Swatantra Veer Sawarkar
Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was born on May
28, 1883 into a family of jagirdars (landlords) in the village of Bhagpur near Nasik.
Vinayak was one of four children others being, Ganesh (Babarao), Mainabai and Narayan,
born to Damodarpant Savarkar and Radhabai. Being descendents of a line of Sanskrit
scholars, the Savarkars inculcated the love of learning into their children. Vinayak and
Babarao were sent to the Shivaji School in Nasik. When Vinayak was nine years old, his
mother died of cholera. Damodarpant himself looked after his children thereafter.
Vinayak's father died of plague in 1899. The burden of the family
fell on Babarao's shoulders. Vinayak's patriotic spirit found an outlet through an
organization called the Mitra Mela that he formed. Vinayak inducted young patriotic men
like himself into the Mela. He encouraged the members of the Mela to strive for
"absolute political independence for India" by whatever means necessary. In the
event of an armed revolt the young crusaders toughened themselves through physical
training. The Mitra Mela served the city of Nasik in many ways, especially during the
plague when the group carried victims for cremation.
In March 1901, Vinayak was married to Yamunabai, daughter of
Ramchandra Triambak Chiplunkar, who agreed to help with Vinayak's university education.
After his matriculation examination, Vinayak enrolled in the Fergusson College in Poona in
Savarkar very soon dominated campus life. He, along with a group of
students began dressing alike and using swadeshi goods only. He renamed the "Mitra
Mela" as "Abhinav Bharat" and declared that "India must be
independent; India must be united; India must be a republic; India must have a common
language and common script." In 1905, a huge Dussehra bonfire of foreign goods was
lit in Poona by Savarkar and his friends to express resentment toward the partition of
Bengal. Vinayak left for London to study law in June 1906 on receiving a scholarship. The
"study of law," he said "shows the vital points in the system of
government, and accurate base where to strike at advantage." He vowed never to take
up service under the British Government and never to accept payment from them.
Savarkar stayed at the India House in London, which was established
by Pandit Shyamji, a patriot, scholar and social reformer. Savarkar founded the Free India
Society which held weekly meetings and celebrated Indian festivals and anniversaries of
important figures and days in the Indian freedom struggle. On May 10, 1907, scuffles broke
out between Indians and Britishers at the celebration of the Golden Jubilee of the 1857
martyrs organized by the Free India Society. In 1908, Savarkar completed "the History
of the War of Indian Independence." The text was banned by the British even before it
was published for being "revolutionary, explosive and seditious." The book was
published in France and Germany later and it did much to inspire revolutionaries
like Bhagat Singh and Subash Chandra Bose. In 1909, Madanlal Dhingra, follower of
Savarkar, shot Sir Wyllie of the India Office after failing in his attempt on the Viceroy,
Lord Curzon's life, for the atrocities committed on Indians. Dhingra was imprisoned
and a meeting of Indians in London planned to unanimously condemn his action. At the
meeting Savarkar angrily shouted, "No, not unanimously!" The meeting became
unruly, Savarkar's spectacles broke and blood ran down his face. The meeting was
broken up with Surendranath Banerjea leaving in protest of the attack on Savarkar. That
night Savarkar wrote to the London Times to clarify the reasons for his action. He stated
that the meeting had no right to condemn Dhingra like a law court.
In India, Savarkar's elder brother led an armed movement against the
Minto Morley reforms. Babarao was sentenced to transportation for life to the
Andamans jail. In protest, a youth called Kanhere shot dead the British Collector of
Nasik, Mr. A.M.T. Jackson. Savarkar was implicated in the murder of Mr. Jackson
because of his contacts with the India House. Savarkar moved to Madame Cama's residence in
Paris. A warrant was issued and Savarkar was arrested on March 13, 1910. In his last
letters to a close friend, he conveyed his plan to attempt to escape from custody
at Marseilles. His friend was to be waiting there with a car. The escape attempt at
Marseilles failed. The car arrived too late.
