by Dr. Jyotsna
First Online: August 03, 2000
Page Last Updated: April 04, 2014
In the history of struggle for Indian independence, V.D. Savarkar's place
is unique. He had a firm belief that only a strong, armed revolt by Indians would liberate
India from British. An extraordinary Hindu scholar (he is one who coined Indian words for
telephone, photography, the parliament, among others), a recklessly brave
revolutionary (tried to swim a sea and escape when captured by the enemy) and fiercely
patriotic leader, he uncovered the truth about Sepoy Mutiny. His
disagreements with Gandhi's non-violent methods and Pakistan pleasing
efforts appealed to a large number of Hindus who were wronged by Pakistanis and led to the
assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by Nathuram Godse.
Vinayak D. Savarkar (1883-1966)
Scholar, Leader, Mahä-Patriot
Veer Savarkar, as he is known among his followers,
urged to build a
militarily strong India.
Savarkar could be called a born rebel. He organized a gang of kids ,Vanarsena
(Monkey Brigade) when he was just eleven. A fearless individual,
he wanted everybody around him to become physically strong and able to face
any disasters-- natural or man-made. He conducted long tours, hiking,
swimming and mountaineering around Nasik, his birthplace in Maharashtra.
During his high school days, he used to organize Shivaji
Utsav and Ganesh Utsav, started by Tilak
(whom Savarkar considered as his Guru) and used these occasions to put up
plays on nationalistic themes. He started writing poems, essays, plays,
etc. to inspire people, which he had developed as a passion.
Later he went to Pune for college education and founded the "Abhinav
Bharat Society". As a serious student of nationalism he found bigger venue now;
with growing youngsters, he bloomed as a leader as well. All political
activities were banned by the ruling British then and he had to undertake
all transactions, communications in secret and was expelled from hostel
and at one point from the college as well. But since he managed to get the
prestigious Shivaji scholarship (named after Shivaji) to study law at London, the college
authorities had to make way for his scholastic journey!
Savarkar greatly nurtured the idea of bringing out an authentic
informative researched work on The Great Indian Revolt,
which the British termed as "Sepoy Mutiny" of 1857. Since India
Office Library was the only place which contained all records and
documents, he was determined to undertake a detailed study, but was
cautious enough not to make his intentions known. Hence after landing in
London, he wrote a biography of Gieuseppe Mazzini, the great revolutionary
and leader of modern Italy who inspired his countrymen to overthrow
the Austrian Empire's yoke (Holy Roman Empire). Written in Marathi
the manuscript was smuggled out with great care which was
published by his brother Baba. The book created a wave. 2000 copies sold
out secretly, read and reread. By British estimate, each copy was read by
at least 30 people. Some could reproduce page after page in their voice!
His brother however was imprisoned for printing the book.
At London, Savarkar undertook the task, his mission in life, to create
awareness regarding the first Armed National Revolt in India in 1857.
Through friends, he could get access to all much-needed first hand
information regarding men, this earlier countrywide effort, was a sincere
one on the part of the leaders, princes, soldiers and commoners to drive
away the British, (though grossly misrepresented by British historians.)
It was the first national effort towards getting political independence
and rightly called his book "The Indian War of Independence
He wrote in Marathi and could not get it printed in Europe. Though the
manuscript found its way to India, due to British vigilance, all printing
presses were raided and in the nick of time, the manuscript had to be
taken out due to a friendly police officer's information before seizure.
It went back to Europe and got unfortunately got lost.
But the English version became a necessity. Savarkar was helped in this
venture by the other revolutionaries who had come to study Law and Civil
Service. But printing it in Britain was out of question, so also in
France, as British and French spies were working together to face the
imperial Germany which was becoming a great threat. Ultimately the book
was published in Holland by Madam Cama without a
cover or name. The cover pages of popular classics like "Don
Quixote", "Oliver Twist", etc. were used for the book and
successfully smuggled to India. One box with false bottom was used to take
books at great risk by a Muslim friend who later became Chief Minister of
Punjab! The book reached the right people through secret sympathizers in
Ireland, France, Russia, U.S.A., Egypt, Germany and Brazil as well.
While in London, Savarkar organized festivals like Rakshabandhan
and Guru Gobind Singh Jayanti and tried to create awareness among Indian
students that it was banned. The slogan Savarkar coined for Indian
festivals became a unifying factor.
"One Country. One God
One Caste, One Mind
Brothers all of us
It was during this period that Savarkar helped design the first Indian
National Flag, which Madam Bhikaji Cama unfurled at the World
Socialist Conference at Stuttgart, Germany.
