Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past by Vikram Sampath

"Science," the Greek word for knowledge, when appended to the word "political," creates what seems like an oxymoron. For who could claim to know politics? More complicated than any game, most people who play it become addicts and die without understanding what they were addicted to. The rest of us suffer under their malpractice as our "leaders." A truer case of the blind leading the blind could not be found. Plumb the depths of confusion here.

Re: Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past by Vikram Sampath

Postby admin » Thu May 13, 2021 2:36 am

Part 2 of 3

The prisoners also had to stand in a stipulated queue for their meals. They had to sit in the same order after they had collected their food from the serving counter. It did not matter whether it was blazing heat or pouring rain—the queue had to be maintained. On occasions when a few prisoners broke the line to merely protect themselves from the sun or rain by moving under a shade, they were severely reprimanded and punished. Drenched in rain, shivering in their wet clothes and with the raindrops falling on their food, they had to eat what they got. To top it all, they were given very little time to complete what was on their plates. The petty officer would scream: ‘Time is up’ after which their plates would be snatched away and the remaining food thrown into the dustbin.

Various instruments of torture were employed. Prisoners were handcuffed and made to stand from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. and then again from 12 noon to 5 p.m. Many eased themselves in this position and were punished for it. They were tied up in link fetters, made of a chain and ankle rings. The length of the chain was about 2 feet and it weighed 3 pounds. The bars were stiff and unbending, riveted to the prisoner’s feet and hung up to his waist. As the bars were stiff, the prisoner could not bend his legs throughout the period of punishment, which could extend for months. Crossbar fetters were made of a single bar for the purpose of keeping the legs apart. It also had ankle rings. The length of the bar was 16 inches and the total weight about 2.5 pounds. The prisoner could not bring his feet or legs close to each other. He had to walk, sit, work and sleep with feet and legs stretched out. This punishment could continue at a stretch for weeks. Canes, bayonets, shackles, thick ropes and leather whips were also regularly used.

Before Vinayak’s arrival, all political prisoners were put together in one floor and guarded by Pathan warders. They were given the task of picking oakum, which was both strenuous and monotonous. Pounding the coir and extracting fibres out of it, preparing ropes from the extracted fibres, grinding dry coconut and mustard in the machine to extract oil, to make bulbs for hookahs from the shells—these formed the bulk of the prisoners’ duty. Dressed in their loincloths or langotis, prisoners sat on the job from early in the morning. Each was given the dry husk of about twenty coconuts, which had to be first placed on a wooden plank and beaten with a hammer in order to soften it. The outer skin was then removed, dipped in water and moistened and again pounded with a hammer. Due to constant pounding, all the husk inside would fall off and the fibres remained. These had to be collected and dried in the sun. Each prisoner was expected to supply a daily roll of fibres weighing a seer (close to 0.93 kilogram or 2 pounds). Those awarded light labour were exempted from the hard work of pounding and left to draw out ropes from these dried fibres. The daily turnout expected from every prisoner was 3 pounds of ropes. But the fact that these jobs were done in the silent company of fellow sufferers made it slightly more tolerable.

Elaborating his experience in this task, Barin Ghose writes:

We have never done rope making or coir pounding in our life. Even perhaps our ancestors to the fourteenth generation had never heard the names of such things. And yet we did the thing. On the first day all of us were given rope making. A bundle of coir was thrown in front of each of the closed cells with the command, ‘Rassi batto’ that is to say, prepare ropes like a dear good boy. We opened our bundles, handled them a little, and finally sat down in despair. To make the ropes out of that? Was it possible? There were the four warders there. They came as private tutors to teach us the dreaded work. Now let me repeat the lesson to my readers. First twist the fibres into wicks by rubbing them upon the ground with the palm of both the hands. When in this way there is a huge pile of wicks, put it on one side. Then take out two wicks. Hold one end of both wicks firmly on the ground together with your toe and then press the other ends between your palms. Use your fingers skillfully and twist the two together, till they make a small rope. Then repeat the process by joining other two bits of wick to the two ends and twist again. And so on. As the rope becomes longer and longer, you throw it behind you and hold the last joint under the toe and join again another wick and twist. This is called rope making [or picking oakum].26


Another job that was assigned to them was slightly less taxing as it was done in the shade and not the scorching midday sun. It involved carrying mud balls, the size of a football, from the mud-grinding mills. Then a heap or mound had to be made beside the mistry who cut out the bricks in the moulds. ‘Working in mud the whole day, we looked the very picture of a dirty lot of swine,’ notes Ullaskar Dutt in his memoirs, ‘squeaking and wallowing in filth and mire, ever so happy in their unenviable field of sport’.27

A high-ranking officer who had come from Calcutta on inspection had seen this and all hell had broken loose. How could political prisoners be bundled together and given such ‘light work’? he had thundered. Consequently, all political prisoners were split up and distributed across various rows and spokes of the radial jail. If they spoke or communicated through non-verbal gestures they were whipped and beaten severely. Picking oakum was substituted with something else that was designed to crush their spirits—the grinding oil mill or kolhu.

This was the hardest work and caused the death of some and drove others to insanity. The process of working the oil-grinding mill at Cellular Jail was similar to bullocks being yoked to the handle of a mill and moving round it continuously. The only difference was that the political prisoner substituted the bullocks. If they were unwilling or unable to move around fast enough or sustain their stamina, they were forcibly dragged, round and round, tied to the handle. All of this was done in the open, blazing sun, making matters worse for the hapless man. The prisoner had to work until a specific quantity—30 pounds of coconut oil or 10 pounds of mustard oil—was extracted. The ‘picking oakum’ task was assigned to Vinayak for nearly a month after his arrival at Cellular Jail. After this, he was told that his hands were hardened enough and that he was now going to be ‘promoted’ to the kolhu. He was put to this task for months on end. Vinayak writes about the hardship:

Hardly out of bed, we were ordered to wear a strap of cloth, were shut up in our cells and made to turn the wheel of the oil-mill. Coconut pieces were put in the empty and hollow space to be crushed by the wheel passing over them, and its turning became heavier as the space was fuller. Twenty turns of the wheel were enough to drain away the strength of the strongest coolie and the worst, brawny badmash. No dacoit past twenty was put on that work. But the poor political prisoner was fit to do it at any age. And the doctor in charge ever certified that he could do it! It was the medical science of the Andamans that had upheld the doctor! So the poor creature had to go half the round of the wheel by pushing the handle with his hands, and the other half was completed by hanging on to it with all his might. So much physical strength had to be expended on crushing the coconut pieces for oil. Youths of twenty or more, who in their lives had not done any physical labour, were put upon that labour. They were all educated young men of delicate constitution. From six to ten in the morning they were yoked to the wheel, which they turned round and round till their breath had become heavy. Some of them had fainted many times during the process. They had to sit down for sheer exhaustion and helplessness. Ordinarily all work had to be stopped between ten and twelve. But this ‘Kolu ’ as the oil-mill labour was called, had to continue throughout. The door was opened only when meal was announced. The man came in, and served the meal in the pan and went away and the door was shut. If after washing his hands one were to wipe away the perspiration on his body, the Jamadar— the worst of gangsters in the whole lot would go at him with loud abuse. There was no water for washing hands. Drinking water was to be had only by propitiating the Jamadar. While you were at Kolu , you felt very thirsty. The waterman gave no water except for a consideration, which was to palm off to him some tobacco in exchange. If one spoke to the Jamadar his retort was, ‘A prisoner is given only two cups of water and you have already consumed three. Whence can I bring you more water? From your father?’ We have put down the retort of the Jamadar in the decent language possible! If water could not be had for wash and drink, what can be said of water for bathing?


Many political prisoners voluntarily offered to help Vinayak when he was enduring the kolhu. Despite the strict orders from the authorities, they sometimes washed his clothes or cleaned his drinking pot and dinner plate. Without their knowledge, Vinayak would wash their clothes or help them, which they protested about. They considered him their leader and did not approve of him serving them in any way. The warmth and camaraderie that these gentle souls displayed even in such trying circumstances moved Vinayak immensely. They would surreptitiously communicate with people living in the cell below them by putting their sleeping planks straight up, beneath the window, perch atop it and talk. If a jamadar or warder were spotted walking past, they would throw themselves down from this height of twelve feet. They also rang the bars of their cell with their dining plates to initiate conversation; it was their uniquely coded ‘telephone system’.

Eminent Marathi writer and humourist Purushottam Lakshman Deshpande spoke about the sufferings that Vinayak endured during his speech at Cellular Jail on the occasion of Vinayak’s birth centenary in 1983:

You have probably read what punishments he suffered in Andaman, from his book My Transportation for Life. However I am certain that, in this book, he has not described even 10 per cent of what he actually suffered, because he did not want pity or sympathy from us, neither did he want people to react and merely say, ‘My God, what horrors Savarkar suffered.’ He wanted youngsters to react and say, ‘I too am prepared to suffer like Savarkar for our nation.28


Dinner was served to the convicts before five in the evening. Even while they were trying to gulp down the unpalatable food, a jamadar would pace the corridor, showering abuses and reminding them that if they did not finish their daily quota they would be in for trouble. They held their fist ‘upon our nose and explained with vehement emphasis that our nose would be flattened out with blows, if we did not work properly’. 29 The punishment also involved the jamadar’s kicks and fisticuffs, in addition to a bludgeoning received from his stick. The very thought of this made many of them drop their food and get back to their labour. Out of a hundred, it was only one with a truly strong body who could manage to extract the mandated daily quota of coconut oil. For most people, it took at least two days. The day ended with horror for most people, as they anxiously watched the weighing machine. Invariably, their output would fall short of the quota and they would end with a battering from a jamadar. Most people returned to their cells with tears in their eyes and groaning in pain. ‘I see their weeping faces,’ writes Vinayak, ‘vividly even to this day.’30

Often, Barrie would be there at the weighing scene at the end of the day and would order the prisoner that he needed to continue the kolhu through the night till he finished his daily quota. He brought his chair and sat in front of them, taking great pleasure in seeing them almost fall off as they continued to work the mill. Work usually carried on for some unfortunate souls, including Vinayak, till 8 or 9 p.m. on such occasions, even as the rest of the jail went quiet. Slipping in and out of his sleep and snores, as he sat inspecting them, Barrie would hurl abuses and occasionally call the jamadar to cane errant prisoners.

Barrie often came to Vinayak and admonished him that he should be ashamed of himself for extracting so little oil while others managed much more. To this, Vinayak would angrily retort:

Yes, you are right; I must be ashamed of it. But when? If I had been inured to hard physical labour like him from my early childhood . . . let him compose a sonnet in an hour. I will do it for you in half an hour. You will not, on that account, be justified in crying shame upon that prisoner; you cannot say that he had shirked the work. He can well retort, ‘No body taught me the art of poetry in my childhood. Hence you cannot expect me to do it now.’ You employ in your office unlettered peasants, robbers and dacoits for writing work. If they do not speak fine English like you, surely enough, you do not blame them. And they are not ashamed of that drawback. Equally I need not be ashamed if I cannot turn out as much work from the oil-mill as my next-door prisoner does. Those really are to be ashamed of it who yoke intellectuals like us to the oil-mill, and employ hodmen [sic] to do the work of a desk. They fail both ways, for they do not get the best out of either.31


Many young men who were unaccustomed to this level of physical toil fell ill and preferred death to this work. If they complained of ill health, they were often accused of feigning, locked up in their cells and never taken to the hospital even when they burned with high fever. Many political prisoners had to continue with the kolhu even through their high fever or diarrhoea. The doctor too was petrified of Barrie and seldom reported the truth about a prisoner’s condition. Serious illnesses of prisoners were concealed, despite the doctor knowing about them. To avoid the backbreaking work, many prisoners went to the extent of infecting themselves with other ailments and diseases. As Vinayak notes:

‘Give me medicine for fever and diarrhoea!’ When any prisoner asked this favour of another in a suppressed voice and with a dejected mind, it did not imply that he demanded mixture to drive out these maladies, but to induce them into him. A man, it was reported, gets high fever if he swallows the paste of Kanheri roots; another told me that the easiest way to get loose continuous motions, with blood in them, was to drink the paste of red berries called Gunja . If a thread soaked in some liquid—I forgot which—were sewn into a wound, another said, the wound remained raw and open for six months on end. This was the talk of the prison. And if I questioned the authenticity of these reports, they told me that the medicines were tried and found effective for these purposes. Prisoners, put on the oil-mill or sent out to cut down the jungles or detailed to pick oakum and weave the threads into a coil of rope, were so much done up with the work and felt such a terror for it, that they preferred anything else to going on with it. Hence, they would resort to these dangerous shrubs, roots and berries or would make a wound to their feet, with the scythe they carried, to fall ill and come back into the hospital. They would sow a thread into that wound to keep it from healing. They would prick their throats with a needle and to convince the physician in charge that the blood had come out with their spit and from their chest. Any of these tricks they employed for purposes of escape from the toil under which they were being ground down in their prison-life. Others feigned madness, and, to prove that they were really mad, would besmear their faces with urine and excreta, and, occasionally ate them also.32


Babarao who was lodged at the same jail and subjected to the kolhu suffered from severe ‘hemicrania continua’—a medical condition marked by chronic and persistent headaches accompanied by sensitivity to light. To add to his woes, the prison food gave him repeated bouts of acute diarrhoea that again went largely untreated. He had griping pain in his stomach and intestines all day. Often, he would end up soiling his entire cell and earn the jamadar’s wrath. Sitting and sleeping amid that squalor further aggravated his health condition. Despite this, Barrie made him work in the hot sun for months together, denying him any medical care. After submitting the diurnal quota of oil at the end of the day, he would totter to his cell and throw himself full length on the wooden plank that served as a bed, groaning all night with pain.

For instance, the condition of the Bengali revolutionary Abinash Chandra Bhattacharji steadily deteriorated. Within hours of beginning the daily chores, by 10 a.m. itself, he would be exhausted and unable to stand. Indu Bhushan Roy was the strongest among them and assisted Abinash when he fell to the ground with exhaustion. Ironically, it was Indu who was among those whose will power was to break in the future due to the excessive tortures meted out to the prisoners.

It was only a matter of time before the pain and suffering of the political convicts boiled over and this it did in the revolt of Nand Gopal, a tall and handsome Punjabi, and the editor of the Swaraj newspaper of Allahabad. 33 This occurred a couple of months after Vinayak’s arrival. At the very outset, when Nand Gopal was taken to the oil mill and forced to accelerate his speed, he stopped and looked the petty officer sternly in his eye and said, ‘Sorry! It will not suit me to turn the mill so quickly and all that!’ As a result, by 10 a.m. not even a third of his work had been completed. By that time, most political prisoners would quickly rush down from their cells, swallow their insipid meals and hurry back to the oil mill. Nand Gopal decided to have a leisurely meal. When the warder warned him to get back, he decided to humour him with a long lecture on health and hygiene. He told him it was disastrous for his health to swallow food that way and it needed to be chewed and ground well in order to digest it. It was also a good exercise for the teeth, he added. He was after all a ‘guest of the benign government’ for ten long years and if his health deteriorated it would bring unwanted disrepute to the Crown. Hence, he was taking additional care.

The petty officer was flummoxed and promptly reported the matter to Barrie, who came over and abused him, warning him of severe horsewhips. Nand Gopal smiled and repeated his lesson on medical science. He also quoted the jail manual rules that stated that the time between 10 a.m. and 12 noon was allotted for meals and rest and that he did not wish to breach such a benevolent rule. Barrie went red with rage. But being unused to such insolence he merely fumed and left the place. Nand Gopal finished his meal and while the petty officer thought he would resume his work, he coolly went back to his cell for a little nap. Any abuse or reprimands made no impact on him, as he stretched and feigned deep sleep. He got up at 12 noon, turned the mill for another hour or so, and when he saw that he had extracted half the day’s quota, he tied up the rest of the coconuts in the sack and quietly sat down. When asked who would do the rest of the work, he nonchalantly replied: ‘Whoever likes, let him do it. I am not a bullock certainly that I should turn the mill the whole day. The ration I get per day is not worth even one anna and a half, then how should I grind 30 lbs. of oil?’ 34 The shocked superintendent saw that there was no hope of getting the quota from Nand Gopal. He was shut in his cell till further orders.

This went on for nearly a month. Worried that the virus of resistance and revolt might spread among the batch of men who were prone to being rebellious, Barrie summoned Nand Gopal to his chamber to strike a compromise. He was told that if he did the work for four full days without dereliction, he would be released from the oil mill for good. Nand Gopal agreed and he was duly released from the tiring work.

But his freedom was short-lived. A few days later, he was put to a bigger mill and when he refused, the consequences were fetters and confinement. A general order was passed that everybody was to grind oil for three full days. The political prisoners realized that if they complied, it would mean that only their corpses would leave Port Blair. Hence, the authorities were met with a mass refusal to obey the order—the first strike that took place in the jail.

But Barrie was not to be deterred by such measures. He took this insolence as a personal insult against his authority. Summoning the prisoners to the courtyard, he berated them:

Listen, ye prisoners! In the Universe there is one God, and He lives in the Heavens above. But in Port Blair there are two: one, the God of Heaven, and another, the God of Earth. Indeed, the God of Earth in Port Blair is myself. The God of Heaven will reward you when you go above. But this God of Port Blair will reward you here and now. So, ye prisoners behave well. You may complain to any superior against me, my word shall prevail; I hold my own. Mind ye well.35


The punishments became more intense and their food was limited to just tasteless ganji. Ullaskar Dutt, Nand Gopal and Hotilal were made to live on just one pound of ganji, each, twice a day served to them continuously for more than a fortnight without a break, even though the jail rules stipulated that this needed to be served only four times a week. None of these punishments were noted in the prisoners’ ‘jail-tickets’ so as to not leave any record of the atrocities meted out.

Following the strike, some of the prisoners were dispatched for other jobs outside the prison, apparently on lighter work. Barin was sent to work as a labourer under a mason, Ullaskar went to make bricks, a few were sent to the forest department to hew wood, and others to work at the embankment. A few unfortunate prisoners were condemned to be yoked to carriages to carry the jail officials around Port Blair. Many initially thought that being away from the hellish jail conditions would be a whiff of fresh air, but it turned out to be worse. They had to battle rain, storm, heat and poisonous leeches that came out in the monsoons only too often. A good part of their rations were also pilfered by the jail authorities while they were away during the day.

Barrie tried to indulge Vinayak after the strike broke out. He knew that the revolutionaries respected Vinayak. Hence, having him on his side made sense. With his usual tactic of pitting one against another, creating dissensions and gathering intelligence about some of the political prisoners, Barrie tried being cordial and friendly with Vinayak. Regarding the other political prisoners, Barrie would tell him: ‘Mr Savarkar, a man like you ought not to mix with such people. They are a despicable lot. You are a well-bred gentleman. These wretches will go back to their homes after running their term of eight or ten years in this prison, and the world will forget them. That is not so with you. You have to pass here full fifty years of your precious life; and you are no mere political prisoner. You will lose much if you associate with them, go on strike with them, or sympathize with them. Even talking with them is fraught with danger to your future. Whatever you intend to do, do it on your own. You take care of yourself never forgetting your ticket. Do you understand me?’ 36 He often did this in the presence of the other prisoners to humiliate them further.

But this seemed to have had the opposite impact on Vinayak. Also, his repeated reference to the fifty-year term of imprisonment was intended to scare Vinayak. But this constant allusion made him more callous about it. ‘It was,’ Vinayak recounted, ‘like the artillery man for whom the constant sound of the whizzing cannon-ball had ceased to frighten and unnerve.’37

Despite several attempts by Barrie, Vinayak never budged, nor did he let down any fellow prisoner or stop his interactions with the others. This enraged Barrie all the more. After Barrie’s angry exit, Vinayak would often console the dejected prisoners who heard this diatribe and expletives that were generously hurled at them by the jailer. ‘Do not feel small,’ he advised them, ‘do not be dispirited by what Mr Barrie said of you in my presence. What he says of you today, he will say of me the day after. Thereby he does not insult you and me: he only insults and degrades himself. We are helpless today, the world holds us in disgrace today, but a day is sure to come when it will honour you, perhaps raise statues to you in this very place where they revile you, and thousands will visit this place to offer their tributes to you as martyrs to the cause.’38

Defying the rules, Vinayak stealthily began meeting several of the political prisoners, boosting their morale, and asking them to bear these atrocities with resilience. Many of them began to look up to him with reverence and as their mentor and confidant.

Right from the time he was convicted to transportation for life in the Andamans, Vinayak was keen to meet his brother who had been here since 1909. Upon reaching the Cellular Jail, he tried making inquiries with a few sympathetic warders and petty officers about Babarao’s whereabouts. He was informed that Barrie had issued peremptory orders from his superiors not to tell him whether his brother was lodged there or not. The structure of the jail and the segregation also ensured that nobody could fathom who else was locked up there. Finally, a warder managed to facilitate a meeting of sorts. He arranged this in the evening when everyone came together for the daily roll-call. Even during this time everyone was not called at the same time, but in batches and in serial order. The order of these batches was left to the warder’s discretion. So, the kind warder managed to send Vinayak’s batch inside at the same time that Babarao was presenting his roll-call for the day.

As Vinayak hurried inside with expectation and anxiety, he saw Babarao just as he was finishing his duty and coming out. Their eyes met. They had last met when Vinayak was leaving for London in 1906 and there had been pride and contentment in his eyes about his younger brother’s bright future. To see him in this abject condition, as a fellow prisoner, shattered Babarao completely. The expression and the way his lips parted seemed to be asking why he was here and how he was doing. The warder quickly segregated them, lest swayed by emotions they began speaking to each other, leading to complications with the jail authorities. Seeing his elder brother, who was a father figure to him, in this pitiable condition, broke Vinayak’s heart. The emotional surge seemed to temporarily weaken his resolve to face the terrible conditions of his present with equanimity.

With the help of the warder or otherwise, the brothers managed to exchange notes on scraps of paper. In his note, Babarao lamented that what made his incarceration bearable was the hope that his beloved Tatya would carry on Abhinav Bharat’s work and labour for the motherland. He was shocked to see him there as well; he wondered how he got there, especially because he had last heard that he was in Paris. Babarao had no details about Vinayak’s conviction since correspondences with family were extremely infrequent. He had received vague hints from Wamanrao Joshi, who had also been sent to the Andamans. But he had hoped against hope that these were merely rumours and that Vinayak was safe. But seeing him that evening dashed those hopes. Who would look after Abhinav Bharat now, and their dear younger brother Bal? he wondered.

Vinayak had no idea what to write as a reply to a letter like this. Trying to gather himself and also motivate his shattered elder brother, he wrote:

Baba, success and failure are but coincidences. It is not our fault if we failed in our first battle. In fact, we are fortunate to have stood our ground in the face of failure. It is a matter of pride for us that we are bravely enduring those sufferings, which we exhorted others to undergo. It is now our life mission to languish in this prison and if need be, accept the abuses of those for whom we suffer. Remaining free and achieving fame whilst fighting is no doubt considered glorious. But it is equally glorious to die unknown and suffer abuse. Not just fighting and becoming famous but dying unknown and unsung is also essential for final victory. As far as the loss to our cause is concerned, I can only say that our absence shall not bring our War of Independence to a halt. This army of countless warriors, Whose charioteers are the proud Sri Krishna and Sri Ram, shall not halt in our absence!39


From the eleventh day of his arrival in prison, i.e., 15 July 1911, Vinayak was condemned to complete solitary confinement for a period of six months. If picking oakum and the oil mill were exacting for the body, not speaking to anyone or having any kind of human contact or interaction for this long took a toll on his mind. He notes poignantly:

To speak to none, to discuss with none, and to keep on looking at my naked body so shabby, so dust-covered, so sweated by the work on the oil-mill, a work that I had to do for the best part of the day. The body used to be full of perspiration, the dust thrown up by the turning wheel of the mill as it crushed and ground down the pieces of dry coconut fruit for oil, with other dust mixed up in it, had clung to it all over— this was the experience from which the mind revolted with disgust. It went on like this from hour to hour, from day to day, and, who knows, it might continue from month to month, and lengthen out into years. I began to hate myself.40


To make matters worse, on 14 August 1911, a day before Vinayak was harnessed to the oil mill he received a letter from Bombay University. It was from the secretary of the education department stating that under Section 18 of the Indian Universities Act, the BA degree conferred on him was set to be cancelled. The senate of Bombay University in their meeting on 1 July 1911 had come to this conclusion in the wake of his conviction and sentence in the Nasik Conspiracy Case. Interestingly, Justice Chandavarkar, who was among the three-judge bench that sentenced Vinayak, was also the vice chancellor of Bombay University at that time and he ratified this decision. An education that Vinayak had obtained after such hardships and had managed to pass with exemplary performance was ruthlessly stripped off him. 41 This added immensely to his mental agony.

By the end of 1911, the British government was busy organizing the Delhi Durbar. The festivities were to be held between 7 and 16 December 1911 and the actual coronation on 12 December. Earlier that year, on 22 June, George V had taken over as the emperor. The Delhi Durbar was being held to proclaim him and his wife, Queen Mary, as the new emperor and empress of India. All the princes of the native states, thousands of landed gentry and persons of eminence were to gather to pay their obeisance to their new masters. The impending coronation durbar had given rise to rumours that many political prisoners would be pardoned. Vinayak, however, was extremely sceptical about the possibility of any concession from the government as it had barely been a couple of months since his arrival.

The official protocol demanded that all political prisoners submit clemency petitions to the government seeking their release and pardon as part of the Delhi Durbar goodwill gesture. Accordingly, everyone, including Vinayak, submitted their petitions to the jail authorities. Vinayak’s petition was received on 30 August 1911. Although no copy of this petition is extant, there remains only a reference to this in his ‘Jail History Ticket’. 42 While most of the other prisoners did not receive any response, Vinayak’s petition was answered in less than a week. On 3 September 1911, he received a terse reply from the government which said: ‘Petition Rejected’. 43 It came as no surprise to him.

The other prisoners hung on to their hopes till the official announcement was made. The Bengali revolutionaries believed in the anecdotes floating around about how their contemporary, Barin Ghose’s brother, Aurobindo Ghose, saw Lord Krishna in the jail where he was lodged after being tried in the Alipore Bomb Case. He was released later, after which he renounced politics and revolution and took to spiritual pursuits in the French colony of Pondicherry. Based on his vision of Lord Krishna and the message he received thereby, Aurobindo had prophesied that the Lord, speaking through him, was saying: ‘Go, you young men, go! You are sentenced today, but I assure you that you will come back free within three years from now.’ 44 Clutching on to this vague proverbial straw, the sinking men at Cellular Jail fervently believed that Aurobindo’s prophecy would come true and at the worst, they had just three more years to pass in this misery. The Delhi Durbar seemed to them like this dream was indeed coming true. They had begun building castles in the air about when they would leave, which train they would take back to their homes, inviting fellow prisoners to their homes too.

The evening before the announcement was to be made, Mirza Khan came running to announce that ‘Bada Babu has been released’. Vinayak was shocked because he had already received the official reply. His fellow prisoners exulted for him, shook his hands and congratulated him on his release. Vinayak was circumspect and refused to believe this till it was officially announced. The next morning, all the political prisoners had gathered in large numbers near the prison’s main gate where the announcement was to be made. It seemed to them a mere formality before the gates would open and they would be set free. Barrie walked in with a list in his hand and said that those whose names he read out would have a remission of one month in a year of their sentence.

No one was granted complete pardon or release. Though the excitement abated, a month’s remission still seemed good enough when compared to their hell. Many names were read out; Babarao’s among them too. This meant that he would have twenty-five months reduced from his total sentence. However, Vinayak’s name did not feature in the list. It was obvious that the government considered him dangerous enough to not let him out of the clutches of Cellular Jail even for a brief while. Barrie walked up to Vinayak sympathetically; the one with the longest sentence had not received even a day’s pardon. Vinayak recounts that this was the darkest day of despair, fear and melancholy for the inmates. But he was keen to know if the country had received some concessions on this momentous day, even if he had failed to procure any. He was delighted to know that the government had withdrawn the proposal to partition Bengal, something he had agitated against as a student in Poona. It had also been announced at the Durbar that the capital of British India was being shifted from Calcutta to Delhi.

Many prisoners were let out of the jail for outside work after they had completed six months of stay. In Vinayak’s case, while his solitary confinement of six months ended on 15 January 1912, he was not let out of prison even after he had adhered to all prison norms. He candidly admits in his memoir that he wanted to shorten the time of his sentence and so maintained good conduct. 45 He believed it was not prudent to rub the jail officials the wrong way and get on the wrong side of law while in prison, where the balance of power was skewed against him. Other prisoners were free to mix among themselves a little more than before; they could even talk to each other. But this concession too was kept away from Vinayak. He was allowed to leave his cell, but only to sit in the gallery or opposite his cell door, all by himself. When the others were let out of the prison, Vinayak was to present himself at the courtyard for his kolhu work.

On one such hot afternoon while pulling the grinding mill, Vinayak began panting for breath and felt faint. His stomach was cramped and excruciating pain wracked his body. He fell to the ground and his eyes closed. For a couple of minutes, a sense of nothingness engulfed him. This near-death experience opened his mind to the idea that leaving the body was a far better proposition than making it endure so much pain and suffering. He had contemplated suicide once before, when he had been recaptured in Marseilles and put into a cramped furnace of a cabin at Aden. That night the drive to finish his life and its sufferings once and for all was intense. He kept looking at the barred window from which several frustrated prisoners had hung themselves to their deaths. In the intense tussle in his mind, between his desire for death and the voice of reason, the latter prevailed. He decided that if he were to die, he should do so after killing an enemy of the country and not in this cowardly fashion.

Working at the oil mill occasionally led him to interactions with other political prisoners. They would communicate stealthily without catching the attention of the inspecting officers. Vinayak realized that many of these young revolutionaries, although brave at heart and undaunted in spirit, lacked the awareness of politics, history, economics or international affairs. While this did not take away from their courage or their patriotic spirit, Vinayak felt that as someone who had spent considerable time studying these subjects, it was his duty to educate and enlighten them so that they became more focused and strategic in their approach and struggle for freedom once they were released. Many had begun to lose hope and so Vinayak played a good counsellor and motivated them with stories from history and mythology. They began to communicate a few words among themselves through commonly agreed sign language. As he recounts:

They talked freely, they imagined boldly; they revelled in happy dreams of the future; and they recovered the balance of their minds and the poise of their souls. Their courage to fire and to endure was deepened; its blunted edge had recovered its sharpness; and, when they dispersed, they went away, each to his cell, taking leave of one another, like happy and loving brothers. It was there that I enrolled them and other prisoners of the settlement as members of my ‘Abhinava Bharat’. It was here that they took their solemn oath to be true to the cause and serve it ever with their lives.46
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Re: Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past by Vikram Sampath

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Part 3 of 3

The lack of books proved to be a major obstacle. Prisoners were given a book to read only on Sundays. The warder carried them in a net bag like vegetables and threw them into each room. These were collected back from them the same evening. No exchange of books between prisoners was allowed. As per rules, prisoners got an opportunity to read from their collection between four and six in the evening. But the daily chore would leave them too exhausted to contemplate reading. Being of poor educational background himself, Barrie detested anyone who was found reading or writing, and they would be thrown for the kolhu work.

Slowly, with the connivance of some warders, Vinayak managed to hold small classes for fellow political prisoners on history, the lives of revolutionaries, global politics and so on. Following a few more strikes in the prison, after that of Nand Gopal, some concession was granted and gatherings among them were allowed. Vinayak’s classes became more open and regular. The political prisoners were always keen on knowing about latest developments in India, but they were not given newspapers to read. However, they occasionally figured out a way to smuggle in copies of newspapers such as the Local Mail or London Times. Some of the revolutionaries who went out of the jail to work would get opportunities to meet Indians settled in the colony. They were sympathetic to the cause of the revolutionaries and surreptitiously slipped in either information or newspapers. The new batch of ‘chalans’ who came in every few months also brought with them the latest information about the mainland.

Since slate or paper was never given, Vinayak used thorns to write on the white walls of the cell. He advised his ‘students’ too to do the same and summarize their discussions and learning of the day’s lesson on their walls. This gave the prisoners some intellectual break from the monotony of physical toil and their wretched lives. In fact, Vinayak would inscribe several of his poems on the walls, and just to spite and frustrate him, Barrie would order the walls to be whitewashed. But little did he know that Vinayak had an elephantine memory and would memorize the verses. In Vinayak’s own words:

As soon as I was locked up inside the room and the door was shut, I would begin to write on the wall with that pencil [made of the thorns] in columns, which I drew upon it. All the walls of the 7th chawl were thus scrawled over and each constituted for me a book by itself. For example, the cell in which I was confined to weave the stranded cord was written with a full outline of Spencer’s ‘First Principles’. My poem ‘Kamala’ was composed and copied in full on the walls of this seventh division. In another cell I wrote all the definitions of political economy as I had learnt from Mill’s Work on the subject. My object was that when I was changed from that room to another, a political prisoner, brought in there, may learn those definitions as he was learning that subject from me. With a little management such a student could succeed being put up in this lock-up. He could then learn them off in a month before his turn came for transference elsewhere. As I was being changed from division to division I saw to it that every division and every cell in that division had its writings on the walls from my improvised pen. And the political prisoners who had turned students took the fullest advantage of these written tablets—their books of study.47


In addition to the lack of literature or paper to write, the prisoners were allowed to write only one yearly letter to their families. It was supposed to be an open letter that was first read and censored by the jailor, next by a British officer and dispatched only after their approvals. They were warned that these letters could not contain a single word against jail authorities. Occasionally, a magistrate would call on the prisoners to find out how they were doing. But even here any word or discussion, any petition regarding the ill-treatment meted out to them was impossible to articulate. The people or political leaders in India had absolutely no idea what was going on within the dreaded walls of the Cellular Jail.

The first letter that Vinayak was allowed to write to his younger brother Narayanrao was eighteen months after his arrival. In this letter, dated 15 December 1912, he laments that given the time it has taken for him to put pen to paper, he might as well unlearn the art of writing itself altogether. The family had received a letter from Babarao in July 1912. Vinayak was delighted to know that Narayanrao had been released from prison after the Nasik Conspiracy Case trial and had joined a medical course in dentistry in Calcutta. He lived at 98, Premchand Boral Street, Bow Bazar. 48 Jokingly, Vinayak mentioned that he hoped his brother would not lose his heart to a Bengali girl, adding that he favoured inter-provincial marriages. It was much better to have a Bengali wife as compared to ‘marrying the European girls at this stage of our national life’. 49 Since no adverse report could be given about jail life, Vinayak painted a pleasant picture, saying that he never had any serious illness since the time of coming there and was in sound physical and mental health. The regimen he narrated also sounds idyllic when one compares it to his memoir, as well as those of his fellow prisoners. But even in this condition, his eagerness to know more about what was happening in India and the world comes through:

In your answer please inform me how our dear Motherland is getting on. Is the Congress united? Does it pass the resolution for the release of the political prisoners from year to year as it did at Allahabad in 1910? Any remarkable Swadeshi enterprise like the iron works of Tata or Steam Navigation Company or New Mills? How is the Republic of China? Does it not sound like Utopia realized? A Romance of History . Don’t suppose that China’s work is a day’s. No, from 1850 they have been strenuously at it though the world knows not where the Sun is making its way—till it is risen: and Persia, Portugal, and Egypt? And are the Indians in South Africa successful in getting their demands? Please do mention if any important law has been passed by the new councils, e.g., the Education Bill of the Hon. Mr Gokhale. When the great Tilak is due to be released?50


He adds further, about his compatriot revolutionaries possibly:

I cannot name, for obvious reasons, others with whose memory my heart is now overwhelmingly full. Tell them all that I remember each and all of them. How can I forget them? No, a man in a prison cannot forget. The mind, shut up from the new impressions can only feed on the old ones, and so in a prison so far from forgetting old acquaintances that one vividly remembers and begins to love even those who were before forgotten: My sweet friends, in a prison one weeps and weeps and vainly waits for someone to come to wipe the tears—to speak a word of affection, and love . . . To all those please give my affection and love who you know were my sweet friends and comrades and dearer than life to me, and to those who even when some were not ashamed to disown the ties of blood, are still standing by you, and remember me my deepest obligations are due.51


While Vinayak managed to overcome his suicidal tendencies by finding a mission for himself, not everyone was as strong-willed. Indu Bhushan Roy was one such prisoner. He was a young man convicted in the Maniktala Bomb Case and sentenced by the sessions judge of Alipore on 6 May 1909 to ten years’ rigorous imprisonment in the Andamans. He arrived at the Cellular Jail in December 1909. Indu had found the kolhu work excruciating and was looking forward to being let off from the prison to work outside. Unfortunately, it turned out to be more fatiguing and humiliating than what he faced inside. On many occasions when he suffered from high fever and dysentery while working outside, he was not taken to a doctor and instead made to walk back to his cell in the evening. When he refused to go outside to work, Barrie was furious. He was ordered to immediately get to the kolhu.

Vinayak saw hopelessness writ large on young Indu’s face. In the few words they exchanged, Indu told him that life seemed meaningless to him. Vinayak tried to assuage him by saying ten years would pass soon; his sentence of fifty years was longer and he was bearing it with grace. Despite all his attempts to cheer Indu up, the latter continued to remain dejected. Dead tired with exhaustion, with drops of sweat dripping from all over him, and the chaff of the coconut sticking to him, he staggered back, crouching, to his cell one evening.

The next morning, on 29 April 1912, while all the prisoners came down for the kolhu work, Indu was nowhere to be found. Just then, a warder came rushing down the stairs screaming that Indu was found dangling from the top window. Indu had torn his clothes to make a noose of it. When the warder went to check his cell, he found his body with its neck broken, his tongue lolling out and feet dangling. A pall of gloom and desperation fell upon the prison. Such incidents were becoming far too regular.

Indu had tied a piece of paper around his neck—a suicide note, allegedly blaming the tortures in the jail as a cause for him ending his life. Barrie had cleverly destroyed this paper and sent a report to an inquiry commission probing his death that Indu had died of insanity and due to bitter personal quarrels with fellow prisoners. The jail officers were tutored to inform the commission that they had seen him cheerful and there was absolutely no inkling that he was contemplating ending his life. 52 Vinayak and several other prisoners testified that Indu was not insane and it was the miserable prison conditions that had led him to take this extreme step. They requested that an independent evidence be called forth to prove their deposition—one whom Barrie could not intimidate. This turned out to be the editor of Swaraj , Nand Gopal, who had been sentenced for sedition and transported as a political prisoner. He proved to the officers of the inquiry commission that Indu had been a victim of the tortures he suffered at prison. Barrie tried to peddle a fake note left behind by Indu where he allegedly blamed his fellow political prisoners and his fights with them as the only reason for his suicide. That evening, Vinayak spoke to Barrie, laying the blame squarely on him:

I know the conversation Indu had with me only two or three days previous to this happening. I know what he had said to other prisoners in the same trying circumstances. He had told me, and them, that he had no desire to live for ten years in such hard conditions. He had said so several times and yet you dare say that he committed suicide in a fit of insanity? Granting that it was so, the question remains how at all a man strong and young like him could suddenly go mad. He was an archconspirator; he had faced treachery, imprisonment, transportation for life, hardships of prison-life and at last death by hanging with calmness and indifference and with a smile on his face. He had never shown temper in hot discussion with his friends, and had not given even the slightest indication of an unbalanced mind. Political prisoners are accustomed to such discussions and to sharp difference of opinion among themselves, and yet none of them has shown such a sign of weakness. Why then should these affect the mind of Indu Bhushan? Indu Bhushan was a man of strong mind. What had made his mind so weak now? What was the cause of it? It could be no other than the harsh treatment that he received in this prison. He was treated here harshly; therefore, he chose to work outside; there also he had to pass through the same kind of torture and humiliation. He returned here sick and woe-begone. You put him in his cell and straightaway ordered him to work on the oil-mill. All this had contributed to his weakness. He openly said that he was tired of his life and would put an end to it. That is why he hanged himself. It was no case of suicide through insanity as you put it. If he has really written what you say, then there must be some reason for his insanity.53


Barrie despised Vinayak for his fearless honesty. At the same time, he knew that Indu’s suicide had the potential to adversely affect his career. He, therefore, dropped the idea of the fake note, but imposed strict regulations on the flow of information to and from the prison.

