1. Western Grand Narrative
History has always been biased. A tool for triggering an agenda by the colonials and conquerors. Similarly, the history which we globally accept in the world today is a product of the European’s Point of View- A grand narrative.
The colonial narrative would find collaborators to be the least of a threat to the British Empire, while the ones who refused to get any agreements done with the crooked colonial Government were branded as terrorists. Now here comes an important character of the Indian National Movement who played a crucial part in churning the national consciousness among the indigenous people of the Indic subcontinent and shaping the minds of great revolutionaries; his name is Vinayak Damodar “Veer” Savarkar.
Imagine yourself choking underwater for five minutes! Suffocating enough? Vinayak Damodar Savarkar- “Veer” underwent this strangling agony for 13 long years but never gave up. His biggest crime was to love his motherland. That is the legacy (and an awful act in the colonial narrative) of Veer Savarkar. In a British free Bharat (Republic of India), everyone has a right to question Veer Savarkar, whether it’s on social media or the parliament. The best achievement of the British colonialists is to turn the younger generation of India against their own freedom fighters and Revolutionaries. Thomas Macaulay pioneered a system for India which was to supersede the ancient education system. The intention was to conquer India by breaking the very backbone of the nation’s spiritual and cultural heritage using education. We, to this day, continue with many colonial structures and laws. So how do we expect the offspring of colonial India to be completely freed from the subverted mindsets? It took at least four generations to subvert Indians. It will likely take six generations to fully restore Indians to normalcy.
Veer Savarkar was born on 28 May 1883 in a Chitpavan Brahmin family near Nashik, Maharashtra. He lost his mother at a young age. Savarkar was a quiet boy, spending his early childhood reading, meditating and exploring various villages. However, as he grew up, he realized that he had one more mother- Bharat Mata. The idea of freeing India shaped Savarakar’s whole life. Numerous freedom fighters have risen against the tyrants of different ages in Bharat. King Porus fought Alexander, Emperor Chandragupta Maurya fought Greek invaders; Emperor Lalitaditya Muktipada fought against the Shahi Turks (invaders from Central Asia), Raja Mihira Bhoj fought the Arab invaders, and Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj fought the Mughals and many more.
These stories inspired Veer Savarkar very much in his childhood, and he made a vow to himself that he would invest every precious breath of his life to serving his Matra Bhoomi (Motherland) – Bharat. He firmly decided to save his second mother- Bharat, and was willing to sacrifice every ounce of his life. Savarkar always had a choice to settle for a peaceful life after his education, take up a clerk’s job, wear fanciful suits and eat royal cuisines. But some men can never sell their conscience nor trade their soul, and Savarkar was one of them.
3. Rebellious Man
It was not easy given the fact Savarkar did not have any strong political backing or an elitist upbringing. He was neither a prince from a Princely state nor had any royal connections. Savarkar wanted to play a crucial part in churning the national consciousness among the indigenous people of the Indic subcontinent. The best possible way to achieve this goal was to start writing! Words have power beyond swords if used rightly. As a young man in Ferguson College, Savarkar began to write. His ambition was much like Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s- to inform, express and inspire the sleeping masses about Bharat and its glory to the already subverted sections of the society.
Writing became a grand tool of the Revolution which Veer Savarkar used to great effect. He emerged as an accomplished writer, thinker, and thought provoker. Veer Savarkar launched his own hand-written weekly called “The Aryan”, where he extensively wrote enlightening articles about nationalism, Indic literature, poetry with a great impact and persuasion, poetic history, history-related journals and even Vedic sciences. Many of such stimulating articles found their way to weeklies and newspapers, which grabbed the attention of not just ardent patriots but also the British, who realized that these articles were no less than bullets aimed at them collectively. The writing was weaponized to ravage the colonial narrative in India, and his ideas penetrated all parts of society.
This eventually helped him later to create many underground revolutionary groups in the 1900s, which were inspired by the revolutionaries of the west, especially Giuseppe Mazzini from Italy. One of the first underground groups by Veer Savarkar was Mitra Mela which later evolved into the Abhinav Bharat Society in 1904. Its network extended all over western and central Bharat, and consequently, it branched in the form of the Ghadar Movement, which was an early 20th-century international political movement founded by expatriate Indians to overthrow British rule in India.
Veer Savarkar soon gained expertise in geopolitics and world history, which were two crucial subjects to get a grip on before making strategies to free Bharat. He gave scholarly talks on revolutions in Italy and Netherland to his colleagues and always stressed the American freedom movements too. These topics were supposed to be the case study for British India and pave the path for a Swatantra Bharat. He always stressed the idea that an immense struggle is required to reclaim the motherland from the British grip. He also highlighted the matter that those countries like Netherlands and Italy had to endure to win back their lost freedom as it doesn’t come for free.
Education was an official reason, but the main intention of Veer Savarkar for going abroad was to fuel a national movement among the Indians living abroad who were comparatively from a privileged background. The mission of Veer Savarkar was to reach out to the global media/ international media and inform them about the atrocities committed by the British on India and on their other colonies.