The Scotland Yard Police noose was tightening on Savarkar.
Revolutionary activities in London, Mumbai, Pune, Nasik were traced to his
guidance! His speeches, articles, smelt sedition, his friends were traced
as those learning the preparation of bombs and transporting arms (pistols)
illegally. Finally he was arrested and ordered to be sent back to India.
In India, punishments were very harsh, tortuous and the greatest crime of
the land was that of sedition which could easily send one to the gallows.
He was sent on a ship "Morena" which was to halt briefly at
Swimming the Ocean
Savarkar and his friends then attempted a brave escape which has since
become legendary. Savarakar was to jump from a sailing ship, swim
the sea waters and his friends were supposed to pick him there and lead to
freedom. Savarkar was under a strict watch. There was no way out. With
constable waiting outside, he entered the toilet, broke the window,
wriggled out somehow, and jumped into the ocean to swim his way to
Marseilles port. Alas! The rescue party was late by a few minutes and the
French Police on guard returned the prisoner to British cops, now chained
and stricter watch.
After a formal trial, Savarkar was charged with serious offences of
illegal transportation of weapons, provocative speeches and sedition and
was sentenced to 50 years' of jail and deported to the Blackwaters (kalapani)
at Andaman cellular jail.
Conditions in jail were inhuman: back-breaking job of stone breaking,
rope making, and milling. For the last prisoners had to grind the copra in
the mill, tied like oxen. Each had to take out 30 pounds of oil everyday.
Some died of sheer exhaustion and inhuman treatment of beating and
whipping. Bad food, unsanitary conditions, stone bed and cold weather in
winter used to take their toll.
Talented Mr. Savarkar
Since political prisoners were treated like hardened criminals, they
had no access to "luxury" like pen and paper. The poet in
Savarkar was restless and uneasy. Finally he found a nail and wrote
(itched) his epic "Kamala" consisting thousands of lines on the
plastered mud wall of his cell in the darkness. A Hindi journalist friend
who was taught Marathi by Savarkar came to his cell when Savarkar was
removed all of a sudden to another remote cell. The friend learnt the
entire poem by heart and later when he was released, put it on paper and
sent it to Savarkar's relatives.
After spending 16 years in Andamans, Savarkar was transferred to the
Ratnagiri jail and then kept under a house arrest. He was reunited
with his wife. (He had married before leaving for England and it was a
long separation). A daughter and later a son were born.
Books, poems, and articles came out. But now he was known for his book
on 1857 (War of Independence) throughout the world. Two generations of
Indians were influenced by his magnum opus. The second edition was printed
in the U.S.A. by Savarkar's revolutionary friends. Third edition was
brought out by Bhagat Singh and its Punjabi and
Urdu translations followed and were widely read in India and far east.
Even in the Indian National Army of Subhash Chandra
Bose, Tamil translation of this work was read out like a Bible by the
South Indian soldiers in Singapore, though nobody knows till the day, who
translated it in Tamil.
Savarkar stood by what he wrote till the last and never compromised
with "adjustments," "reforms" and peaceful solution
which according to him meant nothing! As a great scholar full of
originality and independent standing, he coined several new technical
terms of parliamentary usage and of Indian parlance such as chhayachitra
(photography), Sansad (Senate), Vyangyachitra (Cartoons) etc.
He earnestly believed that Indian Independence was a reality not
because of a few individuals, leaders or sections of society. It was
possible because of the participation of a commoner who prayed to his
family deity everyday. But the youngsters who went to gallows to see their
motherland free, were the greatest ("Veeradhiveers") he said.
Savarkar passed away in 1966, after coming under controversy of
the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by Nathuram Godse. The Hindu Mahasabha, an institution
Savarkar had helped grow, had opposed creation of Pakistan, and took exception
to Gandhi's continued Muslim appeasement stances. Nathuram Godse, a volunteer
of the Hindu Mahasabha, assassinated Gandhi in 1948 and upheld his actions till his hanging.
revered in India today as the "Brave Savarkar" (Veer Savarkar) , and on the same level
as Mahatma Gandhi, Subhas
Chandra Bose, and Tilak. The
intellectuals as well as commoners in India continue to debate what would have
happened if ideas of Savarkar were endorsed by the nation, especially after
freedom in 1947. A famous general is said to have quoted Savarkar after
the Indians conceded land to the Chinese in a military conflict in
Savarkar had advocated a militarily strong India.
* Savarkar's portrait from his Magnum Opus:
The Indian War of Independence
1857. Photographic retouch by K. L. Kamat