Despite the strictures imposed on prisoners, Hotilal Varma, who had been sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment, managed to get some paper and wrote a long article on the pathetic conditions in which they lived. He had the courage to sign the article with his name and also the details of the cell in which he was lodged. It was necessary that the outside world learn about the atrocities meted out to them. Except for two or three of his trusted friends, no one knew anything about what he was planning to do. Hotilal’s article was smuggled out of jail and reached India, specifically Surendranath Banerjea, the editor of Bengalee . Banerjea was aghast on reading the horrifying details outlined in the article. He published it in its entirety, creating quite a stir. For this ‘offence’, the Bengalee ’s press was confiscated by the government. The Tribune of Lahore and Amrita Bazar Patrika also carried the details.

The condition of the Cellular Jail inmates also found its echo in Madame Cama’s Bande Mataram:

In jail there are various kinds of work to do, the most difficult being the oil-mill, whether by hand or by foot. The latter means that four men are tied to the mill and have to go round and round a centre post just as bullocks do. They have to press out 30 lb. of oil during the day . . . in the oil-mill work by hand you have to turn a handle round and round during the whole day, and thus press out about 30 lb. of oil . . . chopping cocoanut bark is another species of work . . . Ropemaking is the lightest work one gets in jail . . . the regulation about punishment for short work is handcuffs for seven days for the first offence; for the second offence a week’s handcuffs and four days’ ganji . For the next offence the punishment was fetters for a month or two, then cross-bar for ten days and for further repetition of the offence—fetters for six months or so and solitary confinement . . . the work outside jail is still more dreadful. Among such work may be mentioned felling large trees and piling them up in a large heap; running about with heavy lumps of clay and handing them to workmen; laying 1200 bricks in the day or hoeing a plot of tea-land 40 yards by 4 yards in area; and all this one has to do in all sorts of weather . . . the Indian Jail Code, it should be noted, recognizes no class of prisoners as first-class misdemeanants . . . Indu Bhushan Roy, one of the political prisoners in the Alipore Case, undergoing his sentence of transportation in the penal settlement in the Andaman Islands has committed suicide.54


The panic the article created is obvious in the letters exchanged among various officials. In a letter dated 7 May 1912, M.S.D. Butler feared that since the Tribune was regularly read by the India Office critics in England, it was imperative to ascertain the facts immediately and have a response ready. He contended that ‘it is scarcely likely that the political prisoners are harnessed to an oil mill or are made to act as bricklayers’ assistants’. 55 In reply, H. Wheeler agreed and also feared that given the gross violations of basic human rights and dignity of the prisoners, as alleged in the article, ‘it is very likely to attract attention in the House of Commons’. 56 Sir Reginald H. Craddock, the home member of the Government of India was dismissive about the fuss that was being created. He believed that while there was no harm in knowing the facts as they might be, the revolutionaries could ‘hardly expect to escape hard labour in the Andamans subject to their medical fitness for the same’. After all, they were the ones who believed in anarchy, and those ‘whose objects are murder can scarcely be suffering for their opinions, any more than any other criminal’. 57 He merely wanted to know what forms of labour they had been employed in. In reply, the chief commissioner of the Andamans made light of the prisoners’ miseries. He even downplayed the most strenuous oil-mill labour, saying: ‘The statement in the article that the convicts are tied to the large mills is false. They are not confined in any way but merely walk round and round the mill pushing the bar, which is attached to the central post.’ 58 It was concluded that there was no reason to infer that the political prisoners were ‘being treated in any manner that could give rise to reasonable complaint’. He ended with:

I have no doubt that according to the Bengalee’s communicant the only labour for the ‘seditionists’ should be clerical work; this, however, it is obvious, could not be allowed. It is probable that none of these prisoners had ever done any manual labour or any other than clerical or scholastic work, and perhaps petty trading, prior to their arrival in the Andamans.59


Barrie was wild with rage at these details being leaked out. He thundered at all the prisoners and issued a fiat that henceforth no prisoner be allowed to come within ten feet of another. Dining together too was to be severely restricted and scrutinized. He was all the more furious because the article’s author had been kept anonymous. The Indian press that published the article had intelligently used their discretion to not name the author though he had signed it, realizing it would jeopardize his future there.

The Mahratta, dated 28 July 1912, probed deeper into Indu’s suicide. It is evident from the amount of detail in the article that regular information was being smuggled out from the jail to the Indian mainland and the press.

Why did Indu Bhusan commit suicide? If he was tired of prison life, one would expect that he would have committed suicide long ago; for he had already been in the Andamans for over three years. Was there nothing in anything that had happened recently in connection with him to account for his taking this fatal step? Was it not rather the act of a desperate man to whom life had become insupportable in the condition in which he found himself? Is it or is it not the case, that on the afternoon of the 28th April, only a few hours preceding his suicide, Indu Bhusan desired to see the Jailor and was taken to his office, and there did he not in the most entreating terms request the Jailor to change his work, as he was engaged in making white flax out of ‘rambash’ plant? Did he not say to the Jailor—or at any rate addressed words to that effect—‘See, my hands have become so blistered by the juice of the “rambash” that I cannot move my fingers freely and it is so painful that I cannot get a wink of sleep the whole night. I cannot take my food to my mouth. The touch of “dal” causes me so much pain that tears come to my eyes and my food is left untouched. I will die of pain and starvation. Kindly change my work or allow me to go to hospital for a few days to get my palms healed.’ Saying this, he stretched his hands to the full, but met with a rebuff from the Jailor. We will not reproduce the language, which the Jailor is reported to have used. Is it not the case that Indu Bhusan pleaded again, begging to be allowed to report himself personally and show his hands to the Medical Superintendent? But the Jailor shouted: ‘You must carry out my orders.’ Then after thinking for a couple of minutes, he again said, ‘All right, I will change your work.’ And ordered the warder in charge to engage Indu in ‘Kolu ’ oil mill from next morning. Indu got so frightened that he told the Jailor that he would simply die if he had to work in the Kolu mill with those hands of his. The Jailor was obdurate and our information is that Indu was dismissed amid a shower of abusive language. This was the last straw on the camel’s back and before many hours Indu was found hanging in his cell . . . the political prisoners, we learn, are scattered over the entire settlement. In case they fall ill they are not taken to the nearest hospital within whose jurisdiction they live and where in the ordinary course they should be taken. They have to be taken to the Hospital of the Jail District where Captain Barker is the Medical Superintendent and also District Officer.60


Unknown to the prisoners, the government had set up a departmental inquiry into Indu Bhushan Roy’s suicide and the general prison conditions in the wake of all the news articles. The chief commissioner sent a report to the government refuting all charges of cruel treatment. Concocting the entire sequence of events, he noted:

On the early morning of the 29th of April, Indu Bhushan Roy committed suicide in his cell by tearing his coat into 3 strips, tying the pieces together and hanging himself from the bars of the cell ventilator; and inquest was at once held by my orders by the Deputy Superintendent at which it was clearly proved that the deceased Indu Bhushan Roy had developed the hallucination that two others of the seditionist prisoners, Nonigopal Mukherjee and Ganesh Damodar Savarkar, intended to murder him under the impression that he had informed against them to Government and that it was on this account that he killed himself; that this was the true cause of the deceased’s suicide is further corroborated by the fact that the deceased hanged himself on the very morning of the day on which his punishment of separate confinement expired when in the ordinary course he would have been relegated to associated confinement again. The punishment of 3 months separate confinement was the only punishment Indu Bhushan Roy had received during the 2 years and 4 months he had been in the Settlement . . . Roy is the man who wrote the letter, which was published in the Calcutta papers.61


It was a bunch of well-manufactured lies to hush up the case and whitewash Barrie’s misconduct. As expected, ‘the official version in this case, which fully exonerated the authorities was accepted and no further step was taken in the matter’.62

But there was more to come. Ullaskar Dutt had been sentenced to imprisonment in the Andamans as a conspirator in the Maniktala Bomb Case. After thirteen years of hard labour, he was released. He wrote a detailed account of his experiences during this long and traumatic period. After a harrowing stint at the oil mill for over six months, he had been transferred outside as a labourer at a factory of bricks where he had to work in the full blaze of the sun. A junior medical officer had reported that Ullaskar was unfit for working in the sun, but this was disregarded by the European officer.

The work however involved an entitlement to milk, but the tindal at the jail would end up snatching away the hard-earned milk each time it was offered to him. When he protested mildly, Ullaskar was transferred to a labour that did not have the milk incentive. He had to ‘climb up a steep ascent, draw two buckets of water out of a well, tie them at both ends of a pole, and carry the buckets with the pole’ on his shoulders to the bungalow of an officer. This had to be done continuously for the entire day. After several days, Ullaskar was exhausted and refused to do this work. Charges of disobedience and shirking duty were framed against him. The magistrate tried to persuade him but he had made up his mind against it. Ullaskar writes:

We, political prisoners, who do what we will to conform to the rules of the prison and the settlement, were shown no consideration by the jail authorities. Why should we then bend down to their wishes? The more we toiled, the more they made us toil. Let them do their worst to our bodies, let us at least keep the soul free. They may rule over my body, but I am master of my soul. I shall not, of myself, enslave my soul to them.63


And so Ullaskar was sent back to the prison under Barrie’s command. On his return, Barrie roared, ‘If you go against the discipline, I will thrash you with my cane. I will give you thirty stripes of it, each of which will go deep into your flesh.’ To this, Ullaskar replied defiantly, ‘You may cut my body into pieces. I am no longer going to work here, for I think that to work according to your orders is a crime against my conscience.’ An infuriated Barrie ordered that chains be put on his hands and he be suspended by them in his own cell continuously for a week. Ullaskar started hallucinating. He had images of Vinayak being ordered into a duel with Barrie and how the former had managed to beat the latter black and blue in a spirited fight. Ullaskar had gone insane. Vinayak notes about the episode:

Heart-rending cries, one after another, had filled the whole atmosphere. I saw some of them dragging a man from block No. 5. There were ten of them trying to lift him up and carrying him to the hospital. The cry was coming from him. He cried, he fell on the ground; they were all in an uproar! I saw this from a distance when the warder came running to me and whispered that, ‘Ullaskar had gone insane.’ Yes! Burning in the hot sun with fever of 107 degrees; manacled and tied up, what else could happen to him than the loss of his brain? The brain and the body, which had been both outraged by excessive pressure upon them, had suddenly gone to pieces. Already he was so weakened in mind that he would easily pass into delirium. He saw hallucinations and visions. The brain was out of gear and the body was out of joint. The latter had repeated fits and convulsions, and ten persons could not control it.64


The entire prison reverberated with the heart-wrenching cries of Ullaskar beseeching his mother. ‘Amma, Amma,’ he would call out. The jail authorities decided to administer shock to him to ascertain if he had really gone insane or was faking it. In Ullaskar’s own words:

Even in this semi-conscious state of mind and under severe pain of the body, I could clearly feel that the medical Superintendent had played his electric battery upon me, the shocks of which it was impossible for me to withstand. The electric current went through my whole body like the force of lightening. Every nerve, fibre and muscle in it seemed to be torn by it. The demon seemed to possess it. And I uttered words such as had never passed my lips before. I roared as I had never done before, and suddenly I relapsed into unconsciousness. I was in this state of unconsciousness for three continuous days and nights. And my friends told me about it when I awoke from it.65


After eight or ten days when he recovered his senses, Ullaskar began hearing the voices of his relatives calling out to him piteously. He was overcome with guilt that he was responsible for their sorrow and had brought disgrace to the family. Overwhelmed with grief, he tore his garment and made a rope out of it and like Indu Bhushan Roy tried to hang himself from the rear window. Fortuitously, the watch and ward man detected this on time. Noticing his condition deteriorate by the day, the jail authorities shifted him to a mental hospital. He continued to have fits and convulsions and occasionally regained his senses. After a few weeks he was shifted to an asylum in Madras where he was admitted for nearly twelve years.

Vinayak confronted Barrie after this unfortunate incident. For nearly eight months after the incident, Barrie kept maintaining that Ullaskar was just faking madness just to shirk work. He even mockingly asked Vinayak if he would be the next to go insane, to which Vinayak retorted, ‘After you, surely!’ 66 Vinayak told him firmly that as political prisoners they needed to be treated with some amount of dignity, or at the least, as human beings. If he continued this way, it would not be long before more strikes rocked the jail. In his own words:

You had said about Indu Bhushan, you remember, that he had hanged himself because he was mad and not because he had suffered from excessive hard labour in this jail? And, then, I had asked you what was the cause of his madness. Why, then, Ullas had gone mad? Can you give me the reason for it? Dare you say, now, that it was anything else than the sufferings in this prison-life? Here they have no hope, no future to look to and no relief in their present state. Day and night they are ground down with labour, day and night they suffer insult and humiliation from you and your creatures. How can they bear it? What wonder that they are off their brains? It is unbearable suffering that brings on insanity and it is insanity that ends in suicide. Ullas and his life are standing testimonials to this fact and you cannot deny it. You manacled him, you kept him hanging for eight days in his cell; he went into fits and loud wailing. That took him to the hospital and that brought him to the stage of madness and he attempted suicide . . . Do treat us fairly henceforth, treat us as political prisoners, or at least, as ordinary prisoners. Do end this suffering. Else we shall have no other way out of it but strike. Not that we shall always win against you; entrenched as you are behind power and authority, the fight is bound to go against us. But we shall have done our best to expose injustice and defend our honour. And that is a great satisfaction.67


Barrie however was obdurate. He continued to maintain that Ullaskar was feigning madness, just to shirk his duties.

The Jail History Ticket was a document that maintained a catalogue of the punishments given to a prisoner. They did not include the regular tasks, such as working on the oil-mill or picking oakum, assigned to anyone. Even the punishments meted out were vastly underrated and reported, lest it catch the government’s attention. A perusal of Vinayak’s Jail History Ticket of this time shows that he was an active participant in the noncooperation that was going on in the prison. 68 On 19 September 1912, he was found in possession of a letter addressed to another. He makes a mention of this in his memoir too, although the date of that incident is unknown. He refers to a letter in Modi script that he had written to other prisoners on how to go about organizing the strike in the prison. This was confiscated in a search conducted in Vinayak’s cell. As punishment, he was handcuffed in standing position for a week. A similar incident happened on 23 November 1912 when a letter was confiscated from his cell. Following this he was put in solitary confinement for a month. In keeping with the non-cooperation in the prison, Vinayak went on a hunger strike from 30 December 1912 to 2 January 1913 and refused all food and water. All these details ascertain his active involvement in mobilizing fellow prisoners to raise their voice against the cruelty meted out to them. Barrie detested him for this as he was considered the brain behind the disturbances.

Meanwhile, the political prisoners decided to petition the jail authorities and Vinayak was selected as one of the two representatives. While prisoners who had passed six months of sentence were allowed to work outside the prison, Vinayak and Babarao were never let off even though they had served more than a year. On being asked they were told that the government forbade this. The petition that Vinayak wrote mentioned this. The petition demanded that those who were accused of political crimes must be recognized as political prisoners and not as common convicts accused of thefts and other crimes. As political prisoners they were entitled to certain concessions and facilities. They demanded that they be given proper food, that they be released from inhuman labour and be allowed to interact with each other. On the contrary, the petition argued, political prisoners did not receive even the ordinary facilities given to other convicts, like sending and receiving letters, occasional meeting with relatives and friends, facility to read and write, or being promoted as petty officers. They were not recognized as ordinary prisoners entitled to these concessions and at the same time got no facilities as prisoners belonging to a special class. If they claimed any rights as political prisoners, they were put off with the excuse that ordinary prisoners would resent the partiality shown to them and hence the prison officers would not be a party to such a decision. Summing up, the petition stated that they were subjected, as political prisoners, to all the disabilities of prison life in India and the Andamans, without the compensating facilities afforded to ordinary prisoners in the jails of India, as well as at the Cellular Jail. It ended with a solemn warning that they would no longer tolerate such treatment of political prisoners in the jail. ‘No relief, no concession, then no work’—that was the final resolution on the matter. Barrie totally disregarded the petition and the political prisoners decided to embark on the second strike. They stoutly refused to do any work, or least, even stand up when Barrie sauntered in.

From 7 September, the prisoners began a series of hunger strikes and work strikes, started by Ladha Ram, former editor of Swaraj. The next resistance came in the form of a political prisoner, Nani Gopal, a young Bengali lad from Chinsura, aged sixteen or seventeen. He had thrown a bomb at the motorcade of a British officer. Nani had been given the work of the oil mill and after a while he resisted it. He was forced to wear clothes made of gunny bags, which was extremely uncomfortable in the humid weather. Consequently, he gave up wearing clothes altogether. The petty officers would pin him down to the ground, forcibly put those clothes on him, sewing them up on his body. But invariably he would end up tearing them off at night. To prevent this, he would be chained and his hands and legs tied. He refused to answer any question posed to him or even turn up for a bath. He would literally be lifted, led to the water reservoir and his body rubbed so hard with dry coconut shreds that his skin would bleed. Nani Gopal went about stark naked and this caused more friction with the authorities. He demanded to be ranked as a political prisoner.

Barrie decided to cane Nani to teach him a lesson. Vinayak warned him that any such move on his part would have a disastrous impact on other political prisoners and that he should brace himself for the consequences. Moreover, Lord Morley had ruled that such harsh treatment was strictly forbidden for political prisoners. Disregarding this, the caning was ordered and Nani was thrashed within an inch of his life. He bore it resolutely till the time the jailer who was executing it thought that Nani might die and stopped it. He was moved to a district prison in Viper Island for a few days so that he could be away from the malefic influence of the political prisoners who were poisoning his mind. But the jail authorities were mistaken.

On his return, Nani began a hunger strike. The authorities tried to forcefeed him and also poured milk into a pipe thrust into his nose. Barrie feared that his death, close on the heels of Indu’s suicide and Ullaskar’s insanity, would create a flutter. But Nani was obdurate and refused to eat anything. Vinayak tried his best to convince him not to end his life this way but Nani’s hunger strike carried on for several days and he began to lose weight alarmingly.

Around the same time, there were rumours that the prisoners who were sent outside for work had begun manufacturing bombs in a clandestine factory. Gramophone pins and few pieces of iron—useful components in bomb manufacture—had been discovered near the place where convicts went out to work. Barin Ghose and Upendranath Banerjee, however, have dismissed this in their memoirs as the mischief and fabrication of a fellow prisoner, Lalmohan Saha. In his memoir, Vinayak mentions that one morning there were mass arrests within the Cellular Jail and ‘the cause of all this noise and fury was that the officers had information of a bomb factory started in the island by political prisoners working in the settlement’. He then adds, rather enigmatically, that ‘it was not altogether without foundation. But the search and arrests afforded no clue to it.’ 69 This seems to suggest that he did seem to have knowledge or some role in this, although one cannot be sure. He was nonetheless worried about its impact on his sentence. He writes:

It gave me great anxiety about the future in store for me. I had already suffered enough in one conspiracy case, and I feared what this case would bring to me. We had already been on transportation for life; my life-sentence was fifty years. The Gods that did me that ill-turn may involve me in this and deal even worse with me. I never more thought of being sent out in the settlement. The manufacturing of bombs and the chartering of boats had made that out of question. The officers behaved insolently towards me and told me openly that I should no more think of it. They had final orders from the Government of India that I was not to be released from this jail till I had run my full sentence of fifty years or till I was dead before that time.70


The Government of India did not proceed to investigate or frame charges against any of the prisoners due to insufficient evidence. But it was annoyed with the negligence of the local authorities in Port Blair.

There were also stories about political prisoners chartering boats to help others escape from the jail. Information about the condition of the jail, the suicides and strikes of prisoners and, importantly, the manufacturing of bombs caught the attention of the press in mainland India. Questions began to be raised in the Imperial Legislative Council about the ferment in the Andamans. The government could no longer afford to turn a blind eye. Finally, in October 1913, home member of the Government of India, Sir Reginald H. Craddock, decided to visit the Cellular Jail and interview some of the political prisoners to ascertain their grievances. Eventually, the non-cooperation activities did not seem to be entirely in vain.
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Part 1 of 3

9 The Jail Chronicles

Cellular Jail, October 1913

Sir Reginald Craddock was born into a family with strong links to the British Raj. His father, Major William Craddock, had been attached to the first Gurkha Rifles (also called the Malaun Regiment and also as the King George V’s Own Gurkha Rifles) as a surgeon. An Oxford graduate, Reginald Craddock had risen up the ranks and become a home member of the Government of India. Later, he also served as the governor of Burma. In October 1913, Craddock was headed for an important task to the Andaman Islands. For the longest time, the Government of India had treated the islands and the Cellular Jail as being too distant to cause any trouble. But increasing reports of upheavals and unrests, following the massive publicity of the ill-treatment of prisoners and the looming danger of bombs being manufactured there and shipped to the mainland, had the government on its toes. Craddock was authorized to conduct a thorough inquiry into the affairs at Port Blair, meet as many political prisoners as possible and submit a report to the government. Interestingly, even though Craddock’s visit to the Cellular Jail had been kept a secret from the political prisoners by the jail authorities they were besieged by questions about his visit. This astounded the authorities. It only went to prove that despite the most stringent vigilance the prisoners could not be kept isolated from one another and the outside world. A few prisoners were called out to meet Craddock. These included Vinayak, Hrishikesh Kanjilal, Barin Ghose, Nand Gopal and Sudhir Kumar Sarkar. Craddock also walked past the cells and spoke to Birendra Sen (of the Sylhet group of revolutionaries), Upendra Nath Banerjee, Hotilal Varma and Pulin Behari (leader of the Dacca group).

Vinayak gives an account of his interview with Craddock. The latter began by sympathizing with this young, talented barrister’s condition, someone who once had a glorious future ahead of him. In reply, Vinayak told him that getting out of prison was entirely in Craddock’s hands. If what he had been hearing about the reforms that were being introduced in India were indeed true, all his friends, including him, who were dubbed revolutionaries would turn to the path of peace. Here, Vinayak was referring to the Morley–Minto reforms of 1909 in administration and the education bills introduced by Gopalkrishna Gokhale. Since 1910, Gokhale had been trying to introduce a bill for compulsory primary education in India. After a lot of dithering, the government had finally agreed. The move received further impetus following the donation of Rs 50 lakh from Emperor George V during the Delhi Durbar. Accordingly, the government too had adopted Gokhale’s recommendations and passed the resolution on education policy on 21 February 1913. In his first letter written from Port Blair on 15 December 1912 to Narayanrao, it is clear that Vinayak was aware of these developments even while being confined at the Cellular Jail.

Craddock disagreed about Vinayak’s assertion that revolutionaries might eschew the path of violence given the government’s constructive and conciliatory tone of reforms. He asserted that several of Vinayak’s followers still swore by him and planned secret societies and revolutionary activities in India, Europe and even America. When asked if he would write a letter espousing these thoughts, Vinayak agreed on the condition that it would have to be an independent letter from him, not through the government. This was vetoed by Craddock.

Craddock then proceeded to question him on his grievances. Vinayak gave a detailed account of the atrocities that he and others faced in jail. The chief commissioner of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, M.W. Douglas, who was present at the meeting interjected to say how this could be construed as a complaint. For a political prisoner and a murderer, one who had conspired to overthrow the government, this was the logical consequence. Had Russia been ruling India they would have been packed off to Siberia or even been shot in the back, he exclaimed. It was his good fortune that the British were ruling India and he had got away with such lenience. Vinayak coolly replied:

I am sure, however, that Russia would not have disarmed India. Today Russia enrolls inhabitants in Siberia as well as foreigners in its army, and appoints them to responsible military posts. And it would have appointed Indians to the same posts, and if it had treated us as you do, we would have beaten them, as we beat and conquered the Mogal Emperors of India.1


Craddock went on to say that the Hindu rajas of yore would have had a rebel trampled under the foot of an elephant. Vinayak implored him to not delve into history because the way England brutally treated its rebels was well documented. Holding a mirror to Craddock, he added:

I know also that in England they dragged a prisoner along the street for felony and hanged him. But these are things of the past by which none should swear today. You don’t hang a thief today in England. The fact is that the benefits of civilization, wherever they may originate, are shared by all alike. Formerly a traitor was trampled under the foot of an elephant, but the victor punished a king by sending him to the block. Charles I and the English rebellion are instances in point. On both the sides the rule now is to follow civilized methods and, as you seemed to agree with us, we appeal to you to treat and judge us accordingly. If you say that you will treat us barbarously, we shall face the situation as best as we can.2


Vinayak was thereafter given the option to submit a formal petition stating his case. The same option of petitioning the government was offered to Barin Ghose, Nand Gopal, Hrishikesh Kanjilal and Sudhir Kumar Sarkar. They submitted their petitions accordingly.

This process of petitioning the government was a legitimate tool available to political prisoners in British India, similar to defending oneself in court through the agency of a lawyer. And Vinayak was a compulsive petitioner. He sent more than ten petitions on various issues during his jail stay in the Andamans and prior to reaching there—like the ones at Byculla jail seeking provisions for milk and books. As a barrister, Vinayak knew the law and also wished to utilize all the provisions available to him under it, to free himself from imprisonment or to alleviate his condition in prison. It is but natural for a man incarcerated for life to explore every available legitimate option to first and foremost release himself. He often expressed this opinion—that a revolutionary’s primary duty was to free himself from the clutches of the British in order to return to the freedom struggle.

In his petition dated 14 November 1913, Vinayak makes several points related to the legal aspects of his case. 3 He states that when he came to the Cellular Jail in 1911, he was the only one classified as ‘D’ (dangerous) prisoner. He was put in solitary confinement for six months and given the hardest of tasks. Despite his good conduct during this time, he was not sent out of the jail like the other convicts even after the lapse of eighteen months. When he petitioned for a promotion, he was told that he was a special-class prisoner and hence it could not be done. When any of them asked for better food or any special treatment they were told that as ‘ordinary convicts’ they could avail no such benefits. He sought to know why on the one hand they were termed special class and denied privilege of promotion, while at the same time they were not considered special class and therefore denied good food or concessions. How could this work both ways? he wondered. Had he been a political prisoner lodged in an Indian jail, he would have earned remission, could send more letters to his family and also get several opportunities to meet them. Had he been considered a transportee 4 alone, as per the usual norms, in about a couple of years he would have been released or could look forward to leave ticket. 5 But he was denied the privileges of both an Indian jail as well as the regulations of the convict colony, having to thereby live with the disadvantages of both sides.

He requested the government to ‘put an end to this anomalous situation . . . by either sending me to Indian jails or by treating me as a transportee just like any other prisoner. I am not asking for any preferential treatment, though I believe as a political prisoner even that could have been expected in any civilized administration in the independent nations of the world’. It was almost an indirect mockery of British India being uncivilized. Vinayak sought to be sent to an Indian jail where he stood a chance of earning a remission, visits from family members once in four months, more letters, and a moral, if not legal, right to be released in fourteen years. If he could not be released to an Indian jail, as a convict of Port Blair, he had to be allowed out of the Cellular Jail like the others, and also get ticket leaves, which would enable his family to visit him, and other such normal concessions.

It is important to understand the distinction between the types of prisoners and the benefits they received as per the law of the time. This is explained in detail in Nand Gopal’s petition dated 15 November 1913. Nand Gopal had pioneered the resistance against the kolhu work and had also submitted a petition which was his legitimate right. He explains that there are two categories of prisoners—one who are kept in Indian jails and another that are sent to Port Blair. Lifers and term convicts who are considered unfit for transportation were still being kept in Indian jails. Being stationed in Indian jails, even as a lifer, gave a prisoner several benefits:

. . . one can see his parents, friends and other relatives twice in a year. He can write at least two letters in a year. He is allowed more when he is promoted to C.N.W. and convict warder and overseer. He can receive as many letters as many are sent to him with the permission of the Superintendent, which is almost always given. He can keep with him as many books, as many are sent to him. He is not made to do work under sun and rain as prisoners of this place are bound to do. He is not subjected to half the hard tasks which the prisoners are doing at Port Blair.6


Nand Gopal elucidates that the greatest grievance they had was the absence of remission that was usually allowed to political prisoners in Indian jails. He specifically cites the ‘Mark-System remission’ that enabled a prisoner transported for life to be released within fourteen years. He stood a chance of an earlier release within two or three years if he received extraordinary remissions, such as a coronation remission. This was given to almost all political prisoners in Indian jails. He writes that Port Blair’s penal policy was to keep every convict in solitary confinement and lodged within the Cellular Jail for a maximum of six months. After this, he was let outside to work and given ticket leaves. This facility had been taken away from political prisoners who had lost the status of an ordinary convict.

Barin Ghose, Nand Gopal, Kanjilal and Sarkar had also sent similar requests to be transferred to Indian jails and its associated benefits, or a grant of privileges legitimately available to convicts of Port Blair in their petitions.

In his petition, Vinayak draws the government’s attention to the fact that unlike a term convict, he had fifty long years staring at him and it was tough for him to draw the ‘moral energy enough to pass them in close confinement, when even those concessions which the vilest of convicts can claim to smoothen their lives are denied’. 7 He points to what he discussed with Craddock about the government’s constitutional path of reforms and education which had not been the case prior to 1909, when they had taken the armed path. He states:

Therefore if the Government in their manifold benevolence and mercy release me, I for one cannot but be the staunchest advocate of constitutional progress and loyalty to the English Government . . . As long as we are in jails there cannot be real happiness and joy and gratitude to the Government, who knows how to forgive and correct, more than how to chastise and avenge. Moreover my conversion to the constitutional line would bring back all those misled young men in India and abroad who were once looking up to me as their guide. I am ready to serve the Government in any capacity they like, for as my conversion is conscientious so I hope my future conduct would be. By keeping me in jail nothing can be got in comparison to what would be otherwise. The mighty alone can afford to be merciful and therefore where else can the prodigal son return but to the parental doors of the Government?


While writers like A.G. Noorani consider this as a sign of Vinayak’s ‘cowardice’ and that he had become a pawn in the hands of the British, biographers like Dhananjay Keer point out that this was a tactical move, quite like Shivaji writing pliant letters to Aurangzeb to secure his release and cannot be taken literally. 8 Both sides might be hugely exaggerated in their censure or eulogy of a historical character, who needs to be judged by the yardsticks of his time and the context in which he operated. Most often, those inimical to Vinayak quote these petitions partially and almost never in a historical and situational context, framing an argument around them to suit a contemporary political narrative which is plainly historically disingenuous.

The Biblical reference to the ‘prodigal son’ could well be viewed as Vinayak’s attempt to appeal to the religious sentiments of his incarcerators. While the sentences of his ‘mercy petition’ quoted above, when read in isolation, might convey the image of a vacillating man out to become the government’s tool in lieu of his release, the logical arguments he posits prior to getting there are not indicative of the same disposition. The questions one needs to ask are manifold for an objective assessment of a controversial and much-maligned historical figure such as Vinayak. Did future events in his long and distinguished political career validate the allegation of his willingness to acquiesce to the British? Even if the dominant narrative seeks to make a case that it did, by way of his opposition to some of the measures of the popular Indian mass movement led by Gandhi, an assessment has seldom been made about whether this opposition to the Congress world view was favourable for the country or harmed the cause of freedom. Without going too far into the future, the events that played out in Cellular Jail itself, and almost immediately after the submission of this ‘pliant’ petition, bore no semblance to capitulation or a willingness to cooperate with the government.

Did the British trust his alleged loyalty or even buy his so-called willingness to yield or were they forever suspicious of the dangers he posed to them? If he had indeed become their pawn, why did the British treat him with suspicion and as one of India’s most dangerous men for nearly a decade and a half thereafter? These are the questions by which this narrative will evaluate Vinayak and here the scales of history do tilt considerably in his favour. The 1913 petition that has been a hotly debated issue till date opens multiple possibilities for objective historical assessment. Did the tortures of Cellular Jail break his spirit? Of course they did, as they naturally would of anyone in those circumstances, and more so as a young man who was in his late twenties. And Vinayak himself has mentioned in his memoir the many times when his spirit succumbed and he contemplated suicide. But did this breakdown lead him to become a British stooge? The answer to that would be an assertive no. Historical evidences, rather than his hagiographers, would bail him out on this important and vexing question.

In Craddock’s report that he wrote on board the S.S. Maharaja during his return voyage to India from the Andamans, he details the interviews he had with all the prisoners. He dismisses the articles in the Bengalee , which, according to him, represented the political prisoners ‘as mistaken patriots, brutally treated as ordinary criminals and goaded by that treatment into suicide and madness. All this, of course, was absolute nonsense. Under the late superintendent Colonel Browning, the treatment meted out to them was, if anything, rather weak.’ 9 Craddock clearly mentions that from his conversation with Vinayak it was evident to him that ‘he cannot be said to express any regret or repentance’ for whatever he did. But he had changed his views nonetheless and had mentioned that ‘the hopeless condition of Indians in 1906–1907 was his excuse for entering upon a conspiracy’. But when the Government of India had begun to show a conciliatory approach in the way of reforms in councils, education and so forth, ‘the case for a revolutionary action had disappeared. Mercy to him would, he said, have a calming effect upon those who still conspire against British rule, and he was willing to send an open letter to the native press explaining his change of views’. Craddock mentions that he was pressed to give him some assurance or promise, which he obviously could not.

Craddock opined that it was ‘quite impossible to give him any liberty here, and I think he would escape from any Indian jail. So important a leader is he that the European section of the Indian anarchists would plot for his escape which would before long be organized. If he were allowed outside the Cellular Jail in the Andamans, his escape would be certain. His friends could easily charter a steamer to lie off one of the islands and a little money distributed locally would do the rest.’ That even for a man like Vinayak it would not be possible to keep him on indefinite hard labour. ‘In his case,’ noted Craddock, ‘the punitive requirements would have been satisfied after a few years’ hard labour and the remainder of his term would not be of the nature of a punishment for his crime but of mere incarceration, because he would be dangerous to the community outside.’ He concluded his observations regarding Vinayak quite prophetically by mentioning that ‘the degree to which he was dangerous or not, depended quite as much upon circumstances outside as upon his own conduct in prison, and that no one could say what those circumstances would be 10, 15, or 20 years hence’.10

Vinayak’s jail history11 immediately after Craddock’s departure indicates that in less than a month, on 16 December 1913, he once again undertook a strike from work and was punished with a month’s solitary confinement without any work or books. He was thereafter assigned the task of rope making. A few months later, on 8 June 1914, he once again refused to work. As a result, he was punished with seven days of standing handcuffed. Within a day of the punishment being completed, on 16 June 1914, he went back on his strike. For this insolence, he was put in chains for four months. This did not temper him, and he continued his strike even on 18 June 1914. The authorities put him on ten days’ crossbar fetters. After Craddock’s departure, the increase in the number of punishment entries on his ticket certainly does not indicate the temperament of a man who was willing to cooperate with the British or become their stooge.

The treatment meted out to Vinayak was also discussed in the British Parliament. 12 On 23 June 1914, member of Parliament, Josiah C. Wedgewood, asked the government in the House of Commons why they were not entertaining the petitions for better treatment of the man while those committed on exactly similar offences in Ireland were allowed to go absolutely scot-free. In reply, the government through C. Roberts stated that there were no grounds to think that Vinayak had committed any offences violating prison discipline leading to temporary imposition of chains. This was only an exceptional punishment and not a norm. The Secretary of State contended that there was no reason to exercise special clemency towards a man convicted by the high court for abetment of the murder of Jackson.

In his memoir, Vinayak mentions that he had little hope of anything coming from the meeting with Craddock.

By then Nani Gopal’s indefinite fast had lasted for a month and a half and he had been reduced to skin and bones. Despite his fast he was kept standing for a week in chains and fetters. This was when Vinayak and the others undertook the series of work strikes to add momentum to the noncooperation in the jail. At this time, he was also expecting a letter from India, but this was kept away from him. Vinayak later learnt that this was because it contained some ‘objectionable matter’. Vinayak intensified his strike at being refused the one letter he received from home. The so-called objectionable content in the letter were the comments of James Keir Hardie, the Scottish socialist, politician, trade-unionist and the founder of the Labour Party. In the House of Commons, he had criticized the government for Vinayak’s imprisonment in the Andamans. The gist of his criticism was that while in Ireland the government had taken no steps against those who threatened open rebellion or raised armies, it was grossly unjust that a man like Savarkar was sentenced to fifty years of transportation for distributing pistols. He had suggested that as political prisoners, they should be granted all privileges of first-class convicts as was the norm in England. If this was barred, they should be categorized as ordinary prisoners along with its benefits. Barrie kept this letter from Vinayak so that the support from Britain would not lead him to intensify the strike.

Meanwhile, Nani Gopal’s condition was becoming precarious; he had to be saved at any cost. Vinayak decided to take the lead. He mentions that he had always been against the suicidal policy of hunger strikes because it was ruinous to both the individual and the cause. While most of the strikers were convinced, Nani was a tough nut to crack. Finally, Vinayak sent word that he too had begun a fast unto death and would not break his fast until Nani gave up his stubbornness. Vinayak was taken to Nani’s cell and he whispered in his ear, ‘Do not die like this. If you must die, die fighting like a hero. Kill your enemy and then leave this world.’ From thereon, all political prisoners followed Vinayak’s dictum and had their meals twice a day and ate plenty of coconuts. His mantra to them was, ‘Take as much food from them, grow fat, and don’t do any work!’13

Following the unrest, the government sent a notification about the changes they had proposed at Cellular Jail. All prisoners sentenced to a term short of life transportation were to be sent back to Indian jails, where remission of their sentence would be considered. Prisoners on life transportation would be retained at Cellular Jail for fourteen years, after which, if there was proof of good conduct, they would be put on light labour. During these fourteen years, the prisoner would be given decent food and clean clothes. After completion of five years of incarceration, those transported for life could cook their own food and would be given a monthly pocket allowance of twelve annas to a rupee each. There was a wave of relief and jubilation among the harried souls. The years of struggle had finally borne fruit.

Gradually, some of the political prisoners on shorter terms began to leave the prison. They promised that upon reaching India they would ensure wide publicity of the jail’s conditions and the suffering their compatriots were enduring in prison. Very few term convicts and those transported for life, including the Savarkar brothers, remained. Vinayak continued his efforts at educating convicts in the ideals of social service and national duty. Those trained by Vinayak, who were released or sent to Indian jails, started similar groups to carry the flame of knowledge that they had gained under him. They got locals, traders and others to subscribe to an education fund they created and helped the general public acquaint itself with the country’s political situation. At Cellular Jail, Vinayak campaigned and secured the provision of slates, pencils and books for prisoners.

Despite Barrie’s opposition and threats to burn the books, Vinayak managed to obtain the superintendent’s concurrence and started a library which stocked books in English, Punjabi, Hindi, Marathi and Sanskrit. Prisoners themselves contributed a part of the allowance they had begun to receive towards the purchase of the books. The books included those on constitutional history, politics, economics and the science of governance that Vinayak recommended. Magazines like Modern Review and the Indian Review also found their way here after much consideration of the chief commissioner. With a collection of more than 2000 books, the Cellular Jail library soon became the model for all Indian jails. Some of the prized possessions included the Bengali biographies of social reformers and intellectuals such as Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, the works of poet Rabindranath Tagore, Sanskrit editions of the Mahabharata, Ramayana and the Yoga Vasistha. Books on religion and philosophy, the lives and teachings of saints like Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Swami Vivekananda had pride of place on its shelves. The works of several Marathi poets from saint Dnyaneshwar to Moropant were part of the collection. The English books made for an eclectic collection—Herbert Spencer’s volumes on synthetic philosophy, including his First Principles and Sociology and Ethics ; all the works of John Stuart Mill, Charles Darwin, Aldous Huxley, William Tyndale and Ernst Haeckel; the writings of Thomas Carlyle and R.W. Emerson; works of historians like Thomas Babington Macaulay and Edward Gibbon; and poets like William Shakespeare, John Milton and Alexander Pope. It had John Abbott’s Life of Napoleon , the biographies of Bismarck, Garibaldi and Mazzini, with the latter’s complete works; novels from Charles Dickens to Leo Tolstoy; and the works of Peter Kropotkin. The library also had English writings of Vivekananda and Rama Tirtha; works of the German historian Heinrich von Treitschke; and of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Plato’s Republic , Aristotle’s Politics and Bluntschli’s Theory of the State as well as Rousseau’s Social Contract . From a decrepit hell of torture under the unlettered Barrie, the jail had suddenly transformed into a temple of knowledge. Except for the liberal superintendent, everyone in the jail, from Barrie downwards, viewed the library with deep suspicion.

