Remembering Veer Savarkar
by Dr. Jyotsna Kamat
First Online: August 03, 2000
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.
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 language, 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 1857"
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
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 Marseilles. (1910)
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.
Savarkar is 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 1962.... 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
See also at Kamat's Potpourri:
|Kamat's Potpourri Timeless Theater Biographies|
Merchandise and Link Suggestions