4. Heart of the British Empire
Veer Savarkar’s life journey is quite remarkable because he doesn’t seem to stop amusing people even today with his various kinds of accomplishments. Getting a chance to receive an education from the City Law College of London itself is another proof of his shrewdness and smartness. His life’s London chapter was basically a controlled strike at the British Raj from the very heart of the British Empire!
Veer Savarkar reached London on 3 rd of July 1909 and resided at India House in Highgate, where he got in connection with a great revolutionary Indian freedom fighter, lawyer and journalist- Shyamji Krishna Varma, who founded the Indian Home Rule Society, “India House” and “The Indian Sociologist” in London. Savarkar also met other notable Indian revolutionary freedom activists like Madanlal Dhingra and Bhikaji Cama.
Just like Abhinav Bharat in Pune, Veer Savarkar inaugurated the “Free India Society” in London, where meetings were held every Sunday. He and his colleagues celebrated Indian festivals, had political discussions and made
strategies to counter British Raj on multiple faces.
Finally, Veer Savarkar authored a very famous book named – “The First War of Independence 1857”. This book became a blueprint for every Indian revolutionary and was so inspiring that even many of the NRIs throughout the globe got deeply motivated after reading the book. The book was so magnificent that it was instantly banned by the British Government. Which inevitably garnered double attention eventually! The influence of Veer Savarkar got spread throughout Britain, Germany and France. Soon every Indian wanted to meet him. He indeed became a
celebrity for NRIs (Non-Resident Indians) who would line up in London to shake hands with him, have a word and even touch his feet as he was viewed as a Guru by the youth especially.
The British Sarkar (Government) was always dubious of Veer Savarkar, but their disdain for Savarkar started to increase by manifolds after a series of events which made them decide that he was untrustworthy. There was always a special, different world for the most dreaded enemies of the British Empire, and it was KAALA PAANI!
Vinayak Savarkar was the younger son of his parent, and Ganesh Damodar Savarkar was the elder one. Much like his popular brother, Ganesh Damodar Savarkar, too was a freedom fighter who opposed the British Raj in India. He was a cofounder of Abhinav Bharat Society and was also called Babarao Savarkar. Ganesh Savarkar was fighting the Morley Minto Reforms (also called the Indian Councils Act of 1909), which was enacted in 1909 by the British Parliament. This later becomes a grand excuse for the British Sarkar (Government) to frame Veer Savarkar and capture him. This event is not an alone excuse for the British Sarkar to hunt down Savarkar. “Lord” Curzon Wyllie (Sir William Hutt Curzon Wyllie KCIE CVO was a British Indian army officer. Over a career spanning three decades, Wyllie rose to be a Lieutenant Colonel in the British Indian Army and occupied a number of administrative and diplomatic posts) was assassinated in London in July 1909, the same month Veer Savarkar arrived in London. Within a few months, collector Arthur Mason Tippetts Jackson met the same fate in Nashik, India, in the same year. The revolutionaries like Anant Laxman Kanhere and Madanlal Dhingra (Madanlal assassinated Curzon Wyllie) eventually got arrested in Britain and were sentenced to death.
These events caused massive panic within the British Parliament, and their past from 1857- Revolt came to haunt them back yet again in 1909. They realized that they could not let another uprising emerge. Fearing the Revolution of 1857, which began with Mangal Pandey and ended with East India Company losing grip over India, the British Sarkar frantically searched for the conspiracy’s (against the British Empire) mastermind.
Eventually, the threads led them back to a barrister in London- Savarkar. Savarkar realized that he would most likely be shipped to India and be imprisoned, and hence the mastermind yet again was prepared for the
consequences. His friends in London were to keep track of which ship and route would be taken through to India.
When the steamship Morea neared Marseille port in France on 8 th of July 1910, Veer Savarkar jumped out of the ship and swam across the deep sea towards the port. As per the plan, Madam Bhikaji Rustom Cama (one of the prominent Independence Movement figures of India who was born in Bombay’s affluent Parsi family) along with Lala Har Dayal Mathur (an Indian polymath who turned down a career in Indian Civil Service during the Non-Cooperation Movement and became a freedom fighter; also a cofounder of Ghadar Movement) were to take Veer Savarkar to a safe house in Paris in France. But unfortunately, the cab was delayed, and Savarkar was re-arrested by the British officers after a dramatic chase at the port of Marseille.
The arrest by the British was made on foreign soil, which garnered the global attention of various governments, organizations, activists and media. Veer Savarkar’s arrest caused the French Government to go against Britain in
International court. The political asylum case excited international controversy and was reported widely, exposing the Empire’s oppressive occupation of India to the world.
But of course, the courts favoured Britain, and Savarkar was sent to the infamous Kaala Paani Jail of the Andaman Islands for two lifetimes. By this act, British Sarkar intended the sentence to be a message to Indians, but another message had already reached the brave hearts of Bharat that the Empire was not untouchable. Stories and ideas of Veer Savarkar soon reached the hearts of other great revolutionaries like Sardar Bhagat Singh and many more.
