Shyamji Krishna Varma biography

Shyamji Krishna Varma




Shyamji Krishna Varma
Shyamji Krishna Varma

Shyamji Krishna Nakhua
4 October 1857
Mandvi, Kutch, Gujarat
Died30 March 1930
Geneva, Switzerland
Alma materWilson High School, Mumbai;Balliol College, Oxford University
OccupationIndian Revolutionary, lawyer, Journalist, Nationalist
OrganizationThe Indian Home Rule Society,India House, The Indian Sociologist
Known forIndian Independence Movement
Spouse(s)Bhanumati Krishna Varma
ParentsKarsan Bhanushali (Nakhua), Gomatibai


Shyamji Krishna Varma was one of those freedom fighters who spent a major part of their lives in self-exile fighting for the freedom of the country from foreign shores. Besides, he was a reputed Sanskrit scholar and a social reformer.
Shyamji Krishna Varma was born on 4 October 1857 at Mandavi, a small town in the former state of Kutch, in a Bhansali family. His parents, father Krishna Val-ma (whose name was added to his son’s as is customary in Gujarat) and mother, Ramadevi, belonged to a lower-middle class family. His father, soon after Shyamji’s birth, moved to Bombay to better his lot and that of the family and started a small business, leaving his family in Mandavi. Shyamji started his education in a local primary school. He proved to be a precocious child and stood out among the children. For further education he was put in a school at Bhuj, then the capital of the Kutch state. Tragedy struck the family when his mother, Ramadevi, died in 1867 and the responsibility of bringing up the child fell on his mother’s parents. Later, he was taken to Bombay by a friend of the family and was admitted to Wilson High School. In addition to reading for his matriculation examination, he was advised to join a Sanskrit pathshala (school), where he learnt Sanskrit under a learned Shastri and soon became proficient in the language. He Won the Seth Gokuldas Kahandas scholarship by standing first in Sanskrit, enabling him to join Elphinstone High School, a better school, where the boys of the Bombay elite studied. He topped in the high school examination also. In the school he befriended one Ramdas, son of Seth Chhabildas Lalubhai, a rich merchant of Bombay. Impressed by the character and qualities of the young Shyamji, the Seth married his daughter Bhanumati to him. That was in 1875, when Shyamji was eighteen and Bhanumati fourteen. They led a happy married life for fifty-five years, Bhanumati standing alongside her husband through good times and bad. However, the couple died childless.
The same year Swami Dayanand founded the first Arya Samaj in Bombay at the invitation of some social reformers and enlightened citizens of Bombay. The swami preached against idolatory, child marriage, mistreatment of widows and other evils prevailing in the Hindu society Shyamji attended several lectures of the swami who spoke in Sanskrit and was very much impressed by Dayanand’s personality and his sermons. Shyamji decided to carry on propaganda on behalf of the Arya Samaj and became quite close to the swami, regularly corresponding with him and discussing various matters. He went on a propaganda tour in 1877 in western and northern India. He delivered lectures in Sanskrit at Nasik, Poona, Ahmedabad, Bahraich, Vadodra, and in 1878 at Bhuj, Mandavi and Lahore. He impressed everyone with his knowledge of Sanskrit and the shastras.
In 1878, Sir Monier-Williams, professor of Sanskrit at the Oxford University, visited India. On hearing Shyamji’s Sanskrit scholarship he met him and suggested that Shyamji should study at Oxford. After initial reluctance, Swami Dayanand gave his blessings and Shyamji sailed for England in April 1879. He was admitted to the Balliol College, Oxford and shortly after, also to the Inner Temple for studies in Law Shyamji was awarded the B.A. degree in 1883 at Oxford and was called to the Bar in London in 1884. While still a student at Oxford, he represented India at the Conference of Orientalist in Berlin. He also helped Monier-Williams to establish the Indian Institute at Oxford as a centre of Indian learning and interests' in 1883. Later, Monier-Williams wrote about Shyamji’s stay at Oxford: “Without giving up one iota of his Sanskrit learning, he has opened his mind freely to the reception of all the higher forms of European culture. Assuredly no English or European teacher could possibly be his equal in expounding the grammars of Indian languages according to the principles of native grammarians. He is the first Indian Sanskrit scholar who has ever visited England and achieved so great a success. During his residence at Oxford, Pandit Shyamji acted as assistant in Sanskrit and last year the Master and Fellow of the College appointed him to the office of Lecturer in Sanskrit, Marathi and Gujarati." Shyamji returned to India in January 1885.
