Prime Minister Narendra Modi paying tribute to Veer Savarkar at the cell in the Andamans where he was imprisoned
Veer Savarkar was an epitome of sacrifice, but still, he is a misunderstood legacy. On the eve of his birth anniversary, let’s hope that he and his family get their due honour
In 1897-98, martyrdoms of the three Chaphekar brothers and Ranade fuelled the fire of patriotism in the heart of Savarkar, and he took an oath of freedom before the idol of his family deity, Ashta-Bhuja Devi (eight-handed Goddess).
He formed revolutionary organisations like Mitra Mela, Abhinav Bharat and Free India Society to achieve the goal of complete independence. In 1905, Savarkar organised the first-ever public bonfire of foreign clothes in Pune. He translated works of Italy’s Joseph Mazzini and wrote an inspiring preface to that book. He also wrote a book ‘Indian War of Independence of 1857’ which is known as Bhagavad Gita of Indian revolutionaries that inspired generations of revolutionaries like Netaji Subhashchandra Bose, Bhagat Singh and the Gadar Revolutionary movement of 1914-15. Both books were proscribed by the British authorities in India even before its publication. He was the first Indian law student who was not called to the English Bar despite having passed his examination (1909). He the first graduate whose degree was withdrawn by an Indian University (1911) due to his involvement in India’s freedom struggle.
Savarkar brothers, i.e. elder brother Ganesh alias Babarao and younger brother Narayanrao alias Bal Savarkar also took an active part in freedom struggle like Chaphekar brothers. Babarao handled all activities when Veer Savarkar went to London for pursuing Barrister study. Narayanrao also took part in activities of Mitra Mela and was an active member of Congress, RSS and later Hindu Mahasabha.
Babarao was sentenced to Transportation for Life before Veer Savarkar for publishing anti-British poem- ‘Ranavin Swatyatra Kona Milale’ (Who gets freedom without battlefield), Narayanrao was in jail for anti-British activity, Veer Savarkar son Prabhakar died due to illness and all ancestral properties were forfeited by British government. So Babarao’s wife Yesuvahini and Veer Savarkar’s wife Yamuna alias Mae Savarkar had to leave their home. No one- Neighbours or relatives- helped them due to the fear of British displeasure. During such difficult times, Madam Cama provided them with financial help from Europe. In spite of such calamity, both Savarkar women continued to be the soulmates of those patriots. They continued their patriotic work and Swadeshi campaigning through ‘Aatma-nishtha Yuvati Samaj’ (Self-loyal Youth Society).
In 1911, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was sentenced to Transportation for Life, twice, to the Andaman Islands; the sentences were to be served in succession. Savarkar’s personal property and possessions, including his spectacles, were confiscated. The British authorities forced the King of Jawhar to sack Chiplunkar (Savarkar’s father-in-law and Dewan of Jawhar principality in Thane district) and expel him from Jawhar state overnight.
Transportation to the Andaman Islands did not mean 50 years of imprisonment in actual jail. According to rules, regulations, customs and practice of the British Administration, prisoners were allowed to work outside the prison after a few years (usually 3 to 5), allowed to settle on the island and call their families from India. Savarkar and his elder brother Babarao were denied this even after serving 11 years.
The badge around his neck had the letter ‘D’ which indicates the most dangerous prisoner. They were also forced to do hard physical labour all the time. Savarkar has to suffer six months solitary confinement, yoked to the oil-mill, eight days standing handcuffed (June 8, 1914), ten days crossbar fetters and shackled to chains for four months (June 16, 1914) when absolutely refusing to work. Savarkar faced such severe punishments at least 20-22 times. No proper medical aid provided to him. Half-baked chapati or water and rice were the only food given to him, which had a severe effect on his digestion system and intestine. In March 1917, his weight was 119 pounds, but by 1918 it dropped to 98 pounds. During this time that he had written a heart-rending sentence to his younger brother, “This mortal body is wasting day by day”.
But in spite of such maltreatment, his spirit was never broken. On the ontrary, he displayed rare courage. He taught the illiterate, among them were Muslim fellow prisoners, to read and write. In the absence of resources, Savarkar wrote more than 5000 lines of sublime poetry known as “Kamala” on the prison walls and memorised them. This is a unique example in the annals of world literature.
Even though he was promoted to Class II in the Jail on November 2, 1916, he was neither allowed to speak with his brother nor did he get any reprieve or concession from any physical task. As per rules, prisoners were allowed to meet relatives after five years. However, Savarkar met his wife after eight years on May 30, 1919. At that time, the jail authorities did not allow the trunk containing his favourite food items and kerchiefs inside and forfeited it.