Thus, gradually, by 1914–15 winds of change began to blow through the morbid jail. They were allowed to cook their own food and got clean and well-cooked food to eat. Some of them were called upon to work in the printing press, the library, and for drawing maps. Each of them also earned about Rs 10 a month from such work, which was a huge blessing for those who had seen no money for so long.

While these brought little benefits to Vinayak, he was happy to see his friends leading a better life now. Soon Wamanrao Joshi and Babarao were transferred to the kitchen for cooking duties. Vinayak remained in the same solitary cell—block number 7—and did the same work. Barrie was clear that he was he was the ‘father of unrest in the Andamans’ and hence need not be shown any mercy.

Vinayak was content with getting some time to read in the library. There was not a single book that he left unread. He finished the ten principal Upanishads, the Yoga Vasistha, Vedanta, the Bhagavadgita, the Bible and the works of Sanskrit poet and playwright Kalidasa. He made others read books and also make summaries of them. Gradually, they began to have Sunday meetings, which were book discussions on whatever they had read. Vinayak conducted classes for the prisoners and taught them various subjects. Many revolutionaries who had no theoretical or intellectual background benefited from these sessions. They were termed by Vinayak as graduates of his ‘Nalanda Vihar’—reminiscent of that ancient seat of learning, Nalanda University.

One of Vinayak’s favourite books was The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis. He wanted to study the Quran as well and began with the English, and later the Bengali version. Not satisfied by it, he asked a Muslim friend to help him with the original. After washing his hands and feet, Vinayak would sit reverentially to read the scripture, page by page, verse by verse, with his companion, who read the suras (verses) and translated them into Hindi.

Meanwhile, by mid-1914, unrest was brewing in Europe. What began as a conflict between Austria–Hungary and Serbia, leading to the assassination of the Austrian archduke, Franz Ferdinand, at Sarajevo, soon mushroomed into a conflict that gripped all Europe and the world in four years of strategic stalemate and unprecedented butchery. The conflagration pitted the Central Powers (Germany, Austria–Hungary and Turkey) against the Allies (France, Britain, Russia, Italy, Japan and later the United States of America in 1917) into one of the greatest watersheds of twentieth-century geopolitical history. It led to the fall of four imperial dynasties (Germany, Russia, Austria–Hungary and Turkey) and brought in its wake the Russian Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, destabilizing all Europe. It also sowed the seeds for a larger and more catastrophic conflict on the world stage.

With Britain’s entry into the First World War, all her colonies, including India, had no option but to be dragged into this conflict. Around 5 August 1914, the British War Council ratified the involvement of the British Indian Army and Indian soldiers into this conflict. The Indian Army had already been employed in several wars in China, Egypt, Sudan, Perak (in Malaysia) and Abyssinia (present-day Ethiopia). However, Indians were not employed in conflicts involving ‘white enemies’, such as the Boer Wars,14 largely due to a racial strategy. It was rather unthinkable that the ‘black Indian’ should be seen hacking a ‘white European’ of any nationality, as that would embolden him to do similar things with his colonial masters back home. The horrors of 1857 had simply not left the British Indian government it seemed. Yet, as the conflict increased with every passing day, the dire necessity for soldiers made Britain disregard this policy of racial hierarchy in the army.

By the winter of 1914, Indian troops were at the western front and fought at the first Battle of Ypres. They were deployed as reinforcements in the battlefields of Europe and fought in most theatres of the war, including Gallipoli and North and East Africa and Mesopotamia. An estimated total of 1,215,318 soldiers were sent abroad to all the war zones —Mesopotamia, Egypt, France, East Africa, Gallipoli, Salonica, Aden and the Persian Gulf. Nearly 1.5 million volunteered to fight. About 47,746 were classed as killed or missing, with about 65,000 wounded. More than 101,439 casualties of Indian soldiers were reported. In addition, £3.5 million was paid by India as ‘war gratuities’ of British officers and men of the normal garrisons of India. A further sum of £13.1 million was paid from Indian revenues for the war. In cash and kind an estimate of £146.2 million was India’s gigantic contribution to Britain in this effort— something that is valuated at £50 billion, or even higher, today!15

The princely states and the Indian political bourgeoisie lapped this up as an opportunity driven by different motives. For the Indian princes who were virtually under British thraldom, it was yet another opportunity to ingratiate themselves to their colonial masters. Apart from ‘The Imperial Service Troops’ organized by the princely states and put in the service of Viceroy Lord Hardinge, assistance in kind also came in large quantities as did generous grants of money from the maharajas of Mysore, Jodhpur, Gwalior and the Nizam of Hyderabad. Food, clothes, ambulances, horses, labourers and motorcars were donated. The outpouring of Indian support overwhelmed even the British. It was largely believed by many that the moment Britain got into trouble, the whole of India would burst into a blaze of rebellion, more so given the efforts of the Germans to stir and support the anti-British unrest in India.

However, an irksome communal issue got intertwined with the war efforts with the Ottoman Empire of Turkey joining its forces with Germany against the British by end October 1914. The sultans of the Ottoman Empire claimed the highest position in Islam, that of the caliphate—an Islamic kingdom under the caliph, or Khalifah, the politico-religious successor of Prophet Muhammad himself and a leader of the entire ummah, or global Muslim community. Caliphates such as the Rashidun, the Umayyad and the Abbasid had existed in medieval times. The Ottoman Empire claimed its stake as the fourth caliphate in 1517 and took control over the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Such an exalted religious and political figure was naturally held in great reverence by Muslims of South Asia too. The British feared that the large contingent of Muslim soldiers in the army would not support them in this war against their Khalifah. The fear of desertion by the troops, or even jihad, if forced to fight against their Turkish ‘brethren’ constantly plagued the British. To assuage these fears, several Muslim leaders and princes had to publicly seek complete loyalty from the Muslim subjects and soldiers towards the British war efforts.

Along with the princely states, the nationalists of the time too pledged their support for Britain’s war efforts. These were driven by their calculation that unstinted support during a time of crisis might motivate Britain to speedily grant more concessions to their demands after the War. Annie Besant and Tilak, who dominated the national political scene, threw their might behind this popular sentiment. The Indian National Congress openly supported Britain during this crucial period. When war broke out, Gandhi was in England, where he began organizing a medical corps similar to the force he had led in aid of the British during the Boer War. In a circular dated 22 September 1914, he called for recruitment to his Field Ambulance Training Corps.16 Several Indians served in hospitals in Southampton and Brighton, and Gandhi himself, aided by his wife Kasturba, took nursing classes. But he soon fell ill with pleurisy and returned to India by January 1915.

Gandhi offered unconditional support to the British efforts right from the beginning. He strongly believed that it was not a good time to embarrass Britain or take advantage of her troubled situation to further the Indian liberation cause. ‘England’s need,’ he had said, ‘should not be turned into our opportunity and that it was more becoming and far-sighted not to press our demands while the war lasted.’17 On his return to India, he helped expand the recruitment bases for the British Indian Army from places like Gujarat that did not have the so-called traditional martial races. The apostle of non-violence was marching from village to village in 1918 in the most interior of villages of his home province, addressing mass gatherings in recruitment centres, enlisting people for the War.


Meanwhile, far away from all the action, in Cellular Jail, Vinayak was keeping a close watch on the developments despite the inadequate information available to most prisoners. Interestingly, being a keen student of international politics, Vinayak had in fact prophesied in 1910 about the outbreak of a war in Europe between Britain and Germany within the next six years. His views had been published in an article written for the first edition of the Talwar. Virendranath Chattopadhyay’s wife, Agnes Medley, mentioned Vinayak’s prophecy in a speech she delivered to Chinese students in 1927. Lala Lajpat Rai published her speech, which also traced the Indian revolutionary movement. Vinayak had translated the speech into Marathi and that too was published in Dainik Maratha.18 In 1910, Vinayak had rationalized that such a global war would be a golden opportunity for Indians to train themselves militarily and also have their demands met from a weakened Britain. He was disappointed that when war broke out they ‘were prisoners in the Andamans, and as such helpless to make any use of it as we had planned it to do in the long past’.19

Even as he was trying to strategize how the events could be utilized to India’s advantage came the news of Turkey’s entry into the war. Vinayak was aware of the dangers that came in the wake of the Ottoman Empire’s participation in the war and the communal polarization that it would bring with it. He therefore decided to change the strategy of wanting to upset Britain’s applecart, to one where large-scale recruitment to the army was made to help ‘stave off the invasion of India from the North by the forces of Afghanistan and Turkey’.20 Vinayak writes:


When I learnt that Turkey had gone over to Germany in that war, I had to change the plans I had made to take advantage of that war for the freedom of India. The siding of Turkey with Germany, as against England, roused all my suspicions about PanIslamism and I scented in that move a future danger to India. I discovered that Turkey in this war had made it possible for Germany to stretch her long arm to India and create a critical situation in India itself. This was, indeed, a circumstance favourable to my designs. For then England was bound to grant India all the rights that she would demand, or India herself could wrest them as the result of the exhaustion of England and Germany both, battered as they would be in this terrible combat between two mighty foes, not unlike the fight of two powerful elephants joined in life-and-death struggle with each other. Broken, battered, bleeding and exhausted they will lie on the field with victory to neither, and with full advantage to others who knew to profit by the situation. But I also feared that in this grim struggle between two mighty powers, the Muslims in India might find their devil’s opportunity to invite the Muslim hordes from the North to ravage India and to conquer it, instigated in that effort by the machinations in Russia. Thinking calmly over all these near and remote consequences of the war, I settled my own line of action, and, as the beginning of it, I resolved to send a long letter on the subject to the Government of India. 21
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Re: Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past by Vikram Sampath

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Part 2 of 3

Accordingly, in his petition submitted to the chief commissioner of Andaman Islands in October 1914, Vinayak ‘rejoiced to see the volunteering’ efforts and hence offered to ‘volunteer to do any service in the present War, that the Indian government think fit to demand’. In the same petition, he also requested a general release of ‘all those prisoners who had been convicted for committing political offences in India’. This was being done in many countries, and also in Ireland. He believed that such a step by the Indian government during a time as crucial as this would help secure the loyalty and love of many Indians, several of whom had taken up the armed route like himself. Subtly hinting at the racial hierarchy that was prevalent in letting Indians fight Europeans, Vinayak stated that ‘a thing which one has a right to protect is a thing in which one feels a sense of ownership; and fighting side by side with the other citizens of the Empire, the rising generation of India is sure to feel a sense of equality and therefore of a sincere loyalty to the same’. He concluded his petition by assuaging government fears on such a proposal from his end: ‘If the Government suspect that my real intention in writing all this is only to secure my release, then I beg to submit let me not be released at all, with my exception let all the rest be released, let the volunteer movement go on—and I will rejoice in that as if myself was allowed to play an active part.’ 22

Quite expectedly, the government in their response dated 1 December 1914 rejected his proposals. 23 Vinayak, however, continued to contribute articles and poems to a magazine in Port Blair (that eventually never saw the light of day) that was planning to raise funds for the war.


Meanwhile, on the night of 22 September 1914, the German cruise ship, SMS Emden, under the command of Karl Friedrich Max von Müller, silently entered the dark waters of the Bay of Bengal. The 3600-tonne Emden was on a mission to sink commercial ships. The port of Madras was unguarded, as the British had not expected the war to spill over to Indian shores. Armed with twenty-two guns, the ship dropped anchor barely 2500 metres from the harbour. A volley of shots from the German cruise ship struck the tankers of the Burma Oil Company. In no time, two giant tankers—packed with 5000 tonnes of kerosene oil—went up in flames in the night sky. Next, several buildings were hit—notably, the Madras High Court, the Port Trust, the Boat House of the Madras Sailing Club and the facade of the new National Bank of India. In an attack that lasted for over thirty minutes, with about 130 shells fired from the Emden, a merchant ship on the harbour was struck, five sailors died and thirteen were injured. By the time retaliation could be mobilized, the Emden had sailed away, unharmed by the nine shells fired at it.

There was panic all over Port Blair as intelligence seemed to suggest a similar attack on its shores soon. Never were the islands so militarily unprepared for an onslaught. Within a few days, British warships were sailing on the seas around the Andamans. French submarines and Russian Dreadnoughts touched down at Port Blair. Wireless messages from the islands to Calcutta asking for replenishments of money, arms and rations were intercepted by the Emden that even looted a money-laden ship on its way back to the Andamans. For months there could be no replenishments from Calcutta, Rangoon or Madras. The Cellular Jail authorities feared that in the event of such an attack by the German-aided Indian revolutionaries, all hell would break loose and many of the convicts would turn against them.

The naval officers on board the British and Allied warships occasionally visited the Cellular Jail too. The captain of a Russian submarine, on his visit to the jail, had a long talk with Vinayak and told him that Europe still remembered that he was a prisoner in the Andamans. The rumour was that the Emden was still hovering around the place to level its attack on the Andamans. Port Blair was not of extreme importance, so why then, Vinayak wondered, was it on the radar of attack.

He later received a message that Abhinav Bharat and other revolutionary societies in Europe had contacted the Kaiser of Germany and arranged for a submarine to sail to Port Blair, bombard the jail and release the political prisoners, particularly Vinayak. This is further substantiated in a British government note dated 9 January 1918, which mentioned that ‘he [Vinayak] was one of those Andaman prisoners specially named as to be freed and used in the German plot for an attack on Bengal in December 1915’. 24 The revolutionaries had thereafter planned to rush into Burma and create a violent armed revolution in India, through Burma and Bengal. The Sedition Committee Report of 1918 25 also validated these efforts of the revolutionaries.

Indian revolutionaries such as Lala Har Dayal, Taraknath Das, Mahomed Barkatullah, Chandra Kanta Chakrabarti, Heramba Lal Gupta, Virendranath Chattopadhyay, Dr Moreshwar Govindarao Prabhakar, Dr Abdul Hafiz, Dr Chempakaraman Pillai, Bhupendra Nath Dutt, M.P. Tirumala Acharya, and Jodh Singh Mahajan, among several others, came together to form the Indian National Party in Zurich. They had attached themselves to the German general staff, had their headquarters at 28, Weilandstrasse, Charlottenburg, and had planned a major strike on India. 26 These revolutionaries had actually established quasi-embassies of ‘Independent India’ in Germany, and Heramba Lal Gupta was the Indian representative there.

All the revolutionaries were either already in Germany or America when war broke out. Only two individuals—Kunwar Mahendra Pratap Singh and Harish Chandra—moved from India to join their efforts. Kunwar Pratap was born in a princely family of Mursan in the United Provinces. He was twenty-eight when the war broke out. Leaving India on the pretext of recovering from ill health and for studying the troubled circumstances of the war, Kunwar Pratap made his way to Europe on 12 December 1914. His secretary, Harish Chandra, joined him a week later. In Europe, he met Har Dayal and Virendranath Chattopadhyay; the latter had formed the ‘Berlin Committee’ (Deutsche Verein der Freunde Indien ) or Indian Independence Party to galvanize the Indian liberation efforts. They took Pratap to meet the Kaiser who decorated him with the ‘Order of the Red Eagle’.

Pratap was married into the royal family of Jind and given his influence over the border states of Jind, Patiala and Nabha, the Germans and the revolutionaries knew that this could well be a frontier for invasion into British India. He also established connections with Lenin in Russia. A year later, on 1 December 1915, Kunwar Pratap established the first Provisional Government of India at Kabul as a government-in-exile of Free Hindustan with himself as the president. Barkatullah was named the prime minister and Maulvi Abaidullah Sindhi, the home minister. They declared a united jihad against the British. Kunwar Pratap was the figurehead, rallying behind whom Chattopadhyay carried out all the planning and operations.

It is worthwhile to pause and mention the keen interest the Germans took in Indian affairs right from 1907 onward. Of course, on the one hand, this was largely due to the activities of the Indian revolutionaries across Europe. But alongside, German support for anti-British nationalists had become a standard response against Britain by the time of the outbreak of the war. They supported Irish nationalists in an effort to create a revolt that would draw Irishmen from the British ranks, causing Britain to send her vast troops to Ireland instead of the Western Front. Cooperation with Sir Roger Casement in Germany to recruit from Irish Prisoners of War (POWs), attempts to deliver German guns to Irish rebels in Ireland and the German involvement in the Easter Rising of 1916, were all efforts driven by this very intention.27

Similarly, Germany supported the Boer Revolt in South Africa. German supplies to Boer ensured that the British would not invade German Southwest Africa until the second year of the war. Colonel Manie Maritz controlled the Anglo-Afrikaner forces in north-west South Africa and ignored orders to invade German territory. He also aided German units who were probing British positions along the border by not reporting German incursions across the Orange river. Germany supported the production of anti-British literature, committing of political assassinations in Britain and her allies, and attempted to endanger lines of communication through the Suez Canal. 28 The Indian revolutionaries in Europe and America assisted them in these efforts.

Germany’s support to the Muslim resistance against Britain had similar ends, with them supporting Egyptian nationalists and the Turkish sultan’s call for a jihad against Britain. German operatives in the Middle East even claimed that Kaiser Wilhelm II, the German emperor (who was the leader of a mainly Lutheran–Catholic empire) had become a Muslim and was therefore the rightful ally against Britain. However, the British were more effective than the Germans in whipping up Arab nationalism by harnessing Arab hatred for the Ottoman Turks, as the events surrounding ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ showed. 29 While Britain and her allies used Czech, Polish, Arab, Serb and other nationalists against the Central Powers, Germany used Indian, Egyptian, Boer and other revolutionaries against Britain.

It was in these transnational wars of competitive imperialism that the Indian revolutionaries operated, trying to exploit these inherent fault lines to India’s advantage. On the eve of the First World War, in July 1914, the Kaiser Wilhelm II wrote: ‘Our consuls in Turkey and India . . . must inflame the whole Mohammedan world to wild revolt . . . for if we are to be bled to death, at least England shall lose India.’ 30 He was echoing his own statements of 1908 where he had said: ‘The British should be aware that war with Germany would mean the loss of India and thus the loss of their world position.’ 31 The Germans had always envied India’s important position in the grand imperial vision of the British Empire. They keenly watched the activities of the Indian revolutionaries and supported them when they were persecuted by the British government.

Germans repeatedly orchestrated major attempts to ship weapons to India via the American Ghadr network. The Ghadr movement that aimed to create disaffection among Sikhs in America and get them to return to India to raise an insurrection in the Punjab had little to do with Germany initially. However, with time, Har Dayal’s Ghadr Party and the Germans worked closely. Germany made attempts to attack India by sea using the nearest sea base of the Dutch East Indies and by land via Siam (Thailand), Persia and Afghanistan. The German consul in Shanghai was in charge of operations in the Far East and their active agencies were in Siam and Batavia (Java).

In April 1914, the ship Komagata Maru sailed with German arms and 376 men from San Francisco but was seized by British authorities once it reached Calcutta. A similar attempt was made the following month with the Tosa Maru , but it failed. SMS Emden was defeated and sunk at the Battle of Cocos in November 1914 by the light cruiser of the Royal Australian Navy HMAS Sydney. The crew was arrested and brought to Singapore. After this, the Singapore Naval Mutiny broke out in January 1915. This too was successfully suppressed by the French, British, Russian and Japanese warships.

In November 1914, Ghadr revolutionaries Satyendra Sen and Vishnu Ganesh Pingley arrived in the Bay of Bengal from America via SS Salamis and with German aid they were to instigate armed rebellion on the eastern front in Bengal and Burma. These are just a few examples of the numerous efforts that the revolutionaries had embarked upon in various parts of India with the help of the Central Powers.

In January 1915, dual attempts to attack British India were made with two ships, Annie Larson and SS Maverick. The motive was to ship ‘eleven carloads’ of arms at a cost of $140,000 from the coast of Mexico. The Maverick finally entered Indian waters by September after months of being lost at sea. It was to attack the Sundarbans. From here, revolutionaries in India such as Rash Behari Bose and Jatindranath Mukherjee (famously known as Bagha Jatin) were to assist the unrest in the United Provinces, the Punjab and Bengal. Jatin belonged to the Jugantar revolutionary group of Bengal. They armed themselves with fifty Mauser pistols and 46,000 rounds of ammunition. 32 Jatin sent one of his close associates, Narendranath Bhattacharya (later famous as M.N. Roy), to Batavia on the instructions of Virendranath Chattopadhyay to finalize the deal with the German consul on financial and arms assistance. However, the British got wind of the plan and in a bloody ambush at Balasore in Orissa where Jatin was stationed, liquidated him in September 1915. The SS Maverick was captured by the Dutch authorities. The five Indians on board were arrested and sentenced to death.33

Following these failures, two more attempts were made: In June 1915, the Holland–American steamship, Djember, carrying 7300 rifles was captured by the British, and the similarly well-stocked Henry S. was captured the following month en route to Manila. 34 Undeterred, Rash Behari Bose coordinated a third armed ship to attack the Andamans in December 1915. This attack was to free all the political prisoners in the Andamans and lead them to Burma, while two other warships were to follow suit to carry out strikes. The ship was, however, sunk in the Andamans by the British heavy cruiser HMS Cornwall.35

On the land front, the ‘Siam Project’ and the ‘Batavia Plan’ that the Ghadr Party in San Francisco and the Germans executed in collaboration was among the most crucial plans in this troubled period.36 The details of these emerged through two people later arrested by the British. They were a European employed by the German secret service and held in Singapore by end July 1915 (mysteriously referred to as ‘X’) and a Punjabi arrested in Bangkok by end August 1915 (christened ‘Z’). Their idea was to organize 10,000 men on the Burma–Siam frontier and overrun Burma and then the whole of India. A German officer, George Paul Boehm, who was to train these armed men was arrested in Singapore by the British on 27 September 1915. One of the plans that ‘X’ revealed was that the Germans wanted to take over the Andaman Islands. An agent was to visit the islands as a merchant, land arms that were supplied by German sources, destroy the wireless systems, contact the revolutionaries at the Cellular Jail, free them and flee to Siam and then Rangoon. From ‘X’ was recovered the list of political prisoners that this group wished to free—on top of the list were the Savarkar brothers and members of the Maniktala Case. The list, he said, was written out for him by one Dr Haidar in Berlin, though the handwriting seemed to match that of revolutionary Bhupendra Nath Dutt. ‘X’ had a complete set of photographs of the jail and information on the number of officials, troops, police and warders across the Andaman settlements. This could not have been possible but for communication from someone from within the Cellular Jail who had passed on vital information to the revolutionaries abroad. The suspicion of the authorities naturally fell on Vinayak. Strict surveillance was placed on Vinayak and his movements within the jail, and the entire complex became an armed fortress. Vinayak writes about these turbulent times:

That our compatriots in India should so remember us, so cherish our memory, when we lay as prisoners in the Andamans and dead to the world without, filled our hearts with gratitude to them. And even in that dark dungeon of a prison-house, in the conditions of utter despair and horrid physical and mental torture, this living memory about us gave us hope and courage, which I feel it my duty to record in these pages. Every day we were in fear that a fresh charge of sedition and high treason might be trumped up against us as the result of a systematic campaign of misrepresentation going on against us during these days of war . . . But even in this daily suspense and anxiety, we felt gratified that the war had made the Indian question an issue of international importance. This world-earthquake was sure to fructify our hopes about India; that the desert of India would smile again like paradise—thoughts like these elated us; but a reaction also came that the war may end in turning the whole world into a desert with India included in it.37


For many reasons the efforts of the revolutionaries and the Germans failed in achieving its objectives. The attitude of friendly neutrality adopted by the Government of Siam, the vigilance demonstrated by the Government of Burma, and the alacrity of the military police at Maymyo were some of the main causes for the failures of the combined plots of the Ghadr Party and the Germans. While not lacking in courage, many of them were badly organized and coordinated. In both Siam and Batavia, they suffered from handicaps related to communication and control. The Sedition Committee Report states this tersely: ‘Our examination of the German arms schemes suggests that the revolutionaries concerned were far too sanguine and that the Germans with whom they got in touch were very ignorant of the movement of which they attempted to take advantage.’38

With repeated failure, German interest in India slowly began to wane. Most of the revolutionaries were tried and sentenced to life transportation to Mandalay or given term convictions. Despite these reverses, the political prisoners of Cellular Jail were full of high hopes about the impending escape that they could undertake. However, yet another attempt to liberate Vinayak and also cause a cataclysmic change in Indian polity failed to fructify.

In the dark confines of Port Blair’s Cellular Jail, we see a gradual metamorphosis of Vinayak from a young, brash radical revolutionary to a more sober and strategic planner, whose focus was shifting towards an organization of Hindu society. One of the important causes for this was his experience at jail. Right from his early days here, and much before the creation of the library, Vinayak noticed that the Muslim warders and jamadars forbade Hindu prisoners from reading their scriptures. They would look at the pictures in some of the books, including the Ramayana of Tulsidas, and comment that it was utterly indecent and deemed it their religious duty to disperse the gathering that read such books. After petitioning higher officials, the Hindu prisoners managed to get permission to keep their religious books. Hindus received few or no religious holidays, but the same provision was readily made for Muslim prisoners.39

But the matter, Vinayak realized, went beyond just this partial treatment. Several Hindu prisoners who were deported to the Andamans were being converted to Islam and began assuming Muslim names. As the ‘chalans’ began to reach the jail, simple and young Hindu prisoners would be segregated and subjected to extreme physical torture and labour by Muslim jamadars. With inducements of sweets and tobacco and less labour, the young lads would not mind switching faiths if that meant a more comfortable prison life. Immediately, they would be taken over to the other side, and made to dine with Muslim prisoners. 40 The jail had distinct kitchens for Hindus and Muslims, and separate cooks as well. They were made to eat separately too. All it took to ‘convert’ someone was to make the prisoner eat with fellow Muslims, where they ‘were served Mahomedan food’ 41 (possibly meaning beef). That would ensure their complete ban from their Hindu brethren who would thereafter refuse to accept them. They would be quickly given Muslim names and that would complete the so-called conversion process. It involved no recital of the Quran, offering of the namaz, or the usual practice of circumcision that accompanied conversions. These prisoners would register their names as Muslims and, with time, it would stick. Gradually, they would pick up the religious rituals of Islam and become full-fledged Muslims. The fact that there was no return, accompanied by fierce opposition and ostracism from his original community, left the neo-convert with no option but to carry on with the faith he had been induced into. The jamadar had very little to do; the Hindus themselves ensured with their obdurate and narrow-minded attitude that the convert stayed on in his new religion.42

After the 1857 War of Independence, the British decided not to interfere too much in the religious affairs of Indians. While Christian missionaries converted convicts in other jails, Vinayak notes that in the Andamans they came, offered a prayer, but never made overt attempts at conversion. But here the thralldom of the Pathan jamadars and the incentive of less torture, if they complied, forced many Hindus towards conversion. ‘Every week or fortnight,’ notes Vinayak, ‘I had seen one Hindu prisoner at dinner sitting in the rank of his Mahomedan fellows. It was impossible for me to witness the scene. But I was only a prisoner here; what could I do to save them? I tried hard to infuriate the Hindu prisoners against this act of sacrilege. But one and all of them I found so callous. Each one of them used to say, “What is it to me?” and “What do I care?”’ 43 Even the political prisoners who were already suffering found it futile to raise their voice against conversion, and that too one spearheaded by their oppressive jamadars. They were unwilling to support Vinayak in any opposition to such practices. They argued that Hinduism was better off without such people who were willing to pawn away their faiths due to fear of coercion and torture. Vinayak rationalized:

The individual whom you try to convert may be a wicked man, a sinner or a drunkard. But after deep thought you have learnt the social law that if you make him a Christian or a Mahomedan, by means fair or foul, and if you change his name, you are really adding to their strength. In course of time children come into his family and it grows. The children become Muslims and Christians by name, birth and association. And they turn out better than their parents and add in number to the well-to-do, educated, well-behaved number of Muslim citizens. And, in that proportion, the Hindu society loses its good members . . .44 Inspired by this conviction, I taught the Hindu prisoners of our jail, and chiefly its political prisoners, to rescue the worst of Hindu prisoners from the grip of Islam, to save them from the coercion and blandishments of their Pathan jamadars.45


As early as 1913, within a year and a half of his arrival in the Andamans, Vinayak registered an official complaint against this coercive conversion. He stressed that he had no issue if an individual converted out of free will or change of heart. But the practice in the jail was clearly neither. Vinayak was harassed and attempts were made on his life too by the Pathans, including poisoning his food, and it was Babarao’s alertness that averted the disaster. 46 In one instance, with the connivance of a jail warden, a small bottle of poison was smuggled into the cell to be mixed with Vinayak’s food and served to him. But a sudden check by the superintendent petrified the smuggler and he did away with the bottle. Thus, rather fortuitously, Vinayak’s life was saved on many occasions.

Several prisoners who had turned informants for the jail authorities actively aided these attempts to attack Vinayak and Babarao. One of the chief informants among the convicts was a man popularly called Ainewala Babu or the ‘bespectacled gentleman’. He often made wild allegations against the Savarkars, including accusing Babarao of plotting a prison guard’s murder. He had sickles and other weapons planted in Babarao’s cell and then raised an alarm with Barrie that Babarao had gathered weapons to have him killed. However, his machinations failed each time due to Babarao’s watchfulness. He intercepted and read notes written in code language which were circulated by Ainewala Babu to avert any catastrophe befalling him or Vinayak. For supporting the anti-conversion drive, Babarao was once hit grievously on the head when he had just stepped out of his bath and suffered heavy bleeding.

The superintendent who arbitrated the conversion complaints candidly asked Vinayak why he could not reconvert them to Hinduism. Vinayak replied that Hinduism did not believe in the concept of conversion and hence it was not possible. But his thoughts immediately went to the efforts of Swami Dayanand Saraswati (1824–83) and the Arya Samaj.

Swami Dayanand had striven to revitalize Hinduism and return its religious practices back to its Vedic origins. He emphasized on the monotheistic and non-idolatrous aspects of Vedic Hinduism. He had also employed the tool of shuddhi (literally meaning ‘purification’) or the reconversion of former Hindus back into the fold. This practice had gained momentum only after his passing away. 47 Shuddhi ceremonies were held in various parts of Punjab and northern India. After Swami Dayanand, shuddhi gained momentum in the 1920s under Swami Shraddhanand of the Arya Samaj. Vinayak decided to utilize the same practice of shuddhi for the many converts. They were asked to bathe, put on new clothes, made to eat leaves of the sacred tulsi plant, hear and recite verses from the Bhagavadgita, and then read a chapter from the Ramayana of Tulsidas. This completed the simple reconversion process that ended with a distribution of sweets. They could get back their original Hindu names and, after a lot of convincing from Vinayak and others, to dining with their co-religionists.

But the opposition from the Hindu warders and the prisoners to Vinayak’s ‘blasphemous’ act was fierce. They ridiculed him often as ‘Bhangi Babu’ or someone who had lost his caste and become ‘untouchable’. But none of this deterred Vinayak. He reasoned with them on the superfluous nature of their beliefs of ‘pollution’ based on the food one ate and how easy it had hence become for others to poach on their fold, with something as meagre as tobacco or food. Slowly, the practice gained steam not only within the prison, but also among the convicts who went out for work or were released to Indian jails. The seeds of social reform, love for one’s religion and protecting it against such avaricious attempts had thus been sown. In Vinayak’s own words:

If the agitation in the Andamans . . . had only awakened the conscience of the Hindus to the possibility that a Mussalman can also be converted to Hinduism, I would have achieved a great deal. For up to that time the question that was always put to us was, ‘A Hindu can become a Mussalman, no doubt; but how can a Mussalman be admitted into Hinduism?’ Hundreds of Hindus had asked me that question and sincerely believed that there was no answer for it. But none put such a conundrum before us any longer. For the Shuddhi movement had shown that it could be done, and we had done it. The food touched or prepared by the Muslims could be eaten by the Hindu without tarring his stomach and making him lose his caste and religion. Hinduism was not so anaemic as that; and the Hindus in the Andamans had realized the fact, as they had not done it before. This was a great achievement of the Shuddhi movement in that part of the world. For there are in the so-called wise and liberty-loving Hindus of India bigoted champions of Hinduism who, seriously enough, still seek to confound us by the same conundrum. This awakening in the Andamans was not confined to the few but had spread all over the place and the roots of the new feeling had gone deep down into the soil of the Andamans.48


Vinayak advocated the cause for a larger Hindu sangathan , or unity, movement while in jail. He imagined a pan-India coalition of Indic faiths of all castes—Sikhs, Sanatanis (orthodox Hindus), Arya Samajis, Jains and Buddhists. While in England, he had arrived at this definition of what it meant to be ‘Hindu’; it was not limited narrowly to those practising the religion that came to be known as Hinduism. But he did not get an opportunity to flesh out the contours of this idea. It was the conversion episodes at Cellular Jail that gave him an impetus to develop this thought. It also awakened in him the need to create unity among a community ridden with numerous factions, which had time and again proved to be its nemesis. A ‘Hindu,’ postulated Vinayak, was ‘a man who recognizes our country as the land of his birth and religion.’ Such a definition, he believed, was a way ‘to prevent further divisions in our society, and to consolidate the Hindus as one community of the people of India’. 49 He writes:

The salvation of man lies in dying in his own religion . . . We will no longer let any Hindu boy or girl, man or woman, however fallen they may be, pass into another religion, and we shall not fail to re-convert those whom you may have duped into embracing your faith . . . It is the duty of every Hindu to persuade a Hindu to remain a Hindu. It is a principle to be followed as vital to his community and culture for the preservation and progress of both.50


Vinayak’s sangathan movement providentially got a boost in 1915 with the arrival of a large batch of deportees convicted in the first Lahore Conspiracy Case. The case represented the attempt by Sikh expatriates (who were part of the Ghadr Party) and Punjabis who led an armed rebellion against the British. One of them, Bhai Parmanand, had sailed to British Guiana as an Arya Samaj reformist. After a year, he set sail to the US, where for two years he attended pharmaceutical courses at Berkeley. 51 Here he became closely associated with Lala Har Dayal who had begun the Ghadr movement. He was to come back to India with about 5000 Ghadr volunteers and instigate rebellion in Peshawar and other parts of the North-West Frontier Province. But he was arrested and sentenced to death in 1915.

Viceroy Lord Hardinge commuted this to transportation for life and Bhai Parmanand was deported to the Andamans, along with seventy others who were convicted in the Lahore Conspiracy Case. The arrival of these Sikhs prisoners gladdened Vinayak, who had always wanted to integrate the community into the freedom movement. Many of these revolutionaries expressed their deep reverence for Vinayak and had read his works. They told him how his literature was inspiring thousands of young men across continents to take up armed struggle. Vinayak was surprised to hear from some of them that the atrocities he faced at Cellular Jail were publicized in newspapers even in America. This had inspired some of them and made them feel guilty about not contributing to the struggle while one of them was suffering, yoked as a beast to an oil mill. This warmed Vinayak’s heart. His toil had inspired others to take up the path of revolution. He writes:

For whenever I turned the kolu in the solitude of my room and was done up by the exertion, I always used to console myself by the thought that I would bear it all, if the knowledge of it to the world outside were only to pour oil into the flames of discontent that I knew were spreading all over the country. But I was in despair about it. For how was the story of my hardships to reach the ears of those who were so far away from me? . . . But when my Sikh friend told me the story, I said to myself, ‘Yes, I must bear it all, for it is never lost, it produces its effects in due time.’ That is the only way that one can put fat in the fire and make it burn. An agitation succeeds finally on the strength of tenacity and patience of its sufferers. Here was the proof of it. Every drop of oil that fell into the vat below, as I turned the wheel that ground down and crushed the dried coconut-kernels in the rut and the well, was a spark that had kept blazing the sacred fire of discontent already aflame all over the country. Here was a clear evidence of that influence.52


The Punjabi and Sikh convicts were hardly the kind who would put up with Barrie’s atrocities. Many a time, Barrie would even get slapped for showering obscene invectives. This would be followed by a fierce caning of the prisoners. Upheavals like these became commonplace.

Vinayak makes a veiled reference to the support that Bhai Parmanand gave to the shuddhi movement that he had embarked upon in prison. Being a staunch Arya Samaji himself, Parmanand understood the shuddhi philosophy. Much later, after his release from prison, like Vinayak, he too strove for the eradication of caste and a unification of Hindu society through the formation of the Jat Pat Todak (association to break the caste system) in 1922. Vinayak therefore declared that the shuddhi movement was a success and that it ‘contributed greatly to the fusion of the people, and to minimise, if not altogether abolish, the distinctions among them, as Hindus, of province, caste and custom, and to their consolidation in these parts as one society’.53

Between 1915 and 1916, Vinayak’s health deteriorated. The years of trials, jail sentences, emotional turbulence, physical hardships and unhealthy prison conditions took their toll eventually. His digestion was severely affected, and he suffered from perennial dysentery and fever. The unpalatable prison food worsened the condition. As was the norm, he was hardly attended to medically and was made to work despite his failing health. When Babarao was permitted to cook his food in 1914, he would smuggle some out for his younger brother in coconut shells.

