LIFE STORY of VEER SAVARKAR - Part 1

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  • Savarkar has becoming a favourite punching bag. We present a series of articles on his life and struggles.

Freedom fighter, revolutionary, historian, social reformer, poet and rationalist Veer Savarkar has become a favourite punching bag for the Congress, Leftists and Liberals. It has thus become imperative for Indians to know about his life.  

We present a series of articles by taking excerpts from the book ‘Veer Savarkar’ by well-known biographer Dhananjay Keer. Keer was fortunate to study Savarkar closely and discuss with him his views and work. This has given the book a stamp of authority and covers the period 1883 to 1966. Content herein is courtesy and copyright Popular Prakashan Private Limited. I have picked up matter virtually verbatim from the book. Credits to respected D Keer only.  

 

Part one covers childhood and college, revolutionary activities in London, epic escape and trial. Period covered is 1886 to 1911.

 

Childhood and College

 

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was born on May 28 1883, at Bhagur a village near Nasik. The Savarkars originally hailed from Konkan, a land symbolizing the great feat of reclamation performed by Parashuram.

His parents recited several passages from Mahabharata and Ramayana, the Ballads and Bakhars on Pratap, Shivaji and the Peshwas. Thus the Balladds, Bakhars, heroic exploits, historical episodes etc greatly contributed to the mental development of Savarkar.

Savarkar was hardly ten when well-known newspapers from Poona accepted his poems. At Nashik the depth of his knowledge and the fire of his eloquence fascinated his teachers.

In June 1893, serious Hindu Muslim riots broke out in Azamgarh district in today’s Uttar Pradesh and in August the same year in Mumbai. The news of atrocities perpetuated on Hindus fired his blood and he resolved to take revenge. He led a batch of selected schoolmates in a march upon the local village mosque, shattered its windows. The Muslims responded but Savarkar with his friends routed them. The boy leader fell to training and organizing his group.

With a goal to driving out the British Savarkar with friends Mhaskar, Page and Babarao formed a Friend’s Union called Mitra Mela in 1900. This was the famous ‘Beehive’, of revolutionaries of Western India that sprouted into Abhinava Bharat Society in 1904 and subsequently its branches in the form of Ghadr Party resounded in England, America, Burma etc.

He joined Fergusson College in 1902. There Savarkar started a hand-written weekly named Aryan Weekly, in which he often wrote articles on literature, history, and science etc. At the opening of new college session in 1903, he amidst deafening applause gave a talk on India’s glorious past and bewailed her loss of freedom.

Two milestones. Savarkar was the first Indian leader to make a bonfire of foreign cloth on October 7, 1905 and the first Indian student who was rusticated from a Government-aided institution for political reasons.

Gandhi criticized the bonfire and so did his Guru Gokhale while Tilak supported it. Thus, there emerged two schools of thought with differing ideologies, later on known as Moderates and Extremists. It is ironical that 17 years later the same Gandhi, as organizer of the Civil Disobedience Movement, made a public bonfire of foreign clothes in Bombay on Nov 17, 1921.

Savakar cleared his B.A. exams, became a prolific and popular writer and composed ballads on Tanaji and Baji Prabhu.   

Next he went to Mumbai to study law post which he was awarded a scholarship to study law in London. He left Mumbai in June 1906.

Revolutionary Activities in London

After reaching London, Savarkar stayed at the India House founded by Pandit Shyamki K Varma, who had sponsored his London education.

Savarkar was admitted to the prestigious Cray’s Inn.  He soon established in 1906 the Free India Society and began to organize Indian students into patriots like Bhai Parmananda, Lala Hardayal, V Chattopadhyaya (brother of Sarojini Naidu), V.V.S. Aiyar etc.

He spread his revolutionary ideas through pamphlets, booklets and books. The history of Sikhs also absorbed Savarkar’s mind. He learnt Gurumukhi, read the Adi Granth, Panth-Surya Prakash etc and issued many pamphlets, called Khalsa.

Savarkar was given the management of India House. Said Asaf Ali on those days “I wonder how so young a person, 23 in 1909, commanded the will of almost everyone who came into contact with him.” He added that Savarkar was the spirit of Shivaji. Note that the same Asaf Ali wrote to Pandit Shyamji in September 1909: “I am staying with Muslim friends who do not like me to associate with nationalists; and, to save many unpleasant consequences, I do not wish to irritate them unnecessarily.” Thus the Muslim antagonism to the Freedom Movement of India dates back to its beginning itself. 

