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Vinayak Damodar Savarkar

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar

(1883-1966)

biography

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar
Vinayak Damodar Savarkar
Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (veer saverkar) was undoubtedly one of India’s greatest freedom fighters. He was a born revolutionary and defender of Hindu faith.
Not only he, but his entire family suffered at the hands of the British government and he and his brother Ganesh spent eleven years in solitary confinement in the cellular Jail in the Andamans. Only by sheer will-power could they survive. Valentine Chirol, the notorious correspondent of London Times, described him as “the most brilliant of modern Indian revolutionaries”.
Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was born on 28 May 1883 in a middleclass Chitpawan Brahmin family in the village of Bhagur near Nasik, Maharashtra. His ancestors had come from Savar-wadi in Ratnagiri district; hence the surname Savarkar adopted by the family. His parents, Damodarpant and Radhabai, had four children, three sons Ganesh (Babarao), Vinayak and Narayan - and daughter Mainabai. Vinayak passed the Marathi fourth standard at the age of ten. To continue his studies he had to be sent to Nasik but this was not possible for another two years. His mother had died when Vinayak was nine years old and the responsibility of bringing up the children had fallen on their father Damodarpant. But during this Period Vinayak completed the course of the first two English standards at home. He also acquired the habit of reading books and newspapers, something which he continued throughout his life. He joined Shivaji High School in Nasik in 1895 and passed the matriculation examination in 1901. Before that Vinayak was married of in March 1901 to Yamunabai, daughter of an old family friend, R.T. Chiplunkar, a minister in a small state Jawahar, near Nasik.
Vinayak exhibited his talent for writing, especially poetry, at a very young age. He had begun to compose poems when he was barely ten his years old. He also could write good prose and won prizes for his essays, one of which was ‘Who Was the Best of the Peshwa? Vinayak was also a powerful speaker and won prizes in elocution contests in school. The closing years of the nineteenth century saw great turmoil in Maharashtra. Ganpati and Shivaji festivals, inaugurated by Lokmanya Tilak, had brought a new nationalist consciousness among the masses. The murder, in 1897, of Mr. Rand, the plague officer of Poona, by Chapekar brothers, who went to the gallows reciting verses from the Gita, stirred young Vinayak’s of mind and he vowed to do something like the Chapekar brothers for his country. During the plague epidemic, Vinayak, with his small band of friends, did social work for the families of the deceased. To his horror he saw his father and uncle die during the epidemic. Undaunted by the tragedy, he started organizing an association with a small nucleus of friends and named it ‘Mitra Mela’.
In 1902, Savarkar joined Fergusson College, Poona and started living in the residency. He made an instant impact in the college with his striking personality and natural qualities of leadership. He collected around him a small group of students with similar views and aspirations. Soon, his group dominated the goings-on in the college campus. They started a handwritten magazine; Arya Weekly which included articles by Savarkar and his colleagues. During vacations he would visit several places in Maharashtra and deliver patriotic speeches. The partition of Bengal in1905 had stirred up nationalistic feelings not only in Bengal but also in other parts of the country. The movement started against the partition had come to be known as swadeshi movement. Taking a hint from this movement, Savarkar and his group organized a big bonfire of foreign clothes and other articles of foreign origin. The gathering was addressed by Tilak, Paranjpe and the young Savarkar. The college authorities, however, did not take kindly to this audacious act of Savarkar, fined him ten rupees and expelled him from the residency of the College but allowed him to study. Bombay University allowed him to appear in the BA. Examination and he graduated in 1905. After graduating, Savarkar toured extensively in Maharashtra, opening branches of ‘Mitra Mela’. After opening several branches, he organized a conference of the members of ‘Mitra Mela’. In his address he brought out the essential features of the organization and changed its name to ‘Abhinav Bharat’, after Mazzini’s ‘Young Italy’. The object of this society was the political independence of India, if need be by armed revolt. The society spread its network throughout India and overseas too. “It has been said that poets, speakers, propagandists, patriots and martyrs were produced by Mitra Mela and Abhinav Bharat in scores”.