However, on 28 October 1916, Vinayak was ‘promoted’ to a secondclass prisoner. This did not mean much, as he elaborated in a letter to Narayanrao:

You asked me in your last letter what facilities I had won by my promotion to class 2 in this prison. In the Andamans, a prisoner was usually put in class 2 after a term of five years and in class 1 after a period of ten years, when ticket was given to him to make an independent home for himself in the colony. Was I free to go out of prison? No. Was I free to do independent literary work? No. Was I free to talk with my brother or stay with him? No. Was I free from the daily routine of hard labour? No. Did they make me a warder; did they stop putting me in the lock up? No. Did they treat me better? No. Did they show me any respect? No. Did they give me freedom to write more than one letter home? No. Did they allow me to receive any parcel from home? No. All these concessions are made at the end of five years, to other prisoners in the jail. But to me, who is running my eighth year in this prison, none of these facilities are granted. What then is the meaning of the phrase that I am now in Class 2, you will ask me. To which my answer would be: I am in class 2 because I am in class 2. Nothing more and nothing else. No better and no worse. 54


In the same letter, Vinayak wondered why the Indian National Congress had adopted a steely silence when it came to political prisoners when the newspapers were calling for their release. Sitting in their own ‘spacious, airy and well-appointed pandal’ the Congress was fighting shy and was unwilling to even ‘pass a resolution of sympathy . . . they had not a tear to shed’. While their ‘hearts melted with pity’ and they passed a resolution to release prisoners interned in the war, who were anyway going to be released when the war ended, why was it that political prisoners never featured in the Congress’s scheme of things, he wondered. Postulating the reason for the laconic response from the Congress, Vinayak writes:

The members of the Indian National Congress were sticklers for prestige and tradition and were afraid of the rulers. And there was the rub. To talk about the interned is not so dangerous; but they would not utter a word about us who were revolutionaries. For that would bring them into ill odour with the rulers, and injure their prestige with the Europeans. It is the duty of the Congress to be the spokesman of the people and not merely the mouthpiece of a few tall poppies among its members. That when so many newspapers and Conferences in the country had demanded the release of revolutionary political prisoners like us, the leaders of the Congress should speak not a word about them does not become [of] an institution or a body that calls itself national. The world expects the Indian National Congress to pass a resolution demanding the release of its own leaders; the world expects that it shall exert for its country and bring about the release of its political prisoners, as similar bodies in Ireland, South Africa and Austria had worked for their countrymen. That the Indian National Congress should do nothing of the kind is not creditable to her. We must compel the Congress to be bold and aggressive. If the elder leaders tremble in their shoes at this prospect, let them absent themselves from the Congress at the time she passes a resolution in our favour. Because a few men are cowards, the whole nation should not be allowed to bear the stigma of this guilty silence.55


During this time, one of the political prisoners, Bhan Singh, a Sikh convicted in the Lahore Conspiracy Case, had a bitter argument with Barrie and his men. An enraged Barrie ordered his battering to the extent that the man vomited blood. Hearing his cries, the other revolutionaries from Punjab came to his cell to save him. They decided that they would go on a strike. Vinayak could not participate in the strike due to his ill health but he told them that he would guide them through the process and also help in presenting a memorandum on their behalf. More than a hundred prisoners joined this unprecedented strike. By then Vinayak had to be moved to the prison hospital. Here, he met Bhan Singh. The pounding he had been given had caused him irrevocable damage and he was vomiting blood ever so often. Finally, he succumbed to his injuries and died at the prison hospital. This sent shock waves through the prison. A sixty-year-old Sardar Sohan Singh and a young man from the Punjab, Prithvi Singh ‘Azad’, went on an indefinite hunger strike. They demanded that their statements about the real cause of Bhan Singh’s death be recorded. Prithvi Singh carried on his fast for six long months, and even gave up clothes, like Nani Gopal had done. He was reduced to skin and bones. Vinayak, who was principally opposed to fasts unto death, had to convince him against such a suicidal measure and finally he gave up the fast. Many of the prisoners began contracting tuberculosis that was rampant. To fast in such a circumstance was suicidal according to Vinayak. Prithvi Singh mentions about Vinayak’s influence on him in jail:

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, whom I considered as my guru, wrote a long and stirring letter to me where he told me: ‘You are losing control over your heart and mind, you have become so weak that there is no hope of survival. What is the use of losing your life like this? So leave this hunger strike.’ I could not gather courage or words to reply to his letter. At this time a mosquito kept troubling me. I tried to squash it with my hands. But I was so weak that I could not even kill a mosquito. The message in Savarkar’s letter then made sense to me about my uselessness. I could not even squash a mosquito due to my weakness, how then do I assume I can drive the British away? I took a small pencil and wrote back to him that I will only die in a natural way, and in no other way can I be killed. Thus ended my fast that lasted for 5 months and 5 days. 56
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Re: Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past by Vikram Sampath

Postby admin » Thu May 13, 2021 2:39 am

Part 3 of 3

The strikes eventually brought the authorities’ attention to the unrest going on in jail. Though Barrie was not held to account for his inhuman treatment of Bhan Singh, he was severely reprimanded, and a departmental inquiry was instituted against him. He had been disgraced thoroughly and the government began to view him with suspicion given the repeated upheavals in the Andamans.

The First World War was now entering its final stages. The Allied Powers emerged victorious. Monarchies collapsed, national borders were redrawn and Germany was parcelled among the victors. During the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, the Big Four—Britain, France, Italy and the US— imposed their terms in a series of treaties. The War sowed the seeds of future conflict that was to erupt in a few decades on a larger scale.

Even as the War was coming to an end, the British government was contemplating reforms in the government and administration in India. Edwin Samuel Montagu, who became the Secretary of State for India in June 1917, put before the British cabinet a proposal for the gradual development of free institutions in India with a view to ultimately introducing self-government. Lord Curzon, the controversial former Indian viceroy who attempted the Partition of Bengal and who was now a parliamentarian in the House of Lords, put a dissenting note to the effect that instead of too much emphasis on self-government, the need of the hour was to focus on increasing association of Indians in every branch of administration that would eventually lead to self-government. Towards the end of 1917, Montagu travelled to India to meet Lord Chelmsford, then viceroy of India, to ascertain his views on the proposed reforms of limited self-government. Montagu solicited views from different sections of Indians, including prominent political prisoners such as Vinayak, on the matter of reforms.

Accordingly, on 5 October 1917, Vinayak sent his petition to Montagu outlining his thoughts on the subject. He refers to his 1914 petition when Lord Hardinge had stated that it was ‘impossible’ to grant him any mercy. But things had substantially changed during the long years of the First World War. He stated that a new spirit had manifested itself in man, new visions and hopes were roused in nations and these had been articulated by their heads of state. In such a scenario, Vinayak hypothesized that neither India nor the British Empire could have remained unaffected by this great democratic upheaval in the world which meant that the old order of race domination was slowly giving way to one of cooperation and commonwealth. His justification for the marked change in circumstances were:

The nucleus of an Empire-Cabinet; the presence in it of the ministers of the colonies and two representatives though nominated, of India; the permission to be enrolled as volunteers to the Indian youth; the throwing open of Commissions in the army; the great speech of the Premier in which he declared that the supreme test of the British Statesmanship would depend on the extent to which it succeeds in making the millions of Indians feel—not a sense of dependence, but that of “real partnership”; and to crown it all the most important, definite, and determined declaration by the present Secretary of State, not only as to the goal but even as to its immediate, though partial, realization in Indian administration.57


He rationalized that if this was the stated position of various organs of the government, it could not be achieved by durbars, royal manifestos, elephant processions and fireworks but in the release of political prisoners lodged in various jails across India. ‘Confidence,’ he said, ‘can only be evoked by showing confidence.’ 58 Citing examples from other countries, Vinayak mentioned that in Canada revolts and rebellions had been the order of the day. But it took a visionary statesman like Lord Durham 59 to show confidence and the grandsons of the revolutionaries were now leaders who were fighting in Flanders on the British side. The British had shown similar confidence with the Boers whom they conquered in war. Can India be suspected of being less worthy of confidence, whereas her fault, as history shows, was that she was too generous and confiding? In the petition, he strongly advocated the grant of home rule to India and her people as an important step in this direction.

Vinayak argued that if India was allowed to become an autonomous partner in this commonwealth and if in the immediate future Indians secured a majority in the viceroy’s council, they could embark upon the much-needed social work, purging and cleansing of society. He explained that it was not a fanatical or anarchic opposition to the Empire that had led him and others on the path of militant revolution. ‘When there was no Constitution,’ he postulated, ‘it seemed a mockery to talk of constitutional movements. But now if a Constitution exists, and Home Rule is decidedly such, then so much political, social, economic, and educational work is to be done and could be constitutionally done that the Government may securely rest satisfied that none of the political prisoners would choose to face untold suffering by resorting to underground methods for sheer amusement.’ Hence, the release of political prisoners would not only evoke confidence in Indians about the British government’s sincerity in instituting a change in the administration of India, but also help the government with more patriotic hands that would work to effect this change. ‘How can there be peace and mutual confidence,’ he questioned, ‘in the land in which thousands of families are literally torn to pieces and every second home has either a brother or a son or a husband or a lover or a friend snatched away from its bosom and kept pining in the prison? It is against human nature for blood is thicker than water.’

Once again invoking international precedents to present his case, like a good barrister, Vinayak mentioned that political prisoners were being released all across the world. One had seen this in Russia, France, Ireland, Transvaal and Austria where amnesty was becoming the general principle. This had caught momentum after the War broke out. The suffragists in Britain, who had been convicted of individual acts of arson and riot, had also been immediately released with the outbreak of the War. How then could one rationalize that a move, which was beneficial across the world, would prove disastrous only in India?

He believed that as long as those who were revered by thousands of people in the country were kept imprisoned, opposition to the authority that bound their liberty would continue. Whereas if some of these heroes were to participate in the process of governance, it would set a role model for many who looked up to them as icons, and thereby deter future uprisings.

Importantly, Vinayak concluded the petition with the following plea:

If the Government thinks that it is only to effect my own release that I pen this; or if my name constitutes the chief obstacle in the granting of such an amnesty; then let the Government omit my name in their amnesty and release all the rest; that would give me as great a satisfaction as my own release would do. If the Government does ever take this view of the question then the amnesty should be so complete as to include those also who are exiles from India and who as long as they are proclaimed strangers in their own land are likely to be bitterly antagonistic to that Government in India but many of whom would, if allowed to come back, work for the Motherland on the open and constitutional lines, when this new and real constitution is introduced there.60


Expectedly, Vinayak’s petition was rejected by the government.

But the reforms suggested by Montagu gathered steam. After all the deliberations, he drew up a report with Bhupendra Nath Bose, Lord Richard Hely-Hutchinson, sixth Earl of Donoughmore, William Duke and Charles Roberts. 61 The Montagu–Chelmsford Reforms, as they were called, eventually culminated in the Government of India Act, 1919.

A bicameral legislature was set up with two houses—the Legislative Assembly and the Council of State. The Legislative Assembly was to have 145 members of whom 103 were elected and the rest were nominated. Of these 103, fifty-one were elected from general constituencies, thirty-two by communal/separate constituencies (thirty by Muslims, two by Sikhs), and twenty by special constituencies such as landholders, Anglo-Indians, etc. The Council of State had sixty members—thirty-three elected and twenty-seven nominated by the Governor General. The life of the Central Legislative Assembly was for three years and the Council of State for five years. The franchise was extended, central and provincial legislative councils were given more authority, but the viceroy still remained accountable only to London.62

At the provincial level, significant changes were made whereby a Provincial Legislative Council was created with a majority of elected members. All the major provinces such as Bengal, Madras, Bombay, United Provinces, Punjab, Bihar, Central Provinces and Assam were to be ruled by a governor. Under a system called dyarchy, the rights of central and provincial governments were strictly demarcated. The central or reserved list had rights over defence, foreign affairs, telegraphs, railways, postal, foreign trade and so on, while the provincial or transferred list dealt with issues of health, education, sanitation, irrigation, jail, police, justice, public works, excise, religious and charitable endowments, etc.63

The reaction to the Government of India Act from Indians was on expected lines. The moderates, though not fully satisfied, advocated ungrudging cooperation within the contours of the new reforms to help them succeed. A strong section was inclined to reject it altogether. Tilak, who by then dominated the Congress after the death of Gokhale in 1915, stuck to a middle path of ‘Responsive Cooperation’ that would depend on how the government acted on each of its promises.

In its thirty-fourth session held at Amritsar in end December 1919, the INC, under President Chittaranjan Das, moved a resolution that stated that the ‘Reform Act is inadequate, unsatisfactory, and disappointing’. It urged parliament to take early steps towards establishing a fully responsible government in accordance with the principle of self-government. Das favoured a rejection of the reforms. It was in this session that Gandhi managed to make a significant impact on the Congress. Gandhi’s stand was explained in his article for Young India: ‘The Reforms Act . . . is an earnest of the intention of the British people to do justice to India and it ought to remove suspicion on that score . . . Our duty therefore is not to subject the Reforms to carping criticism but to settle down quietly to work so as to make them a success.’64

The Montagu–Chelmsford Reforms thus divided many Congress leaders and amid apprehensions of yet another ideological split, Chittaranjan Das arrived at a compromise. The resolution was reworded to state that: ‘The Congress trusts, that so far as may be possible they will work the reforms so as to secure an early establishment of full Responsible Government.’65 It also stated that the Congress was ‘not opposed to obstruction, plain, downright obstruction, when that helps to obtain our political goal’. The stand was akin to what Tilak advocated—one of ‘Responsive Cooperation’. Gandhi too added: ‘. . . that does not mean that we may sit with folded hands and may still expect to get what we want. Under the British Constitution no one gets anything without a hard fight for it . . . We must lay to heart the advice of the President of the Congress that we shall gain nothing without agitation.’66

Back in Port Blair, Vinayak’s health deteriorated further. In a letter to Narayanrao, Vinayak wrote:

Last year, March I weighed 119—this year I weigh 98! They take the weight with which we come here as the normal one . . . but even when I came here I was 111 lbs. Chronic dysentery due to disregard of the medical treatment in the beginning has reduced me to a skeleton. Eight years I bore the burden well. Innumerable and unknown hardships taxed my metal and an atmosphere of frowns and threats and sighs, of demoralizing and disheartening stench tried to stifle the noble breath of Life —but God gave me strength to stand and stand firm and face it all for these eight years or so. But now I feel the flesh has received wounds that are hard to heal and is day-by-day pining away. Recently the Medical Superintendent has been paying a little special attention to my weakness and though I am still on ‘Duty’, i.e., work and not in the Hospital, yet I get hospital diet that is better cooked, and eat only rice and am allowed milk and bread at present. It is better a bit and hope it may improve. But what is likely is that this constant debility may end in some fatal malady or that inevitable friend so well-known in jails, specially in Andamans—the Pthysis. Only one thing and one thing alone can assure me of my recovering and that is a change . . . a change for the better to a better climate in some Indian jail.67


Babarao’s condition was no better. By August 1918, his weight had dropped to 106 pounds and the diarrhoea continued unabated. To make matters worse, his gall bladder began giving him trouble. He literally had to crawl to the hospital as it was difficult to even stand up. Spasms of cough threatened to snuff his life out. The doctors diagnosed his ailment as tuberculosis. Despite all this and a fever of 100–102 degrees, he was not shifted to the hospital but made to labour.

As his condition worsened, Vinayak was shifted to the prison hospital. Gripping stomach pain and high fever crippled him. He found it impossible to digest anything. Things got worse when he was struck down by malaria too. His nerves too began to slowly give way. Reading—his favourite pastime—had to be temporarily abandoned as it caused immense strain. Yet, lying down with his eyes shut all day only seemed to make time stretch interminably, monotonously. On what seemed to him like a deathbed, he burst into a poem, ‘On the Death-Bed’ (Maranonmukh Shayyevar ). The opening verses are as follows:

Come, Death! If really thou hast started already to come—welcome!
These flowers may tremble to fade away,
These juicy grapes to wither,
But why should I fear Thee?
I have but these wines of tears that fill my cup to offer Thee
And which I thought over-drinking cannot exhaust;
Come if that be acceptable to Thee! 68


Vinayak needed almost a year of hospital care to mend his health. On his return to prison, Vinayak was once again beset with immense sadness about the condition in which he was wallowing. Self-defeatist thoughts crowded his mind and once again he contemplated ending his life. But once again, he dissuaded himself with cold rationality. He writes:

Sometimes I felt every day that the body could not hold out any longer because one ailment after another was attacking it. This garment of the flesh seemed to be completely tattered and torn so that the soul could no longer wear it. At another time I felt a distinct improvement in my health. But how long am I to linger thus? So a year and a half had rolled on. Dysentery, blood in stools, fever and something else followed in succession and I bore it all. So I resolved to put an end to my life. For, I was in no doubt that this prison and myself were never to part company and so long as this continued my health would never improve. We all struggle for happiness and none could weep for all time and continue suffering to the end of the chapter. I wanted to know how many days I suffered and how many days I was without suffering. So I made a month’s chart and marked on it days when wearing a body was a joy and when it was intense pain. I marked this on the wall, the day of suffering from one ailment or another, and the day free from any ailment. This went on for two months and then I made a reckoning. I found out that of sixty days, fifteen days were relatively better, and the rest were all worse. So I concluded that things were not after all so dark, and I must put off the thought of suicide.69


The last two days of May 1919, 30 and 31, brought some cheer to Vinayak. After eight long years, he was finally permitted an interview with his family members. While others were allowed to meet their family once in five years and also stay with them for a few days, no such concessions were ever granted to Vinayak. Finally, on receiving government permission, Vinayak’s wife, Yamuna Bai, and brother, Narayanrao, started for Calcutta from Bombay and then reached Port Blair.

Needless to say, it was a tearful reunion. Vinayak was pleasantly surprised to see another young lady accompanying his brother and wife. This was Shanta, Narayanrao’s wife. After qualifying in allopathy, homeopathy and dentistry in 1916, Narayanrao had started a clinic in Girgaum, Bombay. Around the same time, he had married Haridini (whose name after marriage was Shanta).70 They talked with joyful abandon despite a warder who knew Marathi lurking around and keeping watch. The meetings on both days went on for a little over an hour. [b]Vinayak’s eyes yearned to see his beloved sister-in-law and confidante, Yesu Vahini. But Narayanrao told him that their sister-in-law had passed away. She had pined for Babarao’s and Vinayak’s return. In 1915, both Yamuna and she had written to Viceroy Hardinge, in letters dated 28 July and 11 October respectively, to seek the release of their husbands. This was rejected by the government.

After Narayanrao’s marriage, Yesu Vahini stayed with him briefly. But by the second half of 1918, due to failing health, she moved to Nashik and stayed with her maternal uncle, Wamanrao Dandekar. Knowing that her end was nearing, she beseeched the government for one final sight of her husband. Unfortunately, this too was rejected. But her spirit was undaunted. Four days before her death, when a family friend, Godumai Khare, came to meet her and saw her hands bereft of bangles and questioned her about the same, she nonchalantly replied: ‘Godumai, my bangles would not fit my hands because of my swelling and hence I removed them. Someone gave me new bangles, but since they are foreign made, I refused to wear them.’71

One of the convicts in the Nasik Conspiracy Case and a member of Abhinav Bharat, Sakharampant Gore, died while in prison. This had a deleterious effect on his wife, Janakibai Gore, who was an active member of the Atmanishtha Yuvati Sangh that Yesu Vahini had started. She slipped into depression and lost all interest in life. While Janaki was shunned and neglected by the entire town, Yesu Vahini, despite her own limited means and financial constraints, brought Janaki home and tended for her affectionately. Janaki did not live for too long thereafter. Her death jolted Yesu Vahini. The fear of dying with the same unfulfilled wish of seeing her loved ones haunted her.

Her apprehensions sadly came true. Towards the end, she became delirious and started having visions of Babarao and Vinayak returning home and calling out to her sisters-in-law to keep the arati ready for their welcome. Her wish unfulfilled, Yesu Vahini died on 5 February 1919. 72 In a cruel irony of fate, three days after her death, the family was granted permission to visit the Andamans. She had sacrificed her entire life and happiness for Babarao’s and Vinayak’s cause. Both Vinayak and Babarao were devastated by the news.

In a letter to Narayanrao, dated 21 September 1919, Vinayak pours out his angst about Yesu Vahini’s death:


Half the joy of any release fades into apathy at the thought of my going back to a home where she is not likely to come to welcome me! My earliest friend, my sister, my mother and my comrade—all in one, all at once, she really died as dies a suttee! Did she not immolate her silent soul and even at the altar of our Motherland? Ah! As truly as martyr dies for his land or religion, do these Indian girls of today die panting, withering, watching for the return of their lovers who are not destined to meet them; suffering in silence, serving though unknown, paying though unacknowledged—do these Hindu girls pine away and die for their Motherland, for their religion.73


The Government of India continued with its policy of reforms along with repression. A committee was appointed in December 1917 to investigate the nature and extent of the revolutionary movement in India. It was also mandated to examine the difficulties that arose in the handling of such conspiracy cases. Justice S.A.T. Rowlatt, of the King’s Bench Division of His Majesty’s High Court of Justice, served as the chairman of this committee. The committee had full access to information in the government’s possession. This was termed the Rowlatt Sedition Committee.

The committee made an exhaustive report on the history and evolution of revolutionary activities in different parts of India and outside. Vinayak’s role in this was also detailed. It recommended a new legislation to replace the Defence of India Act, 1915. It sought to bring about strict laws to curtail the liberty of people in a drastic manner. Two bills were prepared on the basis of these recommendations—the Indian Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill No. I of 1919 and the Criminal Law (Emergency Powers) Bill No. II of 1919. The latter was passed into law, and named the Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act, 1919. It called for a speedy trial of offences by a special court consisting of three high court judges. The right to appeal was also stripped off the accused. Provincial governments were empowered to search at will anyone’s house that came under their radar of suspicion and round up the individual indefinitely without even an arrest warrant. The act intended to quell the publication, distribution and sale of prohibited works. 74

These sweeping emergency powers, through the Rowlatt Act, bestowed on the government were strenuously opposed by Indians of all shades of political thought. But the bill was passed and entered the statute books on 21 March 1919. This brought unprecedented limelight on Gandhi who had till then remained in the background with movements in Champaran advocating the plight of indigo cultivators and the mill workers of Ahmedabad. A small group was formed, consisting of Gandhi, Vallabhbhai Patel and Sarojini Naidu, to offer satyagraha, or peaceful resistance, to these new acts. This came to be known also as the Rowlatt Satyagraha. On 24 February 1919, they pledged that ‘in the event of these Bills becoming law and until they are withdrawn, we shall refuse civilly to obey these laws and such other laws as a Committee to be hereafter appointed, may think fit . . . we will follow truth and refrain from violence to life, person or property’.75 A Satyagraha Sabha with Gandhi as president called for a strike on 6 April 1919. Gandhi’s leadership was put to intense test during this first major pan-India campaign that he was embarking upon.

Disturbances had broken out all over the country, with riots and arson causing loss of lives and property. Disturbed by this, Gandhi called off the satyagraha on 18 April even before it could gather full steam. But large=scale ferment continued in the Punjab. This forced the government to bar Gandhi from entering the province. The government also imposed martial law with Brigadier General Reginald Dyer in command by 11 April 1919, though it was not formally declared before 15 April. Unaware of the law being imposed, approximately 6,000–10,000 unarmed people had gathered on 13 April 1919 for a public meeting at Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar. Soon after the meeting began, Dyer reached the spot without any warning to the attendees. He passed, with his infantry, through a narrow lane into Jallianwalla Bagh and at once deployed them to the right and left of the entrance in the Bagh’s square. The armoured cars remained outside the square and never came into action as the lane was too narrow for them to enter. The gates of the Bagh were shut and his troops stationed themselves on a raised ground. Without any warning, Dyer ordered indiscriminate firing on the mass of humanity that had gathered there. More than 1500 rounds were shot. Men, women, children and old people were caught in this firing and martyred. As per government records, nearly 379 were killed and more than 1200 wounded (the actual numbers were much more).

Dyer was anything but remorseful of this savagery and in fact boasted of his achievements and what he termed as a merciful act. He admitted that he could have dispersed them without firing but that would have been derogatory to his dignity as a defender of law and order. It was to maintain his self-respect, he claimed, that he decided to fire, leaving behind a trail of corpses. This brutality sent shock waves across India, more so at a time when the government was discussing administrative reforms and limited self-government. Ironically, Dyer was feted as a hero by the British. A fund created in his support by the Morning Post in London and another in Mussoorie in India collected a purse of £20,000.76

Viceroy Lord Chelmsford’s response to this genocide was indicative of the government’s attitude:


I have heard that Dyer administered Martial Law in Amritsar very reasonably and in no sense tyrannously. In these circumstances you will understand why it is that both the Commander-in-Chief and I feel very strongly that an error of judgment, transitory in its consequences, should not bring down upon him a penalty which would be out of all proportion to the offence and which must be balanced against the very notable services which he rendered at an extremely critical time.77


The massacre shook the nation and for the first time Gandhi’s trust in the British was eroded. He demanded a thorough inquiry into the carnage. The Hunter Commission was set up to investigate the matter. However, Gandhi did not wish to derail the process of reforms and cooperation with the government. On 21 July 1919, he issued a statement in which he said that on account of indications of goodwill on the part of the government and advice from many friends, he would not resume non-cooperation, as it was not his purpose to embarrass the government. Instead, he urged the satyagrahis to work for constructive programmes such as the use of indigenous goods and Hindu–Muslim unity.78

At Cellular Jail, following the barrage of charges against him, Barrie was just a shadow of his former formidable self. Seated grumpily in his chair at office, with a long cigar in his mouth, puffing out curls of smoke, his health too had taken a beating. He suffered from intense lower-back pain. He had been in Port Blair for three decades and was nearing retirement. Vinayak mentions in his memoirs that despite the tough demeanour that Barrie presented, he was a different man at home with his family and friends. His wife and seventeen-year-old daughter, who had completed her matriculation from Rangoon and was preparing for a teacher’s diploma, had special regard for Vinayak. They would call on him in prison and talk to him briefly. They occasionally sent him fruits from their family garden.

It was now time for the demigod of Port Blair to return to his home in Ireland. So petrified was he by the rumour that on his setting foot on Indian shores, some revolutionary would throw a bomb at him for his excesses that he planned a separate route back home. He even asked Vinayak about the bomb scare from his fellow revolutionaries, to which the latter replied: ‘I don’t think so. They don’t waste their bombs in killing crows and sparrows. I don’t think there is such a fool among terrorists there who would waste his powder on these poor birds when he can kill a tiger with it.’79

Bearing the albatross of the curses, wails and agony of thousands of prisoners whose lives he had ruined, Barrie made his way out. His condition was so bad that he had to be lifted out by two people to the steamer leaving from Port Blair. But Barrie never made it home. He breathed his last on the steamer. Thus ended the tyranny of one of the cruellest jailors the islands had ever seen.

Shortly after Barrie’s departure, his fanatical lieutenant, Mirza Khan, too decided to retire. He too was afflicted by severe pain in his limbs and he attributed this to black magic done on him by Vinayak. He kept beseeching mercy from Vinayak for his sins and that he should cure him of his pain. His attempt to convince him that he had done no such thing and that he did not even believe in black magic of any sort fell on deaf ears. Eventually, Mirza Khan left Cellular Jail a broken man.

After a few temporary appointments, Mr Diggins, Barrie’s brother-in-law and an Irishman too, was appointed jailor. Despite being a strict disciplinarian, he was a level-headed theosophist and a man of culture and learning. He never allowed himself to forget that the convicts were human beings after all.

Even as the jail administration was passing through this phase of transition, there was news of an Indian Jails Committee (1919–20) being formed by the Government of India to visit Cellular Jail and also ascertain the future of the penal settlement. On receiving a petition from the political prisoners, the Committee at once granted two privileges—writing a letter once in three months and keeping one’s sacred thread and other symbols of religion. For over an hour and a half, the committee met Vinayak, who gave a detailed account of the experiences that he and several other political prisoners had faced right from the beginning. He also submitted the same in a written statement to the Committee. He believed that the administration’s purpose should be to improve the prisoner and not merely punish him. The punishment must be a deterrent rather than vengeance. Caning and hanging should be the rarest of punishments, not a norm. He postulated that prisoners, up to the age of twenty-two, should not be regarded as beyond redemption, whatever be the nature of their offence in the eyes of the law. The aim of punishment should be to reclaim them as future citizens. All discipline should be directed to that purpose. They should be trained vocationally, so that they might have some useful occupation to fall back upon when they were released. By way of recreation, every prison should be provided with amenities like cinema and music, which would make them both human and responsible citizens.

Of course, the prison ought never to be, Vinayak argued, a place for an easy way of life. The prisoners needed to be segregated from the world not for ease, indolence and enjoyment, but for inculcating severe self-discipline so that they realized that the kind of life that they had led was not desirable or worthwhile for them to continue. If they wanted freedom, they must deserve it; and the sooner they learn the lesson, the better it would be for them. Prisons are penitentiaries and not places of inquisition and torture. Prisoners who were exceptionally cruel in their propensities and whose acts constituted grave antisocial behaviour must be compelled to settle in the Andamans and work towards the development of both the settlement and the islands as a whole. A constructive work of this nature would play an important role in their reformation. Vinayak was not in favour of closing down the prison colony of Andamans for this reason. From the current savagery and slavery that were the norms in prison, a more reformatory line could make the process vastly successful.

The committee in its report expressed grave dissatisfaction about the state of affairs at Cellular Jail. They regretted that ‘absolutely no attempt whatever to provide any kind of reformative influence on the convicts had ever been made’. 80 In particular, they pointed to the lack of education, absence of religious teaching, prohibition from installing places of worship or community religious observances. ‘The moral atmosphere,’ of the jail, they noted, ‘has been thoroughly unhealthy.’81

Thus, one of Vinayak’s most significant contributions during his incarceration at Cellular Jail was to attempt a change in the conditions there despite the resistance of the authorities. He had managed to organize the library, instil the habit of reading and discussions and striven to make it a model even for Indian jails when it came to prisoner reform. The same was also postulated to the government as part of executing a wellstructured policy of prison reforms.

By the end of the momentous year 1919, Emperor George V ratified the Government of India Act (Montagu–Chelmsford Reforms) through a royal proclamation. Clause 6 of the proclamation stated that the emperor desired that as far as possible, traces of bitterness between his government in India and the people must be obliterated. He hoped that those who had broken the law in the past, respect it in the future. At the same time, he hoped that it would become possible for those tasked with the maintenance of peace and order to curb any excesses. Given the dawn of a new era, he earnestly wished to see greater cooperation between the governing and the governed towards a common goal. He stated:

I therefore direct my Viceroy to exercise, in my name and on my behalf, my Royal clemency to political offenders, in the fullest measure, which in his judgment is compatible with the public safety. I desire him to extend it, on this condition, to persons who, for offences against the State or under any special or emergency legislation, are suffering imprisonment or restrictions upon their liberty. I trust that this leniency will be justified by the future conduct of those whom it benefits, and that all my subjects will so demean themselves as to render it unnecessary to enforce the laws for such offences hereafter.82


In accordance with the general amnesty granted by the emperor, most of the political prisoners, including Barin Ghose, Trailokya Chakravarti, Hemchandra Das and Parmanand, were released from Cellular Jail. The prisoners had to sign a pledge that they would abstain from politics and revolutionary activity for a certain stipulated number of years. If they were found guilty of treason again, they would be sent back to the Andamans to serve the remainder of their life sentence. There was a great deal of discussion and difference of opinion on signing such a clause. But Vinayak prevailed upon them to sign it and secure a release first before planning any future course of action. All, except around thirty political prisoners, were repatriated to Indian jails or permanently released. Unfortunately, Babarao and Vinayak were excluded from this amnesty under the pretext that its clauses did not cover their case.

Consequently, Vinayak submitted a petition to the Government of India on 20 March 1920. 83 He invoked the emperor’s royal proclamation that, given the eagerness for political progress, they had decided to provide amnesty to all political prisoners, and that the offences booked against him and Babarao were under the same category. It was not an individual grudge that they had but a political cause for which they adopted the revolutionary path. He argued that the proclamation did not make any distinction of the nature of offence or a section of the law, beyond the motive. Hence, it became necessary to underscore that their motive was political and not a personal enmity against anyone in the government. He was unable to fathom why the same yardstick that the government had applied to release Barin, Hemchandra Das, Sachindranath Sanyal and others who were charged with exactly similar offences was not applicable to them. Their behaviour in prison had been no better or worse than the rest, and hence there was little case to single them out for this disadvantage. He drew attention to his earlier petitions of 1914 and 1918 where to protect the country from the ‘fanatic hordes of Asia threatening to invade via the North West’ 84 he had offered himself as a volunteer in the War.

With the wide range of administrative reforms put in place, he had already expressed his willingness to join a constitutional line of political activity, for he hated ‘no race or creed or people simply because they are not Indians’. He was willing to pledge, like the other political persons, to abstain from political activity for a period of time. This had become necessary too for them because their health was in tatters due to the long period of incarceration. The brothers were okay to have their movements confined to a district too if that was what the government pleased. Given the wide support that the demand for their release had elicited from different cross sections of society and prominent leaders, it would defeat the very purpose of the proclamation, i.e., to remove bitterness between the ruler and the ruled, by not granting their release. On similar grounds, Vinayak requested the release, even if conditionally, of all the remaining political prisoners who had been languishing in jail for long. The release would grant him a new birth, after his bright career had been regretfully extinguished and this would make him grateful to the government and politically useful in future. ‘For often,’ he concluded, ‘magnanimity wins even where might fails.’

What seems remarkable is that while in prison Vinayak, through his petitions, declared his support for ‘constitutionalism’, ‘non-violence’ and ‘reforms’. But in his memoirs, My Transportation for Life, that was written a few years after his release, he expressed completely different political notions. In these writings, he revealed his disapproval of the nonviolent mode of struggle that was being propagated by Gandhi. Even as he dismissed the Mahatma’s approach based on non-violence, he appealed to the colonial regime for amnesty release or remission of sentence based upon his conviction that ‘violence’ was a thing of the past and ‘constitutionalism’ was the only political ideology left to pursue. In his memoir, he favours Tilak’s approach of ‘responsive cooperation’ that the latter had advocated in the wake of the reforms. The petitions, however, have no mention of this approach or his belief in them. These seemingly contradicting stands lead one to believe that the petitions were a mere tactical ruse to secure a release and thereafter plan a future strategy. Nothing substantial could be achieved by being holed up in jail.

The chief commissioner of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands submitted the petition and jail tickets of both Babarao and Vinayak to the Government of India (Home Department). As per the records in the jail tickets, during their first five years at Cellular Jail, their conduct was hardly that of model prisoners. This was the peak period of the numerous strikes at jail in which the brothers took the lead on several occasions. Babarao’s conduct in jail until 1914 had been recorded as being ‘bad and he was frequently punished, chiefly for refusal to work and for possession of forbidden articles’. From 1914 through 1919, Babarao’s ‘conduct has been very good’—except for a non-disclosed minor offence for which he received a warning in November 1917. 85 Vinayak’s jail ticket was similar: ‘Punished eight times during 1912, 1913, and 1914 for refusing to work and possession of forbidden articles.’ For the five-year period after 1914, Vinayak’s behaviour was ‘very good’.86 This was when reforms had been ushered in after Craddock’s visit and the library programme had begun. As for their ‘present attitude’, the letter mentioned that the brothers had now become model prisoners. Babarao was noted for his ‘submission to authority but he never shown [sic] any disposition to help in the work of the jail the way that the three Bengalis have done’. The chief commissioner stated that he was unable to ascertain Babarao’s (Ganesh Savarkar) personal opinions and whether he had renounced his former political views as he was not very communicative. Vinayak’s ‘present attitude’ was similar to that of his brother: ‘He is always suave and polite. Like his brother, he has never shown any disposition to actively assist Government. It is impossible to say what his real political views are at the present time.’

In response, on 29 May 1919, Sir J.H. DuBoulay, Secretary to Government of India, noted that their case could be considered for remission with one of the sentences of transportation commuted, provided this had the Bombay government’s concurrence. 87 Babarao’s case too fell under the same consideration and the Government of India would have no qualms suspending the rest of his sentence, provided the Bombay government agreed.88

But the Government of Bombay was adamant in its refusal to consider the approval of remission for the Savarkar brothers. In a telegram sent on behalf of the Government of Bombay to the superintendent of Port Blair, Morrison stated: ‘Bombay Government does not recommend any remission of the sentences passed against Ganesh Damodar Savarkar and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar.’ 89 Two internal notes in the file conveyed the reasons for their refusal. In the first note, Morrison remarked that he did not know Babarao, ‘. . . so I can’t say whether he is likely to have been sufficiently broken by his punishment . . . But I do know Vinayak and I should doubt whether he will be moved to revise his opinion of Government by any extension of clemency’. 90 In a second note sent on 31 May 1919, Morrison stated that the Deccan was quiet now and with an imminent return of Tilak from England, where he had filed a libel case against Times of London reporter, Valentine Chirol, releasing the Savarkars could be potential trouble. The Government of Bombay agreed with the Government of India, Home Department’s earlier recommendation that dangerous convicts must be excluded from the amnesty scheme and given that they fall clearly under this category ‘the Savarkar brothers be excluded from the Royal Clemency’.91

It was clear that even by 1920, after serving close to ten years in Cellular Jail, the Government of India and of Bombay considered Vinayak extremely dangerous to public safety, law and order to be released. In a communication between the secretaries of the Government of India and of Bombay—H. McPherson and J. Crerar respectively, the former writes:

There is probably no doubt that he [G.D. Savarkar] was one of the young men who first started the seditious movement of the melas in the Deccan which eventually merged into an anarchical movement with its headquarters at Nasik; but the real father of the movement was his brother Vinayak. The latter possessed the qualities of leadership and courage, which his brother lacked though he would not allow anybody to dispute his authority as supposed leader of the movement in the absence of Vinayak. Plans were laid by the superior brain of Vinayak while Ganesh helped him in preaching hatred of Government by the dissemination of seditious literature, and by corrupting the minds of young students.92


In another communiqué from McPherson, it seemed that the government was mulling options for clemency only to Babarao as Vinayak was ‘really the dangerous man, the objection to whose release lies, no doubt, not so much in the seriousness of his offence as in his temperament’. It observed that if Babarao was released and Vinayak withheld in custody, the latter would be a hostage for the government. This fear would force Babarao to adhere to the law and not indulge in any seditious activity, lest it jeopardize his younger brother’s release.93

A young revolutionary, Sachindranath Sanyal, had founded the Patna branch of the Anushilan Samiti in 1913 and was extensively involved in the Ghadr plans as well. He had been sentenced to life and imprisoned at Cellular Jail. He was released after a brief period and he returned to his revolutionary ways. However, in a conversation with one B.C. Chatterjee, he wondered that while he had given an exactly similar assurance, as Vinayak had done, of cooperation with the government in the wake of the Reforms Act, he had been released but not Vinayak. He hypothesized that after the arrests of Vinayak, Babarao and other members of Abhinav Bharat, the revolutionary movement in Maharashtra had practically fizzled out and peace established. The government was wary that releasing Vinayak at such a time might set Maharashtra ablaze yet again. To preclude any such possibilities, they indulged in excuses and legalese to prevent his discharge from prison.94

Around this time, the Bombay National Union and some of its leaders organized and signed mass petitions for the release of Indian political prisoners, especially the Savarkar brothers, lodged in the Andamans. No less than 75,000 people signed this. Writing about this to his brother Narayanrao in a letter dated 6 July 1920, Vinayak states:

That must have put an immense though unacknowledged pressure on the Government. At any rate it elevated the moral status of the political prisoners and therefore of the cause for which they fought and fell. Now indeed our release, if at all it comes, is worth having; as the people have expressed their desire to have us back. We cannot sufficiently thank our countrymen for sympathy and solicitude for us all . . . For although we two have been declared to fall outside the scope of the Amnesty and are still rotting in the cells, yet the sight of hundreds of our political comrades and co-sufferers’ release makes us feel relieved and repaid for all the agitation that we have been carrying on for the last eight years or so through strikes, letters, petitions, the press, and the platform, here and elsewhere.95


Despite all these efforts, it was to be a long route to liberation for Vinayak —the struggle seemed to have just begun.
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Re: Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past by Vikram Sampath

Postby admin » Thu May 13, 2021 2:39 am

Part 1 of 2

10 Political Potboiler

Bombay, January 1920

From his clinic in Girgaum, Bombay, Narayanrao decided to do the unthinkable. He picked up his pen and wrote a letter to a man who was ideologically opposed to his brother, but nonetheless was fast emerging as a major political voice in the country—Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. In the first of six letters, dated 18 January 1920, he wrote to Gandhi, Narayanrao sought the latter’s help and advice in securing the release of his elder brothers in the wake of the royal proclamation.

Yesterday [17 January] I was informed by the Government of India that the Savarkar brothers were not included in those that are to be released . . . It is now clear that the Indian Government have decided not to release them. Please let me hear from you as to how to proceed in such circumstances. They have already undergone a rigorous sentence for more than ten years in the Andamans and their health is utterly shattered. Their weight has come down from 118 lbs. to 95–100. Though they are given a hospital diet at present, their health does not show any sign of improvement. At least a change to some Indian jail of better climate is the most essential for them. I have received a letter from one of them very recently (one month back) in which all this is mentioned. I hope that you will let me know what you mean to do in this matter.1


One week later, on 25 January 1920, Gandhi replied and quite expectedly told him that he could do very little by way of assistance.

Dear Dr Savarkar, I have your letter. It is difficult to advise you. I suggest, however, your framing a brief petition setting forth facts of the case bringing out in clear relief the fact that the offence committed by your brother was purely political. I suggest this in order that it would be possible to concentrate public attention on the case. Meanwhile as I have said to you in an earlier letter I am moving in the matter in my own way.2


However, several months later, on 26 May 1920, Gandhi wrote an article in Young India titled ‘Savarkar Brothers’ and built a case for their release by the government.

Thanks to the action of the Government of India and the Provincial Governments, many of those who were undergoing imprisonment at the time have received the benefit of the Royal clemency. But there are some notable ‘political offenders’ who have not yet been discharged. Among these I count Savarkar brothers. They are political offenders in the same sense as men, for instance, who have been discharged in the Punjab. And yet these two brothers have not received their liberty although five months have gone by after the publication of the Proclamation . . . It is clear . . . that all the offences charged against Mr Savarkar (senior) were of a public nature. He had done no violence. He was married, had two daughters who died, and his wife died about eighteen months ago . . . the other brother . . . is better known for his career in London . . . He was charged also in 1911 with abetment of murder. No act of violence was proved against him either.