Compared to other revolutionaries, the British treated Savarkar maliciously. Hem Chandra Das and Barindra Kumar Ghosh, accused in the Alipore bomb case, were brought to the Andamans in 1908. The British pardoned and released them in 1920. Sachindra Nath Sanyal who was accused in the Lahore conspiracy case, was also released, but not Savarkar.
Savarkar wasn’t released from Andaman, he was only shifted from Andaman jail to other jail. Initially eight days in Kolkata’s (then Calcutta) Alipur jail, then Mumbai and then Ratnagiri. In December 1923, he shifted to Pune’s Yerwada jail from where he released on January 6, 1924, conditionally and intern in Ratnagiri on conditions that he will not take part in politics and can’t go outside Ratnagiri district without British government permission.
Savarkar took the lead of social reform movement and fought for breaking seven social shackles like
* Restrictions on touch (Sparshabandi) of certain castes.
* Restrictions on inter-dining. (Rotibandi)
* Restrictions on inter-marriages (Betibandi)
* Restrictions on pursuing certain occupations (Vyavasayabandi)
* Restrictions on crossing the sea (Sindhubandi)
* Restrictions on rites sanctioned by the Vedas (Vedoktabandi)
* Restrictions on re-conversion (Shuddhibandi)
Savarkar advocated that rationalism and scientific temper should be the basis on which nation should be built instead of any religious text. He applies ‘National Interest’ and ‘Human Interest’ as two criteria for judging anything as being good or bad. As a result, he had to face the hostility of society as well as the Government. In Ratnagiri, his house was searched by the police several times. He had to work with very meagre financial resources. Savarkar brothers and their wives also took an active part in the social reform movement.
Savarkar’s book ‘Hindutva’ (1923) and his other seminal writings on Hindutva may be described as the intellectual bedrock of the present Hindutva movement. He was criticised due to the omission of especially Muslims and Christians from the term ‘Hindu’, so his critics consider that Savarkar was denying citizenship rights to these minorities. But the critics forget that it’s only a definition of ‘Who is Hindu?’ and not citizenship or patriotism. Savarkar never asked for special rights or privileges for the Hindus. Savarkar stood for equal rights for all but opposition accused him as communal and narrow-minded because he was fighting for legitimate rights of Hindus. Savarkar did not want Hindus to be crippled politically, socially, religiously in order to satisfy the hunger of Muslim communalism at that time (same is quoted in Home Department confidential report, File no.60-D (h)- F169/257- 120148-6- S-259-27-259)
Savarkar was the first political leader who daringly set absolute political Independence as India’s goal. He fought vigorously for Akhand Bharat, but it’s very unfortunate that critics accused Savarkar of professing two nation theory before Jinnah. Actually, Savarkar was in that 19th session of the Hindu Mahasabha at Karnavati (Ahmedabad) in 1937 stating the fact exist at that time, but he never advocated it. When you accept fact then only you can find the solution; because for example- if a patient never accepts that he is infected by cancer, then how can any doctor can be able to cure him? So Savarkar was saying that no one turned a blind eye to this reality. Stating the fact doesn’t mean to accept Pakistan. Their huge difference between stating that fact and advocating it.
Savarkar was arrested and charged with conspiracy to assassin Mahatma Gandhi. He was a critic of Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violence and Muslim appeasement policy, but it was political criticism, not personal. He didn’t have any hatred in mind about Gandhi. He always referred to him respectfully as ‘Mahatmaji’. Even in his revolutionary days, Savarkar disapproved of wanton violence. He always opposed the assassination of political opponents holding a different viewpoint, irrespective of their country or religion.
Thoughts on Hitler & Jews
Savarkar opponents often spread a misconception that he was Nazi-Hitler sympathiser and advocated holocaust. It is rather saddening tp see that how a person who has Jewish friend (Sir William Rothenstein- British friend who was sympathiser of India’s freedom struggle and helped David Garnett for writing letters in support of Savakar and raising funds to resist the extradition of Savarkar), supported Zionism, congratulated formation of Israel and admired Indian Jews’ loyalty towards India could be accused of anti-Jewish or advocacy of holocaust!
Not only Savarkar but also his family sacrificed and suffered a lot. All they did only for our nation and humanity. Savarkar can’t tolerate injustice whether it was done by British on Indian or upper cast on ex-untouchables or minority on majority; he revolted against this injustice and fought for India, ex-untouchables and Hindu respectively. Savarkar fought for justice, but both the British and his fellow countrymen did injustice to him. On the eve of the birth anniversary of Veer Savarkar, let’s hope that Savarkar and his family will get their due honour. (The writer is a Pune-based author and columnist)