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.

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But Vinayak had no such qualms. Mazzini and his revolutionary ideas formed a regular feature of the Free India Society lectures. The details of how Mazzini ‘induced Italian soldiers employed by Austrian rulers to join in the freedom struggle, how he took help from various princely states in Italy to liberate his country’ 43 seemed the perfect prescription for Indians yearning for freedom. There were undoubtedly sceptics who wondered how a prototype of an advanced European country like Italy, whose people and princely states craved for freedom and who had ample supply of arms, could be replicated in India. They felt that suggestions of a similar armed struggle in India were impractical, laughable and even suicidal. To these, Vinayak would respond:

The arms being borne by Indian soldiers under the British command are our arms. True, our Indian soldiers are illiterate, but they too must have some desire to make our country independent. Spread the fire of movement for freedom among them and see how the same soldiers turn against the English with the same arms and ammunitions!44


Within barely a week of his arrival at India House, a restless Vinayak approached the manager, Mr Mukherjee, with a query of whether the library had Mazzini’s autobiography (Life and Writings of Joseph Mazzini ) and articles. 45 After finding just one volume, he managed to procure three of the six volumes. Vinayak felt as though some secret treasure had been unearthed. In just a week, he read the three volumes. Impressed by his dedication, Mukherjee managed to get him the missing volumes from elsewhere. Towards the end of the study, Vinayak realized the remarkable similarity in the thought and approach proposed by Mazzini and his own efforts in India. This bolstered his confidence that his method was right after all. He writes:

Secret societies must work on two fronts: Propaganda and Action. Some work has to be done in secret and some in the open. It is impossible to regain independence without resorting to force of arms. However, it is also essential to carry out propaganda by peaceful means to prepare the masses for their part in the revolution. It is essential to join forces with the enemies of Britain in Asia and Europe and sympathetic elements in America. Guerrilla tactics must be used to attack British sources of power, its centres, its officers; individually and in groups, to induce Indians employed by British such as soldiers to rise in revolt, to rise whenever there was a war between Britain and other foreign power, to carry out revolutionary activities one after the other—that was my plan of action. And I used to argue my case in open but still keeping within the legal limits. I was surprised to find that Mazzini had followed the same path for liberation of his country . . . I realized that if my friends and followers were to read Mazzini’s articles that will increase their faith in our methods enormously. In 1906, I and my colleagues in Abhinav Bharat were hardly twenty to twenty-two years of age. Our leaders, both Moderates and Militants dismissed our activities as ‘childish’. They were the leaders of our society at that time. But then Mazzini and his fellow revolutionaries were similarly ridiculed as ‘childish’ and ‘absurd’ by contemporary elders in Italian society in 1830s. Mazzini had replied to such ridicule in his articles. The funny thing was that in 1906 persons like Mazzini and Garibaldi were regarded as ‘great patriots’ by Indian leaders without realizing that in their days Mazzini and Garibaldi too were being branded as ‘foolhardy’ and ‘childish’. Mazzini’s articles were going to make firm our plans of action and induce faith among people of India in our methods.46


It was with this intention that Vinayak resolved to translate Mazzini’s autobiography into Marathi. His idea was not to merely write a widely read historical account but to inspire fellow Indians to emulate Mazzini’s path. He therefore decided to add a preface to demonstrate the parallels between India and Italy, and how Mazzini’s strategy could be customized and followed by Indian revolutionaries. Fired with this zeal, in a record two-and-half months since his arrival in London, by 28 September 1906, Vinayak managed to complete the translation titled Joseph Mazzini yanche Atmacharitra va Rajkaran (Politics and Autobiography of Joseph Mazzini). It had nine selected essays that ran into nearly 300 pages. The preface itself was about twenty-five pages long. In the introduction, Vinayak emphasized the importance of kartavya (duty) to Mazzini’s political philosophy. The sense of duty remained an important aspect of Vinayak’s political philosophy all his life.