Like his mentor Swami Dayanand, Shyamji surmised that the part of India which was ruled by Indian princes was free India and that it would be easier to start the freedom movement and social reform in Indian states. In fact, Dayanand spent the last decade of his life trying to spread his gospel in Rajasthan – Masuda, Udaipur, and Jodhpur – and had met with partial success. On his return to India, Shyamji served in Indian states – Ratlam, Udaipur and Junagadh – as Diwan (minister). Intermittently he did legal practice first at Bombay and then at Ajmer, but his heart was not in the legal profession. One advantage of working in the Indian states was that he could save quite a large amount of money as the princes paid him generously. It is also believed that Shyamji had invested wisely in shares and had earned rich dividends. He was a rich man now but a disillusioned one. He had realized that even in the princely states the real power was vested in the British Resident in each b state. He decided to return to England after spending twelve fruitless years of his life in the country. During his earlier stay in England he had b found that Indians enjoyed more freedom in England than in their own it country. He wanted to make use of that freedom for India’s freedom. He left for England in 1897.
While at Oxford, he came across Herbert Spencers First Principles. Besides, he had studied Spencer, who was considered as the greatest British philosopher of the nineteenth century, in depth. He was influenced most by his Principles of Sociology in which he had propagated the gospel of rationalism and had denounced oppression of every kind. He had opined that war was merely wholesale cannibalism and that imperialism could be sustained only through war, through that cannibalism. He developed close links with the radical rationalists' in London, and joined the agitation against the banning of Havelock Ellis book Psychology of Sex (1897) on the charges of obscenity. He also supported the cause of Boers in the Boer War in South Africa (1899-1902). He contributed liberally to such causes. In 1903, Herbert Spencer, his idol, died. Shyamji attended his funeral and after the orations Shyamji stood up and announced a donation of one thousand pounds to Oxford for establishing a chair in memory of Herbert Spencer. The proposal was accepted.
In 1904, Shyamji announced his scheme of fellowships of Rs. 2000 each for enabling Indian students to pursue their studies in England or other foreign countries. The only condition was that on completion they shall not serve the British government in any capacity after their return to India. Moral condemnation of the British rule and non-cooperation was implicit in the condition. The scheme was heralded by many nationalists including Tilak. Many aspiring students availed of this bounty, the more prominent being V.D. Savarkar, Senapati Bapat, and Madhavrao Jadhav; B.C. Pal accepted a lectureship under the scheme.
The year 1905 was the most momentous in the life of Shyamji in England. In January 1905, he started publication of the Indian Sociologist – an organ of freedom and political, social and religious reform. It declared as its motto, Resistance to aggression is not simply justifiable but imperative, obviously borrowed from Spencer. The prodigy in Sanskrit proved also to be a gifted journalist in the English language. Soon the Indian Sociologist took the pride of place in expressing the Indian point of view and proved to be a rallying point for freedom fighters in self-exile. Gandhi took note of it and wrote: “It (The Indian Sociologist) is edited by Pandit Shyamji Krishnaverma, M.A. (Oxon, sometime lecturer at Oxford, and is published in London. It is a journal fearlessly edited, and the editor is imbued with the teachings of the late Herbert Spencer. The journal is evidently intended to model Indian opinion in accordance with Spencer’s teachings. The Pandit is an Indian scholar of distinction, and has a fair amount of capital at his command
Shyamji’s following increased with the publication of the Indian Sociologist. The need for an association to coordinate the efforts of individuals was felt. Thus was born on 18 February, 1905 the Indian Home Rule Society' modelled on the Irish Home Rule League. The main object of the society was to secure Home Rule for India. The society was to carry on propaganda towards that end and to educate people about the advantages of freedom. Shyamji was appointed president and ICA Mukherjee as secretary. The society made good progress and within a year the number of active members crossed the hundred marks. In 1916, both Tilak and Annie Besant also launched two Home Rule Leagues independently. But these had no connection with the Home Rule Society established by Shyamji and his friends.
