Maharashtra has been the land of warriors, saints and revolutionaries who fought for the freedom of Bharat Mata from foreign yoke, be it Islamic invaders like the Mughals or Christian Imperialists like the British. One such revolutionary son of the soil who has often been treated unfairly by history and political circles alike is Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, better known as Veer Savarkar.
Vinayak (fondly called Tatya) Damodar Savarkar was born to Shrimati Radha and Shri Damodar Savarkar on 28th May 1883 in Nashik District’s Bhagur. Ganesh (Babarao) was his elder brother and Narayan (Bal) his younger one and he had a younger sister named Maina. Savarkar lost his mother in 1892, when he was just 9 years old, to a bout of diarrhea and high fever. They moved to a new house as his father couldn’t bear to live in the one which held fond memories of his beloved wife. His father took on the role of being a mother as well till Ganesh got married to Yashoda. Yashoda, known as Yesu Vahini (sister-in-law) had a very special place in Savarkar’s life and upbringing. Savarkar describes her as his best friend, sister, mother and a confidante. It is important to mention here that it was she sacrificed all her gold ornaments to sponsor Vinayak’s education.
Vinayak was a mischievous yet bright student who was an avid reader and adept at writing poetry from a very young age. He was an equally good literary writer if not better. He was an historian par excellence who produced several historical studies. He was also a polyglot (one who knows many languages) with proficiency in Marathi, Sanskrit, Hindi, English, Urdu, Gurmukhi and Bengali. His writings include biographies, poems, plays, political and economic statements and social commentary.
Ordeal in Cellular Jail
Andaman was used a penal colony by the British after the 1857 uprising mainly due to its geography which made it a natural prison. Summer and monsoon were the only two seasons here with heavy rains hitting the islands all through the year. The flora and fauna were plentiful and quite a few of them deadly as well. The risk of contracting malaria was high due to the abundance of mosquitoes and flies and prisoners working in the jungle had to face blood sucking leeches, snakes and scorpions. Marshland surrounded by sea, oppressive heat and humidity and presence of cannibalistic aboriginal tribes closed all escape routes for the convicts. Add terrible pain inflicted on inmates along with inhumanity of jailors and British administration to the hostile environment and it becomes clear why Kala Pani was the most terrible punishment inflicted on Bharatiya revolutionaries. In other words, Kala Pani was simply another name for a living hell where inmates faced trials and tribulations which were unheard of and one which was worse than death penalty.
The severe punishments reserved for political prisoners included picking oakum, working the oil mill, pulling carriages carrying British officers through the difficult Andaman terrain, digging mud, moving buckets of mud, sweeping the streets and coconuts which got problematic due to the heat humidity and attack of leeches which left the prisoners bleeding all over the body and finally they were fed watery soup for days along with doses of quinine which made them dizzy and induced terrible pain. The British were cruel beyond imagination and subjected the prisoners to regular physical torture and flogging. They were kept bound in chains and fetters and were kept locked with cross bars and rods between their feet. Because Savarkar began to fight back, he was handed most of the punishments; he was subjected to solitary confinement, never allowed to work outside of the jail, did not get pen and pencil to write, was never given relief from hard labour and rigorous work and suffered continuous harassment both physical and mental.
Any lesser man would’ve broken, given up, be driven to madness and simply committed suicide. However, Veer Savarkar was made of stronger stuff he endured every torture and kept it sanity by scribbling poems using stones and memorized them which he reproduced later with photographic memory. He endured the entire ordeal for about a decade from 4th July 1911 to 2nd May 1921 when he was moved to a prison in Ratnagiri. Compare his jail terms and the tortured he endured to the relative luxury in which Gandhi and Nehru spent their prison terms and we’ll know why Savarkar deserves more respect and space in our lives and history texts. We have merely scratched the surface as far as this chapter of his life goes which requires a detail retelling of his ordeals and how he survived it. But that’s a story for another day!
Social reform activities and Hindutva ideology
Having spent 14 years in various prisons including the Cellular Jail, he was set free on the condition that he would not indulge in politics and remain confined to Ratnagiri. He dedicated himself to the cause of ‘uniting Hindus’ and working for the Hindu cause as he was of the opinion that Congress was sacrificing Hindu interests for minority support. He began the Shuddhi Movement to re-convert ex-Hindus and rehabilitate them. Both the Congress and several Muslim leaders were unhappy with the Shuddhi movement. In his interaction (reproduced below) with Muslim leader Shaukat Ali, Savarkar said “if Muslims are allowed to organize and convert Hindus then Hindus should have the same rights”.
In his novel Mala kai Tyache (The Revolt of Moplahs) he highlighted the atrocities suffered by Hindus in Kerala which was ignored by the Congress leaders and dismissed as class struggle by Marxists. Savarkar was of the view that it was largely a religious attack on Hindus and a sign of things to come. How visionary!!!
The three qualities of Hindus as defined by Savarkar were anyone who considers Bharat as their fatherland, shares a common bond of blood/race and Bharat is their holy land (Punyabhoomi). His definition of Hindutva included all religions that originated in Bharat such as Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism and all variants of Vedic traditions and at the same time it excludes all religions whose holy lands are outside Bharat i.e. Christianity, Islam and Judaism.
Neither his thoughts nor his concepts nor the man himself can be confined to an article. We have merely attempted to give readers a glimpse of selected aspects of the life of this great son of the soil who gave his all in the service of Bharat Mata. On his birth anniversary today we bow down before this true son of Bharat Mata who has lit the flame of patriotism and Hindutva and hope that we may be able to absorb his writing and thoughts so as to keep the flame burning.
- Braveheart Savarkar – Ashutosh Deskhmukh
- Veer Savarkar – Dhananjay Kheer
- Penal Settlement in Andamans – RC Majumdar
- Hindu Rashtra Darshan -VD Savarkar
(Featured Image Source: Dainik Jagran)
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