In a short span of time Savarkar became quite popular in Maharashtra. His ‘rousing oratory’, often conveyed in inspiring verse, attracted hundreds of young men who became his followers. He Went to Bombay to study law and continued his anti-government activities there. But he had to suspend his activities because he was offered a scholarship by Shyamji Krishnaverma, an Indian patriot who was residing in London and working for the Indian cause there. Savarkar left for England in June i906. He decided to study law there. “The study of law”, he remarked, “shows the vital points in the system of government, and its lacunae where to strike.” Shyamji Krishnaverma had established the India House in London for Indian students and Savarkar started living there. He was admitted to Gray’s Inn to qualify as a barrister. But his urge to free India of foreign rule was unabated. He founded the ‘Free India Society’ to recruit young men for Abhinav Bharat. “His spirited style, erudition, the force of his arguments and his passionate sincerity soon enabled him to carry the youthful and impressionable ‘student world’ with him. The Indian students at Cambridge, Oxford, Edinburgh, Manchester and other places were rapidly brought under the influence of the revolutionary tenets”. The group began to hold weekly meetings and celebrate Indian festivals like Dussehra and Diwali. In 1907, they observed the silver `jubilee of the 1857 uprising. Later, while still in England he wrote a voluminous book titled Indian war of Independence, 1857 which was proscribed by the government before publication in 1910. But a copy of it was smuggled out of India and was published by Hardayal in America, Sardar Bhagat Singh in Lahore and INA of Subhas Bose in Singapore. The book has been translated in many Indian languages besides French and German. During Shot his sojourn at the India House, he also translated Mazzini’s Autobiography into Marathi, with a detailed introduction. Savarkar and his group published pamphlets conveying the message of Abhinav Bharat. They even got hold of a bomb-making manual and its cyclostyled copies were sent secretly to India. Savarkar used to write articles for Indian Socialist, edited by had I Shyamji Krishnaverma, which were translated and published in the Yuganter of Calcutta and Vihari of Bombay
By that time, the India House had become notorious as a centre of ' seditious activities. In 1907, a question was asked in the House of Commons enquiring whether the government proposed to take any action against the c Shyamji. Though no action was taken, Shyamji thought it prudent to v leave England and settle in Paris. Sardar Singh Rana, who was the manager of India House, also left along with Shyamji. Madam Cama had already trial; left and had settled in Paris. Now Savarkar was entrusted with the management of the India House. On 1 July 1909, Madan Lal Dhingra, was an ardent follower of Savarkar, shot dead Sir Curzon Wylie, ADC of the secretary of state for India. This shocked not only the British but also Indians living in England. A meeting called by the Indians passed a resolution to condemn the killing but Savarkar stood up to oppose the resolution. This rather rash act of Savarkar further infuriated the government. Sensing trouble, Savarkar left for Paris, closing down the India House. In India, his elder brother Ganesh (Babarao) was arrested in al in connection with the Nasik Conspiracy Case and was sent for transportation for life to the Andamans. Savarkar s family was also being harassed and their property was confiscated. But all this did not deter Savarkar from pursuing revolutionary activities. Although Savarkar qualified from Gray’s Inn, he was not called to the Bar because he refused to pledge loyalty to the Crown.
In Paris, he had moved to Madam Cama’s residence, which had earlier left England and had settled in Paris to continue revolutionary activities. At the Jackson murder trial in India, Savarkar was charged with abetting the crime, because it was India House from where the gun, which was responsible for the murder, was sent. A warrant was issued against him. On his return to England, he was arrested, on 13 March 1910. ‘Savarkar should be sent to India’ was the verdict of the Court. On 1 July the ship S.S. Morea sailed for India with Savarkar as the heavily guarded prisoner. In spite of that, he jumped from the ship through a porthole in the lavatory when the ship docked at the French port Marseilles and swam five hundred meters to the shore. He was now in French territory and had a right to asylum. But he was arrested by the British guards of the ship who chased him; brought him back to the ship; put him in chains, and sailed again for India. Shyamji, S.S Rana and Madam Cama later protested to the French authorities because Savarkar was arrested on French soil by the British in violation of international law. Consequently, the case was referred to the International Arbitration Tribunal at The Hague. The case made headlines in Indian and world press. For the first time, Indians fight for freedom was discussed all over the world. The trial opened on 16 February 1911 and though expected to last for a month, was wound up after few hurried sittings under British pressure. Nothing came out of the case.
Back in India, Savarkar was not tried in a regular court but by a Special Tribunal, denying him the right of appeal. He was sentenced to transportation for life twice over, which meant fifty years in jail. His property was confiscated. He was sent to the Andaman Cellular jail in chains where his brother Ganesh was already incarcerated undergoing a similar sentence. They were allowed one visitor and could write one letter in a year. He was put on hard labour and spent days and nights in solitary confinement. He spent his time composing poetry and memorizing it. After sometime, when he was allowed to go out, though still in chains, he taught Hindi to the prisoners, many of whom were hardened criminals. The two brothers were joined there by another highly respected freedom fighter, Bhai Parmanand in 1915. He kept them company till 1920, when he was released.