Referring to the uprising of 1848 in Italy, Vinayak implored Indians to consider their own experiences in the 1857 uprising. He opines that although the Italian revolution led by Mazzini was unsuccessful in reaching its objectives it must not be construed as a failure; Indians must learn from their mistakes and carry on a relentless war in India against the British Empire. He refers to the resolve of the Italians that freedom was not to be got through begging. Hence, looking at the examples of other European nations, they decided to take recourse to secret societies where men were trained for revolution. The lack of arms did not deter Italy, wrote Vinayak. Instead, young Italians went to Spain, America, Germany, Poland and other countries to smuggle arms and also learn the art of war. In his preface, Vinayak mentions how arms managed to cross borders and enter the country as a result of widespread disaffection in the army and by administering the oath of Young Italy to many soldiers. A lot of what he wrote in the preface had less to do with Mazzini or Italy but was a clear strategy of action for India and her revolutionaries. It was masked in such coded language that no one could point a finger at him for inciting sedition against the British government. The readers too were smart enough to catch the author’s message.

Publishing the book was no easy task. Vinayak turned to his elder brother Babarao back home for support. He sent him the manuscript in October 1906. By then, Babarao and his activities in Abhinav Bharat in Nashik had already caught the attention of the local police. He had been detained during a Dussehra procession for his loud slogans of Vande Mataram , and for roughing up policemen who objected to such ‘calls of sedition’. He was questioned till late in the night and the following day nearly 200 people, including Babarao and the youngest brother Narayan, were arrested. Ironically, many of them were not even present in Nashik during the said incident; this was a clear pretext to intimidate the members of Abhinav Bharat. A year-long trial before the first class magistrate of Malegaon division, W. Plunkett, was held in different parts of Nashik district. This soon became famous as the ‘Vande Mataram Trial case’. While Narayan and a few others were acquitted in the judgment delivered on 8 May 1907, the rest were convicted under Section 332 of the IPC. Abhinav Bharat and Babarao were clearly on the radar of the intelligence agencies.

Despite this, Babarao got the manuscript that Vinayak sent him from London printed. Vinayak had dedicated the book to his two mentors— Tilak and S.M. Paranjpe. Babarao thought it prudent to show a copy of the manuscript to Tilak for his suggestions. Tilak was alarmed by its explosive content and warned Babarao that while he had no objection to what he wished to do with it, he would advise caution since it was dangerous to publish such a book. But Babarao was undaunted. It was a difficult task to find a printer. But with the help of some Abhinav Bharat members who had influence with the printing press of the newspaper Jagadahitechchhu , by June 1907, 2000 copies of the book were printed.

In order to avoid police scrutiny, Babarao had already published a series of other books under the name of Laghu Abhinav Bharat Mala (small books and pamphlets), Vinayak’s ballads Singhadacha Powada and Baji Prabhucha Powada and Govind Kavi’s ballad on the assassination of Afzal Khan by Shivaji. A new publication series titled Thorali Abhinav Bharat Mala (books and biography series) was started and the first book to be released was the Mazzini biography, priced at Rs 1.50. Within a month, the entire first print was sold out, and many asked for advance pre-orders even before the second edition could be printed. This was an indication of the public sentiment and its inclination to read both Vinayak’s writings, as well as the biography of a distant, largely unknown European revolutionary. People read the book in groups and at Abhinav Bharat meetings in different cities and towns. The Kal gave the book a rousing review:

Patriot Savarkar is well known to Marathi readers. His enthusiasm, fierce patriotism, superb articles and oratory have made him well known. Having passed his BA examination from Bombay University he had recently left for England to study to become a Barrister. Though he has gone abroad, he has not forgotten his country, his people and his language for one moment. It is persons like him who should be going abroad. The large buildings, big factories and enormous wealth of England, did not impress him; but he has been all the time thinking of uplifting our country from slavery and to progress it to the level of advanced countries . . . Savarkar has written this book in Marathi, while staying in London, the heart of the English language. This is probably the first literary work, which was written in London for the benefit of our people. There is a wonderful confluence of three—Mazzini’s articles devoted to the goddess of freedom, its translation by Savarkar in the free atmosphere of England, and the anxious readers in Maharashtra. This is bound to relieve us from all the pain. These articles by Mazzini are streams of nectar. Like the Mantras of Vedas, they have tremendous power . . . One cannot thank Savarkar enough for making these articles available. Those who can read must study such works of literature. Those who cannot read can still benefit, if someone reads it out for them.47


