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A Story of the extraordinary Vinayak Damodar Savarkar

1897: India was oppressed under the British rule. India was suffering through bubonic Plague. This plague had entered India through rats in the ships which arrived at Indian coasts, from Singapore. Britishers used to practice inhumane methods to test the patients who were infected by this virus. Towns like Nashik and Pune suffered the most. Chapekar brothers from Pune decided to take action and assassinate the Commissioner of the Plague Committee- Walter Rand, and on 22 June,1897 they executed the plan.

At this time, a 14 years old kid from Marathi Chitpavan Brahmin family in Nashik took inspiration from the valor and sacrifice of Chapekar brothers. He took the oath in front of traditional deity of Savarkar family-the Ashtabhuja Bhavani Devi that, " देशाच्या स्वातंत्र्यासाठी सशस्त्र क्रांतीचा केतू उभारूनशत्रूस मारता मारता मरेतो झुंजेन " ("I shall establish a mountain of an armed revolution for the freedom of my country. And I will not die until I kill the last enemy of the land"). The kid was Vinayak Savarkar, who evolved under Lokmanya Tilak’s leadership in the Freedom struggle. Savarkar was the first one who started burning Holi of foreign cloths.

In his early 20's, he started a secret society called 'Mitra Mela' to discuss revolutionary ideas and to contribute towards freedom struggle. When this was formed, Vinayak was a student in the Fergusson College in Pune. Here, Savarkar used to unite his fellow mates by reciting poems, powadas and folk songs about the valor of the great heroes India has produced such as Shivaji Maharaj, Maharana Pratap, Baji Prabhu Deshpande, Madhavrao Peshwa etc. Mitra Mela further went ahead to become the ‘Abhinav Bharat Secret Society’. The society grew to include 100's of revolutionaries and political activists, with numerous branches across the country and even extending to London, when Savarkar went there to study law.

In London, Savarkar took inspiration from the books on French revolution and Joseph Mazzini’s books. Inspired by these revolutionary ideas Savarkar wrote a book on 1857, the First War of Indian Independence. The book got banned by the British but somehow it reached India, thanks to the members of the secret society. This book inspired many other freedom fighters including Bhagat Singh and Subhas Chandra Bose.

The society was a revolutionary movement,which fought for complete independence from the British Raj. These revolutionary thoughts of Savarkar and the society, led to the killing of Lord Curzon Wyllie in London, by Madanlal Dhingra, and the assassination of Collector Jackson at Nashik, by Anant Kanhere, both in 1909. Meanwhile, Khudiram Bose in Muzaffarpur had assassinated Kingsford with the first ever made-in-India bomb. Khudiram, Kanhere and Dhingra got arrested and were eventually sentenced to death. The British traced that the killings of their officers was the brainchild of Savarkar, who was in London. He was arrested there and was supposed to be brought back to India. When the ship reached Marseille, he decided to escape and jumped off into the sea.

SS Morea, the Ship from which Savarkar escaped

His friends- Madam Bhikaji Cama and Lala Hardayal Singh Mathur were to help him escape, but somehow got delayed. After an obvious chase by the British soldiers, Savarkar was recaptured on the French port.Things took new turns as this was a foreign land even for the British. The international media forums got hyped up about the case as it was the French Government versus the British Government in the International Courts. Ultimately, the courts favored the British and Savarkar was sentenced to 2 lifetime imprisonments at Kaalapani, Andaman,in 1911.

Savarkar was subjected to extreme torture and brutality in Andaman. He was put in solitary confinement, and had to lye amidst urine and faeces. The jailers used to tie Savarkar to a kolhu (oil mill) to churn oil (a machine where bullocks are supposed to do this hard labor). Even after doing such hard labor, Savarkar used to write Poems, articles, essays on the walls of the cell with the help of nails, spikes, thorns etc. Savarkar wrote a Mahakavya named Kamala on the walls and other books as well. He memorized everything he wrote. He rewrote it once he gotten out of the Cellular Jail after 11 years and published it when he was imprisoned in Ratnagiri.