Savarkar was brought to Bombay on the S.S. Morea and detained at
Yeravada jail. Savarkar was tried and found guilty on the counts of "waging
war by instigation using printed matter, and providing arms... (and) for abetting the
murder of Mr. Jackson (p.118, Berry)." Savarkar was awarded 25 years
imprisonment on the former charge and 25 years for the latter. A sum total of 50 years
imprisonment which he was to serve at the Andamans prison. "Veer" Savarkar was
only 27 years old at the time of his sentencing!
Savarkar arrived at the Andamans prison on July 4, 1911. Life for
the prisoners was very harsh. Savarkar's day began at 5 a.m. chopping trees with a heavy
wooden mallet and then he would be yoked to the oil mill. If prisoners talked or broke
queue at mealtime, their once a year letter writing privilege was revoked. Savarkar
withdrew within himself, quietly and mechanically doing the tasks presented to him. He was
successful in getting permission to start a jail library. With great effort and patience
he taught the illiterate convicts to read and write.
In 1920, Vithalbhai Patel demanded the release of the Savarkar
brothers in the Central Legislative Assembly. Tilak and Gandhiji also appealed for
Savarkars freedom. On May 2, 1921, the Savarkar brothers were brought back to India on the
Savarkar remained imprisoned in Ratnagiri Jail and then in Yeravada
Jail until January 6, 1924 when he was freed under the condition that he would not leave
Ratnagiri district and abstain from political activity for the next five years. While in
Ratnagiri Jail, Savarkar wrote "Hindutva" which was smuggled out and
published under the pen-name "Maharatta." On his release, Savarkar founded the
Ratnagiri Hindu Sabha on January 23, 1924 which aimed to preserve India's ancient
culture and work for social welfare.
Through the Sabha, Savarkar worked hard to protect minority rights.
During the celebration of Hindu festivals, Savarkar visited Muslim and Christian
homes to promote good will. He encouraged intercaste marriage and assisted Dr. Ambedkar in
the liberation of the untouchables. He appealed for a wider use of Hindi as the
mother tongue and suggested reforms to the Devanagiri script to facilitate printing. While
in Ratnagiri he wrote the "Hindu Padpadashashi" and "My
Transportation for Life" and a collection of poems, plays and novels.
At the end of his five year confinement in Ratnagiri, Savarkar
joined Tilak's Swaraj Party and founded the Hindu Mahasabha as a separate political
party. He warned of the Muslim League's designs of partitioning the nation. In 1937,
Savarkar was elected President of the Hindu Mahasabha. He toured the nation widely
and delivered the simple message that followers of Vedism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism
were all Hindus.
At declaration of war by Britain on Germany and the arbitrary
inclusion of India in the war, Savarkar said that Britain's claim of safeguarding human
freedom was simply meaningless.
Savarkar agreed to join hands with the Congress in support of
Gandhiji's Quit India movement as long as the Congress did not compromise the unity of the
nation to the Muslim League. "The Quit India Movement must not end in a Split India
Movement!" he thundered on a BBC broadcast of his speech.
On August 15, 1947, Savarkar proudly unfurled the national flag
along with the saffron flag of the Mahasabha. Pakistan invaded Kashmir in October 1947 and
Gandhiji began a fast for peace and Muslim rights on January 13, 1948. The Mahatma was
assassinated 17 days later.
Gandhi's assassin, Nathuram Godse, was once a worker of the R.S.S.
(Rashtriya Sveyamsevak Sangh), the miliant wing of the Mahasabha. Mass arrests of the
Hindu Mahasabha and RSS workers ensued. Savarkar was arrested on the charge of conspiring
to the murder on February 4, 1948. Godse and Apte, another accused, denied Savarkar's
involvement in the crime. Savarkar condemned "the gruesome assassination of Mahatma
Gandhi" and denied involvement in the crime. Savarkar was acquitted on February 10,
As Savarkar aged, he saw his grim prophecies coming true. China
invaded India in 1962 and Pakistan attacked India in 1965. When the Indian Army entered
Lahore, Savarkar rejoiced saying that the "best way to win a war was to carry it into
the enemy's land (p. 136, Berry)."
"Veer" Savarkar died on February 27, 1966.