After the World War there was a clamor for the release of political prisoners. The Mont ford Reforms came into force in 1919 and many prisoners were released. But not the Savarkar brothers. Pressure was brought on Gandhi to do something for their release. Gandhi wrote in Young India (18.5.1921) under his column Notes: I had the pleasure of meeting him (Savarkar) in London (in 1909). He is brave. He is clever. He is a patriot. He was frankly a revolutionary. The evil in its hideous form of the present system of Government, he saw much earlier than I did. He is in the Andamans for his having loved India too well. Under a just Government, he would be occupying a high office”. Ultimately Savarkar was brought to the Indian mainland on 2 May 1921, not to be released but to continue his sentence in Ratnagiri jail. There he wrote his much controversial book, Hindutva under the pseudonym ‘Mahratta’. Prom Ratnagiri, Savarkar was transferred to Yervada jail. He was released on 6 January 1924 on the condition that he would not indulge in any political activity, and would remain in Ratnagiri. Savarkar used his stay in Ratnagiri to do social and religious reforms like preaching against the caste system, untouchability, superstitions and other ills of the Hindu society. For that purpose he founded the Ratnagiri Hindu Sabha on 23 January 1924. His political restrictions were removed in 1937. He was only twenty-seven when he was sent to the Andaman Cellular jail, and became a free man at the age of fifty-four. Even then he jumped into the political arena and was elected president of the Hindu Mahasabha for the 1937 Ahmedabad session. For five successive years he presided over the Hindu Mahasabha sessions. He believed in the Hindu Rashtra where the rights of all minorities would be safeguarded. He was aghast at the Muslim appeasement policy of the Congress party. He wanted the Muslim community to join Hindus in their fight for freedom as equals. At the same time he told them: “if you come, with you; if you don’t without you; if you oppose, in spite of you”. The Congress party had to adopt this very policy in 1942 when they started the Quit India movement without Muslim support. But it was too late. The movement was crushed. Fortunately, the British came out a much weakened nation from the War. They wanted to get out of India. Freedom came along with partition. Savarkar was not a happy man. His dream of ‘Akhand Bharat’ (United India) was shattered.
During the war years, Savarkar and his followers did a great service to the nation by asking Hindus and Sikhs to join the army in large numbers so that when freedom came they could guard the frontiers of tree India. None of the Congress leaders had that kind of vision, tied down as they were to the impractical ‘non-violence creed’. The Indian army, which had seventy per cent Muslims in it at the start of the War had seventy per cent of Hindu and Sikhs by the time the War ended. Savarkar and his followers had toured the length and breadth of India prompting Hindus and Sikhs to join the army to achieve this miracle. In 1943, Poona University conferred on Savarkar D. Litt for his contribution to Marathi language and literature.
Savarkar’s difficulties were not over even in free India, though he was now an old infirm man. The assassination of Gandhi on 30 January 1948 resulted in the mass arrests of Hindu Mahasabha and Rashtriya Swama Sevak Sangh (RSS) workers. Savarkar was not spared. He was arrested on 4 February 1948 on the charge of conspiring. Nathuram Godse, who had assassinated Gandhi, in his long statement to the court during the prosecution said, “I emphatically deny that we saw Savarkar on the 17 January 1948 or that Savarkar blessed us with the words, ‘yashasvi houn ya (Be successful).’” Savarkar was honorably acquitted on 10 February 1949.
The first part of his biography, Mazya Athavaní (My Reminiscences), in Marathi, appeared in 1949. He came out of his retirement to inaugurate the Hindu Mahasabha session of December 1949 at Calcutta. Thousands of his followers cheered him. He was again arrested in April 1950 at the time of Nehru-Liaqat Ali Agreement. The final part of his autobiography was published in 1965.
He died on 27 February 1966, leaving behind a son, Vishwas and a daughter, Prabha.
Savarkar, besides writing on political topics, was a creative writer of some merit. His poems Kamla and Saptarshi, which he composed in Andaman Cellular jail, show his literary excellence. While at Ratnagiri he wrote two novels, Kala Pani and Mopla Rebellion and three dramas Sanyasta KhadgeUsshap and Uttarkria, all in Marathi. He also started a movement for Bhasha Shuddhi and improvement in Devanagari script. As a Writer, he was asked to preside over the Marathi Literary Conference in 1938 at Poona. His last work, Shatruchya Shibarat (In the Enemy Camp), describes his experiences in England. His complete works in Marathi were published by Maharashtra Hindu Sabha in eight volumes, as Samagra Savarkar.
Honours came haltingly, grudgingly. A postal stamp was issued in memory of Savarkar during his centenary celebrations in 1983 by the Government of India. A portrait of his was unveiled in the Indian Parliament House in March 2003 which invited some amount of criticism. A commemorative plaque hangs at the entrance of the India House, London. It reads Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, 1883-1966, Indian patriot and philosopher lived here. In England, during the centenary celebrations function in the House of Commons Annexe, ninety-eight year old Labour M.P. Fanner Brockway revealed that: All charges leveled against Savarkar by British Empire were completely baseless and fraudulent. And he added that to have a patriot like Savarkar was a matter of great pride for any country.

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