During his incarceration in Ratnagiri, along with the struggle for freedom, Savarkar also played a role in reforming the society. He organised programs to distribute Janeus among Dalits and Backward caste people. He wanted to get the caste system abolished from Hinduism, and for all Hindus to get united for the ultimate dream. Savarkar was in kept in detention in Ratnagiri for 17 years. After Savarkar's unconditional release, he became the President of the Hindu Mahasabha, and worked towards the freedom of the nation, full fledged! He instigated youngsters to join the Royal Army and thereby create a 1857-like rebellion.

Chapter with Bose: Subhash Chandra Bose who had escaped from British detention in Calcutta, was reaching out to the Axis Powers (Japan, Italy, Germany) and was raising the Azad Hind Fauj (Indian National Army) to overthrow the British in India. [Vikram Sampath, who had recently written on Savarkar, notes that Savarkar encouraged young Indians to enlist in the British Army and get trained so that they can then defect over to Netaji’s INA].

On 22nd June 1940, a meeting transpired between Savarkar and Netaji to “explore the possibilities of cooperation between Forward Bloc and Hindu Mahasabha”. This meeting reported to have taken place in Dadar at Savarkar’s residence, is said to have influenced Netaji. Savarkar had suggested Subhash “to not waste time organizing protests for the removal of British statues like Holwell Monument in Calcutta” but instead “smuggle himself out of the country”, reach out to the Axis powers and raise an Indian Army of liberation from the prisoners of wars (pow).

The Times of India dated June 24, 1940 carried an article on this meeting. The police also noted a brief account of it: "Subhash Chandra Bose arrived in Bombay on June 22nd and had discussions with V D Savarkar with a view of exploring the possibilities of co-operation between the Forward Bloc and the Hindu Mahasabha respectively.” (MSA, Home Special Department, 1023, 1939-40, SA dated June 29,1940, ‘Forward Bloc’).

The above incident is also elaborated in the book The Two Great Indians in Japan by Yukikazu Sakurasawa, a Japanese author and publisher. He mentions-"it was the private and personal meeting between Netaji Subhas Babu and Savarkar at Savarkar Sadan Bombay that a definite suggestion was made to Subhas Babu by Savarkar that he should try to leave India and undertake the risk of going over to Germany to organise the Indian forces there fallen in German hands as captives and then with the German help should proceed to Japan to join hands with Sri Rash Behari Bose. To impress upon this point, Savarkarji showed Subhas Babu a letter from Sri Rash Behari Bose to Savarkarji written just on the eve of Japanese declaration of war."

Rash Behari Bose and Savarkar: Many people do not know that Rash Behari Bose was also the president of Hindu Mahasabha in Japan. The Hindu Mahasbha started in Japan as a result of collaboration between the two.  The correspondence between the two leaders continued right up to the declaration of war by Japan and the formation of the Indian National Army in Singapore by Netaji. By courtesy of Azad Hind Fauj, India got its Independence in 1947. On 15 August 1947, freedom fighters from all over the country were invited for the auspicious occasion of celebrating freedom at the Red Fort. But Savarkar was kept isolated by Congress who was in power. Moreover, Savarkar was arrested and detained in Belgaum when the Pakistani Prime Minister visited India in 1950. Irony was that he was arrested in Independent India after fighting for its own Independence!

On 1st February 1966, Savarkar renounced food, medicines and water. He called it as "Aatmaarpan" [fast until death] and not suicide. He wrote an article too "Atmahatya nahi Aatmaarpan", in which he said that when one's life mission is over, and the ability to serve the society is left no more, it is better to end the life instead of waiting for death. Finally on the afternoon of 26th February 1966, Savarkar breathed his last.

Savarkar is probably the most complex figure of the Indian Freedom Struggle. Perhaps reading his works, knowing more about him, and initiating a dialogue about him in the society, shall somewhere help in truly understanding and appreciating what he was!!