920 removed Gandhi’s strongest rival for the Hindu leadership and early in 1921 the campaign of Gandhi & Ali Brothers was in full swing”. 

Savarkar attacked the queer definition of non-violence and truth and said that Khilafat would be a calamity. And so it was, the first time that religion and politics were mixed in India.

In March 1921, K V Rangaswamy, member of the Council of State moved a resolution to extend amnesty to Savarkar. He offered to stand security to assure the government of his good intentions and honest motives. Savarkar soon left for India.

The Savarkars were taken to Alipore Jail. Then he was taken to the Ratnagiri jail  via Mumbai. In August 1921, the Khilafat movement ended in the Moplah rebellion in which thousands of Hindus were raped, butchered, converted. Now the Khilafat Pathans rioted in Ratnagiri jail  and the Hindu prisoners were saved as they had been forewarned by Savarkar.

It was in Ratnagiri Jail that  Savarkar wrote his immortal Hindutva, published under the pen name Mahratta. It defines the principles of Hindu nationalism. The book was both a result of Savarkar’s deep reflection and an intense reaction to Gandhism, which had surrendered to the anti-national demands of the Muslim reactionaries. 

Arya Samaji leader and leading light of the Shuddhi Movement, Swami Shraddhananda said, “It must have been one of those Vedic dawns indeed which inspired our seers with new truths that revealed to the author of Hindutva this Mantra.” 

Savarkar was transferred to Yeravada Jail. Here he devoted himself to the spread of literacy & development of jail library. He narrated the stories of the lives of revolutionaries to Gandhian prisoners. The year 1922 passed by.

At the 3rd Ratnagiri District Political Conference in 1923 Savarkar’s unconditional release was demanded. The government agreed to release Savarkar conditionally. Savarkar accepted the conditions and signed the terms on 27/12/1923. The terms were that he –  

1. Shall reside in Ratnagiri district and not go beyond its limits without govt permission. 

2. Will not engage privately or publicly in any political activities without the consent of the govt for a period of five years such restrictions being renewable at the discretion of Government at the expiry of the said term. 

So Savarkar was released on January 6 1924

The political situation in India was getting complicated since 1915. The Liberals had seceded away from the Congress while the Left Wing was growing powerful. On the eve of the Lucknow session the shrewd elements in the Muslim League adopted the Congress idea of self-government. To win over the Muslims, the Congress made a pact with the league agreeing to communal read separate electorates for Muslims.

The Lucknow Pact, after Tilak’s death, proved to be a rift in the lute. 

The pact reduced the political problem to a simple equation. If the Muslim League represented the Muslims, whom did the Congress represent? The Montagu-Chemlsford Reforms were declared in August 1917. The Congress was disappointed, the British yielded to Muslim demands fearing a Muslim rising.

The Rowlatt Act passed in 1919 gave the govt the power to arrest and imprison any individual without trial. Martial law reigned in Punjab followed by the Jallianwalla Baug massacre and Gandhi’s failed non-cooperation and Khilafat movement. 

After its failure Sarojini Naidu declared that Gandhi should not needlessly interfere in politics. He is saint and he should be satisfied with the homage people paid him. Pg. 166

If you wish to read the above chapters in more detail chapter-wise links are below.

1 The Indian Bastille

2 Genius Thrives in Jail

3 Out of his Grave

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