With advertisements of the second edition of the book coming out, the authorities were alerted. The government had an option of confiscating the book and also prosecuting the author and publisher for sedition. But Vinayak had taken extreme care to ensure that no law of the land was broken. He had simply translated Mazzini’s thoughts and nowhere had he propagated rebellion against the British Empire in India. In a confidential note regarding the book, E.B. Raikes, the advocate general for the judicial department, Government of Bombay, wrote:

On the summary before me I have no doubt that the Preface [introduction] was written with a directly seditious intention and that almost every native of this country who reads it will know this, but at the same time it is very difficult to point to a single line of it which can be said to be directed against the British Government . . . A regular attempt is being made to preach sedition under the guise of teaching historical lessons in this and many other articles . . . I cannot, however, advise that such a prosecution is certain of success . . . I incline to think that if the accused person were skilfully defended, he would have a good chance of getting off.48


Thus, knowing that the case would fail in a court of law, the government decided to proscribe the book in July 1907. Extensive searches were conducted in homes and shops to confiscate copies. People hid their copies in compartments and recesses of old walls that were later bricked and plastered over. Any person found possessing a copy of the book was presumed a revolutionary and automatically came under surveillance. It was only forty years later, in 1946, that the ban on the book was lifted, and Vinayak presided over an official release of the second edition.

Meanwhile, in October 1906, there was an interesting encounter between two individuals in London. They were to be political rivals for several decades thereafter, and their respective ideologies were to divide Indian polity irrevocably. This was when Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi came calling to India House and met Vinayak Damodar Savarkar.

In 1893, Gandhi had gone to South Africa as a young twenty-four-yearold lawyer. He was there on a temporary assignment, to settle a commercial dispute for an Indian trader. A year after his arrival, the court ruled in favour of his client. Just when he was preparing to return to India, a group of Indian merchants requested him to stay on and fight a bill before the Natal Assembly, a British colony, seeking to remove Indians from the voters’ list. Within a month, more than 10,000 signatures had been gathered and presented to the colonial secretary, Lord Ripon. The bill was temporarily set aside, but eventually passed as law in 1896, disqualifying voters of non-European origin. These events serendipitously catapulted Gandhi into the role of an unofficial campaigner for the rights of the disenfranchised.

While Shyamji was aware and appreciative of Gandhi’s work, he was deeply critical of the latter’s role in the Anglo-Boer War. The war broke out in 1899 between the British Empire and the Boers of the Transvaal and Orange Free State. The Boers, or Afrikaners, were the descendants of original Dutch settlers of southern Africa. Following skirmishes with the British, they moved away to form their own independent republics of the Transvaal and Orange Free State. They lived peacefully with the British colonizers in their neighbourhood, till the discovery of diamonds and gold in the region aroused British avarice. The Boers offered a rigorous resistance to the British colonists in Natal and Cape Colony. Indians too were called upon to take sides. While Gandhi mentions that his ‘personal sympathies were all with the Boers’, his ‘loyalty to the British rule’ drove him ‘to participation with the British in that war’. His argument was:

I felt that, if I demanded rights as a British citizen, it was also my duty as such, to participate in the defence of the British Empire. I held then that India could achieve her complete emancipation only within and through the British Empire. So I collected to gather as many comrades as possible, and with very great difficulty got their services accepted as an ambulance corps.49


More than 500 Indians had signed up for the Indian Ambulance Corps and attended the wounded British soldiers at Spioenkop in Natal. Gandhi and others received war medals for their chivalry and loyalty to the Queen. In June 1903, Gandhi began a weekly called Indian Opinion —originating in four languages (English, Hindi, Gujarati and Tamil)—as a mouthpiece for the Indian community.

Despite his own non-confrontationist attitude with the British, Shyamji was critical of the support that Gandhi and the Indians gave to the British against the native Boers. Some of Gandhi’s critical and racist comments against the ‘blacks’ of Africa too drew the ire of the Indian Sociologist . Addressing the native Africans by a derogatory term ‘Kaffir ’, Gandhi had demanded separate entrances for whites and blacks at the Durban post office and had objected to Indians being classed with the South African black natives. In Gandhi’s own words:

Ours is one continual struggle against a degradation sought to be inflicted upon us by the Europeans, who desire to degrade us to the level of the raw Kaffir whose occupation is hunting, and whose sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with and, then, pass his life in indolence and nakedness 50 . . . Kaffirs are as a rule uncivilized . . . they are troublesome, very dirty, and live almost like animals.51


Just before Gandhi’s visit to India House in 1906, the Bambatha Rebellion was spearheaded by the Zulus protesting against unjust British taxes after the Boer War. Thousands of Zulus were ruthlessly massacred and several injured. Here too Gandhi supported the British and requested them to recruit Indians in the British army fighting against the Zulus. In the July 1906 issue of the Indian Sociologist, Gandhi was bitterly criticized for his role in aiding the suppression and massacre of the Zulu rebels.