On 1 July 1905, Shyamji bought a house at High gate, Hampstead, London in the center of the city. He named it ‘India House’ where Indian students studying in London or passing through the city, could stay by paying nominal charges for board and lodging. It had twenty-five rooms and a conference hall, library and reading room. During the opening ceremony many prominent Indians including Dadabhai Naoroji, Lala Lajpat Rai, Madam Cama, along with some British liberals were present. In a speech Hyndman (Social Democratic Federation) said, “The institution of ‘India House’ means a great step in the direction of Indian growth and Indian emancipation and some of those who are here this afternoon may witness the first fruit of its triumphant success”. The India House became a safe abode for revolutionaries like Savarkar, Madan Lal Dhingra and others. For other Indians it was a meeting place where they could hold cultural functions and celebrate religious festivals.
In October 1906, Gandhi came to London as part of a delegation from South Africa. He met Shyamji and had several meetings with him discussing Indian problems. ‘Our conversation went on till one in the morning’, Gandhi wrote later. Gandhi found his discussions with Shyamji so engaging that he even cancelled his other engagements. Gandhi was specially fascinated by an article in the October issue of the Indian Sociologist by Shyamji in which he had argued that the Indian government could be brought to a standstill by peaceful passive resistance movement by the Indian people to win freedom as there were no Britishers serving as policemen, postmen, clerks, drivers etc. in the country. The British were ruling India with the cooperation of Indians. If the Indians ‘non-cooperate’ on a massive scale the British will be left with no option but to quit India. It is not very unlikely that Gandhi got the idea of the non- cooperation movement (which he started in 1920) from these discussions with Shyamji.
The Indian Sociologist wrote extensively on the developments in Indian politics denouncing the moderates' like Gokhale and Dadabhai Naoroji and supporting the extremist wing in the Congress led by Tilak. His attack on the government as well as Anglo-Indians like Hume, who had been controlling the Congress, was being increasingly severe. He was now advocating armed struggle for freeing the country from foreign rule. By then, India House had become notorious as a center of seditious activities. In 1907, a question was raised in the House of Commons enquiring whether the government proposed to take any action against Shyamji Krishna Varma. Though no action was taken, Shyamji thought it prudent to leave England and settle in Paris. Revolutionaries like Savarkar, Madam Cama, Dhingra and others continued to plan revolutionary activities from the India House; Savarkar had emerged as the leader of the group.
In July 1909, Madan Lal Dhingra, an engineering student in London, shot dead Curzon Wyllie, political ADC of secretary of state for India. He was sentenced to death and faced the gallows on 17 August 1909. The revolutionaries were expecting support from Shyamji in the columns of the Indian Sociologist. On the other hand, Shyamji condemned Dhingra’s act unequivocally saying that he believed that political assassinations, though quite justified in India, were worthy of utmost condemnation when perpetrated in England or any other country. He repeatedly declared that he had no hand in the assassination of Wyllie. Actually the British secret police was after Shyamji, the founder of India House and were seeking his extradition from France. Revolutionaries started feeling that Shyamji was a coward and to save his skin he had become a turncoat. He was accused as a renegade. Though he tried to make up by declaring that he was granting four scholarships in the name of Madan Lal Dhingra, the damage was done. He could never earn the same respect which was bestowed on him by the revolutionaries before 1909. By that time Madam Cama and Sardar Singh Rana had also moved to Paris as the heat was also on them in London. They started a truly revolutionary paper, Bande Matram in September 1909. Hardayal was made its editor. A similar paper Talwar was started by Virendra Nath Chattopadhayaya, brother of Sarojini Naidu, from Berlin. The Indian sociologist was eclipsed and with it Shyamji. Till then the Indian Sociologist was being printed in London. But as the two printers, both White, were imprisoned on charges of sedition, Shyamji got its printing done in Paris itself. With the arrest and deportation of V.D. Savarkar in 1910, the revolutionary activities in London came to an end; Paris and Berlin became their new abode. Shyamji sold his property in London, never to return to that country or to India again. He was then fifty-three and the best and most glorious period of his life was behind him. He was still a wealthy man and had the company of his talented and dependable companion in his wife Bhanumati.
