Remembering Freedom fighters – Vinayak Damodar Savarkar

published on February 25, 2011
V.N. Gopalakrishnan

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar popularly known as Swatantryaveer Savarkar was a fearless freedom fighter, Hindu nationalist, social reformer, great orator, prolific writer, historian and philosopher. His thoughts touched upon practically every aspects of nation-building. He was a victim of hatred and misinformation and hence his thoughts and achievements in many spheres are largely unknown outside Maharashtra.

Savarkar was the first political leader who set Absolute Political Independence as India’s goal and was the first to organize a revolutionary movement for independence on an international level. He was the only Indian leader whose arrest in London caused legal difficulties for the British Courts. He was also the first Indian historian whose book titled Indian War of Independence 1857 was proscribed by British authorities in India before its publication. The book inspired revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh and Subash Chandra Bose. He was the first political prisoner whose daring escape and arrest on French soil became a cause celebre in the International Court of Justice at The Hague.

Savarkar composed his first poem ‘Swadeshicha phatka’ at the tender age of eleven. At the age of 16, he formed a secret Patriots’ Group to fight the British. He was the first poet in the world who, deprived of pen and paper, composed his poems and then wrote them on the prison walls with thorns and nails. He memorized thousand lines of his poetry and later transmitted them to the outside world through his fellow-prisoners. Besides composing poetry in conventional meters, he introduced new meters called vainayak and also composed blank verses. He was the first to compose powadas (ballads) using modern imagery and in his efforts to purify Marathi language, he has introduced many new words. He wrote two novels Kaalepani and Malaa kaay tyache; three plays Usshaap, Sanyastakhadga and Uttarkriya; and three books on history The First Indian War of Independence-1857, Hindupadpaadshaahi and Six Glorious Epochs. Though he wrote the History of the Sikhs, it is not is available now.

Savarkar was the first Indian leader who successfully started a Ganeshotsava open to all Hindus including ex-untouchables. He commenced the inter-dining ceremonies of all Hindus and opened Patitpavan Mandir as well as a cafe to all Hindus. He was the first political prisoner in the world who was sentenced to Transportation for Life twice, a sentence unparalleled in the history of the British Empire. He was also the first leader to embrace death voluntarily through Atma Samarpan in the highest yogic tradition.

Vinayak was born to Damodarpant Savarkar and Radhabai in Bhagpur village near Nasik on May 28, 1883 into a family of jagirdars (landlords). When Vinayak was nine years old, his mother died of cholera and Damodarpant himself looked after his four children. He later joined Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s Swaraj Party. He lost his father during the 1899 plague. In March 1901, he married Yamunabai, daughter of Ramchandra Triambak Chiplunkar. After marriage, he joined Fergusson College in Pune in 1902 to study further. As a student, Vinayak was involved in the Swadeshi movement. When in college, he instigated his fellowmen to boycott British goods and in 1905 he organised a bonfire of clothes made in England. In June 1906, he received a scholarship and left for London to study law. In London, he stayed at the India House established by Pandit Shyamji, a patriot and social reformer. When in London, he founded the Free India Society which celebrated major Indian festivals and landmarks of the freedom movement. He also vowed not to take up service under the British Government and never to accept payment from them. He was the first Indian law student who was not called to the English Bar despite having passed his examination and observed the necessary formalities.

In 1909, Madanlal Dhingra, an ardent follower of Savarkar shot Sir Wyllie after a failed assassination attempt on Lord Curzon, the then Viceroy. When A.M.T. Jackson, the then British Collector of Nasik, was shot by a youth, Savarkar fell under the net of the British authorities and was implicated in the murder citing his connections with India House. He was jailed and later extradited from England. On the way back to India, he made a heroic attempt to escape when the ship halted at Marseilles. He was recaptured in Paris on March 13, 1910 and brought to Mumbai and imprisoned at the Yervada jail. He was tried and sentenced to 50 years of imprisonment at the age of 27! On July 4, 1911, he was exiled to the Cellular Jail in the Andamans. There he was successful in getting permission to start a jail library and with patience and perseverance, he taught the illiterate convicts to read and write.

In 1920, many prominent freedom fighters including Vithalbhai Patel, Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak demanded the release of Savarkar in the Central Legislative Assembly. On May 2, 1921, he was shifted to Ratnagiri jail, and later to Yeravada jail. It was in Ratnagiri jail that he wrote the book titled Hindutva which deals with the Hindu nationalistic approach to the idea of the Indian nation and Hinduism. In January 6, 1924 he was released under stringent restrictions on his travel and activities.

On his release, Savarkar founded the Ratnagiri Hindu Sabha on January 23, 1924 which was aimed at preserving India’s cultural legacy and work for social welfare. He later accepted the presidency of the Hindu Mahasabha, and served for seven consecutive years. The Hindu Mahasabha, under his presidency, did not support the Quit India movement launched by Mahatma Gandhi in August 1942. Through the Sabha, he worked hard to protect minority rights. During the celebration of Hindu festivals, Savarkar visited Muslim and Christian homes to promote goodwill. He also encouraged inter-caste marriages and assisted Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in his efforts to liberate the ‘untouchables’. He visited slums and engaged in social service. He called for a purification of Marathi and Hindi from Urdu influence and appealed for a wider use of Hindi. He suggested reforms to the Devanagiri script to make it easy for printing.

Savarkar’s patriotic spirit found an outlet through an organization called the Mitra Mela which he formed. It served the city of Nasik in many ways, especially during the plague when the group carried victims for cremation. Later, he renamed Mitra Mela as Abhinav Bharat. He strived for pan-Hindu nation that would engulf Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs, and converts from Hinduism back into its fold. He wanted to establish a Hindu Raj and bring within its boundaries Afganistan as well. He died on February 26, 1966. While many regard Savarkar as one of the greatest revolutionaries in the Indian freedom struggle, others consider him a communalist but he will be remembered as a fearless patriot.

(Author is a freelance journalist and a social activist. He can be contacted on [email protected]).

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