He realized the importance of foreign propaganda so wrote articles on Indian affairs, got them translated into French, Russian, and Italian etc to acquaint the civilized world with Indian affairs and enlist their support.

Simultaneously the Indian revolutionaries of Abhinava Bharat were in touch with their counterparts in Russia, Ireland, Egypt and China. Savarkar’s aim was to organize a united anti-British front. Pistols were smuggled into India. Bapat and Das were sent to learn the art of bomb makingA Russian Chemical Engineer gave Bapat a Bomb Manual in the Russian language. Bapat got the manual translated into English by a Russian girl named Miss Annya.

Meanwhile Bapat reached India and circulated the Bomb Manual to important centres of revolutionaries. On April 30, 1908 Khudiram Bose threw a bomb in Muzzarpur shaking the whole of Bharat.

Wrote Sir Valentine Chirol in the London Times “The emotional Bengali calls along the whole world to witness his deeds. The Chitpavan Brahmin who’s bent of mind is far practical works in silence. Even as the Bengali did the shouting it was Pune that provided the brains that directed the Bengali extremists”.

These activities brought India House under focus, particularly Savarkar. Detectives of the Scotland Yard started keeping watch on the activities of the residents of India House.

Working silently, the smuggling of arms and ammunition into India went on. Savarkar sent them through Mirza Abbas and Sikander Khan. These pistols fell into the hands of different revolutionary groups.

The bursting point of British repression was reached. The choice of the Abhinava Bharata fell on Madanlal Dhingra. Talking of him, one day someone taunted him by saying that the Japanese were the bravest people in Asia. Dhingra had retorted that his Hindu nation was no less.

Having learnt to shoot Dhingra’s first target was Curzon but he failed. This time he decided to kill Sir William Curzon Wyllie, considered to be the eye and brain of the Indian Office. On 30/6/1909, Savarkar gave Dhingra a nickel plated revolver and said “Don’t show me your face if you fail this time.” Dhingra killed Wyllie and was arrested, hanged. The incident shook London.

Though Savarkar passed the final examination of the Gray’s Inn, the Benchers of his Inn refused to call him and Harnam Singh to the Bar unless he gave them a written undertaking that he would not participate in politics. Savarkar refused because his aim was liberation of India.

The hot discussions in India House and Savarkar’s fiery speeches were too hot for visiting Indian leaders. Gandhi had discussions with him since 1906, met him in London in October 1909 but it was an ideological conflict between the promising Gautam and the spirited Shivaji.

The discussions Gandhi had with Savarkar, had left a touch of bitterness. During his return journey at the end of 1908, Gandhi attacked the Indian revolutionaries in London and indirectly Savarkar. The ideological conflict between the two started in the first decade of the 20th century.

Savarkar got admission into the Library of the India, read heaps of original letters, manuscripts and referred to books in the British Museum too. He read Rajanikant’s Sepoys Mutiny in Bengali. After an 18-month study, in April 1908 he completed his monumental work in Marathi, The First War of Independence of 1857. Savarkar eluded the British police and got the book published in Holland in 1909. The book reached India, America, China, Japan wrapped in specially printed covers.

It inspired the second and third wars of independence in 1914 and 1943 (Subhash C Bose). Leaders of the Ghadr party who published the book and spread its message, raised the Komagatamaru Rebellion. Bhagat Singh and his colleagues brought out an underground edition in 1928. They regarded the great work as the Geeta of the revolutionaries. 

K.F. Nariman wrote in Free Hindustan Weekly, Bombay: “The idea of the I.N.A. and particularly the Rani of Jhansi segment seems to have originated from Savarkar’s proscribed publication on the 1857 Mutiny.”

Owing to stress and strain, Savarkar’s health broke down. He moved to a sanitarium in Wales. Since his life was feared to be in danger, he left London for Paris in beginning of January 1910.

Meanwhile it was found in the Jackson murder trial that Savarkar was the spirit behind India House and the leader of the Abhinava Society which had sent pistols, one of which was used to kill Jackson (British Collector of Nasik). George Clarke the new Governor of Mumbai built up a case, a warrant was granted by Bow Street Court London in February 1910.

The charges against Savarkar were waging war against His Majesty, distributing arms amongst others. To avoid the persecution and demoralization of his followers he decided to return to London in 1910 post which he was arrested in England for speeches he made in India in 1906!