It was against this strained background with Shyamji on political ideology that Gandhi visited India House on 20 October 1906. Writing about Shyamji, Gandhi says:

He has founded India House at his own cost. Any Indian student is allowed to stay there against a very small weekly payment. All Indians, whether Hindus, Muslims or others can and do stay there. There is full freedom for everyone in the matter of food and drink. Being situated in fine surroundings, the place has a very good atmosphere. On the first day of our arrival, both Mr Ally and I went to stay at India House, and we were very well looked after. But as our work requires our getting in touch with important people and as India House is rather remote, we have been obliged to come and live at his Hotel at great expense.52


While no record is extant of an exclusive meeting or the experiences that Vinayak and Gandhi had at the latter’s short stay at India House, Harindra Srivastava quotes an anecdote narrated to him by an eyewitness, Pandit Parmanandaji of Jhansi, a veteran freedom fighter. Vinayak was busy cooking his meal when Gandhi joined him to engage in a political discussion. Cutting him short, Vinayak asked him to first eat a meal with them. Gandhi was horrified to see the Chitpawan Brahmin cooking prawns, and being a staunch vegetarian refused to partake. Vinayak had apparently mocked him and retorted: ‘Well, if you cannot eat with us, how on earth are you going to work with us? Moreover . . . this is just boiled fish . . . while we want people who are ready to eat the British alive.’ 53 This was obviously not a great first meeting and their differences only widened with time.

The history of the Sikhs also intrigued Vinayak. He learnt the Gurumukhi script and read almost all Sikh religious books and original writings, including the Adi Granth , the Panth Prakash , the Surya Prakash , Vichitra Natak and other works by the revered gurus of the Sikh pantheon. He distilled these writings and issued several pamphlets including a famous ‘Khalsa’ series that created quite an impact on the Sikhs both within and outside India, arousing a sense of nationalism in them. He also issued a pamphlet under the series, with a clarion call to the Sikhs to abandon the British Indian Army, or at the very least assist the Indian freedom struggle. Sikhs made up an important 20 per cent of the Indian Army in the early part of the twentieth century. Appealing to their sentiments through the name of the army, the Khalsa, that their tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh, had formed to fight the Mughals, was thus an important strategy. The British government sought an urgent interception and ban on the pamphlets under the India Post Act.54

Scotland Yard wired messages to inform the Criminal Intelligence Department in India that a considerable number of pamphlets had been posted to India to be carried in native newspapers.

Soon after completing Mazzini’s biography, Vinayak was keen on writing about the Indian uprising of 1857. It was the first widespread revolutionary movement across most of British India that shook the foundations of the East India Company. The helpful India House manager, Mr Mukherjee, brought him a book, The History of the Indian Mutiny by Sir John William Kaye. Much to his disappointment, Vinayak found that there was hardly any detailed mention of the various tumultuous events of 1857 or its protagonists such as Mangal Pandey, Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi, Nana Saheb, Tatya Tope, Maulvi Ahmed Shah or Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar. Later, he realized that like Mazzini’s writings this too was a six-volume epic that combined Kaye’s History of the Sepoy War in India with the writings of Colonel George Malleson to produce this elaborate treatise in 1890. The vindictive nature of the accounts documented from a British viewpoint was obviously offensive to Vinayak.

