Date Written : May 28, 2005
Date Modified : May 28, 2005
In the history of struggle for Indian independence, Veer Vinayak Damodar Savarkar's place is unique. He had a firm belief that only a strong, armed revolt by Indians would liberate India from British. He was born on May 28, 1883 and during his school days organized a gang of kids ,Vanarsena (Monkey Brigade). A fearless individual, he wanted everybody around him to become physically strong and able to face any disasters-- natural or man-made.
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 to study law at London, the college authorities had to make way for his scholastic journey!
In Britain, Savarkar organised students and advocated an armed struggle to throw the British out of India. He also wrote his book on the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny, which he called India's First War of Independence, a terminology the Indian government accepted after Independence. Since there was no question of printing the book in Britain, it was printed in Holland and copies of it were smuggled into India.
The book was a huge success, giving Indians a strong sense of pride, providing a fresh perspective on a war that was till then merely seen as the outcome of disgruntled Indian soldiers in the service of the British. The second edition was published by Indians in the US while Bhagat Singh printed the third edition. Its translations were a big success: the Punjabi and Urdu translations traveled far and wide while the Tamil translation almost becoming mandatory reading for soldiers of Subhas Chandra Bose's Indian National Army -- a majority of who were Tamilians from Southeast Asia.
In Britain, he also created a network of like-minded individuals. Given his anti-British activities, the police soon came looking for him. He was arrested in London on March 13, 1910 and sent to India to face trial.
The ship "Morena" in which he was being taken to India berthed at Marseilles, France, on July 8, 1910. Savarkar wriggled out of the porthole and swam a great distance in the cold water to reach the shore. He had earlier told his friends, including Madame Bhikaji Cama, to meet him at Marseilles, but they arrived late and the British recaptured him. Since Savarkar did not speak French, he was unable to tell the local policeman that he was a refugee. Even though he could not escape, this story resonated across India. Savarkar became a national hero. He was tried, and on December 24, 1910, sentenced to 50 years in prison. On July 4, 1911, he was deported to the Blackwaters (kalapani) at Andaman cellular jail.
He was released on January 6, 1924 on the condition that he would not leave Ratnagiri district, which is not very far from Mumbai (then Bombay), till 1937. Savarkar agreed he would abstain from political activities to facilitate his release. He only made such promises to get out of prison, but remained committed to throwing the British out of India.
He became active in the Hindu Mahasabha, founded in 1915, which sought to protect the interests of Hindus. The Hindu Mahasabha, which differed radically from the Indian National Congress, attracted followers who were either opposed to Gandhi and the Congress, or believed in Hindutva.
Savarkar, who popularised the term 'First War of Independence', also coined the term Hindutva when he wrote an eponymous book. The book outlined the features of Hindutva, including its economic, social, and political aspects. He also wrote another book in English, Hindupadpadshahi, extolling the Maratha rule over India. He had developed and expounded the notion of one nation, one culture, bound by blood and race. In 1937, he became president of the Hindu Mahasabha, and remained in the post till 1943.
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.
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 a much higher level as so-called Mahatma Gandhi.