On 23/4/1910 the Magistrate gave a decision that Savarkar should be sent to India where the Indian government had set up a special tribunal for his trial. Sometime in May 1910 Irish and Indian revolutionaries attempted at rescuing Savarkar but the plan leaked out, failed. Now, Savarkar was on the eve of being extradited to India.

Epic Escape and Trials

On 01/07/1910, the steamer S S Morea carrying Savarkar to India had some engine trouble and required to report in the port of Marseilles France. The British government requested their French counterparts to keep an eye on the ship since Savarkar was travelling on it who was inwardly thinking of the idea of escape. Since he was tied to a post how would he run away? He asked Parkar, a Scotland Yard Inspector, if he could use the cloak. After getting in he jumped up, squeezed himself out of the porthole at the top of the water closet and jumped into the Sea. He swam ashore amidst firing bullets.

Savarkar ran away from the harbor but with no money! Eventually they caught him and dragged him to the steamer. It was a breach of International Law since the British guards had arrested him on foreign land. It was destiny that Savarkar’s colleagues, Madame Cama and Aiyar who had planned his rescue, were late by a few hours.

The entire European press praised Savarkar. Now he was huddled into a tiny cabin, only four feet that allowed to him to stand, move and walk! Handcuffed and closely tied on each side, stifled by excessive heat Savarkar felt like giving up his life. But he survived.

Savarkar reached Mumbai on July 22, 1910 and was sent to Nasik jail. Three trials were to be heard by the Tribunal. When Savarkar entered the Court, amidst tight security, there were claps not from empty galleries but from fellow prisoners. Savarkar’s thrilling escape from Marseilles had riveted world attention of the Nasik Conspiracy Trial.

After the prosecution spoke Savarkar said that he did not recognize the jurisdiction of the Indian government to try him as he was entitled to the Right of Asylum and thus to the protection of French Law. Thus he would not take part in the trial. Majority of the accused complained to the Court that they had given their statements before the Magistrate under torture or duress.

The second charge was withdrawn before the case started. All through the trial he provided moral support to the broken hearted. After 68 days of trial on 23/12/1910 the judge pronounced judgment “Transportation for life and forfeiture of all property”. The Special Tribunal had passed judgment on a man whose case was sub-judice in the International Court at Hague.  

The judgment in Savarkar’s trial deals exclusively with various political and secret activities of the Abhinava Bharat, its inflaming pamphlets, books, plans and aims. It says there is evidence in the shape of certain documents found in the possession of the accused Kashikar, which indicates that the association aimed at creating an organization founded upon the model of Revolutionaries Societies of Russia. The suggested methods of preparation of war are the purchase and storage of weapons in neighboring countries to be used at the right time. This was a true assessment of Abhinava Bharata. The Society had storehouses of bombs at Bassein, bomb factories in Mumbai & in Maharashtra.

Not content with this the Indian government charged Savarkar with murder of the Collector of Nasik, Mr. Jackson referred to above. Despite lacking evidence, on 30/01/1911, Savarkar was sentenced to transportation for life.

Two transportation’s for one man!

Actually the proceedings should have been stayed since the British Foreign Secretary had signed an agreement with the French Ambassador to refer Savarkar’s case to the International Court at Hague. The trial opened on 6/2/1911.

They gave a judgment in favor of the British government, annulled Savarkar’s right of asylum. This trial brought India onto the front pages of the world press. It struck a blow to the prestige of the British Empire.

Double transportation meant imprisonment for fifty years; he would be released in 1960.

To cope with the epic of two transportations, he began writing by composing poems.

The first poem was on Guru Govind Singh. He composed another poem on the crucified Christ. An officer-taunted Savarkar that he would set free in 1960 to which Savarkar said “But is the British Rule itself going to last for fifty years more?

On June 27, 1911 Savarkar was lodged in the steamer S S Maharajah. As he reached Andamans, on his way to the jail, the great patriot was engrossed in assessing the strategic importance of Andamans. If developed these islands could be the outposts of Free Hindustan replacing Singapore, which was so by accident.

He thought that if a strong naval base were built at Andamans no enemy could strike at the eastern coast of India. How prophetic!

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

1 The Rising Leader

2 Revolutionary Activities

3 The Storm Breaks

4 Epic escape and trials  

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