Both these brothers have declared their political opinions and both have stated that they do not entertain any revolutionary ideas and that if they were set free they would like to work under the Reforms Act, for they consider that the reforms enable one to work thereunder so as to achieve political responsibility for India. They both state unequivocally that they do not desire independence from the British connection. On the contrary, they feel that India’s destiny can be best worked out in association with the British. Nobody has questioned their honour or their honesty, and in my opinion the published expression of their views ought to be taken at its face value . . .

Now the only reason for still further restricting the liberty of the two brothers can only be ‘danger to public safety,’ for, the viceroy has been charged by His Majesty to exercise Royal clemency to political offenders in the fullest manner which in his judgment is compatible with public safety. I hold therefore that unless there is absolute proof that the discharge of the two brothers who have already suffered long enough terms of imprisonment, who have lost considerably in body-weight and who have declared their political opinions, can be proved to be a danger to the State, the Viceroy is bound to give them their liberty. The obligation to discharge them, on the one condition of public safety being fulfilled, is in Viceroy’s political capacity just as imperative as it was for the Judges in their judicial capacity to impose on the two brothers the minimum penalty allowed by law. If they are to be kept under detention any longer, a full statement justifying it is due to the public . . .

This case is no better and no worse than that of Bhai Parmanand who, thanks to the Punjab Government, has after a long term of imprisonment received his discharge. Nor need his case be distinguished from that of Savarkar brothers in the sense that Bhai Parmanand pleaded absolute innocence . . . The public are entitled to know the precise grounds upon which the liberty of the brothers is being restrained in spite of the Royal Proclamation which to them is as good as a royal charter having the force of law.
3


Narayanrao was relentless in his efforts to secure the release of his brothers. Apart from the petitions that they were sending to the government from the Andamans, he sent one in 1918. Yesu Vahini and Yamuna had each sent one in 1915. All of them had been rejected. Undaunted by this, Narayanrao kept trying to mobilize public support as well as that of prominent citizens and members of the legislative councils to raise this issue at multiple forums.

On 12 July 1920, Vinayak and the chief commissioner of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands received the Government of India’s reply to Savarkar’s 20 March1920 petition: ‘His Excellency the Viceroy is not prepared at present to extend to them the benefit of the amnesty.’ 4 A pall of gloom fell upon the Savarkar household. Vinayak had been diffident about this, as revealed in the letters he wrote to Narayanrao. In the letters of 1918, 1919 and 1920 he repeatedly stressed a desire to move from the revolutionary to the constitutional path that the government had facilitated through its reforms. Given that all the letters were thoroughly scanned by the jail authorities for any objectionable content before they were posted, one is unsure if he truly spoke his mind or was self-censoring the content with an eye on his release. In his final letter to Narayanrao dated 6 July 1920, and a week before his petition was quashed, Vinayak had concluded with a somber note: ‘Please do not hope much from this petition [20 March 1920] so far as our release is concerned. We never pitched our hopes too high and if not released we shall not be very much disappointed. We are quite prepared to face it either way.’5

A dejected Narayanrao visited his brothers for a second time in November 1920. Reduced to bones, Vinayak was hardly recognizable. In a sullen voice, he told his brother: ‘Bal! Be prepared to hear the worst of us any day in the future. I don’t think we can pull on for a long time now. Do not forget, however, that even the unexpected sometimes happens. Who knows we may survive from this. But the chances are very remote for that. Take it that this is our last meeting together on this side of the world!’6

Through the efforts of Narayanrao, however, the issue of the Savarkar brothers’ release was brought up often in the legislatures. On 15 February 1921, legislator Mohammad Faiyaz Khan raised a question in the Bombay Legislative Assembly on the basis of the report on the tortures suffered by the brothers, published in the Leader of Allahabad on 2 December 1920. The report had stated that the Savarkar brothers were undergoing hard labour for the last eleven to twelve years now. Ganesh Damodar Savarkar was suffering from a constant fever and had lost a lot of weight. Though he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, there was no treatment and he was kept confined in his cell. Faiyaz Khan wished to know from the government if this was happening with its consent and what action they intended to take to stop the brutality and if they could get to meet their families.

In the reply on behalf of the Government of India, S.P. O’Donnell mentioned that the labour they were put to could hardly be construed as rigorous. They were allowed to sleep peacefully in their cells and work in the open daily. They were allowed to exercise in the corridor or in the yard during non-working hours. The elder brother, Ganesh, was under medical observation and it was noted that his temperature rose to 99 degrees every evening. But for this, he seemed fine. His body parameters too were perfect—the government recorded that he currently weighed 110 lbs as against 113 lbs on admission ten years ago. His illness could not be termed as tuberculosis; he only had a slight cough which was suggestive of congestion. However, as a precautionary measure, he was allowed to spend time on the veranda attached to the cells. Vinayak had done no labour harder than rope making and since 1915 both of them had only been given short periods of separate confinement. Vinayak’s weight on admission was 111 lbs. and was now 106 lbs. Hence, everything seemed to be fine with him. A special order was issued for Vinayak on 1 April 1919: ‘To continue as a hospital patient for purposes of diet and treatment, but will live in end cell (i.e., a special cell with its own piece of veranda) in top corridor.’

O’Donnell added that since both brothers had been in the settlement for merely ten years, they could not be classified as self-supporters or allowed to bring their families there so long as they were not released from jail. The government at any rate considered it a dangerous proposition to release them, though their petitions to this effect were under consideration. 7 Many of the details that were read out contradicted the jail ticket history of the brothers maintained by the jail authorities.

In the Legislative Assembly, another legislator, Vithalbhai Patel, moved a resolution on 24 February 1920 recommending amnesty to the Savarkar brothers and other political prisoners. G.S. Khaparde and other members too had drawn the government’s attention to the matter. A year later, legislator Rangaswamy Ayyangar moved another resolution in the Council on 26 March 1921 regarding the signature campaign of over 50,000 people seeking amnesty for the Savarkar brothers. The resolution sought a recommendation from the House to the Governor General in Legislative Council to release the brothers. Providing a spirited defence, Ayyangar quoted from Vinayak’s petitions and letters where he claimed a change of his political thought and abstinence from violence in the wake of the reforms. Ayyangar said, ‘We can charge Savarkar with anything, but he is not the man who is a liar who will tell anything against his convictions even to buy life. Such is the present mentality of the man for whom I am pleading for the grant of amnesty.’ He drew from Vinayak’s letter dated 8 February 1920: ‘As circumstances change, do also change the ways and means of men. So let none—neither our friends nor our critics—disbelieve us when we declare that we pledge our word to make the new constitutional and constructive epoch a success, by all means in our power and to the best of our ability.’ Ayyangar argued that people directly connected with conspiracies and murders had been granted amnesty; those transported for life with forfeiture of property were now entrusted with ministerial portfolios. Yet the Savarkars continued to rot in the dungeons of Andaman. A spirited discussion followed on this issue in the Council with several members participating in the debate.

One Council member, C.N. Seddon, provided an opposing view to Ayyangar’s and read extracts of the judgment in their respective trials to prove how dangerous the two brothers were. He felt that the Council must leave this decision to the Government of India and more so to the Government of Bombay to do what it feels would be consistent with public safety. Sir William Vincent presented his case that a distinction needed to be made between the brothers and their role. He was in favour of no leniency shown to Vinayak given the grievous nature of his abetting the murder of a man, Jackson, who was loved by all. But he was willing to consult the Bombay government regarding Babarao. Since his conviction was sedition—which was a political crime—different from murder that Vinayak had been charged with, differential parameters could be applied. Another Council member, Colonel Sir Umar Hayat Khan, strongly opposed Ayyangar’s resolution. He hypothesized that if all murderers were to be released, they may as well do away with jails. He likened their release to the adding of petrol to the fire that was already raging across the country. Council member Nawab Sir Bahram Khan too opposed the resolution and opined that the decision must be left to the local government to pursue.

At this point, Ayyangar offered to give guarantees and furnish securities on Savarkar’s behalf to secure the amnesty. He referred to the ‘forget and forgive’ policy stated in the royal proclamation. Sir William Vincent intervened and said that the policy did not mean they empty jails and let every criminal out. Given the overwhelming opposition to the resolution, it was rejected in the Council and the ball was back in the Government of Bombay’s court to arbitrate on the matter.8

Later that year, the Governor General mentioned that the Government of Bombay was unwilling to accept the Savarkar brothers in the Bombay jails on the grounds that their incarceration there could aggravate the situation. It was similar to the attitude of the Government of Punjab that did not want the Ghadr conspirators to be lodged in Punjab jails, in view of the prevalent feeling among Sikhs. There was a possibility of asking the local governments whether they would object to the transfer of their political prisoners to other provinces in India. For example, a confinement of the Savarkar brothers in jails of the Madras Presidency or the United Provinces without causing any embarrassment to Bombay. Whether these provinces would be willing to accept them was another matter; they would probably strongly object, but it was worth ascertaining if such a transfer would be acceptable to both governments involved.9

Sir William Vincent was of the view that all political prisoners should be transferred to British Indian jails from the Andamans. Given the worsening health of the Savarkar brothers, he opined that pressure must be put on the Government of Bombay to accede to the wishes and take back their prisoners from the Andamans. He saw no reason for the objections since Bombay had many equally, if not more, dangerous political prisoners. Prolonged incarceration of the Savarkars in the Andamans was increasingly exposing the Government of India ‘to severe criticism of a justifiable character’. 10 There was unanimous agreement among all members to this suggestion.

Cellular Jail, July 1920

Far removed from the hectic parleys that were going on regarding his release, on 4 November 1920, Vinayak was promoted to the position of a foreman in charge of manufacturing oil. After a brief probation he was confirmed as a permanent foreman. He drew a handsome monthly salary of Re 1 for this work! The coconut gardens and the oil from them were the main source of revenue in the Andamans. Cellular Jail had three big reservoirs full of oil ground out of the mills by prisoners. Big casks were filled with oil and exported to Calcutta and Rangoon and in return several thousand rupees accrued to the government treasury.

In addition to the shuddhi, sangathan and literacy movements that he spearheaded in jail, another issue close to Vinayak’s heart was the propagation of Hindi. Right from 1906, while in England, he had begun work to make Hindi the national language of India. In a linguistically diverse country such as India the exalting of a single language was bound to create tensions and differences. But it was also an important tool for national unity, Vinayak argued. Making Hindi the national language of the independent republic of India and Devanagari the script in which it was to be written, was something that all members of Abhinav Bharat pledged. It was long after 1906, and an initial rejection of the idea, that several other national leaders like Tilak and Gandhi espoused the cause of Hindi as the national language. Their acceptance followed agitations on the matter by the Nagar Pracharini Sabha of Benares and the Arya Samaj. In fact, the propaganda in favour of Hindi as India’s national language and encouraging patriotic writings in it was pioneered by Swami Dayanand Saraswati.

Right from his early days in the Andamans, Vinayak encouraged people to speak in Hindi. Its status was one of confusion to many. Was it a language at all or merely a mixture of several dialects? Did it have a grammar? Did it have any sound literature to its credit? There were many such misgivings. Prisoners from Bengal and Madras Presidencies felt that their languages—Bengali and Tamil—had such an ancient history and rich literature that they deserved to be the national language, rather than this concocted language of sorts. Vinayak’s argument was that while one could love their mother tongue and keep its antiquity intact, there was a need for a cultural integrator given India’s diversity. Such an integrator would bind all Indians together in a common thread of national identity and unity. Given that a vast section of Indians spoke or understood Hindi, promoting it as the lingua franca and the national language would help foster people-to-people integration and thereby of the nation.

In the classes that Vinayak conducted at jail, he would insist that every prisoner learn the languages of provinces other than his own. He prescribed an order of study for all prisoners which was first their mother tongue, followed by Hindi, and lastly, the language of any province other than their own. The Andamans offered a rare opportunity to them for such a study as well. He taught the Bengali prisoners Hindi and Marathi; to prisoners from Maharashtra, Hindi and Bengali; and to the Punjabi, Hindi as well as their script, Gurumukhi. The Gujaratis were the last to come to Cellular Jail, but Vinayak managed to teach them the Hindi alphabet and equipped them to read and write. Being personally unaware of the south Indian languages, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam, and since none of the prisoners were competent enough to teach them, provisions could not be made for classes in these languages. Vinayak was ‘conscious of this defect in our common programme of teaching languages’.11 For ten years, Vinayak stuck to this task of propagating Hindi and had the full cooperation of his colleagues.

Till then, government records were maintained in Urdu, and even Hindi was written in the Persian script. Vinayak strongly advocated the implementation of the Devanagari script as it was the one in which the oldest language of the subcontinent, Sanskrit, was written. During his interactions with local merchants in his capacity as the foreman of oil collections, Vinayak passed this zeal on to them too. Through his influence, a girls’ school that was started in the Andamans began a compulsory teaching of Hindi in the Devanagari script. There were many books in Hindi procured for the library and these were circulated among the prisoners and also among the locals, through a travelling library. Making them all conversant with Hindi, and not slip into Urdu which they were used to, was a challenge and Vinayak managed to circumvent that to a large extent.

Vinayak was opposed to the imposition of Urdu in most schools across India, including the Andamans. Otherwise, he was proficient in Urdu; recently, three patriotic Urdu ghazals were discovered in the Andamans, in his own handwriting. They dated back to 1921 when he exhorted the youth to fight the British. One of these ghazals, ‘Yahi Paaoge ’, also managed to reach the revolutionaries of the Kakori Conspiracy through Sachindranath Sanyal. The revolutionaries would sing this often as an inspirational ode.12 In one of the ghazals, he notes:

Our brave warrior is the slayer of Ravan, Lord Ram
Our proud charioteer is the god of Karma yog, Lord Krishna
O Bharat! What army can stop thy chariot?
Why this delay, awake brothers, we are our own saviours! 13


Similar sentiments are expressed in his Urdu ghazal, ‘Pehla Hafta ’, written before his imprisonment in the Andamans—showing that the long incarceration did little to dampen his patriotic spirit.

On 1 August 1920, came news of Lokamanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s death. It was a deep personal loss for Vinayak who considered Tilak his political guru. The grief spilled over even in the Andamans where prisoners refused dinner that evening in honour of the departed hero.

Continuing with his work of reforming the lives of people in the prison and the Andamans, Vinayak then pushed for inter-caste dining. Though he met with stout opposition from orthodox Hindus, Vinayak was able to prevail upon them the need to break the barriers of caste that had crippled Hindu society and disunited it. Dining together on festivals such as Diwali and Dussehra was the first step in shaking the foundations of this well-entrenched social evil. They were to lay the ground for the massive work that Vinayak was to later do in Ratnagiri.

Using his comparative freedom and authority as a foreman, he strove harder for the spread of education among prisoners. To this effect, he urged the authorities and convinced them to start the first primary school on the jail campus for juvenile convicts. An educated political prisoner was appointed as the teacher and Vinayak created the syllabus and teaching methodology. In the true spirit of jail reforms, he propagated to these young convicts the idea of becoming better and patriotic citizens. The scriptures and Hindi too formed part of the curriculum. A similar school was started by him in the oil depot for other prisoners who were unlettered. The same year, in 1920, for the first time, the birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh was celebrated in the jail. Vinayak spoke about the guru and his immense contributions. It was an occasion to create a sense of unity with the Sikh prisoners. Vinayak’s toil and efforts resulted, with time, in the achievement of nearly 80 per cent average literacy among the prisoners. 14 Ten years ago, while he had seen prisoners in the same jail whiling away their free time playing dice, gambling or quarrelling with one another, now most of them spent it productively in teaching, learning, spiritual pursuits and reading books. Writing about this, Vinayak states:

Hundreds of prisoners in the jail showered their gratitude upon me. All of them knew one thing very well, and it was that during ten years of my association with them, I had carried on incessant agitation in the Cellular Jail and outside for giving them an organized existence. I had carried on agitation in the press, through petitions, through civil resistance, through questions asked in the Imperial Legislature at Delhi, through protests, correspondence and personal letters, to draw the pointed attention of India and its Central Government to their condition in the Andamans. And it was my persistence at it that had made the matter a live issue before the Jail Commission. To those who would felicitate me I said, ‘At last the Andamans as a prison-colony is no more, the Cellular Jail is dismantled. This change is not the result of any singlehanded endeavour. It is the reward of ten years of continuous and all-sided agitation, to the success of which all of you, and especially the political convicts, have made a tremendous contribution by your trials and tribulations throughout this period. And if it has succeeded even partially, the credit is yours.’ I told them so and offered my sincerest felicitations to them in return. I added how fine it would have been for Mr Barrie to be alive that day. Mr Barrie used to taunt me that all my efforts were to go for naught and add that I was dashing my head against a stone-wall, that [sic] was not the wall that would break, but that my head would break. I could have told him that day as follows: ‘Mr Barrie, my head had received many bruises by my dashing it continuously against your prison-walls. No doubt about it. But behold! The wall of your prison has now been cracked and will soon crumble down. And I am here alive with all the bruises I have received in the fight.’15


When the proposal of shutting down Cellular Jail was conveyed to them, Vinayak was quite displeased. He wanted the prison colony to continue as a model for the rest of India, from where the most hardened criminals too could be sent back as better human beings. He wanted the government to continue it as a free colony of prisoners where those on life sentence could also be allowed to marry and have a family. He, in fact, preferred to stay back in the Andaman settlements even if he were to be released.

‘The Aafat Called Khilafat’

Back in mainland India, a new movement was brewing. It is important to understand this issue because it sets the context in which Vinayak penned his magnum opus on Hindutva and his belief in the need for Hindu society to organize itself politically. The concept of Hindutva continues to be a contentious one in Indian politics even today.

The pan-Islamic feelings that the First World War created in the minds of several Indian Muslims, with the Ottoman Empire joining the Central forces against the Allied forces has been mentioned earlier. Their natural sympathy was with the Khalifa, the sultan of Turkey, who was also their religious head. But this conflicted with their loyalty as British Indian subjects. Realizing this, the British government assured Turkey of sympathetic treatment at the end of the War. Assurances to this effect were given by the British prime minister, Lloyd George, and the president of the United States of America, Woodrow Wilson. This instilled some hope among Indian Muslims.

However, these were dashed after the conclusion of the War and the terms of Armistice. Turkey was partitioned—Thrace was presented to Greece and the Asiatic portions of the Turkish Empire passed under the control of Britain and France in the guide of ‘mandates’. The sultan was reduced to a figurehead under the control of a high commission appointed by the Allied powers who ruled the nation in his name. This hugely agitated Muslims in India who felt let down and a storm broke out. An Indian Muslim delegation under Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar (1878– 1931) travelled to England in 1919 to convince the Turkish nationalist, Mustafa Kemal, not to depose the sultan of Turkey. By 1920–21, he formed a broad coalition with Muslim nationalists such as his brother, Shaukat Ali, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Hakim Ajmal Khan, Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari and others.

Gandhi, who had launched the Non-cooperation movement in 1919 which came to an abrupt halt after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, decided to support them through his tool of satyagraha. This led to the birth of the Khilafat agitation in 1920. Gandhi wrote to the viceroy pleading for a just settlement of the Khilafat problem, going to the extent of placing it on the same level of political importance as home rule in India. He wrote in conclusion: ‘In the most scrupulous regard for the rights of those (Mohammedan) States and for the Muslim sentiment as to their places of worship, and your just and timely treatment of India’s claim to Home Rule lies the safety of the Empire.’16 Unsurprisingly, when the All-India Khilafat Conference met in Delhi on 23 November 1919, Gandhi was unanimously elected as its president. It urged the Muslims not to join the public war celebrations if the British failed to solve the Turkey problem. Gandhi urged the conference to consider the feasibility of non-cooperation as a means to compel the British government to redress the Khilafat wrong. The tenets of this included renunciation of honorary posts, titles, memberships of councils, giving up posts under the government, police and military forces and a refusal to pay taxes.17

As nationalist leader Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar mentions: ‘The movement was started by the Mahomedans. It was taken up by Mr. Gandhi with a tenacity and faith which must have surprised many Mahomedans themselves.’18 Ambedkar and several others opined that the movement was unsupportable because of the basic fact that the Turks, in whose interest the agitation was being carried out in distant India, ‘themselves favoured a republic and it was quite unjustifiable to compel the Turks to keep Turkey as a monarchy when they wanted to convert it into a republic’.19 But Gandhi was determined. As he noted in Young India dated 2 June 1920:


If I were not interested in the Indian Mahomedans, I would not interest myself in the welfare of the Turks any more than I am in that of the Austrians or the Poles. But I am bound as an Indian to share the sufferings and trials of fellow-Indians . . . the extent to which Hindus should join hands with the Mahomedans . . . is . . . expedient to suffer for my Mahomedan brother to the utmost in a just cause and I should, therefore, travel, the whole road so long as the means employed by him are as honourable as his end.


Ambedkar explains that the popularly held view that it was the Congress that initiated the Non-cooperation movement is erroneous. He opines that ‘the non-cooperation had its origin in the Khilafat agitation and not in the Congress movement for Swaraj: that it was started by the Khilafatists to help Turkey and adopted by the Congress only to help the Khilafatists: that Swaraj (Self-Rule) was not its primary object, but its primary object was Khilafat and that Swaraj was added as a secondary object to induce the Hindus to join it’.20

In a timeline that Ambedkar provides, he mentions that it was on 10 March 1920 that the Khilafat Committee met in Calcutta and ratified the concept of non-cooperation in its manifesto with Gandhi in attendance. The All India Congress Committee (AICC) that met in the interim on 30 May 1920 in Benares did not endorse Gandhi’s non-cooperation but merely expressed indignation on the terms of the Turkey agreement, urging the British to revise it. Other important items such as the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, the repeal of the Rowlatt Act and bringing General Dyer and others to justice were the main demands of the resolution. Meanwhile, on 22 June 1920, the Khilafat Committee wrote to the viceroy that they would launch non-cooperation agitation by 1 August if their demands were not met. By 1 August, with no official word from the viceroy, the Khilafat Committee launched the Non-cooperation movement. Gandhi wrote to the viceroy about it and also the return of the medallions he had received for his loyalty to the British troops in the Boer War and the Zulu revolt. In his letter, he wrote: ‘I venture to return these medals, in pursuance of the scheme of Non-cooperation inaugurated today in connection with Khilafat movement.’21 No Hindu leader other than Gandhi participated in it and the Congress’s official role in it was uncertain.

It was thereafter that Gandhi persuaded the Congress to join hands with the Khilafat and this was adopted in the Congress session in Calcutta on 4 September 1920. In his speech with which he moved the resolution at the session, Gandhi stated:


The Mussulmans of India cannot remain as honourable men and followers of the faith of their Prophet, if they do not vindicate its honour at any cost. The Punjab has been cruelly and barbarously treated . . . and it is in order to remove these two wrongs . . . that I have ventured to place before this country a scheme of non-cooperation. 22


He, however, did not make it clear why this should be a priority only for the Indian Muslim community when their co-religionists from various parts of the Muslim world were themselves unperturbed by the dissolution of the caliphate. When Turkey itself favoured such a move, and when none of this made anyone in the Muslim world less honourable or disrespectful of their faith or the Prophet, why was such an assumption being made on behalf of only the Indian Muslims? If Punjab was a ‘wrong’ committed by the British (which it was), how was it that a resolution passed in the same city of Amritsar in 1919, barely months after the carnage, vouched for cooperation with the government reforms? The attainment of swaraj was added as a minor adjunct to the Khilafat movement. Ironically, Gandhi had overturned a resolution that he himself had insisted upon in the November 1919 Amritsar session of the Congress favouring cooperation with the British, loyalty to them and ensuring that the Reforms Act of 1919 worked successfully. Other than surrendering titles and giving up posts, withdrawal of children from government schools, boycott of foreign goods, withdrawal from British courts and other such measures were adopted.

The widely held narrative is that the Jallianwala Bagh massacre led to the birth of the Non-cooperation movement. But as the facts present themselves above, in the Amritsar Congress held in 1919, barely five months after the genocide, Gandhi himself advocated complete cooperation with the British in the wake of the reforms initiated in the royal proclamation and the Government of India Act, 1919. The government had remained studiously silent on the Jallianwala Bagh massacre for eight months and it took them a long time to even constitute an inquiry commission. Their reluctance was there for all to see by the time the Congress met in Amritsar in November 1919. Despite the somersault between the two Congress resolutions, prevailed upon by the same person and with no new facts emerging other than the Khilafat, it denotes the huge sway that Gandhi had begun to influence in the workings of the Congress and in such a short span of time.

Interestingly, it was Gandhi who advocated his favourite mantra of noncooperation to the Khilafat Committee, got it ratified there, and then prevailed upon the Congress to support the Khilafat and thereby the philosophy of non-cooperation too. It was a political master stroke and a daring attempt by Gandhi. For decades the Congress had tried in vain to enlist the support of Muslims. But with the Congress standing up for their cause, several Muslims and their leaders trooped to it, even though temporarily. It also enhanced the stature of Gandhi as a national leader and catapulted the Congress to a body that went beyond resolutions and conferences, to grass-roots mass movements. Of course, one could quibble on whether making the Khilafat movement a matter of such importance was of any relevance to the cause of Indian freedom. As historian R.C. Majumdar notes:


As to regarding the Khilafat as a matter of life and death to the Muslims, events were soon to prove that it was a rhetoric or hyperbole and can hardly be regarded as a serious fact; for in less than five years the Muslims of Turkey usurped the rights of the Caliph to a far greater degree than the British ever did, and not a leaf stirred in the whole Muslim world outside India. Unless, therefore, we are prepared to believe that the Muslims of India were the only true followers of the Prophet or the most genuine champions of the cause of Islam, it is difficult to understand or explain the weight they attached to the Khilafat question, save on the theory that it was a phase of that Pan-Islamic movement to which the Indian Muslims looked forward as the only guarantee against the influence of a Hindu majority with whom faith had linked them in India. 23


Whether Gandhi latched on to the Khilafat to launch his political career as the leader of mass agitations in India or put the theory of non-cooperation into practice, it did energize the sagging morale of the Congress. But his critics, like R.C. Majumdar, point out that by endorsing such extraterritorial allegiance and ‘by his own admission that the Khilafat question was a vital one for Indian Muslims, Gandhi himself admitted in a way that they formed a separate nation; they were in India, but not of India’.24 The mixing up of an issue far away from India and relegating the matter of Indian freedom to the background did not appeal to many Indians, especially Hindus.

Bipin Chandra Pal opined that this emergent pan-Islamism that was catching up in India too was ‘the common enemy of Indian nationalism in its truest and broadest sense’.25 Annie Besant too talks about how ‘the Khilafat was not sufficiently attractive to the Hindus’.26 Lala Lajpat Rai was more candid in his assessment of the Khilafat movement:


I have no intention of offending anybody’s susceptibilities, but if the existing conditions are properly analyzed, it will be seen that sectarianism and narrow-minded bigotry have been very much strengthened within the last three years. The Khilafat movement has particularly strengthened it among the Mohammedans, and it has not been without its influence and reaction on the Hindus and Sikhs . . . it was unfortunate that the Khilafat movement in India should have taken its stand on a religious, rather than political basis . . . it was still more unfortunate that Mahatma Gandhi and leaders of the Khilafat movement should have brought religion into such a prominence in connection with a movement which was really, and fundamentally, more political than religious.27


After his travels in the Muslim countries of Central Asia and Egypt and his interactions with the local Muslims, Lajpat Rai sounded a warning bugle when he said: ‘Indian Muslims are more pan-Islamic and exclusive than the Muslims of any other country of the globe, and that fact alone makes the creation of a united India more difficult than would otherwise be.’28

A few sceptic Hindus proposed that in the true spirit of Hindu–Muslim unity, a quid pro quo could be established—that Hindus render their wholehearted support to a cause of Muslim faith, in return for the latter eschewing cow slaughter that was a matter of faith for a vast majority of Hindus and which had caused communal tensions in the past. Gandhi debunked this idea with his hypothesis that ‘the test of friendship is assistance in adversity, and that too, unconditional assistance . . . if the Mahomedans feel themselves bound in honour to spare the Hindu’s feelings and to stop cow killing, they may do so, no matter whether the Hindus cooperate with them or not’.29

Others who opposed the Khilafat movement argued that the mobilized Muslims might invite the Afghans to invade India, in which case the country might be subjugated to Muslim Raj from British Raj.30 Chittaranjan Das wrote to Lala Lajpat Rai that he did not fear the seven crore Muslims of India, but ‘the seven crores of Hindustan, plus the armed hordes of Afghanistan, Central Asia, Arabia, Mesopotamia, and Turkey will be irresistible’31 and posed a grave national threat to India. Gandhi discounted this fear too by saying he felt that ‘Hindus will not assist Mahomedans in promoting or bringing about an armed conflict between the British Government and the allies, and Afghanistan. British forces are too well organized to admit of any successful invasion of the Indian frontier’.

Meanwhile, Maulana Abdul Bari 32 had suggested that if the British continued with their obdurate stand of committing injustice to the Khalifa, Indian Muslims should give up the country in protest and migrate to a Muslim land or Dar-ul-Islam— Afghanistan. Following his fatwa, about 18,000 Muslims sold their properties to move to Afghanistan—a move that brought them severe ruin. Interestingly, instead of denouncing such a move, Gandhi, the leader of the Khilafat movement, said: ‘The flight of Mussulmans is growing apace—they are cheered en route. That it is better for them to leave [a] State which had no regard for their religious sentiment and face a beggar life than to remain in it even though it may be in a princely manner.’33 The seeds of Pakistan, it seemed, were sown three decades before it actually materialized.

Right from the very beginning, there were voices in the Muslim community that considered this a ruinous move. Muhammad Ali Jinnah of the Muslim League opposed the Khilafat agitation.34 The All-India Shia Conference passed a resolution of loyalty to the British in its meeting held at Nagina, a town in Bijnore district of the United Provinces, on 3 April 1920. 35 The honorary secretary of the Khilafat Committee, Badruddin Koor, had cautioned:


If Muslims [of India] embark on this ruinous course, I am afraid we may have to suffer even long after Khilafat controversy terminates. It is clear that non-cooperation report emphasizes that the Indian Mussulman should refrain from violence and bloodshed. But those who are fully acquainted with the Muhamedan temperament and feelings and who see the Indian atmosphere as at present charged with religious incitement and fervour will hesitate to believe that the advice will be acted upon if non-cooperation is to be made a living factor. I do not expect a large and unwieldy community of uneducated and highly sensitive people goaded to disappointment and despair by the apathy of Great Britain and its allies in the Khilafat question will ever do so. The risk is therefore clear. 36
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Re: Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past by Vikram Sampath

Postby admin » Thu May 13, 2021 2:40 am

Part 2 of 2

Ironically, prior to his initiation into the Khilafat, Muhammad Ali himself had scoffed at the very idea of Muslims joining hands with the Hindus or the Congress on any political issue. In an article, ‘The Communal Patriot’, in his newspaper, The Comrade, Ali had lampooned the efforts of Indian Muslims to join hands with the Congress to fight victimization of the Muslims of Tripoli and Persia. ‘What has the Muslim situation abroad to do,’ he wondered, ‘with the conditions of the Indian Muslims?’ He believed that the fundamental differences between the Hindu and Muslim communities needed to be sorted out before any alliance could be forged. ‘Have the questions that really divide the two communities lost their force and meaning?’ he wondered and rationalized: ‘If not, then the problem remains exactly where it was at any time in recent Indian history.’37 It remains unknown what had changed for him to do a volte-face and support what he had ridiculed a few years ago. Barring the Ali brothers, the fact that several Muslim leaders were sceptic of the non-cooperation method is explained by Jawaharlal Nehru:

I remember the meeting38 because it thoroughly disappointed me. Shaukat Ali, of course, was full of enthusiasm; but almost all the others looked thoroughly unhappy and uncomfortable. They did not have the courage to disagree, and yet they obviously had no intention of doing anything rash. Were these people to lead a revolutionary movement, I thought, and to challenge the British Empire? Gandhiji addressed them, and after hearing him they looked even more frightened than before. He spoke well in his best dictatorial vein . . . this is going to be a great struggle, he said, with a very powerful adversary . . . when war is declared martial law prevails, and in our nonviolent struggle there will also have to be dictatorship and martial law on our side if we are to win . . . these military analogies and the unyielding earnestness of the man, made the flesh of most of his hearers creep . . . as we were coming home from the meeting, I asked Gandhiji if this was the way to start a great struggle. I had expected enthusiasm, spirited language, and a flashing of eyes; instead we saw a very tame gathering of timid, middle-aged folk.39


That the Ali brothers had their misgivings about the nature of the movement even after joining it becomes apparent in the anecdote narrated by Swami Shraddhanand in his memoirs. A staunch Arya Samaji and a shuddhi activist, he had begun working with the Congress since its Amritsar session in 1919 that he presided over. He joined the nationwide protests against the Rowlatt Act and frequently interacted with maulanas to broker peace between the communities. In the Calcutta session of September 1920, he was sitting on the dais along with Shaukat Ali. He heard him loudly telling a few others in his company: ‘Mahatma Gandhi is a shrewd bania. You do not understand his real object. By putting you under discipline, he is preparing you for guerrilla warfare. He is not such an out and out non-violencist [sic] as you all suppose.’40 ‘I was shocked,’ said Shraddhanand, ‘to hear all this from the big brother and remonstrated with him, which he treated with humour.’

Shraddhanand tried to warn Gandhi about the possibility that his ‘motives were being misrepresented’. But these were not taken seriously. In the Khilafat conference at Nagpur, maulanas recited ayats from the Quran that contained frequent references to violent jihad ‘against and the killing of kafirs’. When Shraddhanand drew Gandhi’s attention to this, he ‘smiled and said: “They are alluding to the British bureaucracy”’. In reply, Shraddhanand told him that ‘it was all subversive of the idea of nonviolence and when a revulsion of feeling came, the Muhammadan Maulanas would not refrain from using these verses against the Hindus’.41 Once again Gandhi disregarded this politely.

Despite all these seemingly contradictory stands and opposition, Gandhi was obdurate that while the Khilafat was a matter of faith for Muhammad Ali, he himself would not mind ‘laying down my life for the Khilafat’. He hoped that this generous support would ‘ensure the safety of the cow, that is my religion, from the Mussalman knife’.42 He even advocated three slogans for Hindus and Muslims alike, to be chanted one after another in every congregation: ‘Allaho Akbar, Bande Mataram/Bharat Mata ki Jai, and Hindu-Musalman ki jai.’43 About the diffidence about the first slogan, an overtly religious Muslim one, he implored: ‘Hindus may not fight shy of Arabic words, when their meaning is not only totally offensive but even ennobling. God is no respecter of any particular tongue.’44 Speaking in Karachi on 22 July 1920, Gandhi warned the Hindus that if they did not help the Muhammadans in their time of trouble, their [own] slavery was a certainty.45 At a public meeting in Vadtal in Gujrat on 19 January 1921, Gandhi implored the masses:


I tell all the Hindu sadhus that if they sacrifice their all for the sake of the Khilafat, they will have done a great thing for the protection of Hinduism. Today the duty of every Hindu is to save Islam from danger. If you do this, God Himself will inspire them to look upon Hindus as friends and Hindus will look upon Muslims as friends.46


However, as the sceptics had predicted, within a year of the launch of the Non-cooperation movement, the Muslims were growing restive and impatient. It was not as easy to secure British concessions on this issue, as Gandhi’s promise had held out to them. Gandhi himself acknowledged that ‘in their impatient anger, the Musalmans ask for more energetic and more prompt action by the Congress and Khilafat organizations. To the Musalmans, Swaraj means, as it must mean, India’s ability to deal effectively with the Khilafat question.’ 47 He even advocated that he ‘would gladly ask for postponement of Swaraj activity if thereby we could advance the interest of the Khilafat’.

Muslim leaders such as Faqir Qayamuddin and Mohammad Abdul Bari jointly wrote to the president of the Central Khilafat Committee, Miya Mahomed Haji Jan Mohammad Chotani, on 14 May 1920:


Lessons of forbearance and patience are troublesome. Tell Mr Gandhi that while I myself will be guided by his advice, I will not restrain those people who in their haste go against it although I will not stimulate them, because in spite of entertaining different opinion, I have promised to go by his consent . . . but it should be borne in mind that we shall not sit (idle) relying upon him, but thanking him for his sympathy, will fulfil our religious obligation. This is a religious duty, which is unalterable. In its discharge, reliance can be placed on no one but God—whoever, whether Muslims or non-Muslims, prevent us from this, his tool will be included in the list of enemies.48


Other Muslim leaders too were unwilling to heed the advice of patience and continue the Non-cooperation movement with Gandhi in the absence of tangible results. They did exactly what was feared they might—invite the Amir of Afghanistan to invade India for the pan-Islamic cause. In his misguided enthusiasm, Gandhi went to the extent of even supporting such a move: ‘I would, in a sense, certainly assist the Amir of Afghanistan, if he waged a war against the British Government. That is to say, I would openly tell my countrymen that it would be a crime to help a government which had lost the confidence of the nation to remain in power.’49 Even his most ardent supporters were shocked by such statements that had no roots in pragmatism or practicality.

The Nagpur session of the Congress held immediately thereafter, in December 1920, cemented Gandhi’s influence over the party. It endorsed several ideas that were close to his heart—promotion of swadeshi or homespun clothes, enforcement of prohibition of alcohol, striving for Hindu–Muslim unity and declaring the charkha or spinning wheel as a key to Indian freedom. Most importantly, Gandhi promised the Congress that his method of struggle through non-cooperation would lead to the establishment of swaraj within a year. This raised the hopes of all the members who decided to give it their best shot. However, and most interestingly, what swaraj actually meant was never clearly defined. It was left open and malleable to anyone’s interpretation. Some called it self-rule and complete independence, others termed it limited self-rule within the British dominion, while the staunch Khilafatists linked to it a strong desire for Afghan invasion.

The Nagpur session endorsed Gandhi’s plan of a triple boycott— legislatures, courts and educational institutions maintained or aided by the government, as part of the Non-cooperation agitation. Eminent leaders appealed to students to leave their educational institutions and this was met with a wholehearted and enthusiastic response by the youth across India. Many of these youngsters organized themselves into the corps of National Volunteers—a group of young men of daring, militant character. Forceful and sometimes violent imposition of hartals, and picketing to prevent the sale of liquor and foreign goods were conducted in several places.50

As part of non-cooperation with the government, the Congress withdrew its candidates from the seats to the councils in an attempt to create an administrative deadlock. Gandhi had hoped that the Congress’s boycott of legislatures would lead to a wholesale abstention from the voting process by the voters too. ‘Will a single Moderate leader,’ asked Gandhi, care to enter any Council if more than half his electorate disapproved of his offering himself as a candidate at all? I hold that it would be unconstitutional for him to do so.’51 But he was mistaken. A quarter or less of the voters did not heed the Congress’s call and non-Congress candidates too contested the elections and were duly returned to the councils as well. They of course proved to be ineffectual in terms of true representation of the people. The Congress used this trump card to communicate that the elections held in the wake of the Reforms was not representative of the people’s mandate and was a complete failure. Even the British grudgingly acknowledged this, as Sir Frank Sly, the governor of the Central Provinces, mentioned in his speech on 22 November 1924: ‘At the first election many of the electors, under the influence of the NonCooperation movement, abstained from voting, and members were returned to the Legislative Council who could not claim to be really representative of public opinion, and some of them were unfit to exercise the responsibilities of their position.’52

Courts too were boycotted. Leaders of the Bar, like Motilal Nehru and Chittaranjan Das, gave up their practice as an example of sacrifice and this was emulated by several others. Large numbers of students began a boycott of their schools and colleges, and held protest marches, black flag processions and so on. All these activities under the larger umbrella of non-cooperation created, for the first time in modern Indian history, a dedicated rank and file of full-time freedom fighters.