5. Prisoner of Kaala Paani
Veer’s darkest phase was from 1911 to 1921, when he was imprisoned in Kaala Paani- the prison of the Andaman Islands. His concern was not the detention, but what bothered him the most was his distance from his motherland. The prisoners of Kaala Paani were turned into slaves and were made to work in inhumane conditions. Everyone who entered Kaala Paani knew that their lives had entered a dark and horrific abyss. Slaves who were treated worse than animals were forced to eat rotten food, which would often smell of vomit and even be cooked with rotten insects. This is the worst torture any human can be made to go through. Prison cells had no proper washrooms and an indecent defecation system which was also unhygienic and gross beyond imagination.
Some of the details about Kaala Paani can actually be petrifying for the readers. Prisoners were forced to do manual labour for 18 hours a day, and people would often fall dead while working midday. There was no room for healthcare or giving a holiday to a sick person, obviously. Forced labour was a torturous way of painfully killing the enemies of the British Empire. Since the Andaman Islands were cut off from the rest of the world, hardly anyone noticed what really happened in Kaala Paani.
The only hope which kept Savarkar and some other patriots alive was that someday they should return to Bharat and begin again with their freedom struggle and get the honour of working in the interests of the people of Bharat. Veer Savarkar spent 13 years in Kaala Paani, and each day was a living hell. He met many familiar faces, such as the Punjabi Ghadar revolutionaries, the Bengali, Marathi and Tamil patriots. There were many from various provinces who were dying each day on an inhospitable island. The British made sure that Indians never united and hence bribed Pathan jailers to not just torture the prisoners but also turn them against each other on the basis of religion particularly. The same model, the British Sarkar, was used throughout India. Despite all the pain, it was Savarkar’s nature to think about his nation before himself. Inspiring and motivating others was Savarkar’s talent, and hence his first task was to unite all the different factions of revolutionaries under one single umbrella. Many in Kaala Paani back then were of Marxist ideology as Marxism was considered revolutionary.
Veer Savarkar realized that for some, Bharat was a civilizational land, and for others, it was a territorial land. These two visions were separated by an abyss and were worlds apart, and this difference in perspectives was what the British exploited the most. The current day model of nationalism in India is Territorial Nationalism which was envisioned by PM Nehru. But there were some revolutionaries who viewed Bharat differently. India’s nationalism can also be classified as post-colonial nationalism. The ideological separatism and already existing fault lines of India were widened even more by the British Raj, who believed in fuelling hatred on the basis of religion, caste, communities and even region.
Hence it was a tedious task to unite Indians even inside Kaala Paani. Freedom of India, though, always remained a common interest, and this was stressed later by Savarkar, who also propagated that it was not necessary for everyone to think alike because each human is unique in his/her own ways. All are cultured and cultivated differently since their childhood which results in weaving different thought processes, environments, belief systems and philosophies in society, ultimately creating alternative perceptions of the world. But only if people focussed on commonalities instead of points of conflict then the whole national movement could be taken to its logical final conclusion. Veer Savarkar sent a strong message to various different factions that the main goal was to remain same, and then nothing could separate Indians from each other.
The whole mission of uniting Indians inside Kaala Paani was well thought out by Vinayak Savarkar. He educated the jail inmates during his spare hours about Bharat’s civilizational history. The ideals being propagated cleverly in the form of stories were indeed outright dangerous for the “integrity” of the British Empire. He was often battered and tortured in solitary confinement for such “crimes”. But Veer never stopped and still continued with his task. He stood resilient and adamant throughout his confinement in Kaala Paani. Such inspiring were the speeches that the British secretly planned to kill him. This is one reason why Veer Savarkar wanted to break free from Kaala Paani. The other reason was that he believed that he was useless to his nation if he remained a prisoner. His desire was to serve the motherland instead of perishing away in anonymity.
This is why he wrote several pleas to the British in order to be set free. He used the cunning tactics of the British on the British. In simple terms to say, Savarkar lied. Not once but multiple times. All of his letters were written to the British on a strong, convincing note that he finally succeeded in deceiving the British. Very similar to how Sri Krishna in Mahabharata deceives the deceivers for a greater cause.
Subsequently, on May 21 st, 1921, Savarkar was transferred from the Andamans to the Ratnagiri Prison along with his brother and was finally released from jail in 1924. After the release, Veer Savarkar planned all of his actions more carefully and strategically. It was during the confinement that he wrote a book named- “Essentials of Hindutva”, which formulated his understanding of the Bharatiya (Indic) Civilization. Savarkar’s Hindutva was not based on a religion but rather the collective Indic consciousness, which was inclusive of all Indic cultures, traditions, communities, ethnicities, and linguistic identities of Bharat, irrespective of what faith one follows.
“India House”, where Vinayak Damodar Savarkar stayed in London, still has a board which calls him an Indian Patriot and philosopher. But even today, many Indians have failed to understand the true son of Bharat. Just the way how one requires a lot of maturity to understand a beautiful poem. Similarly, it requires maturity to understand Veer Savarkar. Savarkar was a legendary poet, and his life was a poem.