In 1914, started the European War and Britain and France joined hands to face the Germans. France was no longer a safe haven for the revolutionaries. Shyamji shifted to Geneva, Switzerland, which was a neutral country. He had given a pledge to the Swiss government of political inaction while in that country. As a result, the publication of the Indian Sociologist was suspended during the War. Incidentally, Madam Cama did not leave Paris and was sentenced to three years imprisonment by the French government. The War ended with the victory of Britain and France and the Indian revolutionaries lost their support not only in France but also in Germany. Shyamji decided to stay on in Geneva.
He kept in close touch with the movements in India and continued his programme of offering lectureships and scholarships to Indian students to study in foreign lands. On the death of Tilak in 1920, he donated ten thousand rupees for the purpose. He had resumed publication of the Indian sociologist but the fire had gone from it. The September 1922 issue of the journal was to be the last issue in which Shyamji announced his retirement from active politics whatever had remained of it. After the cessation of the Indian Sociologist, Shyamji’s activity was confined to casual correspondence and still more casual meetings with Indian and foreign friends while living in Geneva.
Nehru, (who had gone to Europe in 1926-27 for the treatment of his wife Kamala who was suffering from tuberculosis) met Shyamji and his wife in their flat in Geneva and found the couple in a pathetic condition. Nehru later wrote something which deserves being quoted in Full. Shyamji Krishnaverma was living with his ailing wife high up on the top floor of a house in Geneva. The aged couple lived by themselves with no whole-time servants, and their rooms were musty and suffocating, and everything had a thick layer of dust. Shyamji had plenty of money, but he did not believe in spending it. He was suspicious of all comers, presuming them, until the contrary was proved, to be either British agents or after his money. His pockets bulged with ancient copies of his old paper, the Indian Sociologist, and he would pull them out and point with some excitement to some article he had written a dozen years previously His talk was of the old days, of India House at Hampstead, of the various persons that the British Government had sent to spy on him, and how he had spotted them and outwitted them. The walls of his rooms were covered with shelves full of old books, dust-laden and neglected, looking down sorrowfully on the intruder. Over the whole place there hung an atmosphere of decay; life seemed to be an unwelcome stranger there, and, as one walked through the dark and silent corridors, one almost expected to come across, round the corner, the shadow of death. With relief one came out of that flat and breathed the air outside."
One could not live in that gloomy atmosphere for long. Shyamji died on 31 March 1930. Shiv Prasad Gupta, editor of Hindi daily Aaj, Varanasi was the last Indian to see him. Bhanumati now had a problem at her hand: what to do with all the money they had and the books they had collected. She donated ten thousand Swiss francs to the Geneva University, and an equal amount to a hospital in Geneva. The books were presented to Institute de Civilization Indianans, Sorbonne University. Finally, she made a trust for awarding scholarships to deserving Indian students for pursuing higher studies in the University of Sorbonne for which she left nearly two million French francs. After getting rid of her money, she died in peace at Geneva on 22 August 1933. The couple had been cremated in a cemetery near Geneva. There the remains of the forgotten couple lay. Suddenly in 2003 the nation remembered they and the Gujarat government brought their remains to India and a suitable memorial is planned for Shyamji Krishna Varma, the forgotten hero of the freedom movement.

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