The government followed an initial policy of indifference and then persecution when maintenance of law and order became a problem. Finally, Gandhi met the viceroy, Lord Reading, in Simla six times between 13 and 18 May 1921. The proceedings were largely unknown but in the meeting, the viceroy managed to extract a promise from Gandhi to secure an apology from the Ali brothers for allegedly making incendiary speeches calling to violence during the Non-cooperation movement.

The government had intercepted a telegram—a wire sent to the Amir of Afghanistan inviting him to invade India and urging him to not make peace with the British—written in Persian, allegedly by Muhammad Ali. Swami Shraddhanand mentions this incident in his memoir. Muhammad Ali had feigned complete ignorance in the matter as he knew neither Persian nor Arabic and he was made a maulana only by virtue of the duties of tabligh (conversion) that he had conducted. On reaching Anand Bhawan, Pandit Motilal Nehru’s Allahabad residence, Muhammad Ali took Shraddhanand aside and taking out a paper from his handbag, gave him a draft of a telegram to read. ‘What was my astonishment,’ noted Shraddhanand, ‘when I saw the draft of the selfsame telegram in the peculiar handwriting of the Father of the non-violent cooperation movement!’ 53 Gandhi reached Anand Bhawan the next day and when asked by Sharaddhanand about this matter, did not remember to have sent any such telegram.

To prevent their prosecution, as threatened by the viceroy in the Simla meeting, Gandhi managed to extract an apology from the Ali brothers. This lowered the prestige of Gandhi as well as that of the Ali brothers and weakened the Non-cooperation movement to an extent. The leaders were seen as striking deals with their opponent. The Ali brothers tried to wriggle out of the embarrassment by making several public statements that the apology was just incidental.

Subsequently, their call to Muslims, through convenient fatwas issued by clerics, which deemed working for the British as irreligious, led to their prosecution and sentence to two years’ rigorous imprisonment. This reinvigorated the flagging Non-cooperation movement and gave it new impetus. Nationwide strikes, agitations, boycott of the Prince of Wales Edward VIII’s visit and other programmes were implemented with great gusto, inviting repressive measures from the government. The movement was not without violence. In Bombay, in November 1921, protests degenerated into mob violence and looting, policemen were beaten up in three days of rioting and about fifty-eight civilians killed, with 400 injured.54 Gandhi expressed deep remorse at this violence.

The one year that Gandhi had declared for the attainment of swaraj was coming to an end. At this time, negotiations for an amicable settlement began with Chittaranjan Das and Madan Mohan Malaviya of the Congress acting as conduits between Gandhi and the viceroy. The latter stated his terms clearly. If the Congress agreed to call off the movement, the government would release all political prisoners imprisoned during the movement, and in due course, the Ali brothers too. They would also summon a Round Table Conference between the government and the Congress to settle the future constitution of India. Young Subhas Chandra Bose, who was an active volunteer of the movement and jailed for participation, reminisces:


Rightly or wrongly, the Mahatma had promised swaraj within one year. That year was drawing to a close. Barely a fortnight was left and within this short period something had to be achieved in order to save the face of the Congress and fulfil the Mahatma’s promise regarding swaraj. The offer of the Viceroy had come to him as a godsend. If a settlement was made before December 31st and all the political prisoners were released, it would appear to the popular imagination as a great triumph for the Congress. The Round Table Conference might or might not be a success, but if it failed, and the Government refused to concede the popular demands—the Congress could resume the fight at any time, and when it did so, it would command greater prestige and public confidence.55


But Gandhi’s insistence on the release of the Ali brothers as being contingent to any compromise ruined the deal. Chittaranjan Das who was playing interlocutor was ‘beside himself with anger and disgust. The chance of a lifetime, he said, had been lost.’56

Gandhi then embarked on a mass Civil Disobedience movement from Bardoli, a small tehsil in the Surat district of the Bombay Presidency, on 1 February 1922. Gandhi mentioned in his letter to the viceroy that this was to carry on till all prisoners convicted in the movement were released, the press freed from interference, and the redress of the Khilafat and Punjab wrongs was taken up. It was undoubtedly a bold ultimatum. From Bardoli the fire spread to Assam, Bihar, Central Provinces, Madras Presidency and other parts of India. No-tax campaigns, boycott of foreign goods and picketing were planned all over the country, shaking the very foundations of the British government.

On its part, the government did not take the developments lightly. On 6 February, the viceroy virtually declared war, bent upon crushing this upsurge. Just a day earlier, on 5 February, an incident in a small village called Chauri Chaura near Gorakhpur in the United Provinces inadvertently provided a way out of the deadlock. The police had opened fire on demonstrators, before running out of ammunition and locking themselves up in their station. The excited mob set fire to the police station and as the harried officers came running out, some twenty-two of them were hacked to death and their bodies thrown into the flames. After that, events progressed quickly. Gandhi decided to use the Chauri Chaura incident as an excuse to call off his movement at a time when it had peaked and agree to a Round Table Conference instead. In a speech on 10 February at Bardoli, calling off the much-hyped and anticipated movement, Gandhi blamed this on the fact that the ‘country at large has not accepted the teaching of non-violence. I must, therefore, immediately stop the movement for civil disobedience’.57 Two days later, on 12 February, the working committee called off the movement formally and with its adoption by the AICC in a fortnight, Civil Disobedience was history.

Sitting in faraway Port Blair, Vinayak was keeping a close watch on these massive political developments in mainland India. He denounced the Khilafat movement as an ‘aafat ’ or a calamity and menace to the country, warning that a wave of fanaticism would sweep the country and engulf it in its treacherous grip. [/b]

The death of Lokmanya Tilak in India gave a fillip to these movements. It is a belief current among us that when a great man dies, nature herself is unable to bear the shock and she erupts in hurricanes and typhoons, in pestilence and epidemics full of evil portent to the world. The exit from the Indian world of a powerful personality like Lokamanya Tilak ushered in the mad intoxication of Khilafat agitation conspiring with the cult of the Charka as a way to Swaraj in one year . . . The Non-cooperation movement for Swaraj based on these twin principles was a movement without power and was bound to destroy the power of the country. It is an illusion, a hallucination, not unlike the hurricane that sweeps over a land only to destroy it. It is a disease of insanity, an epidemic and megalomania.58


The abrupt calling off of the movement greatly dampened the enthusiasm of thousands of people who had been galvanized. As several historians and commentators have contended, it possibly pushed back the attainment of freedom by several years, if not decades. Writing about the popular sentiment in the country, Subhas Bose states:

The Dictator’s decree was obeyed at the time but there was a regular revolt in the Congress camp. No one could understand why Mahatma should have used the isolated incident at Chauri Chaura for strangling the movement all over the country. Popular resentment was all the greater because the Mahatma had not cared to consult representatives from the different provinces and because the situation in the country as a whole was exceedingly favourable for the success of the civil disobedience campaign. To sound the order of retreat just when public enthusiasm was reaching the boiling point was nothing short of a national calamity. The principal lieutenants of the Mahatma, Deshbandhu Das, Pandit Motilal Nehru, and Lala Lajpat Rai, who were all in prison, shared the popular resentment . . . Deshbandhu . . . was beside himself with anger and sorrow at the way Mahatma Gandhi was repeatedly bungling. He was just beginning to forget the December blunder when the Bardoli retreat came as a staggering blow. Lala Lajpat Rai was experiencing the same feeling and it is reported that in sheer disgust he addressed a seventy-page letter to the Mahatma from prison.59


Even Jawaharlal Nehru opined that they were very angry to learn ‘of this stoppage of our struggle at a time when we seemed to be consolidating our position and advancing on all fronts . . . the young people were even more agitated. Our mounting hopes tumbled to the ground and this mental reaction was to be expected.’ He found it deplorable that a remote village in an ‘out-of-the-way place’ now determined the end to a ‘national struggle for freedom’.60 As Romain Rolland stated in graphic terms:

It is dangerous to assemble all the forces of a nation, and to hold the nation, panting, before a prescribed movement, to lift one’s arm to give the final command and then, at the last moment, let one’s arm drop, and thrice call a halt just as the formidable machinery has been set in motion. One risks running the brakes and paralyzing the impetus.61


Realizing that Gandhi’s hold over the Congress was weakening, the government sprang into action. He was tried at Ahmedabad on 18 March 1922 on the charges of instigating disaffection against the government. He pleaded guilty and explained why he had turned from a British loyalist to an uncompromising non-cooperator. The sessions judge sentenced him to six years’ simple imprisonment. The chances of revival of a movement that was so wedded to a single personality fizzled out with this. The Congress split up, with senior leaders such as Chittaranjan Das and Motilal Nehru resigning from the party in anguish and forming a new organization called the Swaraj Party.

Cellular Jail, May 1921

Even as the country was going through a political ferment, Vinayak received a letter from the Government of Bombay. The jamadar smiled as he handed the letter to Vinayak, telling him that it brought good news. The Government of Bombay had finally agreed to shift the Savarkar brothers from Cellular Jail to one of its own. The reason behind this was not an acceptance of their petitions, but the fact that the government was contemplating a closure of Cellular Jail. Having been given several such false alarms about his release or transfer, Vinayak was indifferent. He had completed ten years in prison by then and was hoping to be given the privilege of applying for a ‘ticket’ that was normally made to prisoners after three years of incarceration. This entitled a prisoner to live outside the prison, with family and options to earn a livelihood. After such a long time, the option of transfer to an Indian jail perplexed Vinayak. Having served ten years in Port Blair would he be eligible for any privileges in the new prison, he wondered.

The next morning, he was asked to meet the jailor who told him to pack up and get ready for his departure. Vinayak had mixed emotions. At Cellular Jail he at least had his brother’s company, while back in India they were surely going to be lodged in separate prisons. Friends, fellow prisoners and the locals poured in to wish him well and see him off. With the meagre amounts many of them earned, they brought sweets, flowers, fruits, biscuits and other gifts for their ‘Bada Babu’. They were overwhelmed by his untiring efforts to make their lives better, even while suffering himself. With a mantra on his lips that he made the others repeat, Vinayak bid adieu to the torture cell that had been his home for a decade:

One God, one country, one hope,
One caste, one life, one language,
We stand by these. 62


The gates of Cellular Jail that had creaked open for him in 1911 were opening once again. Babarao and Vinayak made their way out. Vinayak whispered to his brother: ‘This little threshold is a borderland between life and death. From death we are crossing into life only by stepping athwart the threshold. Yes! We have crossed it and stepped into the land of the living. And now? We do not mind very much. Let the future take care of itself.’63

A Maratha prisoner, Kushaba, who had been raised to the position of a jamadar and was shortly to receive his ticket of freedom, rushed forward, defying the escort that guarded the brothers, and tried to garland Vinayak with fresh champaka flowers. A police officer tried hard to ward him off, but this precious gift seemed to Vinayak a validation of all his efforts and the unalloyed love of a fellow countryman. Thanking him, they made their way to S.S. Maharaja , the same steamer that had brought them to Port Blair. This time they were dumped in a dingy cabin along with lunatics on board. Babarao was burning with fever and was herded with this pack. After much protest they were moved to a place that had slightly better ventilation. As they reached Indian shores, Vinayak felt an inexplicable thrill of setting foot on mainland India after such a long time.

Calcutta/Ratnagiri, May 1921

On 26 May 1921, the steamer docked at the port of Calcutta and the brothers were taken away to Alipore Jail. As Vinayak feared, he and Babarao were separated and put in different cells. Vinayak turned back several times to watch his brother walking away forlornly, coughing incessantly, and he felt as though they would never see each other again.

The same day that the brothers reached Alipore, a Calcutta periodical, Capital , run by the city’s influential Anglo-Indians, carried an article, ‘Ditcher’s Diary’, which alleged that Babarao was an expert in wireless messaging; that he used this to send messages to fellow revolutionaries through the German wireless network while he was in the Andamans, calling on them to attack via the Sumatra Islands. The article justified their continued captivity in the larger interest of national security. Narayanrao had dragged the publication to court on defamation through his solicitors, Manilal and Kher. In its 28 July 1921 issue the Capital deeply regretted the publication of such a baseless and slanderous article and offered an unconditional apology to the Savarkar brothers.

Meanwhile, in Alipore prison, Vinayak overheard interesting chatter between two sepoys who were deployed to keep a watch over him at night. They were talking to each other excitedly:

We are going to have Swaraj in two months. For a powerful yogi of the name of Gandhi has begun his fight with the Government. The British are helpless against him. For a bullet-shot does not hurt him. If put in prison, he knows how to come out of it. Such superhuman powers he possesses. He vanishes from his cell and is seen standing beyond the outer wall. Such is the magic he wields. This has happened several times. 64


Given the quick release from jail on each imprisonment, such myths abounded about Gandhi. There were similar legends about Vinayak too. He recounts a sepoy asking him, in an obvious reference to the Marseilles episode, how many days he had swum in the sea. When he replied that it had taken him only a short ten-minute swim to the quay, the sepoy was shocked and his belief in Vinayak’s miraculous powers was shattered! Vinayak recounts: ‘My habit of reporting correctly what happened at Marseilles had lost me many friendships in life and their reverence for me.’65

After a week, Vinayak was dispatched from Calcutta by train to Bombay. From there, he was taken to the district jail in Ratnagiri where he was lodged as Convict number 558. Babarao had been taken away to Bijapur prison in northern Karnataka. The first few weeks at Ratnagiri were miserable for Vinayak. During his last few months in the Andamans, he was getting better-cooked food and milk that had helped his body recuperate from the debilitating illness. But in Ratnagiri, he was once again denied milk and fed badly baked bread. Further, he was kept in solitary confinement and all concessions—clothing, freedom from hard labour, reading, writing on paper or a slate and interacting with fellow inmates—granted in the Andamans were withdrawn. The same uniform that he had when he was lodged in the Bombay prisons before he was sent to Port Blair, with the iron badge carrying the year of his release—1960— was given to him. It made him feel that he was serving his sentence from the start, all over again. He was given the task of spinning cotton and denied any books to read. This melancholy got to him and yet again, he seriously contemplated suicide. He battled with his mind and gave himself courage and hope to bear it all with resilience and continue the fight without giving up in a cowardly fashion. He decided to get back to his earlier resolve of mentally composing poems and committing them to memory. This was the best way he could keep his mind occupied in the throes of loneliness and despair.

The worsening condition of his brothers distressed Narayanrao. He wrote to Jamnadas Dwarkadas, the editorial-in-charge of Young India and a close associate of Gandhi, on 15 September 1921, seeking his intervention. Narayanrao quoted Section 55 of the IPC that provides every convict sentenced for transportation for life, a commutation of the punishment by the government after fourteen years, with or without the consent of the offender. He also brought attention to the government resolution of the judicial department (No. 5308) dated 12 October 1905 that allowed release of lifers after completing fourteen years of imprisonment, inclusive of remission earned. In Babarao’s case, he explained, twelve years of imprisonment had been completed as of 9 June 1921. During the Delhi Durbar, he had received a remission, and this added up to twenty-five months. This amounted to a total punishment of fourteen years, making him eligible for release as per the rules quoted above. In view of the visit of the Prince of Wales, he urged Jamnadas to influence the government to seek his brothers’ release. He added:

Apart from whether you are a cooperationist or non-cooperationist; apart from whether you are a Tilakite, a Gandhite, or a Besantive; apart from whether you are a loyalist or a seditionist, you must feel pious disdain towards this sort of vindictive policy of a Government towards two individuals whom the Government claim to be their subjects. And all this when my brothers have declared to accept the New Reforms and work constitutionally in future; when a member of the Council of State of the standing of Mr A. Rangaswami Ayyangar offers as much sum as the Government demands as security. Dear Jamnadas, this sort of individual tyranny, I am sure will make any justice loving man abhor it—because true justice is always blended with mercy.66


In his reply dated 13 October 1921, Jamnadas maintained that he had spoken to the government and that he was ‘afraid that nothing could be done in the matter. The question was re-examined by the Government of India as recently as June last, and they are not prepared at present to reopen it.’67

Vinayak sent another petition to the government on 19 August 1921. 68 The text of this petition, unlike several others from the Andamans, clearly indicates the spirit of a broken and dejected man. The frustration borne out of the abominable conditions in the Ratnagiri District Prison, when he was hoping for a better future after spending ten years in the Andamans and the good work he had done there, is obvious. For the first time, he expressed ‘regret’ for his revolutionary past—something he had skirted around and never stated equivocally in all the earlier petitions. He confessed that he was not the same man as in the days of his conviction and ‘he sincerely regrets that he should have ever been caught up in the whirlwinds of political passions and ruined the brilliant career that was already his’. But in the wake of the reforms ushered in by the Government of India Act and the looming threat of a possible Afghan invasion (which he calls ‘Asiatic hordes’) ‘leaves him convinced that a close and even a loyal cooperation and connection with the British Empire are good and indispensable for both of them’. He drew attention to the release of revolutionaries such as Barin Ghose, Hemchandra Das and Pyarasingh who had been convicted for similar crimes. If someone was poisoning the government’s ears or attributing motives to his petitions to make him a scapegoat, he wished to disassociate from such mischievous acts. He pledged to eschew political life. ‘His broken health,’ Vinayak added, ‘and the long sufferings make him determined—apart from any such condition—to retire and lead a private life and so he is willing to undertake to observe honestly this or any other such definite and reasonable condition that the Government may be pleased to dictate.’ It seemed to defy all logic that ‘all the thousands of seditionists convicted before and after the petitioner, none has been held up in Jails so long as the petitioner and his brother (they have remained while all those lifers convicted with them have long been released)’.

If his ill luck persisted and the government chose to disregard this petition, he sought a redress to his grievances. Had he been in an Indian jail for eleven years, he would have automatically earned two or more years of remission. Had he continued in the Andamans, he would have had recourse to a ticket of leave and get his family to stay with him. He had gained no benefits here; in fact, he received the worst disadvantages of both ends. He therefore requested for either a remission of two to three years as per Indian jail norms or a return to the Andamans with the sanction of a ticket leave that would enable him to take his family—from whom he had been separated for such a long time—along with him. ‘He would,’ promised Vinayak, ‘if allowed this much at least—be simply glad to lead a retired and private life forgotten by and forgetting the world in the blessings of a dear home life—that world which is so terribly afraid of having its safety disturbed by so hapless, hopeless and broken individual as the petitioner.’

He hoped the ongoing Non-cooperation and Khilafat agitations would not influence the government’s decisions in this matter. In the Andamans too he had voiced his support of the other prisoners who had received general amnesty following the royal proclamation, for signing a ‘pledge that they would abstain from politics and revolutionary activity for a certain number of years’. He wrote in his memoirs: ‘My advice to my friends was that there was nothing wrong in it, as it referred to a future contingency and was in the best national interest.’ 69 He appears to be applying the same principle to himself in his 1921 petition.

Around the same time, Yamunabai, Vinayak’s wife, also petitioned 70 Sir George Lloyd, the governor of Bombay, seeking a release for Babarao on the same terms that Narayanrao had set out in his letter to Jamnadas. She hoped that in the interim the brothers would be allowed a monthly letter or an interview and access to books and newspapers that were not proscribed by the government.

On 23 November 1921, the Government of Bombay replied to Vinayak’s petition, rejecting his requests, pointing out ‘that the question of granting remission to prisoners returned from the Andamans is under the consideration of Government’.71 The brothers were, however, allowed access to books and newspapers and interaction with other prisoners.

Vinayak made use of this opportunity to continue with the shuddhi activities that he undertook in the Andamans, as the condition was similar when it came to forceful or induced conversion of convicts. He also voiced his protests about the disgusting prison protocol when it came to answering the call of nature. There was no partition and no door to the lavatories that were arranged in a line, and the prisoners were made to sit down rubbing shoulders with one another. There was no roof overhead and they had to use these open lavatories in all kinds of weather. They were not allowed to take water inside and had to wash themselves at a water tap a little distance away. The repeated protests by Vinayak and the other prisoners whom he inspired led the jail administration to introduce changes.

With access to writing, Vinayak managed to complete three poems that were in various stages of composition: ‘Kamala’, ‘Gomantak’ and ‘Saptarshi’. He also wrote a miscellaneous set of poems entitled ‘Virahoswasa’ (The Sighs of Separation). Narayanrao published complete editions of these poems. Now that he had access to books, Vinayak read and reread the Dasabodha of Ramdas. It was a book that had captivated him as a child, and it was his way of drawing inspiration at a time when his morale was at its lowest.

He learnt from Narayanrao that Babarao was at the Bijapur prison. When Narayanrao had visited Babarao in December 1921, he was dressed in khadi. The jail authorities had told him that he could meet his elder brother only if he changed his garments. Finding this offensive and insulting, Narayanrao protested and the meeting got cancelled. The dank, suffocating and deserted cell of Bijapur had a disastrous impact on Babarao’s already sinking health. He was given the daily labour of grinding 35 pounds of wheat 72 and he was in complete solitary confinement. This led Babarao to the limits of insanity, even as his headache and diarrhoea accompanied with stomach spasms resurfaced. His knees gave way and he began suffering from arthritis that was to trouble him all his life. A few friendly sparrows whom he fed grains were his only source of cheer. Before long, the jail authorities drove them away too. Bedbugs, mosquitoes and scorpions made the dark cell a veritable hell.

With the help of Benjamin Guy Horniman, British journalist and editor of The Bombay Chronicle, Narayanrao actively campaigned to move Babarao from Bijapur jail. Finally, in January 1922, the government shifted him to the Sabarmati prison in Ahmedabad. But here too he received no treatment for his illness for a long time, before being shifted to a prison hospital. It was clear that Babarao was dying. He petitioned the government on 4 July 1922, putting forth his case and also about the remission he had earned.

While it was solitary confinement at Sabarmati too, he was at least taken out for a walk by the warden every evening. The breath of fresh air, the sunlight and the sight of chirping birds brought some relief. He also met Maulana Hasrat Mohani, a veteran Khilafatist, who was also lodged as a prisoner here. His interactions with the Maulana during the evening walks made Babarao aware of the many sinister subplots of the Khilafat movement, including the planned Afghan invasion. There were rumours about a purported ‘Gandhi–Amanullah pact’, between Gandhi and the Amir of Afghanistan, calling upon the latter to invade India. All this rattled Babarao and despite his failing health he wished that he was free so that he could tour the country and open the eyes of the people to these realities. It was during this time that he became a vociferous critic of Gandhi and his philosophy. He considered the spinning wheel, filling up of prisons, Non-cooperation movement and the boycott of schools and offices woolly-headedness. Though he appreciated the inherent call towards self-reliance as symbolized by the charkha that Gandhi popularized, he found it meaningless in the age of machines.

While a natural consequence of fighting for freedom was repression and imprisonment, he failed to fathom how merely going to prison was an index of patriotism, as was becoming the norm in the country. There were no dearth of jails and more could be constructed to lock up every revolutionary. He believed one could do more for the country being outside prison. He felt it was ethical, if need arose, to even escape from prison in order to fight for the nation. Like Vinayak, he too believed that blindly following the path of cooperation or non-cooperation did not help much. One needed to calibrate the political response depending on how the government was reacting and hence ‘responsive cooperation’ was a better alternative.73

Narayanrao was informed that his brother’s health was failing. He came rushing to Sabarmati. The civil surgeon examined Babarao and opined that he would live for another few days only. The government finally took notice of the condition because it did not want him to die in custody. They ordered his release. In September 1922, thirteen years after entering jail in June 1909, Babarao was released from prison on a stretcher. The harrowing days of prison life were over for him. With the loving care of his family and providence, Babarao recuperated, thereby defying the civil surgeon’s prophecy.

Meanwhile, it was in the dark confines of Ratnagiri prison that Vinayak began writing his magnum opus on his political philosophy—his conception of what constituted a ‘Hindu nationalist identity’. These were distilled from his experiences in the Andaman and Ratnagiri jails with respect to the conversions, his own attempts at shuddhi and sangathan and the raging debates in the country surrounding the Khilafat agitation. The word that he popularized and which holds immense political currency in contemporary India was ‘Hindutva’ or ‘Hindu-ness’.
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Re: Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past by Vikram Sampath

Postby admin » Thu May 13, 2021 2:41 am

Part 1 of 2

11 Who Is a Hindu?

Rahimatullah M. Sayani was an affluent Muslim belonging to the Khoja community who were disciples of the Aga Khan. He was associated with the Congress right from its inception. After Badruddin Tyabji, he was the second Muslim president of the Congress and presided over its twelfth annual session in Calcutta in 1896. In a candid presidential address, Sayani outlined, among other issues, the feelings of alienation among Muslims of India and attributed his reasons for the same. Sayani mentioned that before the advent of the British, the Muslims were the rulers of the country, with all the advantages of the ruling class. From the monarch to the courtiers to the landlords and officials, everyone was a co-religionist; the court language was theirs; they inherited positions of trust and responsibility that came along with emoluments and influence as their birthright. The Hindus, though part of the polity, were ‘tenants-at-will’ of the Muslims, were subservient and in awe of them.1 But a stroke of ill luck brought them down to the level of their Hindu countrymen. Being a ‘very sensitive race’ the Muslims resented this and would have nothing to do with their new rulers or their new fellow subjects, hitherto subordinates.

With the advent of English education in the country, the Hindus who were accustomed to learning a foreign language, as they had under their Muslim rulers, took to English naturally and easily. But the Muslims were yet to take to anything that ‘required hard labour and application, especially as they had to work harder than their former subjects, the Hindus’. They resented the idea of competing with those they considered inferior. The consequence of this was a turning of tables, with the Hindus becoming superior and the Muslim gradually being ‘ousted from their lands, their offices; in fact everything was lost, save their honour . . . they were soon reduced to a state of utter poverty. Ignorance and apathy seized hold of them while the fall of their former greatness rankled in their hearts’. The numbers proved Sayani’s claims. By 1867, eighty-eight Hindus and not a single Muslim had passed the MA and BA examinations.2

It is important to understand the long history behind this sense of alienation and separatism among a vast section of Muslims in India, particularly its leadership and clergy. This also becomes a prelude, setting the context in which Vinayak’s philosophy of Hindutva took birth. The political situation and the Hindu–Muslim equations prompted the urgency with which he composed such an exposition from the troubling confines of Ratnagiri prison. The leaderless disorientation in Hindu society, it being led in various directions and towards unrelated causes, and its own inherent divisions of caste and creed needed an intellectual response. Vinayak hoped to do that through his treatise.

There are numerous contradictions too. The same constitutional reforms that Vinayak endorsed in his petitions from Cellular Jail had provided the introduction for separate Muslim electorates. This move undoubtedly helped the later solidification of Indian politics on religious affiliation.

After the failure of the 1857 War of Independence, where reestablishing Bahadur Shah Zafar as the emperor of India was an important objective, the Wahabi movement of 1857–58, under Enayet Ali, did not join hands with the leaders of the 1857 movement. They fought for the establishment of a theocratic Islamic state, or dar-ul-Islam, in India. The Hindus were completely aloof from this long-drawn Wahabi struggle. After this, the Muslims as a community, by and large, did not take active part in any political organizations, including the INC. Being perceived as among the chief conspirators in 1857 further reduced their influence with the British and a general dejection gripped the community. At this point, Sir Syed Ahmed appeared as a beacon of hope. He took it as his mission to both mend fences between the Muslim community and the British, and also introduce the community to modern education. In fact, he published an entire tract, The Loyal Mohammedans of India, in which he took pains to explain that if there was any community in India that could be trusted and were fast bound with Christians, it was the Muslims of the country, who would be their staunch friends and loyalists. Inculcating this sense of loyalty to the British was one of the declared objectives of the Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College that he set up in Aligarh in 1877. He vehemently opposed those of the community who were against the British—be it ulemas or those associated with the Congress. According to Syed, the Congress was fighting for a representative government on British lines—one in which the majority voice reigned, which would entail a fourth of the population comprising Muslims getting a short shrift. He never tired of emphasizing that India was a conglomerate of several nations and that the Muslims formed a distinctive unit. In a speech, he articulates this belief:


In a country like India where homogeneity does not exist in any one of the fields (nationality, religion, way of living, customs, mores, culture, and historical tradition), the introduction of representative government cannot produce any beneficial results; it can only result in interfering with the peace and prosperity of the land . . . the aims and objects of the Indian National Congress are based upon an ignorance of history and present day realities; they do not take into consideration that India is inhabited by different nationalities; I consider the experiment which the Indian National Congress wants to make fraught with dangers and suffering for all the nationalities of India, specially for the Muslims. The Muslims are in a minority, but they are a highly united minority. At least traditionally they are prone to take the sword in hand when the majority oppresses them. If this happens, it will bring about disasters greater than the ones which came in the wake of the happenings of 1857 . . . the Congress cannot rationally prove its claim to represent the opinions, ideals, and aspirations of the Muslims.3


The thrust of his Aligarh movement was that Hindus and Muslims were separate entities with distinctive outlooks, conflicting interests, and in a way, separate nationalities. In fact, he was the first proponent of the ‘two-nation’ theory that was to have catastrophic results on the future of India. To quote Sir Syed:

In whose hands shall the administration and the Empire of India rest? Now, suppose that all English, and the whole English army, were to leave India, taking with them all their cannon and their splendid weapons and everything, then who would be rulers of India? Is it possible that under these circumstances two nations—the Mahomedans and the Hindus—could sit on the same throne and remain equal in power? Most certainly not. It is necessary that one of them should conquer the other and thrust it down. To hope that both could remain equal is to desire the impossible and the inconceivable.4


Regarding the Congress demand that a section of the viceroy’s council should be elected by the people, Sir Syed debated:

Let us imagine the Viceroy’s Council made in this manner. And let us suppose, first of all, that we have universal suffrage, as in America, and that all have votes. And let us also suppose that all Mohammadan electors vote for a Mohammadan and all Hindu electors for a Hindu member, and now count how many votes the Mohammadan member will have and how many the Hindu. It is certain that the Hindu member will have four times as many, because their population is four times numerous . . . and now how can the Mohammadan guard his interests?5


Thus, democratic representation or appointments based on competition would work to the Muslim detriment and result in a Hindu rule. As a result, British rule was in the best interests of the community, which should also stay away from political agitation and act as a counter to the agitating Hindus, Sir Syed postulated. That the Congress suffered from an acute lack of Muslim participation in its early years is seldom mentioned. Over the first twenty-one years, from 1885 to 1905, the average attendance of Muslim delegates in the first five sessions was 15 per cent; that fell to 5 per cent and below in the subsequent fifteen sessions.6 Muslims of Allahabad, Lucknow, Meerut, Lahore, Madras and other places passed resolutions condemning the Congress. Newspapers such as Mahomedan Observer, Victoria Paper, The Muslim Herald, Rafiq-i-Hind, and Imperial Paper spoke unequivocally against the Congress, as did a powerful Muslim organ of northern India—the Aligarh Institute Gazette.7 Riots over issues such as cow slaughter and processional music in front of mosques further widened the growing gulf between the two communities, which the British took advantage of.

For instance, Lord Curzon managed to win over Muslims who were initially opposed to the Partition of Bengal by convincing them that it was in their favour. Nawab Salimullah of Dacca, one of the most influential Muslim leaders of East Bengal, sided with the British. Many Muslims saw in the creation of the province of East Bengal and Assam a culmination of the dreams of the Aligarh movement—a separate Muslim unit within the Indian body politic. At a meeting held in Dacca on 30 December 1906, a resolution of prominent Muslim leaders upheld the Partition of Bengal plan and criticized the swadeshi movement raging against it.8

The British actively encouraged petitions from prominent Muslim leaders seeking employment of a due proportion from the community in government service, abolition of competitive examinations for the community for recruitment to services, appointments of Muslim judges in every high court and chief court, communal or separate electorates for municipalities and Muslim electoral colleges for elections to legislative councils. Correspondence between Viceroy Lord Minto’s private secretary, Colonel Dunlop Smith, and Muslim leaders clearly demonstrates this, where, among other things, he carefully orchestrates the whole plan of action:


But in all these matters I want to remain behind the screen and this move should come from you. You are aware, how anxious I am for the good of the Musalmans, and I would, therefore, render all help with the greatest pleasure. I can prepare and draft the address for you. If it be prepared in Bombay then I can revise it because I know the art of drawing up petitions in good language. But Nawabsaheb, please remember that if within a short time any great and effective action has to be taken, then you should act quickly.9


This ‘engineered’ deputation submitted its memorandum to Lord Minto who gladly accepted it. Ramsay Macdonald, the future prime minister of Britain, too had reminisced: ‘The Mahomedan leaders are inspired by certain Anglo-Indian officials and that these officials have pulled wires at Simla and in London, and of malice aforethought sowed discord between the Hindu and the Mahomedan communities by showing the Muslims special favours.’10 The British press also picked up and played on this division of interests within the country and that the distinctive Muslim views entitled them to be constituted as a separate entity.

Elated by the favourable reception from the government, the Muslim leadership felt the urgent need of a political association to voice their demands better and also act as a counter to the Congress. There was no pan-Indian organization of the Muslims; all they had were loosely knit local units and groups of nawabs and eminent persons. Nawab Salimullah of Dacca advocated the idea of a Central Muhammadan Association whose chief goals were to support the British government and to look after the rights and interests of all the Muslims of India, in addition to acting as a bulwark against the Congress. The scheme was accepted, and at a meeting held on 30 December 1906, it was resolved that a political association called All India Muslim League should be established. At a meeting held in Karachi on 29 December 1907, the aims of the League were drawn— promoting pro-British feelings and loyalty towards the government among Muslims, protecting the rights and interests of Muslims of India and preventing rise of feelings of hostility towards other communities, without prejudice to the earlier mentioned objectives.11 There was opposition to movements like the Shivaji festival promoting a Hindu leader—more so one who fought against the Mughals—as a national hero was anathema.12 The secretary of the League declared:


We are not opposed to the social unity of the Hindus and the Mussalmans . . . but the other type of unity (political) involves the working out of common political purposes. This sort of our unity with the Congress cannot be possible because we and the Congressmen do not have common political objectives. They indulge in acts calculated to weaken the British Government. They want representative Government, which means death for Mussalmans. They desire competitive examinations for employment in Government services and this would mean the deprivation of Mussalmans of Government jobs. Therefore, we need not go near political unity [with the Hindus]. It is the aim of the League to present Muslim demands through respectful request, before the Government. They should not, like Congressmen, cry for boycott, deliver exciting speeches and write impertinent articles in newspapers and hold meetings to turn public feeling and attitude against their benign Government.13


It was in this context of intense distrust and discord that we had earlier seen the letter from Ziauddin Ahmad—later vice chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University—to Abdullah Suhrawardy who was at India House in London, asking Muslims to refrain from participating in activities of Shyamji, Vinayak and other revolutionaries. The spirit of British loyalty and seeking distinctiveness from the Hindus and the Congress that Sir Syed had induced in the community was to remain for a long time with most leaders, barring a few exceptions. As Sir Percival Joseph Griffiths, a prominent businessman who also worked for Indian Civil Service largely in eastern India, noted: ‘Whatever may have been other effects of the foundation of the Muslim League, it set the seal upon the Muslim belief that their interests must be regarded as completely separate from those of the Hindus and that no fusion of the two communities was possible.’14

In its annual session held at Amritsar in December 1908, the Muslim League expressed vehement opposition to all the ‘mischievous efforts’ to unsettle the settled fact of the Partition of Bengal.15 In the Imperial Council in 1910, when Bhupendra Nath Bose raised the question of reversing the Partition of Bengal, members Shams-ul-Huda of Bengal and Mazhar-ul-Huq of Bihar strongly opposed the move. They warned that if the government meddled with this ‘beneficent measure, it would be committing an act of supreme folly and would create unrest and discontent where none existed now’.16 That the views of prominent leaders of the community remained unchanged is evident from Muhammad Ali’s speech as Congress president in 1923, in which he referred to the government’s policy of reversing the Partition of Bengal as an important cause for the alienation of the Muslims from the British government.17

Throughout 1907 and 1908, heated debates were held regarding separate electorates and the weightage that was proposed by the Muslim deputation and consented to by Viceroy Lord Minto. The Muslim leadership argued that owing to the vast social, cultural and religious differences between the two communities, they feared that a Hindu majority would not be able to deal with them suitably or represent them fairly. It was also pointed out that Muslims should get a greater representation in the different councils than was warranted by their numerical strength in the country’s population. The logic offered for this was rather perverse. The deputation had stated that Muslims had ruled India for 700 years before the British arrival and hence they had a natural claim to greater ‘political importance’, which should be reflected in the councils. They also maintained that the community had played a vital role in defending the country and this enhanced its importance further.

The Morley–Minto Reforms of 1909 not only awarded separate Muslim electorates, but also the number of their members in the council was much more than the numerical strength of their population. The seeds of discord and of being two separate nations had thus been sown several decades before the freedom movement took birth. Gopalkrishna Gokhale lamented:


It was a commonplace of Indian politics that there can be no future for India as a nation unless a durable spirit of cooperation was developed and established between the two great communities . . . the union of all communities is no doubt the goal towards which we have to strive, but it cannot be denied that it does not exist in the country today and it is no use proceeding as though it existed, when in reality it does not 18 . . . over the greater part of India, the two communities had inherited a tradition of antagonism which though it might ordinarily lie dormant, broke forth into activity at the smallest provocation. It was this tradition that had to be overcome.19


The eagerness of the Hindu leaders and the Congress to elicit Muslim support and forge a united front, disregarding the embers of discord and behaving like they never existed in the first place, made the Muslim leadership put a premium on their support. In the annual session of 1908, the Muslim League demanded an extension of the principles of communal representation to local bodies, appointment of both a Hindu and a Muslim to the Privy Council and a due share for Muslims in all state services.

At a joint session of the Congress and the Muslim League held at Lucknow in December 1916, the two parties agreed to allow the overrepresentation for the Muslims in the legislatures and councils. In return, the Muslim leaders agreed to join the Congress movement demanding Indian autonomy. Famously known as the Lucknow Pact, it was headed by Tilak from the Congress side and by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the leader of the Muslim League. It demanded that four-fifths of the provincial and central legislatures be elected on a broad franchise and half the executive council members were to be Indians elected by the councils themselves. Most of these proposals were embodied in the Government of India Act, 1919. After its initial opposition, the Congress agreed to the proposal of separate electorates for Muslims in provincial council elections and for weightage beyond their population in all provinces except Punjab and Bengal, where Hindu and Sikh minorities were taken into consideration. It was heralded as a beacon of Hindu–Muslim unity. It paved a natural way for the Khilafat movement, briefly bringing together the two communities.

One of the most tragic offshoots of the Khilafat movement was the blood-curdling atrocities committed by the Moplahs (Mapillas) of the Malabar in August 1921. A band of fanatic Muslims, they were given to frequent violent outbreaks which were sometimes driven by economic factors and at others by religious reasons. Being tenants-at-will of Hindu landlords, or jenmis, they bore deep resentment against their masters who charged high rents for the lands they tilled. Spurred by the religious call of the Khilafat movement and the speeches of the Ali brothers, the Moplahs decided to strike decisively. Agrarian grievances of the Moplahs as an excuse for this pogrom does not convey the whole truth; the violence had theological sanction. The Manchester Guardian highlighted that despite agrarian grievances:


. . . one certain element is a desperate religious fanaticism . . . India broods the horror of the cold-blooded massacres by the Moplahs, still daily showing how Hindus fare in the hands of fanatical Mohammedans. The public, obscurely but rightly, connect the holocaust of Hindu lives and property with Khilafat preachers and realize that the rule even of the arrogant British is better than no rule.20


Though the Khilafat was a movement against the British, several past grievances got fused into the volatility of the situation. Weapons were organized and preparations made to declare the coming of the Islamic kingdom. One Khilafat leader, Ali Musaliar, was proclaimed the raja, Khilafat flags were raised, and Ernad and Walluvanad were declared Khilafat kingdoms. Unfortunately, it was the hapless Hindu community of Malabar, not the government, that bore the brunt of the outrage. Mass murders of Hindu families, brutal rapes of women in front of their family members, murders of pregnant women, desecration of temples, cow slaughter, forcible conversions, pillage, arson and loot reigned till the British troops took control. The tragic memorial of the women of Malabar to Lady Reading reads:

It is possible that your Ladyship is not fully appraised of all the horrors and atrocities perpetrated by the fiendish rebels; of the many wells and tanks filled up with the mutilated, but often only half-dead, bodies of our nearest and dearest ones who refused to abandon the faith of our fathers; of pregnant women cut to pieces and left on the roadsides and in the jungles, with the unborn babe protruding from the mangled corpse; of our innocent and helpless children torn from our arms and done to death before our eyes and of our husbands and fathers tortured, flayed and burnt alive; of our hapless sisters forcibly carried away from the midst of kith and kin and subjected to every shame and outrage which the vile and brutal imagination of these inhuman hell-hounds could conceive of; of thousands of our homesteads reduced to cinder-mounds out of sheer savagery and a wanton spirit of destruction; of our places of worship desecrated and destroyed and of the images of deity shamefully insulted by putting the entrails of slaughtered cows where flower garlands use to lie, or else smashed to pieces . . . we remember how driven out [of] our native hamlets, we wandered, starving and naked, in the jungles and forests.21


Sankaran Nair points out to several other tortures like skinning Hindus alive and making them dig their own graves before their slaughter.22

The Congress leaders disbelieved the stories from Malabar initially and Gandhi himself spoke of the ‘brave God-fearing Moplahs’ whom he described as patriots who were ‘fighting for what they consider as religion, and in a manner which they consider as religious’.23 He went on to add: ‘Hindus must find the causes of Moplah fanaticism. They will find that they are not without blame. They have hitherto not cared for the Moplah. It is no use now becoming angry with the Moplahs or Mussalmans in general.’24 Ironically, his allies, the Khilafatists, passed resolutions congratulating the Moplahs for their heroism. Rationalizing Gandhi’s strange stand, Sankaran Nair notes:


There are two possible answers. The first, and the most probable, is that the politician within him [Gandhi] had for the time being enthralled the saint—his aim was to keep the Hindu-Mahommedan entente alive; the second, that the saint had mastered the man: religious anarchy with all its horrors being infinitely to be preferred to law and order under Satanic British Rule.25


Criticizing Gandhi’s stand, Ambedkar wrote:

Any person could have said that this was too heavy a price for Hindu-Moslem unity. But Mr Gandhi was so much obsessed by the necessity of establishing Hindu-Moslem unity that he was prepared to make light of the doings of the Moplas and the Khilafats who were congratulating them . . . Speaking of the Muslim silence over the Mopla atrocities Mr Gandhi told the Hindus: The Hindus must have the courage and the faith to feel that they can protect their religion in spite of such fanatical eruptions. A verbal disapproval by the Mussalmans of Mopla madness is no test of Mussalman friendship. The Mussalmans must naturally feel the shame and humiliation of the Mopla conduct about forcible conversions and looting, and they must work away so silently and effectively that such a thing might become impossible even among the most fanatical among them.26


Gradually, as the horrors of Malabar became more pronounced on the national scene and punctured holes in the avowed unity that Gandhi had been propounding, the Congress Working Committee passed a lame resolution, mildly admonishing the Moplahs.

Whilst however condemning violence on the part of the Moplas, the Working Committee desires it to be known that the evidence in its possession shows that the provocation beyond endurance was given to the Moplas . . . the Working Committee regrets to find that there have been instances of so-called forcible conversion by some fanatics among Moplas, but warns the public against believing, in the Government and inspired versions.27


The efforts to minimize the scale and the impact of the carnage, just so that the farcical show of unity could be maintained nationally, were disgraceful. While a small incident in Chauri Chaura forced Gandhi to call off a well-oiled Civil Disobedience movement, one wonders how a blot that was much more heinous did not cause any ripples. The Muslim League too justified the Moplah outrage as a religious war against the British, in which the Hindus got caught in the crossfire as they were seen to be aiding the colonial masters. The Khilafat conference in its session at Cocanada held in 1923 expressed its solidarity with the Moplah ‘martyrs’. Shaukat Ali moved a resolution calling it a duty of every Muslim towards the brave Moplahs to provide for the maintenance of one Moplah orphan and that he and his brother would take the initiative for this. This was after the government intervened and crushed the uprising with a heavy hand, leaving several Moplahs dead.

Vinayak strongly condemned the barbarity of the Moplahs and the pusillanimity with which the Congress reacted to this, just to save their movement. He wrote several essays and articles warning people about the dangers and realities of the Khilafat and pan-Islamism movement—many of which were published after his release from jail. He wondered why there was no open debate or discussion with the Hindus of the country on whether they wanted to align with such a movement, and more importantly, if they were educated enough about its pros and cons.28 He lamented that most Hindus were not even aware of the history of political Islam or its theology. No wonder some of them had made generous invitations to the Khalifa to shift to India where he would be crowned as an unofficial religio-political head of all Indian Muslims. What kind of a suicidal and ignorant step was this? Vinayak questioned.

He also educated Indians about the differences in the approach towards the caliphate between Shia and Sunni Muslims. The Shias considered the Khalifa as someone from the Holy Prophet’s bloodline. The Sunnis had no such compunctions; it was sufficient that the Khalifa belonged to the Quraish community, just as the Prophet. The former believed that the person who occupied this position was one of great piety and blessed with spiritual powers, while the latter believed that removing a Khalifa, no matter how incompetent or corrupt he might be, was impossible. Given the theological differences between the two sects, it was almost impossible for them to have a common Khalifa or worship in the same mosque. That all the Muslims of the world would unite and select their Khalifa was not an option that the religious denominations granted them and the Muslim theologists and leaders of India knew this very well, argued Vinayak. Yet, to assert a false sense of unity and supremacy, they had beguiled the Hindus and the Congress that such a thing was possible and they needed to rally around the idea. What locus standi did an Indian Muslim, who was not free in his own country, have that his wish or voice would be accepted by the British and more by the larger Muslim world, wondered Vinayak. This despite a Muhammad Ali claiming from the rooftops that he was a Muslim first and an Indian later.29

The calamity Vinayak warned his compatriots about was of a possible invasion of India from an external power or the sanction of that power for the creation of islands of autonomous Muslim centres within India. He apprehended a possibility wherein the new Amir of Afghanistan, who had come to power after a bloody assassination of his predecessor, had been plotting an invasion of India for long. Unwittingly, the Congress and the Hindus were playing into these designs even as reports of Islamist religious soldiers, being trained for this purpose in Siberia were gathering steam, claimed Vinayak. The Moplah riots were just a trailer of what calamity was set to befall India, he warned.


At Ratnagiri prison, Vinayak decided to formulate an intellectual response to these very troubling socio-political realities of the times, postulating the fundamentals of Hindu identity and unification, despite the trying conditions of prison life and his failing health. Unlike his other works that were composed in Marathi, this book was in English. Evidently, the readership that he had in mind went beyond the Marathi-speaking populace; it was aimed at the country at large. Given the obvious strictures that he was under, Vinayak wrote the book under the nom de plume ‘A Maratha’. It was smuggled out of prison and later published by Narayanrao.

Right from his childhood, Vinayak had bemoaned the lack of unity and organization in Hindu society, ridden as it was with innumerable caste differences and other complexities. Finding an answer to ‘Who is a Hindu?’ seemed germane to him at this point of time. From the confines of jail, he had been watching with alarm Gandhi taking the Hindu community for a ride during the Khilafat agitation. The relative increase in the Muslim population that the census had established,30 and the uncertain status of untouchables and tribal groups as Hindus for enumeration purposes made the definition of a Hindu all the more critical.

Yet again, Vinayak employed the agency of history as he had during his work on the 1857 War of Independence to create a sense of identity, pride and belonging. About the constant insinuations about the book being an ode of hatred, especially towards the Muslims, historian Janaki Bakhle opines:


Savarkar is widely reviled in Indian history as an apostle of hate; through a reading of Hindutva I argue that he might better be understood as a spurned lover . . . Hindutva in its time was also a reminder to a Hindu community that even if Gandhi had left the political milieu, there was no need to worry. A political Hindu and a true nationalist was back and ready to lead India, even from behind prison walls. Hindutva was a pugilistic punch thrown against Gandhi in the competitive political ring for national leadership.31
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Re: Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past by Vikram Sampath

Postby admin » Thu May 13, 2021 2:41 am

Part 2 of 2

The concept of a Hindu identity had been an ongoing nationalistic project for long. Most often it was pushed to the forefront of politics during invasion, immigration or colonial occupation. Different groups throughout Indian history have—like several others across the world—tried to look to their past and to religious texts to locate a teleological narrative. Such a narrative produces a sense of identity that can be claimed, and also legitimized in the wake of external influences. Right from the ancient saints such as Adi Shankara, Ramanuja, Madhwa, to the medieval Bhakti and Sufi poets, to modern reformers such as Dayanand Saraswati, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Vivekananda, Tilak, Aurobindo Ghose, and even Mahatma Gandhi—there has always been a call for revival of what was known as Indian values and cultural identity.

However, it was Vinayak who extended the word ‘Hindutva’ beyond religious adherence to mean a term of ethnic nationalism. The short book that he produced proved to be highly influential, not only during the time he wrote it, but in contemporary Indian political discourse as well. Some found (and still find) the concepts elucidated as a much-needed reinforcement of Indian ideals and identity, while others criticized (and still do) it for fanning political separatism. Nonetheless, it remains an important document in the discussions around Indian identity, both as a cultural and political entity. Elucidating the importance of this book, Janaki Bakhle writes:

Hindutva is one of the few texts written by an Indian nationalist that links the present Hindu moment of Indian history to the pre-independence anticolonial period. Not even Gandhi’s own texts from the 1920s, much as they are read by academics, can claim such a time span of influence. However, Hindutva’s influence has not been without controversy. Five decades after it was written, it became the bible of militant and exclusionary Hindu nationalism, taking as its chief enemy the minority Muslim community of India. The book would also come to encapsulate and exemplify Savarkar’s entire oeuvre of writing and would dramatically influence the course of modern Indian history.32


The book is lyrical, masterfully crafted and boasts passages of romantic literary flourish. But through it all, Vinayak manages to logically situate the term ‘Hindu’. Where did it come from? What did it mean? To whom? And when?

To arouse the interest of the English-educated Indian, he begins the book with a reference to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and the famous phrase ‘What’s in a name?’ The reference to the name (‘Hindu’ in this case) was to illustrate that unlike the Shakespearean logic, here, the name

mattered a lot as he posited the first layer of Indian identity on it. It had different meanings for different people, no doubt, but throughout the text Vinayak deduced that the constant reiteration of this name through the history of the Indian people itself crystallized their first degree of identity. It also allowed him to lay out the first syllogism connecting the name (Hindu) with the country (Hindustan).

Janaki Bakhle mentions the strategies that Vinayak employed in the writing of the book:

. . . Four rhetorical strategies Savarkar employs: the politics of naming, the poetics of the list, the enchantment of territory, and the management and evocation of affect. Through these strategies he names into being a mythic Hindu community, identifies the magical territory it inhabits, and invokes through his enchantment of territory a militant affect of love. Savarkar uses a number of registers in Hindutva, from the theoretical and declamatory to the polemical, but the one he deploys most often is the poetic.33


At the outset, Vinayak postulated that the essence of being a ‘Hindu’, defined by him as ‘Hindutva’ or Hindu-ness, was completely different from the popular religious connotation of ‘Hinduism’. Incidentally, it is believed that Chandranath Basu first coined the term ‘Hindutva’—a neologism with Sanskrit etymology—in his 1892 Bengali work, Hindutva —Hindur Prakrita Itihas (Hindutva—An Authentic History). 34 But it was undoubtedly Vinayak who popularized the term within a short span of time.

He postulated that ‘the ideas and ideals, the systems and societies, the thoughts and sentiments which have centred round this name [Hindutva] are so varied and rich, so powerful and so subtle, so elusive and yet so vivid’ that it has taken centuries to mould it. Hindutva was not a word for Vinayak but an entire history of the land and its people. The related term —‘Hinduism’—was ‘only a derivative, a fraction, a part of Hindutva’. Inability to understand this difference, he opined, had ‘given rise to much misunderstanding and mutual suspicion between some of those sister communities that have inherited this inestimable and common treasure of our Hindu civilization’. Hindutva was an all-embracing philosophy, to understand which he delved deeper into the word ‘Hindu’ itself and its captivating power over so many brave men for the longest period of human history. In his own words:

What is in a name? Ah! Call Ayodhya, Honolulu, or nickname her immortal Prince, a Pooh Bah, or ask the Americans to change Washington into a Chengiz Khan or persuade a Mohammedan to call himself a Jew, and you would soon find that the ‘open sesame’ was not the only word of its type. To this category of names which have been to mankind a subtle source of life and inspiration belongs the word ‘Hindutva,’ the essential nature of significance of which we have to investigate into . . . Hinduism is only a derivative, a fraction, a part of Hindutva. Unless it is made clear what is meant by the latter, the first remains unintelligible and vague. Failure to distinguish between these two terms has given rise to much misunderstanding and mutual suspicion between some of those sister communities that have inherited this inestimable and common treasure of our Hindu civilization . . . Hindutva is not identical with what is vaguely indicated by the term Hinduism. By any ‘ism’ it is generally meant a theory or a code more or less based on spiritual or religious dogma or system. But when we attempt to investigate the essential significance of Hindutva we do not primarily—and certainly not mainly—concern ourselves with any particular theocratic or religious dogma or creed . . . Hindutva embraces all the departments of thought and activity of the whole being of our Hindu race.35


Several issues of contemporary discourse, such as the Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT), racial bloodlines and foreign rule, find place in his work. He located factors that contributed to the ideological phantasm of a Hindu identity, legitimized those assertions with logical deductions (and sometimes hyperbolic) from history, and finally used this to create a common rallying point.

Vinayak appealed to a hoary Hindu past—one that was imagined and defined by a monolithic Hindu identity, linked geo-culturally to a mythical and ageless Hindu nation. This nation continued to exist beyond the vicissitudes of history and political change. He begins his historical narrative at the very ‘beginning’, which according to him is when the first Aryans ‘settled down’ in different parts on the banks of the Indus river, or Sindhu.

It must be mentioned that contentious debates are still under way on the subject of the AIT. According to this theory, nomadic tribes migrated from Central Asia around 1500 BC to the subcontinent, absorbing the advanced, dark-skinned Dravidian inhabitants and giving birth to an Indus or Vedic culture. Many scholars have refuted the theory, both through scientific and genetic studies, as well as scriptural studies of the earliest treatise of mankind, the Rig Veda, that was composed during this period.

However, Vinayak mildly settles for the AIT and seems to indicate that the Aryans came from Persia and thereabouts. He inferred that upon coming to this land they felt a deep sense of oneness and belonging to the river that sustained them. They began to call this land Sapta Sindhu or the land watered by seven rivers and presided over by the Sindhu, or Indus. The people who belonged to this land came to be known as the Sindhus, which gradually changed to ‘Hindu’ given the way Sanskrit terms were mispronounced. He quoted the Zend Avesta to corroborate this, wherein the people here were called Hapta Hindu —again a corruption of the syllable ‘S’ with ‘H’. This was what the contemporaneous ancient Persians called the people of this part of the world.

This brave race soon expanded the frontiers of their occupation—forests were felled, agriculture flourished, cities rose, kingdoms thrived. In time, several other names such as Bharata, Bharatavarsha, Bharatakhanda, Aryavarta, Brahmavarta, Dakshinapatha and so on became prevalent. So while the umbilical cord with the Sindhu (and hence ‘Hindu’) might have been forgotten, it was never cut off. The foreigners, be it the Avestic Persians, the Jews or the Greeks, continued to address the people of the land as Hindus. Even Xuan Zang (Hiuen-Tsang), the Chinese-Buddhist monk who travelled widely across India in the seventh century AD , persisted in calling the people here as ‘Shintus’ or ‘Hintus’. Thus ‘Hindustan’, for Vinayak, was a fulfilment of the wishes of the Vedic forefathers of the land who made the name their first choice.

He contested the popular narrative that the subcontinent was merely a disparate mass of warring kingdoms and nationalities and that it was the British who had welded them together to give us a sense of nationhood. Quoting from one of the eighteen Mahapuranas—a genre of ancient and medieval texts of Hinduism—the Vishnu Purana, he states: ‘We have met with no better attempt to define our position as a people than the terse little couplet in the Vishnu Purana, “The land which is to the north of the sea and to the south of the Himalaya mountains is named ‘Bharata’, inhabited by the descendants of Bharata.”’36

Interestingly, the unitary nature of the nation state and its existence stretching back to pre-British and even pre-Islamic times was a common narrative for both Gandhi and Vinayak, ideological opponents though they were. In his Hind Swaraj, that he wrote in 1909 as a manifesto of his thoughts for India, Gandhi stated:

The English have taught us that we were not one nation before, and it will require centuries before we become one nation. This is without foundation. We were one nation before they came to India. One thought inspired us. Our mode of life was the same. It was because we were one nation that they were able to establish one kingdom. Subsequently they divided us . . . I do not wish to suggest that because we were one nation we had no differences, but it is submitted that our leading men travelled throughout India . . . They learned one another’s languages . . . they saw that India was one undivided land so made by nature. They, therefore, argued that it must be one nation. Arguing thus, they established holy places in various parts of India, and fired the people with an idea of nationality in a manner unknown in other parts of the world. Any two Indians are one as no two Englishmen are.37


In an obvious rebuttal of the Gandhian philosophy of non-violence, Vinayak stated that Buddhism did not collapse merely because of its philosophical differences with Vedic Hinduism or its internal bickering. Instead, Vinayak explained, the problem was at the political level. Buddhist expansion was disastrous to both national virility and the existence of India. It was not an eventual decline; in its very inception, at its core, Buddhism was incompatible with nationhood because of its philosophy of non-violence. This preponderance with non-violence meant that the Indian nation fell easy victim to warlike outsiders such as the Huns. Buddhism, he stated, had nothing to offer against violence and thus the Indians had to go back to the Vedic ‘fire’ to make steel to fight.38 Non-violence, he opined, was answerless when pitted against ‘people inferior to Indians, in language, religion, philosophy, mercy, and all the soft human attributes . . . but superior to them in strength alone—in fire and sword’.39

India’s history for Vinayak was her political history comprising violent and decisive battles, rejuvenating the Indian nation. Racing down centuries of history in a massive sweep, Vinayak asserts that despite the triumphs and turbulences of various centuries, invasions, the spread of Buddhism to other lands, the intermingling of races and communities and the creation of a cosmopolitan unit, the word ‘Hindu’ somehow stuck. Hindutva was thus a shared political history, the result of countless actions, conflicts, comingling and cooperation. It was not about religious, spiritual or theocratic codes of law. Despite the criticism that is often mounted against him for perpetuating myths of ‘racial purity’ (and thereby superiority) for the Hindus, just as it was in the case of European nationalism, a closer reading of his work illustrates a more pragmatic view of race as being relatively and subjectively constructed:

After all there is throughout the world, so far as man is concerned, but a single race— the human race kept alive by one common blood, the human blood. All other talk is at best provisional, a makeshift and only relatively true . . . To try to prevent the commingling of blood is to build on sand. Sexual attraction has proved more powerful than all the command of all the prophets put together. Even as it is, not even the aborigines of the Andamans are without some sprinkling of the so-called Aryan blood in their veins and vice versa.40


In a section, ‘Hindutva at Work’, he proclaims that both friends and foes contributed equally to enable these words ‘Hindu’ and/or ‘Hindustan’ to supersede all other definitions and designations of this land and its people. ‘The enemies,’ he claimed, ‘hated us as Hindus and the whole family of peoples and races, of sects and creeds that flourished from Attock to Cuttack was suddenly individualized into a single being.’ 41 It was this Hindutva that ran like a vital spinal cord through the ‘body-politic’ and made ‘the Nayars of Malabar weep over the sufferings of the Brahmins of Kashmir’. He further states: ‘Our bards bewailed the fall of Hindus, our seers roused the feelings of Hindus, our heroes fought the battles of Hindus, our saints blessed the efforts of Hindus, our statesmen moulded the fate of Hindus, our mothers wept over the wounds and glorified over the triumphs of Hindus.’42

To substantiate this unitary nature of identity he quotes the works of several poets and teachers across centuries. From Chand Bardai—who wrote Prithviraj Raso about the valorous twelfth-century king Prithviraj Chauhan in Rajasthan; to Bhushana—the poet who eulogized Chhatrasal, the seventeenth-century Bundela king; to Shivaji Maharaj’s initiation by his mentor Dadaji Kondke; and to the Sikh gurus, Tegh Bahadur and Guru Gobind Singh. Their common terms of usage were ‘Hindu’, ‘Hindawan’ or ‘Hind’ and fighting for its cause. Divided though they were by time and space, their cause and commitment were, according to Vinayak, a fight for the ‘Hindu’ cause—evidently not a religious one, but a national identity. This spirit remained with the Marathas, who had unified the country regarding a pan-national outlook in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, before falling to the might of the East India Company.

With this historical sweep, Vinayak propounded:

The geographical sense being the primary one has, now contracting, now expanding, but always persistently been associated with the words Hindu and Hindusthan till after the lapse of nearly 5000 years if not more. Hindusthan has come to mean the whole continental country from the Sindhu to Sindhu—from the Indus to the Seas. The most important factor that contributes to the cohesion, strength and the sense of unity of a people is that they should possess an internally well-connected and externally welldemarcated ‘local habitation,’ and a ‘name’ that could, by its very mention, rouse the cherished image of their motherland as well as the loved memories of their past. We are happily blessed with both these important requisites for a strong and united nation. Our land is so vast and yet so well-knit, so well demarcated from others and yet so strongly entrenched that no country in the world is more closely marked out by the fingers of nature as a geographical unit beyond cavil or criticism, as also is the name Hindusthan or Hindu that it has come to bear. The first image that it rouses in the mind is unmistakably of our motherland and by an express appeal to its geographical and physical features it vivifies it into a living being . . . In America as well as in France, the word ‘Hindu’ is generally understood thus exactly in the sense of an Indian without any religious or cultural implication. And had the word Hindu been left to convey this primary significance only, which it had in common with all the words derived from Sindhu then it would really have meant an Indian, a citizen of Hindusthan as the word Hindi does.43


The first essential prerequisite of Hindutva was a geographical one, and the way in which its people identified themselves, as did the rest of the world. This was the ‘land of Hindus’ or Hindustan. Here a ‘Hindu’ did not mean someone who merely followed the religion; he was primarily a citizen—either in himself or through his forefathers who had revered this land as his motherland. According to Vinayak, the factors that bonded this group despite their geographical separation in this vast tract of land were those of common blood, common culture, common epics, common laws and rites, the Sanskrit language, common feasts and festivals, and the shared works of art and literature. Thus, a nationalism led by cultural integration was another essential component of this ‘Hindu-ness’ that had run unbroken over millennia.

Vinayak postulated that the Hindus are not merely citizens of the Indian state because of the love they share for their motherland; it is because of the bonds of common blood. They are not only a rashtra, or nation, but also a jati (race). He finds absolutely nothing amiss therefore among intermarriages between people of various castes—a stand much ahead of its times. He finds sanction for such inter-caste marriages even in the holy epics and scriptures of the land. From the characters of Karna, Babhruvahana, Ghatotkacha, Vidura and others to historical figures such as Chandragupta Maurya who married a Brahmin to beget Bindusara, Ashoka who married a Vaishya and Harshavardhana who gave his daughter to a Kshatriya despite being a Vaishya are examples he uses to illustrate the fluidity with which the caste system operated.

Quoting the scriptures, Vinayak makes a case that an individual could lose his or her caste and be relegated to another by sheer virtue of actions and not necessarily birth alone. A Shudra could thus become a Brahmin and vice versa by the kind of actions they performed rather than the families they were born into. He quotes a Sanskrit verse that emphasizes this fluidity: ‘The family is not really called family; it is the practices and customs that are called family. One that does his duties is praised on earth and in heaven.’ He speaks about several warrior-caste Kshatriyas who lost their respect by taking to agriculture or other professions not mandated for them, and similarly several tribes, considered as outcastes, elevating themselves to the position of a Kshatriya or a Brahmin by virtue of their deeds. The authors of both the great epics—the Ramayana and the Mahabharata—were Valmiki and Vyasa respectively who were born in communities termed low caste, but they were venerated to the status of sages and immortalized as authors by the power of their actions.

Such fluidity, Vinayak suggests, existed even in non-Vedic communities. Hence, it was perfectly normal to witness a family that had a Buddhist father, a Vedic mother and a Jain son. Intermarriage permitted between Jains and Vaishnavs in Gujarat, Sikhs and Sanatanis in Punjab and Sindh offer similar illustrations. Thus, for Vinayak, the word ‘Hindu’, in fact, encapsulates a racial unity of all Indians. Replete with rhyme and alliteration, he propounds, as an ace poet, the following theory:

Some of us were Aryans and some Anaryans; but Ayars and Nayars—we were all Hindus and own a common blood. Some of us are Brahmans and some Namashudras or Panchamas; but Brahmans or Chandalas—we are all Hindus and own a common blood. Some of us are Daxinatyas and some Gauds; but Gauds or Saraswatas—we are all Hindus and own a common blood. Some of us were Rakshasas and some Yakshas; but Rakshasas or Yakshas—we are all Hindus and own a common blood. Some of us were Vanaras and some Kinnaras; but Vanaras or Naras—we are all Hindus and own a common blood. Some of us are Jains and some Jangamas; but Jains or Jangamas—we are all Hindus and own a common blood. Some of us are monists, some, pantheists; some theists and some atheists. But monotheists or atheists—we are all Hindus and own a common blood. We are not only a nation, but a Jati , a born brotherhood. Nothing else counts, it is after all a question of heart. We feel that the same ancient blood that coursed through the veins of Ram and Krishna, Buddha and Mahavir, Nanak and Chaitanya, Basava and Madhava, of Rohidas and Tiruvelluvar courses throughout Hindudom from vein to vein, pulsates from heart to heart. We feel we are a JATI, a race bound together by the dearest ties of blood and therefore it must be so.44


With this proclamation, he virtually sounds the death knell for the centuries-old entrenched caste system that had sapped Indian society of all vitality. As was to be seen in his further writings, as well as his work in Ratnagiri, Vinayak actively campaigned for the collapse of the debilitating caste hierarchies and untouchability. He opined that a Hindu marrying another Hindu might lose his or her caste (which was immaterial for him) but never one’s Hindutva, which went beyond these barriers. A Hindu believing in any theoretical or philosophical or social system, orthodox or heterodox, never loses one’s Hindu-ness or Hindutva. They all have the inheritance of a common blood of the Sapta Sindhus.

He also found a civilizational unity among all Hindus. Vinayak defined ‘civilization’ as the expression of the mind of man and what he had made of the matter available to him. The story of ‘the civilization of a nation is the story of its thoughts, its actions, and its achievements. Literature and art tell us of its thoughts; history and social institutions of its actions and achievements.’ 45 The commonality of our shared history and inherited works of art and architecture binds us all as a nation, he postulated. Despite several regional differences in detail, some broad common features of rites, festivals, feasts, and rituals across the country indicate the oneness of this race. Everyone who is a ‘Hindu’ inherits these treasures that have come down from their forefathers. Extolling Sanskrit as the language from which all other present languages have sprung, he stated:

Our Gods spoke in Sanskrit; our sages thought in Sanskrit, our poets wrote in Sanskrit. All that is best in us—the best thoughts, the best ideas, the best lines—seeks instinctively to clothe itself in Sanskrit. To millions it is still the language of their Gods; to others it is the language of their ancestors; to all it is the language par excellence; a common inheritance, a common treasure that enriches all the family of our sister languages.46


The umbrella of ‘Hindu’ religions—Sanatanis, Arya Samajis, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs—was a clever and carefully constructed social coalition of like-minded faiths that originated in the Indian subcontinent. In this hypothesis of Hindu-ness, where did the Muslim (or the Christian) stand? In a section titled ‘Foreign Invaders’, Vinayak traces the advent of the several hordes of Islamic invaders who ravaged the country and termed this as a civilizational clash. He lamented that the ‘pressure of a common foe’, and the unity that hatred towards a common object can bring, was never utilized by Sindhustan to forge herself ‘into an indivisible whole as on that dire day, when the great iconoclast crossed the Indus’.47

He bemoaned how the conquest continued for centuries thereafter. ‘Arabia ceased to be what Arabia was,’ Vinayak explains. ‘Iran, annihilated, Egypt, Syria, Afghanistan, Baluchistan, Tartary—from Granada to Gazni—nations and civilizations fell in heaps before the sword of Islam of Peace!’ He adds that India had to face a multitude of marauders, from the Arabs, Persians, Pathans, Baluchis, Tartars, Turks and Mughals. Vinayak makes a distinction between a ‘moral nationalist Indian’ and a ‘non-nationalist Indian’. Akbar, Dara Shikoh and Maulvi Ahmed Shah (as depicted in his book on the uprising of 1857) belonged to the former category, while Aurangzeb to the latter.

The distillation of Vinayak’s arguments culminates in a wondrous selfcomposed Sanskrit couplet that he and subsequent followers of his political ideology have used as a determinant of Hindu identity:

Aasindhu Sindhu paryanta yasya Bharata bhumika
Pitribhu punyabhushchaiva sa vai Hinduriti Smritah.

One who considers this vast stretch of land called Bharat
From the Sindhu to the Sindhu (Indus to the Seas)
as his fatherland (or land of one’s ancestors) and holy land
is the one who will be termed and remembered as a Hindu.


In this definition, there is an implicit challenge to the prevalent Gandhian philosophy of sacrosanct issues such as the Khilafat, going beyond the sacral geography of India by precisely defining its contours—from the Indus to the seas.

The social coalition of Hindu religions naturally fulfilled all the criteria postulated by Vinayak. Vinayak’s hypothesis of identification for a Hindu was someone who looked upon this land of his forefathers as his holy land; someone who inherited the blood of the race of the Sapta Sindhus; and one who expressed a common affinity to the classical language, Sanskrit, someone who shared common history, culture, art, laws, jurisprudence, rites, rituals, ceremonies, sacraments and festivals. Common nation (rashtra), common race (jati) and common culture (sanskriti) were the definitive markers of Hindutva. But the construct was a secular paradigm as it distanced itself from religions, including Hinduism. He imagined the Indian nation as a spatial unity that linked distinct communities, regions and territories under the broad rubric of Hindu identity. Within that space of the primordial Hindu nation, the state must defend the integrity and sovereignty of the sacred motherland (Bharat Mata) from all foreign encroachment.

Vinayak argued that in an idealistic world, the first parameter— geography—should suffice to identify a ‘Hindu’ as a resident of India. This might well become the case in the future, he states, when ‘all cultural and religious bigotry has disbanded . . . and religions cease to be “isms” and become merely the common fund of eternal principles that lie at the root of all that are a common foundation on which the Human State majestically and firmly rests’. 48 Hence, the additional parameters of a bond of common blood and obeisance to a common civilizational heritage and culture become necessary in his definition. The nation, for Vinayak, was equivalent to civilization.

With this definition, Vinayak opined that his Muslim and Christian compatriots, whose ancestors were originally Hindu and had been forcibly converted, have inherited with the Hindus the common fatherland. This country is the land of their ancestors too and hence their pitrubhumi (land of forefathers) 49 as well, that none can deny them. They have also inherited the common language, culture, law, customs, folklore and history. However, according to Vinayak, the bone of contention was whether Hindustan was their holy land as well. The Khilafat and the transnational allegiance must have weighed heavily on Vinayak’s mind while making such a deduction, but he does it nonetheless in a dispassionate manner:

For though Hindusthan to them is Fatherland as to any other Hindu, yet it is not to them a Holy land too. Their holy land is far off in Arabia or Palestine. Their mythology and Godmen, ideas and heroes are not the children of this soil. Consequently their names and their outlook smacks of a foreign origin. Their love is divided. Nay, if some of them be really believing what they profess to do, then there can be no choice—they must, to a man, set their Holy land above their father land [sic] in their love and allegiance. That is but natural. We are not condemning nor are we lamenting. We are simply telling the facts as they stand.50


But did this definition preclude the Muslims and Christians from being a part of the ‘Hindutva’ fold? Here, Vinayak seems to contradict his own hypothesis by saying anyone can make it a ‘matter of choice’ to love ‘Hindu’ culture and the land and thereby qualify to be a part of the fold.

Are you a monist—a monotheist—a pantheist—an atheist—an agnostic? Here is ample room, oh soul! Whatever thou art, to love and grow to thy fullest height and satisfaction in this temple of Temples . . . Ye, who by race, by blood, by culture, by nationality possess almost all the essentials of Hindutva . . . ye have only to render whole hearted [sic] love to our common Mother and recognize her not only as Pitribhu but even as a Punyabhu and ye would be most welcome to the Hindu-fold. This is a choice, which our countrymen and our old kith and kin, the Bohras, Khojas, Mamons, and other Mohamedan and Christian communities are free to make—a choice again which must be a choice of love.51


Nationalism was simplified to a choice to love and express that love, monogamously, towards one’s country. This was the highest form of love against which all other variations between humans appeared to pale. He writes about people like Sister Nivedita and Annie Besant, both Christians, who were committed to the cause of India and her nationalism. Sister Nivedita was born Margaret Elizabeth Noble and was an Irish teacher, author and social activist who later became an ardent disciple of Swami Vivekananda. She worked tirelessly in the Ramakrishna Mission on issues related to female education and emancipation. Annie Besant was a British socialist, theosophist, women’s rights activist and a staunch supporter of both Irish and Indian self-rule. How were we to classify people like these who had given everything to the cause of this country and its people? He writes about Sister Nivedita:

Our patriotic and noble-minded sister had adopted our land from Sindu to the seas as her Fatherland. She truly loved it as such, and had our nation been free, we would have been the first to bestow the right of citizenship on such loving souls. So the first essential may, to some extent, be said to hold good in her case. The second essential of common blood of Hindu parentage must, nevertheless and necessarily, be absent in such cases as these. The sacrament of marriage with a Hindu, which really fuses and is universally admitted to do so, two beings into one, may be said to remove this disqualification. But although this second essential failed, either way to hold good in her case, the third important qualification of Hindutva did entitle her to be recognized as a Hindu. For, she had adopted our culture and come to adore our land as her Holyland [sic]. She felt, she was a Hindu and that is, apart from all technicalities, the real and the most important test. But we must not forget that we have to determine the essentials of Hindutva in the sense in which the word is actually used by an overwhelming majority of people. And therefore we must say that any convert of nonHindu parentage to Hindutva can be a Hindu, if bona fide, he or she adopts our land as his or her country and marries a Hindu, thus coming to love our land as a real Fatherland, and adopts our culture and thus adores our land as the Punyabhu . The children of such a union as that would, other things being equal, be most emphatically Hindus.52


Vinayak’s seminal work had several consequences in the socio-political life of the country after 1923. One of them was the birth of the organization known as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) that adopted Hindutva as its ideology and raison d’être.

Meanwhile, after his release from prison, Babarao had, despite his failing health, decided to take an active part in the Hindu Mahasabha, the pan-India body that was established in 1915 to represent and safeguard Hindu interests. 53 He formed a separate group, Tarun Hindu Sabha, to enlist the support of young Hindus and consolidate them politically. Over the next four to five years, he travelled extensively to establish twentyfive to thirty branches with some 500 youth under its banner. Like Abhinav Bharat, members of the Tarun Hindu Sabha were involved in physical exercise and gymnastics, in addition to shuddhi ceremonies and attempts towards abolition of the caste system.

Towards the end of 1924, Babarao arrived in Nagpur to generate support for the Sabha. He stayed with Vishwanathrao Kelkar, his friend and distant relative. Through Kelkar, he was introduced to a young, spirited medical doctor, Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, who, as a student, had been a member of the revolutionary Anushilan Samiti in Calcutta’s National Medical College. Instead of pursuing medical practice, Hedgewar had thrown himself into the nation’s cause. In 1919, he started an organization of youngsters known as National Union and later worked with the Hindu Mahasabha.

Over several hours of discussions with Babarao, they decided that there was no point having multiple organizations serving the same cause of Hindu unity. Hedgewar was fired with the imagination of having a united, well-oiled pan-Indian volunteer organization for and of Hindus. Along with Babarao and other Hindu leaders such as Dr B.S. Moonje, Dr L.V. Paranjpe and Dr B.B. Tholkar, Hedgewar started the RSS on 27 September 1925, on the auspicious day of Vijayadashami. 54 A shakha, or branch, of Hindu teenagers and youngsters congregated in the ruins of Salubai Mohite Wada in Nagpur’s Mahal area. Babarao was present on this momentous occasion, among the founding members of the RSS. It is said that Hedgewar asked Babarao to design the bhagwa (saffron flag) and the pledge of the fledgling organization. The pledge had the words Hindu Rashtra, or Hindu Nation, which was possibly the first time it had been used in Indian polity. Even though Vinayak was sympathetic to their cause, he had differences of opinion in the politics and world view of the RSS.

Janaki Bakhle sums up the timing and the significance of Hindutva : Hindutva was a political argument made in a poetic register. It was an argument with and against an unnamed Gandhi at an opportune moment when he seemed finished with politics. Hindutva was also a political cry from behind prison walls, reminding the larger world outside that even if Gandhi was no longer on the political scene, Savarkar was back. He was still a leader, a politician capable of pulling together a nationalist community. But unlike Gandhi, he was offering a sense of Hindu-ness that could be the basis for a more genuine and, in the end, more effective nationalism than that of the Mahatma. The startling change for its time was Savarkar’s assertion that it was not religion that made Hindus Hindu. If Gandhi had officiated at the marriage of religion and politics, and Khilafat leaders were using the symbols of religion to forge a community, Savarkar argued that name and place were what bound the Hindu community, not religion . . . The fundamental (negative) contribution of Hindutva was to install a new term for nationalist discourse, one that was both modern and secular, if open to a secular understanding of religious identity. In place of religion qua religion, he secularized a plethora of Hindu religious leaders. In so doing, he did not create a sterilely secular nationalism. He did quite the opposite. He enchanted a secular nationalism by placing a mythic community into a magical land.55
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Re: Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past by Vikram Sampath

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12 The Interpretation of Thoughts

A fter completing his book on Hindutva, over the next twelve to thirteen years, Vinayak wrote prolifically on a wide range of topics—from his views on the caste system and its eradication, social evils, cow protection and international affairs to his conception of God and a need for mechanization and a capitalist economy for India. All these writings— articles, essays and booklets—shaped his political philosophy and social outlook, creating the foundation on which his future politics would be fought. A fraction of these writings is presented here, some in first person and others paraphrased.

On the Caste System

Despite being born in an orthodox and religious Chitpawan Brahmin community, Vinayak despised the caste system right from childhood. This has been illustrated in the kinships he developed with children from various castes and strata of society, and how he dined at their homes. At a time when most members of his community forbade sea travel for fear of a loss of caste, Vinayak was among the few Brahmins who travelled to London for his education. He had no qualms about going non-vegetarian as well, unlike most Brahmins of the time. As his political thoughts matured during his long years of incarceration, he penned essays on the abhorrent practice of the caste system and untouchability and how these sapped the nation of all vitality. Advocating a strong case for their total, complete and unconditional eradication at a time when these ideas were not yet a part of the political discourse popularized by either Gandhi or Ambedkar, he was the first to envision a casteless India.

The Seven Shackles of Hindu Society:1

The origin of the chaturvarna system of four varnas (classes) that then solidified themselves into the castes is utterly meaningless in contemporary society. In what is construed as a ‘low caste’—the Mahars— we have had such illustrious saints as Chokha Mela and such brilliant thinkers such as Dr Ambedkar, whose piety and intellect far surpasses many a Brahmin’s. In north India, several Brahmins have been involved for generation after generation in the profession of agriculture and have remained by and large illiterate. This goes against the grain of the caste that they belong to, and are identified as the intellectual elite. Similarly, Brahmins have been taking on the roles of goldsmiths, tailors, cobblers and so on, while individuals belonging to those (non-Brahmin) communities have taken to education and cleared prestigious examinations such as the ICS or MA. The Rajputs despise the Jats so much that if the latter get on to their horses, they are usually beaten up and then ostracized. But when the same Jat becomes a Sikh, he is counted as the first among Kshatriyas. In many places in the country, Kayasthas are condemned as Shudras, but from among the community such brilliant minds like Vivekananda, Aurobindo, Bipin Chandra Pal, Subhas Bose and others have emerged, who have clearly surpassed the intellect, vigour and vitality of any Bengali Brahmin.

Superiority on the basis of one’s work is hardly a factor in society today due to the aforementioned professional intermingling. Hence, the very edifice from which the caste system drew its strength has weakened and it remains both an unnecessary and harmful vestige of society. These examples prove that the oft-held belief that heredity was a determinant of talent and intellect is false, and an individual’s environment is what shapes his character and conduct. The claim to glory on the mere basis of one’s birth, and not worth, is an utterly erroneous and futile one—a national foolishness so to say. Fossilizing oneself to scriptural injunctions to the contrary is another idiocy. These scriptures, often self-contradicting, were created by human beings and were relevant in a particular context and in a particular society. With all due respect to them, they need to be discarded as and when society evolves, and new rules and laws that are relevant to contemporary times need to be codified. That is the only sign of a society that is vibrant, and not stagnant and dead. These scriptures, however, are important historical signposts of the times in which they were composed, and they made the Indian society of that time what it was. So, they deserve all our respect as important archival documents of our civilization’s evolution. Thus, I reverentially bow my head to the vast, Himalayan corpus of Sanskrit literature of the Shrutis , Smritis , Puranas, Itihasas as they have shaped our Hindu mind over centuries. But I will not allow them to become fetters in my feet and retard my progress towards modernity, but instead draw inspiration from them to move ahead on modern, scientific terms.

One of the most important components of such injunctions of the past that we have blindly carried on and which deserves to be thrown in the dustbins of history is the rigid caste system. This system has vivisected our Hindu society into so many micro-fragments, forever at war with one another. From temples, streets, houses, jobs, village councils, to institutions of law and legislature, it has only injected a spectre of eternal conflict between two Hindus; weakened our unity and resolve to stand united against any external threats. It is one of the biggest impediments in the conception of a Hindu Rashtra. The liberation and unification of countries across the world, be it America or Europe has been possible only by unshackling these false divisions between peoples. Why can a similar approach not be achieved in our nation?

But before we dismantle something, let us pause to understand what is it that we want to unshackle ourselves from. The bondage of foreign rule is obviously what we need to strive to liberate ourselves from. However, the ‘swadeshi’ fetters or self-created shackles that we have are sevenfold in my view. Every true Indian needs to resolve in his or her mind to absolve oneself of these below mentioned seven fetters. Only then through the collective conscience of the nation and its people can any progress be achieved on this front. These seven fetters are as follows:

1. Vedoktabandi: The exclusivity of access to Vedic literature and rituals to only the Brahmin community must be immediately dissolved. Vedic literature is civilizational knowledge for the entire human race and India’s unique gift to mankind. How can any one group assert its proprietary hold over it? Active propagation of its learning and internalization among all communities not only within but also outside India must be encouraged without delay.

2. Vyavasayabandi: An individual’s choice of profession must be left entirely to him, based on his aptitude and capability. Merely carrying on with a profession by virtue of one’s birth into a clan defeats the purpose of both the person and the profession. Threats of ex-communication if an individual chose a profession outside one’s fold, as is common today, is a terrible evil. Without the motivation of challenge and competition, or lack of aptitude, and merely following what one’s father or his father did makes one both complacent and unproductive. Even a Hindu priest must not become one just due to heredity. He would need to qualify himself through examinations like any other profession and rise up the ranks. Only then would he prove to be an enlightened and educated priest and not someone who babbles verses taught to him in the cradle! The highest echelon of Hindu society, the panda or priest, and the lowest of a bhangi or scavenger should not be a hereditary one at all. I am conscious that this is too revolutionary a suggestion, but unless we begin somewhere, how will we achieve the goal? Dr Ambedkar belongs to the Mahar caste that traditionally skinned dead animals. If by virtue of his heredity, Dr Ambedkar were left to do just this, would our country not have lost one of its most brilliant thinkers and intellectuals? How can caste determine what job you are good at? This is a meaningless tradition that not only curbs individual talent and creativity but also depletes the productivity of our Hindu rashtra and has to be done away with.

3. Sparshabandi: The practice of untouchability is a sin, a blot on humanity, and nothing can justify it. Consider only that untouchable which is injurious to one’s health, not fellow human beings. Unshackling this one foolish fetter would bring crores of our Hindu brethren into the mainstream. They would serve the country in various capacities and defend her honour.

4. Samudrabandi: The day we forbade crossing the seas to go to foreign lands and deemed it as a loss of caste heralded our collapse on various fronts. The vast Hindu Empire that spread from Moscow to Egypt shrunk into what it is today. Our foreign commerce and trade opportunities diminished. Cultural and educational interactions and osmosis stopped. Our naval forces that were once the pride of the world crumbled like dust and made us susceptible to invaders who easily defeated us. All of these contributed to an insular and insulated society that was content in its own world, blissfully ignorant about what was happening across the world. More and more students, Hindu sangathanists (organizers), and young Indians must be encouraged to cross the seas with no fear of losing caste and bring back to us the best of the world and carry the fragrance of India and her culture to every corner of the globe.

5. Shuddhibandi: The folly of disallowing reconversions to Hinduism is a self-destructive one. How easily Hindus converting to Islam or Christianity merge in their new milieu. Yet the same facility is not available to a non-Hindu who might earnestly wish to return to his or her fold or adopt Hinduism as a matter of faith. This shackle seriously depletes our numbers and makes the Hindu community a ready preying ground for the conversion factories that are always looking at swelling their numbers, many times by stealth or inducements. I have nothing against those who convert to another faith by sheer conviction. But such examples are rare. Why should we not allow the enhancement of our numbers due to some antiquated idea that does not even have any scriptural sanction that we cannot convert to Hinduism?

6. Rotibandi: Unshackling ourselves from this one thoughtless fetter —the belief that one loses one’s caste through inter-caste dining— can help liberate us as a society. Having food from the hands of Christian missionaries during famines or being forcibly fed beef during a communal riot have been sufficient grounds for millions of Hindus to lose their caste and religion. How stupid a belief can this be? The evils of Shuddhibandi and Samudrabandi are in fact the monstrous offspring of Rotibandi. Only that food which harms your health is to be prohibited. Eating and drinking with another human being can, by no stretch of imagination, ruin something as esoteric as one’s religion. This needs a lot of careful contemplation and introspection. Religion is in the heart, the soul, the spirit; not the stomach! There is no food that is prohibited. Anything that is healthy, nutritious and tasty must be generously and merrily indulged in, no matter who has cooked it or where it was available. The whole world has robbed us and feasted on our grains—have they all turned Hindu? How then does a Hindu dining with a Muslim make him lose his caste?

7. Betibandi: The intemperate practice of abolishing inter-caste marriage has caused our Hindu society a lot of harm. I am not for once suggesting that every Brahmin or Kshatriya must find for himself a Mahar or bhangi bride. That would be pushing towards the extreme and again on the basis of coercion. But if the virtues, character, temperament, hearts and minds of a couple meet, despite them being from different castes of a Hindu fold, should they be forbidden from leading a life together? Instead of demonizing such marriages, they must be honoured. This strengthens the Hindu society and thereby the Hindu rashtra. You are Hindu, despite whatever caste you belong to. So how does marrying another fellow Hindu become a prohibition?


Caste System Is Not a Part of Sanatan Dharma 2

Any discussion on the caste system today automatically leads the discussant to believe that this practice is an integral and important part of the ancient Sanatan dharma of our land. It is essential to bust that myth first in order to have an intelligible and rational discussion on the subject. The word dharma has multiple meanings. In a sense it refers to ‘laws’. But here too there are various categories of laws. Natural laws such as the law of gravity or the law of fluids are known to all. A quest towards the primordial nature of the universe leads to religions, sects, schools of thought, which create a set of laws of their own. These systems generate several subordinate laws that are intimately connected to daily life and they give rise to religious rites and rituals. Most people believe that these rituals are God-ordained and have to be followed to the last detail. Then there are political laws that hold countries and societies in order.

Sanatan refers to those ideas and beliefs that predate time, which are axiomatic and indestructible. These are the concepts that have come about in our Vedas, Upanishads or the Bhagavadgita. Even if the human race annihilates, these concepts stay—such is the foundational importance of beliefs. I sometimes feel that even God himself might not be able to dismantle them.

Given such an abstract and important concept of Sanatan, using it loosely with dharma and associating that with man-made rituals and practices is being disingenuous with that eternal truth. How can we associate social practices such as caste system, or opposition to widow remarriage, or even vegetarianism, that have merely evolved with time in our society, to something as magnificent as the indestructible, eternal Truth? These can be dismantled in no time and hence can never be counted as an essential feature of ‘Sanatan’. It is important to understand this distinction to make a dispassionate case against the caste system. In the past, ideas of sanyas (renunciation) and niyog (impregnating a woman with the seed of a sage) were considered holy and quintessential. These were dismissed with time as our society evolved. Did that mean our Sanatan dharma collapsed? Hence it is not as if opportunities to change have not been grabbed by the Hindu society. Unlike other faiths that have remained assiduously fossilized to a book, we have been constantly evolving and growing and that is what has kept our faith and society vibrant and alive. No amount of social reforms can bring down this well-entrenched edifice of Sanatan dharma from the face of the earth and hence one has to have that inner belief and confidence.

Refer to Lord Krishna’s declaration in the Gita: ‘Chaturvarnyam maya srushtam ’ or ‘It is I who have created the four varnas’. Another meaning of the word ‘varna’ is colour. Evidently, different human beings have different qualities and virtues. All that Krishna is saying is I create human beings who are different in nature, character, virtues and values—yet, good or bad, they are all my creation alone. Nowhere in this declaration does he state that I also make those virtues hereditary for the person’s successive generations! When Lokmanya Tilak created a board of trustees for the Kesari newspaper, did it mean those trustees were to hold that position for heredity? When such a truism cannot exist for a simple newspaper, can it be true for human existence? The belief is that ‘Janmena jayate Shudrah ’ or we are all shudras at birth. As life progresses, we attain qualities, education and virtues to graduate to various levels of consciousness and thinking—that is the fundamental concept behind the four-varna system.

If these varnas are what are the bedrock of our civilization and if we believe in the verse that states that there can be no further categories, how is it that we have defied this maxim and created a fifth class of untouchables? Degrading millions of people of our land to a position worse than animals is the most dehumanizing act that we could have committed. It is permissible to pat a dog or domesticate one, but shaking the hand of a scholar like Ambedkar makes you lose your caste? How preposterous can such a belief be? Thus those who have already destroyed the chaturvarna system by creating the fifth varna of untouchables are crying foul about the collapse of Sanatan dharma if the practice is abolished. What can be more ironical?

Even if for the sake of argument we were to assume that the four varnas are indeed eternal, should it not mean that there are merely four categories of Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra. How are there numerous subcastes within the Brahmin community itself then? There are as many castes as there are provinces, beliefs and even human beings? If all of them belonged to the same varna, why is intermarriage and dining not possible within these micro sub-sects of Brahmins or Kshatriyas? Does that itself not defy what people say was the creation of Lord Krishna? Even if we assume that ‘Betibandi’ was part of the Sanatan dharma amongst varnas, where was a mention of ‘Rotibandi’ or inter-varna dining? When Lord Rama ate the fruits tasted by a low-caste woman Shabari, was he causing grievous harm to our great Sanatan dharma? Or when Lord Krishna dined in the houses of the illiterate cowherds of Vrindavan, did the edifice of our dharma come crashing? If our gods led by such examples, why are we stuck to some antiquated beliefs that are crippling our society and are hugely detrimental to the interests of a vast majority of our Hindu society? The one opposing the reforms and abolition of such practices is in fact the biggest enemy of both the Sanatan dharma and also our Hindu rashtra. We need a caste system not of birth and heredity but of virtues and qualities.

Any reformer who seeks to uproot harmful social practices or preach about reforming society has to first contend with a fall in his popularity. He will be defiled, demonized and debunked. He must be prepared for this. That is what Jesus Christ meant when he told the majority who opposed him: ‘Ye build sepulchres unto those whom your fathers stoned to death!’ Centuries after they were mocked or unaccepted, today the same Jesus or Buddha and Muhammad are gods and prophets of millions of people. But anyone who looks at how they were treated by their contemporaries knows that such a status was hardly accorded to them in their lives. Jesus was crucified; the Buddha had to face a murderous attack; Prophet Muhammad had to flee, was injured in battle, and was condemned as a traitor.

So, reformers who disturb the status quo, who become unpopular, who disturb the social equilibrium, who hurt religious sentiments, who turn their back on majority opinion, who think rationally have had to face the inevitable consequences of their actions. Social reform by its very definition implies rooting out evil social customs and exorcizing the society of its well-entrenched beliefs. Obviously, a man who stands up to reform centuries-old religious practices and beliefs of millions will turn unpopular and be hated. A man who has made popularity his business will naturally succumb to popular will out of fear. A true social or religious reformer should only be driven by the desire to do good for the larger society. As far as I am concerned, so that I am not torn about the choice between popularity and public good, I have this stamped on my mind: Varam janahitam dhyeyam kevala na janastuti (It is better to think only of the welfare of people, not receive adulations from them).

On Cow Protection: The Bovine Is not Divine 3

In an agrarian country like ours, cows and bullocks are one of the most beneficial animals. There are few animals that are as docile, non-violent and helpless as a cow and it is but natural to have a feeling of intense love and affection towards it. After one’s mother’s milk, it is only the cow’s milk that is consumed by everyone. The varieties of edibles and sweets that are made from this milk are also relished by one and all. Hence, to protect and sustain the cow is both our personal as well as familial duty. At least in the case of Hindustan, it is also our national duty. It is natural that we also feel a sense of immense gratitude towards an animal that is so useful to us in multiple ways. This gratitude towards the cow is consistent with the Hindu trait of compassion towards all living beings. That we should look upon that extremely useful animal with the same affection as for a family member is no doubt in keeping with our noble trait of humanism.

However, each time I question those who worship cows, they enumerate all these benefits that she gives, right from her milk to her dung. Her usefulness is what makes her worthy of worship. But assume briefly that instead of the life-nourishing milk she spewed out venom like a serpent, or attacked us like a lion instead of standing, docile, by our side. Would we still worship her as a mother? Even if we did worship, it might be out of fear and not out of love or gratitude. Thus I have established that our worship for her stems from her utility and our subsequent gratitude for the same.

Animals such as the cow and buffalo and trees such as banyan and peepal are useful to man, hence we are fond of them; to that extent we might even consider them worthy of worship. Their protection, sustenance and well-being are our duty; in that sense alone these are also our dharma or duty! Does it not follow then that when under certain circumstances, that animal or tree becomes a source of trouble to mankind, it ceases to be worthy of sustenance or protection, and as such its destruction is in humanitarian or national interests and becomes a human or national dharma? When humanitarian interests are not served and in fact harmed by the cow and when humanism is shamed, self-defeating extreme cow protection should be rejected.

While I have no problem with protecting this beautiful creature, I hesitate to worship it as a goddess. We cannot loosely use the terms of ‘god’ and ‘goddess’ on any being. From among a mass of ignorant humans, a few enlightened beings are worthy of reverence. When they graduate further in consciousness, we elevate them to the position of gods or divine beings. In such a scenario how could a mere animal, albeit very lovely and very useful, which does not even have the common sense that the most ignoramus human being has, be considered a god? Elevating an animal that eats garbage and indiscriminately passes excreta anywhere and everywhere to the status of a goddess is in my view insulting to both humanity as well as divinity. On the one hand we consider scholarly human beings like Ambedkar or saints like Chokha Mela as impure due to their caste; but on the other the urine of an animal suddenly becomes soul purifying for us! Is this not a great fallacy and contradiction?

Our ancestors might have elevated the cow to a divine status to induce a sense of responsibility towards its protection. But we took that too literally. We should bear in mind that the cow is an object of utility for the human being and not vice versa. Doing so degrades the status of human beings. The object of worship should be greater than its worshipper. Likewise, a national emblem should evoke the nation’s exemplary valour, brilliance and aspirations, and make its people superhumans. Thankfully no wise men have emerged with a dozen Sanskrit verses enumerating the rituals of cow worship. Else we would have had to witness comic scenes of people dressing their cows in beautiful saris, lifting it and placing it on an altar for daily worship!

History is replete with examples of how our enemies and invaders have used this innocent sentiment of ours against us, by using the cow as a shield even in wars. Seeing a large group of cows in front of the army of the enemies, Hindus renounced their weapons, as they did not want to incur the sin of killing cows. That the Muslim invaders knew this weakness of our society and effectively used it time and again through our long history is documented in the writings of their own chroniclers. To defile our places of worship, all they needed to do was to adorn our idols with bovine flesh before smashing them to smithereens. To save a few temples, a handful of Brahmins and some cows, we ended up sacrificing our entire country to foreign powers. Does this augur well for any nation? These ritual-ridden, illogical, self-destructive beliefs spawned a national and religious cowardice that kept us suppressed for centuries. When Hindu forces marched on Multan, the Muslims threatened to destroy the famous Sun temple there. When Malhar Rao Holkar, the Maratha chieftain, sought to liberate Kashi, the Muslims threatened to defile all things holy to the Hindus. The pious Hindus backtracked at such moments for fear of being responsible for the razing of temples, the humiliation of Brahmins and cow slaughter.

Had the Hindu soldiers killed those cows used as shields and then annihilated the enemy lurking behind them, would not thousands of cows and temples been saved in successive generations? More importantly, would our Hindustan have been conquered? Hence I argue that taking cow protection to an extreme at the cost of human interests, is lethal, as history has proved to us.

The symbol of Hindutva is not the cow but the man-lion or Narasimha. The qualities of god permeate into his worshipper. Considering the cow to be divine and worshipping her has rendered the entire Hindu nation docile like the cow. It started eating grass. If we are to now indeed establish our nation on the basis of an animal, let that animal be the lion. Using its sharp claws in one leap, the lion fatally knocks and wounds its opponents. We need to worship such a Narasimha. That and not the cow’s hooves is the real mark of Hindutva. The cow, exploited and eaten at will, is an appropriate symbol of our present-day weakness. But at least the Hindu nation of tomorrow should not have such a pitiable symbol.

Have horses and dogs not been man’s most trusted companions from time immemorial? A dog offers total and unconditional love to its master, aids man in his hunting expeditions, guards homes and is loyal till his last breath. Yet, we use the term ‘dog’ pejoratively for people we dislike! Why do we not worship a dog too and why be partial only towards a cow, only because she gives us milk? Is the utility of a dog or a horse any less, if that is the only yardstick for worshiping them? Horses, mules and donkeys have played such an important role in major battles against our nation’s worst enemies. Do we then begin a series of worship for these creatures as well, or would it suffice to assiduously undertake a protection mechanism for them?

When we look at countries such as America we get a sense of what can be achieved when we strip the emotions of divinity and concentrate on the utility factor of animals such as the cow. Huge farms and modern, scientific animal husbandry techniques to increase milk output so that no child in this country goes hungry without milk must go hand in hand with protection. Every care must be taken to ensure that these valuable creatures remain free from diseases and infections, and have healthy progeny. This is the actual Gokul of Krishna that our scriptures talk about. Huge ranches where they can stroll around joyfully exist in America. Whereas in our country where we consume its urine as a divine product, are there any organizations that work for their protection, welfare and development? Is that not the real irony of the matter?

However naive our Hindu practice of cow worship might be, it is at least not cruel. But the religious fanaticism of those non-Hindus whose religion itself is based on hatred for the cow is not only naive but also brutal in their zealotry. They have no right whatsoever to mock the Hindus. The non-Hindus should discard their hatred for the cow and for the sake of national unity and economic progress involve themselves in genuine cow protection. Of course agitate, if you need to, for the closure of the slaughterhouses that have come up everywhere; protect the cow, do not befool yourself into worshipping her.

I am sure these thoughts of mine will anger several cow worshippers and I am prepared for their angry backlash! But careful contemplation will make them realize the truth in my argument. To those who consider my views as blasphemous, let me say that it is you who are committing blasphemy by stuffing thirty-three crore gods into the poor animal’s belly!

I am no enemy of the cow. I have only criticized the false notions and tendencies involved in cow worship with the aim of removing the chaff and preserving the essence so that genuine cow protection may be better achieved. Without spreading religious superstition, let the movement for cow protection be based and popularized on clear-cut economic and scientific principles. Then alone can we achieve genuine cow protection like the Americans. A worshipful attitude is undoubtedly necessary for protection. But it is improper to forget the duty of cow protection and indulge only in worship. The word ‘only’ used here is important. First protect the cow and then if you absolutely have to, please worship it too if you so desire!

On Modernization among Muslims 4

Just as it is my duty to repeatedly tell the Hindu nation to abandon its silly religious customs, observances and opinions in this age of science, so I will also tell Muslim society, which is an inevitable part of the Hindustani nation, that it should abandon as quickly as possible its troublesome habits as well as religious fanaticism for its own good—not as a favour to the Hindus, not because the Hindus are scared of your religious aggression, but because these practices are a blot on your humanity, and especially because you will be crushed in the age of science if you cling on to an outdated culture.

You should abandon the belief that not even a word in the Quran can be questioned because it is the eternal message of God, even as you maintain respect for the Quran. But the norms that seemed attractive to an oppressed but backward people in Arabia at a time of civil strife should not be accepted as eternal; make a habit of sticking to only what is relevant in the modern age.

Oh Muslims! Just think what the Europeans reduced you to after they escaped from the clutches of the Bible, to master the sciences that are beneficial for our times. You were pushed out of Spain, you were subjected to massacres, and you were crushed in Austria, Hungary, Serbia and Bulgaria. Your control over Mughal India was snatched away. They are ruling you in Arabia, Mesopotamia, Iraq and Syria.

Just as our yajnas, prayers, Vedas, holy books, penances, curses could not harm the Europeans, so too will your Quran, martyrdoms, namaz, religious lockets make no difference to them. Just as the maulvis sent armies to war in the belief that the men who fought under the banner of Allah would never lose, so did our pundits peacefully sit back to repeat the name of Rama a million times. But none of this prevented the Europeans. With their advanced weapons, they not only decimated the Muslim armies, but they even toyed with the fallen flag of Allah.

And that is why Mustafa Kemal Ataturk has broken the bonds of all religious laws that have kept the Turkish nation backward. He has borrowed civil law, criminal law and military law from Switzerland, France and Germany, to replace the rules in the Quran. The literal meaning of what is said in the Quran no longer matters. The only question today is what is essential for national advancement in the light of modern science. Turkey can hold its own against Europe today because Kemal has given primacy to modern science in his nation. If Turkey had remained bound within the covers of the Quran, as it was during the reign of Kemal Sultan or the Khalifa, the Turks would still be licking the boots of the Europeans, as the Indian Muslims are doing today. If they want to advance as the Turks have done, Indian Muslims should abandon the religious fanaticism that has been nurtured over a thousand years, and accept modern science.

On the Age of Machines and Scientific Temper 5

The era that our country is now entering is the one that Europe had entered two centuries ago. This means we are 200 years behind Europe. Economists have termed this as the age of machines. The kind of opposition from traditionalists and proponents of the status quo that we are witnessing today in India is similar to what Europe also experienced 200 years ago. This is an inevitable outcome each time traditional beliefs and value systems are challenged by modern science. During Europe’s transition into the industrial and mechanized era, it was widely apprehended that the demoniac machines would result in undermining religion, humans would become emotionless like machines, we would lose our arts and culture and there would be a rampant spurt of unemployment. It was believed that the very prosperity that the use of machines promised would itself be destroyed by their introduction. These shrill warnings of doomsday raged across Europe along with a ‘Back to Nature’ clarion call.

In India too religious beliefs held us back from adapting to machines earlier than now. Lisbon witnessed a catastrophic earthquake in the eighteenth century. Religious leaders of Europe declared that the earthquake was the result of the Protestant treachery against the Roman Catholics. It was God’s way of punishing human beings because Protestant marriage ceremonies were led by women, that Protestant priests were allowed to marry, and the Pope’s sermons were no longer considered infallible. And how did society react to these meaningless religious proclamations? By launching a crusade to annihilate the errant Protestants.

How can such religiously blinded souls understand physical and scientific explanations for earthquakes, let alone try to use seismology to design machines that could perhaps help them predict the risk of an earthquake or mitigate disasters? Finally, Europe could truly embrace the machine age only when such naive religious beliefs were dismantled by a scientific temper.

However, it is our misfortune in India that even someone as influential as Gandhiji invokes his ‘inner voice’ to attribute the recent massive Bihar earthquake as God’s punishment for the barbaric caste system! I still wait to hear what his inner voice will tell us about why Quetta was rocked by an earthquake! As if political leaders were not enough, our religious gurus are not far behind in raising such beliefs. The Shankaracharya and other religious leaders have sworn by scriptures to let us know that this earthquake was caused by attempts to dismantle the caste system. It is funny how the logic works both ways! What can one say about the common masses when such influential leaders hold such superstitious and naive views on scientific matters? They are obviously gripped by the unfounded and inexplicable fear of God and his machinations, which they see in every physical phenomenon. Is there a monsoon deficit? Then let’s read the Mandaka Sutra of the Rig Veda, invoke the frogs and make them croak the rains in! Are ships sinking due to floods? Let’s chant the Varuna Sukta and offer coconuts to the Lord of the Ocean. Has there been a plague epidemic? The easiest panacea is the sacrifice of a goat. On Eid commemorate a mass slaughter of innocent animals and cows, and presto! your God overhead is suddenly mighty pleased with you! Is God too as corrupt and self-serving as our honourable collector who will not act till he is offered a handsome gift of a dozen ripe mangoes? Does any rationale or logic support this kind of credulous and gullible beliefs?

But science and scientific temper rely on cold logic and reason. These are physical phenomena that can be experienced and repeated under controlled conditions. If water is boiled to a known temperature, it will turn to steam, irrespective of any God’s wishes or your failure to read the mantras or namaz! A machine does not punish us for forgetting to propitiate that frightful god you so fear. This scientific temper is the foundation and cornerstone of the machine age and modernization, which will lead to prosperity for India.

Are machines a boon or a bane? Those berating machines as a bane must realize that each of our human senses is several times more potent than any machine can ever hope to be. The machine acts as a handmaiden of man. If he uses it for destructive purposes, it can cause mass destruction. However, the same machine if put to good use by a virtuous and intelligent human mind can work miracles. The subject of debate therefore is not at all about the machine and its virtue, but that of humanity. Unemployment is not a side effect of mechanization but of inequitable distribution of resources and wealth and, for this, it is the social structure and evils that are to be blamed. If they are rectified, these problems too would be automatically solved.

If a country has managed to successfully augment its food production and textile manufacture by more than tenfold through mechanization, and yet the people of that country are hungry and unclothed, do we lay the blame at the doorstep of the poor manufacturing machines? It is through science, modern thoughts and industrialization that we can ensure that every man and woman in India will have a job to do, food to eat, clothes to wear and a happy life to lead.

On Cinema6

‘The movies are one of the beautiful gifts of the 20th Century. This is the machine age. We are surrounded by things made with the help of machines. The world of entertainment cannot be an exception to this rule. Please understand that I refuse to condemn the advances made in technology. I would like modern machines to spread rapidly so that the whole of humanity is happier.

‘I dislike any restrictions on the innovative spirit of the human mind. That is because modern progress and modern culture have emerged out of innovation. The very essence of the progress made by humanity over the past many years in science and knowledge can be found in contemporary cinema. There is no better example of the use of modern technology than the movies, and that is why I will never back any restrictions on them.’

These remarks by Veer Savarkar are a stinging answer to the contempt with which Mahatma Gandhi has spoken about movies. When I asked Savarkar whether he was implicitly criticizing Gandhi, he asked me: ‘Is there anything common between Gandhi and me?’

He went on: ‘I saw my first silent movie when I was a student in London, and I liked it immensely. I have seen some talkies as well, but not too many. I doubt the theatre can compete with the movies. It will barely survive in a corner just as the folk arts barely survive in our villages today. But its best days are behind it. There is no need to feel bad about this. What is the use of the wooden plough in the age of the tractor? The wooden plough will be used only where there are no tractors. I deeply oppose the charkha philosophy of going back to nature. Films are even superior to novels. However well written be the biographies of national heroes such as Shivaji, Pratap or Ranjit, there is no doubt their stories will be more enjoyable and impactful on the screen. Films can even be used to educate our youth. We see life reflected very well on screen.

‘It is better to borrow a good thing rather than have nothing at all. But one should not blindly copy the work of others. As in all other fields, it is essential that our people are nationalists in the field of cinema as well. Everything else comes after that. The film industry too should believe that it would do everything possible for the progress of the entire nation. Our movies should focus on the positives of the country, keep aside the negatives and have pride in its victories. There is no value in making movies on national defeat or on our failings. These should be forgotten. Our youth should be inspired by movies that focus on the positive side of things.’

Yeravada Jail, 1923

In 1923, Vinayak was shifted from the Ratnagiri District Prison to the Yeravada Central Prison in Poona. He had been lodged there earlier in 1910 and this seemed to him like a flashback to the long, eventful and tough decade that had followed. Here, he found many inmates of Cellular Jail who had been repatriated to the Indian mainland. This included the revolutionaries of the Lahore Conspiracy Case. Yeravada, however, presented an interesting confluence of opposing ideologies of the Indian freedom struggle—the revolutionary convicts, as well as Gandhi’s nonviolent satyagrahis, non-cooperation activists and Khilafatists. About the latter, Vinayak writes:

The Non-co-operators and the Khilafatists had not seen even two years of prison-life. They were raw, vainglorious men, and they bragged of their suffering before those who had passed through ten years or more of transportation for life in the Cellular Jail of the Andamans—the brave Sikhs who had never winced under the severest hardships! They vaunted their worthless ‘Satyagraha’ and their short imprisonment for it before these terrorists and presumed to despise them! I began here to criticize severely all these followers of Gandhi that their eyes might see clearly . . . They hated the name of Hindu Sanghatan as detrimental to the nation. I denounced fiercely these honest but perverse notions. I would go up a tree, others would gather in the courtyard opposite, and political prisoners would keep a watch occupying strategic positions around them. Thus we carried on discussions on politics from day to day. I was then transferred to the courtyard itself, when every alternate day regular meetings were held and discussions carried on to disillusion these novices of their strange notions on politics. I followed the same method here that I had adopted in the Andamans—holding meetings, giving lectures and arranging discussions. Gradually all of them joined in them. Winning Swaraj by Charaka [sic], supporting the Khilafat movement as the duty of the Hindus, and ridiculous definitions of non-violence, I exploded them all by invincible logic and by an appeal to history. And these honest young patriots were at last won over to our side from their jejune politics, and from their inexperience and ignorance of the world around them.7


Gandhi too was lodged in the same jail—in the cell adjacent to Vinayak’s —following the Civil Disobedience movement and his trial. Vinayak openly criticized the methods of the Mahatma, who heard about this from his followers in prison. There were several occasions when Vinayak had serious differences of opinion with those supporting non-cooperation, totally taken in by the ideals of truth and satyagraha.

He mentions in his memoir about how in Ratnagiri, like in the Andamans, political prisoners would procure scraps of newspapers and read them in stealth. Many of those in jail for participating in the Noncooperation movement objected to this, as they believed hiding the truth was a sin. He did not let go of a single occasion to embarrass those who took Gandhi’s philosophy almost literally and to ridiculous extremes. One such follower was known to flatter the prison cook and get an extra piece of bread to eat. Once, during dinner, when the man had taken this extra piece and settled down to eat, Vinayak and his revolutionary friends raised a false alarm that the superintendent was coming for an inspection. The Gandhian quickly hid his extra piece of bread in fright. The entire group burst out laughing and mocked him. Did his adherence to truth permit him to pilfer? they asked. Another associate of the man responded that it was no violation of truth to stealthily eat an extra piece of bread because it was a basic human necessity to feed one’s stomach. But smuggling newspapers was a violation of truth and harmed the national cause, he hypothesized. Vinayak was often annoyed by these illogical arguments and writes in his memoir that this attitude was all too common among several of Gandhi’s followers and Khilafatists in jail.8

Vinayak’s transfer to Yeravada coincided with the appointment of Major Murray as inspector of the jail. He had earlier served as superintendent of Cellular Jail and inspector general of prisons in the Punjab. He was a liberal man with a humane disposition. Murray appointed Vinayak as the head of the quinine factory at jail. He was permitted to conduct classes for young convicts and was also tasked with creating a library, like he had done in the Andamans. Vinayak continued with the shuddhi activities that he undertook at Cellular and Ratnagiri jails.

Despite pleas not to wake everyone in the prison with the loud call for namaz, several Muslim prisoners insisted on it as an integral feature of their faith. To counter this, under Vinayak’s leadership, many Hindu convicts began singing devotional songs and verses from the Ramayana at the top of their voice. If the prison authorities objected to such nuisance, Vinayak would promptly reply: ‘Why should you object to his prayer? Either stop all of them or let everyone be free to pray as he likes.’9 This eventually stopped the practice of the early morning calls to prayer at prison. As Vinayak writes:

One nuisance cancelled the other. What punishment could not stop, countergoondaism had silenced. I silenced a Khilafatist editor-prisoner by a similar countermove. He used to touch water for the Hindus on the plea that Muslims were as much human beings as they. I entirely agreed with him on the point and I called upon an untouchable and scavenger to dip his pot and take water from a vessel of water for the Muslims. And the Khilafatist who was preaching broad humanitarian principles at once went at the untouchable and would not touch the water as being unholy for the Namaz . When I had exposed them two or three times they quietly took their water from a [non-] Hindu water-carrier and stopped touching the water reserved for the Hindus.10


Vinayak even organized lectures on various martyrs of the revolutionary struggle, including Madan Lal Dhingra, in order to inspire fellow convicts.

Around this time, the governor of Bombay, Sir George Lloyd, visited the prison to conduct an extended interview with Vinayak. The latter believed that this was yet another fruitless endeavour since the time he met Sir Reginald Craddock a decade ago in the Andamans. He candidly admitted to the governor:

I was compelled to be a revolutionary and a conspirator when I had discovered that there was no peaceful or constitutional method open to me to attain the goal I had in view. But if the present reforms prove to be useful for the furtherance of our hopes in a peaceful way, we shall very willingly turn to constitutional method and pursue gladly the constructive work on the principle of responsive cooperation. Revolutionaries, as we were described to be, our policy was as much of responsive cooperation as that of those who swore by other methods. We will utilize to the full the present reforms in pursuance of that principle and with a similar object in view. National good was our sole objective and if peaceful means served that end, we had no reason to cling to our old ways.11


He was given a patient hearing after which the governor departed. Nothing was heard for months thereafter. But the Government of Bombay had begun discussing Vinayak’s release in earnest from 1922. The official opinion on this ranged from a disapproval of an early release to that with severe strictures that would limit or forbid his political activities. Another subject of concern for the government was the choice of his residence in the event of his conditional release. Given the sensitivity, the cities of Bombay, Poona and Nashik were overruled. In the end, the government seemed to be inclined towards releasing him from prison and allowing him to reside in confinement at Ratnagiri, with all political activities curtailed. This was the result of years of Narayanrao’s efforts to lobby support for his elder brother and secure his release.

Interestingly, an article published in the Marathi newspaper, Swatantrya, called for Vinayak’s release. Dated 13 September 1923 and titled, ‘Savarkar—the Champion of Liberty’, the author wrote:

It was Vinayak’s policy that alien power, be it British or Muhammadan, must be extirpated . . . O Maharashtra—Get Up! Raise up in your mind the principles of Vinayakrao!! O Janasthan [Nashik] get up! Vinayakrao is yours, so begin to exert yourself so that he must be released . . . But if Government does not release him we will blame them and resort to any available means of releasing him.12


The concluding threat was least likely to have influenced the government’s decision and in any case would have possibly dissuaded them from releasing a man they had deemed dangerous for over a decade now.

Finally, on 4 January 1924, the Home Department of the Government of Bombay agreed on the conditions of Vinayak’s release. Alexander Montgomerie, secretary to the Home Department in Bombay, was to officiate these conditions. Interestingly, fourteen years ago, Montgomerie had served a brief term as the district magistrate of Nashik during Vinayak’s trial. He wrote:

In exercise of the power conferred by Section 401 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, the Government in Council hereby remits conditionally the unexpired portion of the sentences of transportation for life passed upon Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. The order for the conditional release of the convict should be sent to the Superintendent, Yeravda Central Prison, who should take an agreement from the convict accepting the conditions specified in the Order and forward it to Government, through the Inspector-General of Prisons, with a report that the convict has been released in pursuance of the order.13


This was followed by a series of meetings between the government and Vinayak, who agreed to, and signed, the conditions of his release. The conditions were not too unusual; what was extraordinary was the duration for which they were imposed—a period of thirteen years, from 1924 to 1937. Initially, the conditions were placed for a five-year term, but they were subsequently extended twice. The conditions of release were:

1. That the said Vinayak Damodar Savarkar will reside within the territories administered by the Governor of Bombay in Council and within the Ratnagiri District within the said territories, and will not go beyond the limits of that district without the permission of Government or in case of urgency, of the District Magistrate.

2. That he will not engage publicly or privately in any manner of political activities without the consent of Government for a period of five years, such restriction being renewable at the discretion of Government at the expiry of the said term.14


Vinayak understood the repercussions of his failure to adhere to the conditions of his release. He writes: ‘Should I fail to fulfil those conditions or any portion of them . . . I may be arrested by any police officer without warrant, and remanded to undergo the unexpired portion of my original sentences.’ 15 If he committed offences that would warrant his remand, he would have to serve yet another term of imprisonment for at least twenty-five years more!

5 January 1924

It was the last night of Vinayak’s long and strenuous prison journey. He was, however, not told about it till the following morning. That night, little did he know that the next day he would be stretching himself on a ‘bed in a room with window all open to the light of the moon, and without any warder patrolling along the corridor’ 16 to disturb his sleep. The biting January cold was further accentuated by some unseasonal showers. Water had poured in from the cell’s upper window and his clothes were all wet. The two coarse blankets were hardly enough to protect him from the inhospitable weather. He willed himself to sleep, wondering how much longer this suffering would last.

The next morning, he was summoned to the superintendent’s office and conveyed the good news. He froze in utter disbelief. From March 1910, when he was imprisoned in London, he had been transported from jail to jail across continents. The reality that this was now coming to an end was hard to believe. The political prisoners exulted and congratulated him. The Sikh revolutionaries warmly embraced him and implored him not to forget them. With deep gratitude, Vinayak responded to their warmth before departing:

My brothers, you will surely bear me out when I say that, ground down under the sufferings as I was during the fourteen long years that I spent in the Andamans and even to the last day here, I have not flinched or retracted from what I was preaching all my life. I have given you the stories of all our martyrs and I have advised all along to hold firm by our creed of violent resistance if circumstances were to force it upon us. I have kept the flag flying. When I heard the sentence passed upon me fourteen years ago, the words dancing upon my lips were the same that are dancing upon them today. I uttered them then, I have uttered them during my long stay in prison, and they come forth from my mouth today, to be carved on your heart and mind, and to ring in your ears for good. Let us say all of us, ‘Glory to the Goddess of Freedom; Victory to our Mother.’17


Changing from his prison uniform, that had almost become a part of his being, to civilian clothes, Vinayak was overcome with mixed emotions—melancholy tinged with joy. Murray shook his hand and wished him well. ‘Take care of the future,’ he said. The large iron gates of the prison creaked open. Vinayak struggled to keep his eyes open in the bright sunlight. Outside, his family was waiting for him, joy writ large on their faces.

Vinayak’s long incarceration in prison might have ended, but the journey towards his cherished goal of liberating his motherland and actualizing his theories of Hindutva and social reform, which he had conceptualized within the confines of the prison, was just beginning. He took a deep breath, filling himself with the fragrance of free air, and with a spring in his step and plans for the future, Vinayak moved on to the next momentous milestone of his life.
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