He decided to research the story himself and sought Mukherjee’s help. The latter took him to the India Office that controlled the affairs of India from London, which had a library with exhaustive resources, private papers and correspondences. 55 The library was located inside the office of the Secretary of State for India and needed special permission for entry and access. Through Mukherjee’s contacts, Vinayak managed to get a reader pass to the library. He humoured the librarian who loved to shower invectives against the treacherous Indian sepoys for their massacres of 1857 to gain his confidence and get as many secret files as possible. His research carried on for months. He read the works on 1857 of several British historians, army generals and scholars such as Sir Edwin Arnold, Dr Alexander Duff, Sir James Hope Grant, Meadows Taylor, Sir George Travelyan and others. 56 Vinayak noted that all the sources of his book were based on the works of English authors, for whom ‘it must have been impossible to paint the account of the other side as elaborately and as faithfully as they have done their own’.57

Even as the research for this book was under way, a new development was taking place in London. The first day of May was commemorated in Britain as a day of thanksgiving for the sacrifices of the British soldiers and officers who were martyred in the 1857 ‘mutiny’. In 1907, this day held an added significance, as it was the Golden Jubilee year. Leading London newspapers carried prominent headlines to mark this occasion. The Daily Telegraph flashed its headline on 6 May 1907: ‘Fifty Years ago, this week, an Empire saved by deeds of heroism.’ Plays, lectures, editorials and articles were organized and written by the British that portrayed the Indian mutineers as marauders and ruffians. Memoirs and reminiscences of some of the survivors or the kith and kin of those killed in India in 1857 were published. Services were held at various churches and public places. A big congregation at Christ Church on London’s Victoria Street recalled the ‘martyrdom’ of the founder of the Delhi Mission, Reverend Midgley John Jennings. Since it was presided over by the master of Trinity College of Cambridge, the Reverend Dr Butler, a resolution was passed that ‘Cambridge amid so many appeals to intellectual ambition, so many temptations to ignore the spiritual and unseen, might never forget what one owed to Jesus Christ, nor neglect his “other sheep” who were not of the Christian or European fold’.58

There were also reassurances given on behalf of several British officials that the ‘mutiny’ was merely an aberration and such a disaster would never recur. None less than Sir Henry Cotton, one of the pioneering members of the INC and president of its 1904 Bombay Session said:

There is no real danger of any general outbreak consequent on the present unrest in India. The people of India are disarmed, and it is needless to add that there is no organization amongst them, which could lead to any such general uprising. The 1857 Mutiny was only a mutiny of Sepoys who were armed. We have now only a very small number of Sepoys and a very large number of British troops. There is thus not the smallest reason for any panic. But there is every reason for a wise and careful inquiry into all the circumstances, which have led to the unrest, and the mere fact of that inquiry being undertaken would have a most beneficial effect.59


The youngsters at India House were witnessing all these happenings in and around London and were unwilling to take this lying down. Under Vinayak’s leadership they decided to put up a grand counter-celebration to honour the Indian martyrs of 1857. It is noteworthy that no political party or groups back in India organized any commemoration of such an important milestone of the nation’s past and the task was left to a few young students in distant London. India House was grandly decorated with festoons, bouquets, flowers and arches. Portraits of the heroes and heroines of 1857 were hung on stage. The invitation to the event is published in Mukund Sonpatki’s book Daryapar : ‘Under the auspices of the Free India League it is decided to commemorate the golden jubilee of the patriotic rising of 1857. The meeting is to be held on Saturday, 11th of May, the day of the declaration of Independence.’60

More than 200 people attended the event at India House, even as a parallel event was also held at Shyamji’s brother-in-law Nitin Sen Dwarkadas’s house (known as Tilak House) in Acton. In a stirring speech evocatively titled ‘O! Martyrs!’, Vinayak asserted that one should stop calling the 1857 episode a ‘mutiny’ or ‘uprising’, and instead use the nomenclature ‘First War of Indian Independence’. It was a rehearsal of sorts for a permanent war in India that would not rest till it witnessed a complete overthrow of the Empire. He roared:

Today is the 10th of May! It was on this day that, in the ever memorable year of 1857, the first campaign of the War of Independence was opened by you, Oh Martyrs, on the battlefield of India . . . all honour be to you, Oh Martyrs; for it was for the preservation of the honour of the race that you performed the fiery ordeal of a revolution . . . this day . . . we dedicate, Oh Martyrs, to your inspiring memory! It was on this day that you raised a new flag to be upheld, you uttered a mission to be fulfilled, you saw a mission to be realized . . . We take up your cry, we revere your flag, we are determined to continue that fiery mission of ‘away with the foreigner’, which you uttered, amidst the prophetic thunderings of the Revolutionary war. Revolutionary, yes, it was a Revolutionary war . . . No, a revolutionary war knows no truce, save liberty or death! Indians, these words must be fulfilled! Your blood, oh Martyrs, shall be avenged! . . . For the War of 1857 shall not cease till the revolution arrives, striking slavery into dust, elevating liberty to the throne. Whenever a people arises for its freedom, whenever that seed of liberty gets germinated in the blood of its fathers, whenever there remains at least one true son to avenge that blood of his fathers, there never can be an end to such a war as this.61


Vinayak designed small medallions with the words ‘In Memory of the Martyrs of 1857’ and ‘Bande Mataram’ displayed prominently, which had to be worn by all the Indian students of India House. Harnam Singh and another student at Cirencester, Rafiq Mohamed of Nabha, wore these medallions to college. The horrified professors ordered them to remove them. This led to a confrontation between Harnam and the principal of the college—something that was picked up by the London newspapers and subsequently the India Office. Harnam was expelled from college but he was feted with a hero’s welcome when he came to London to visit his comrades at India House. Rafiq Mohamed too faced expulsion and several others lost their scholarships. Mohamed, however, apologized to the principal, was re-enrolled and struck off the surveillance list by the India Office.62

As news of the India House celebrations and Vinayak’s speeches started appearing in newspapers, the intelligence agencies of Scotland Yard became extra cautious. A few pages of Vinayank’s manuscript on 1857 were smuggled out through a treacherous mole planted by the agencies at India House. Vinayak’s reader pass was cancelled and his entry into the library was subsequently debarred. But luckily for Vinayak most of the research for the book had already been completed by then. A few references to the quotations needed to be cross-verified. V.V.S. Aiyar was given the task and he managed to complete it successfully.

The title of Vinayak’s book, The Indian War of Independence of 1857 (the Marathi title was Atharashe Sattavanche Swatantra Samar ), was captivating because it gave status to the historical event hitherto despised as a ‘mutiny’. Vinayak says that he began his journey with the investigative mind of a historian, scanning all the documents of that era only to find to his utter surprise the brilliance of a war of independence shining in the mutiny of 1857. Quite dramatically, he states: ‘. . . the spirits of the dead seemed hallowed by martyrdom, and out of the heap of ashes sprung forth the sparks of a glorious inspiration.’ 63 In the introductory chapter, Vinayak focuses on the principles of great religious and political revolutions, such as in France or Holland. But to clarify the point with regard to the Indian context, he writes:

Every revolution must have a fundamental principle . . . A revolutionary movement cannot be based on a flimsy and momentary grievance. It is always due to some all-moving principle for which hundreds and thousands of men fight . . . The moving spirits of revolutions are deemed holy or unholy in proportion as the principle underlying them is beneficial or wicked . . . In history, the deeds of an individual or nation are judged by the character of the motive . . . To write a full history of a revolution means necessarily the tracing of all the events of that revolution back to their source—the motive.64


Vinayak argued that the general historiography of 1857, largely written by Western scholars, failed to acknowledge or appreciate the true reason for its outbreak. Most historians had also adopted methodologies that neglected ‘native’ voices. According to Vinayak, the common attribution to the greased cartridges layered with the lard of beef and pork was too simplistic. To keep harping on these ‘temporary’ or ‘accidental’ causes of the war was to completely ignore the ‘real spirit’ of the revolution. He writes about the English historians:

Some of them have not made any attempt beyond merely describing the events, but most of them have written the history in a wicked and partial spirit. Their prejudiced eye could not or would not see the root principle of that Revolution. Is it possible, can any sane man maintain, that that all-embracing Revolution could have taken place without a principle to move it? Could that vast tidal wave from Peshawar to Calcutta have risen in flood without a fixed intention of drowning something by means of its force? Could it be possible that the sieges of Delhi, the massacres of Cawnpore, the banner of the Empire, heroes dying for it, could it ever be possible that such noble and inspiring deeds have happened without a noble and inspiring end? Even a small village market does not take place without an end, a motive; how, then, can we believe that that great market opened and closed without any purpose—the great market whose shops were on every battle field from Peshawar to Calcutta, where kingdoms and empires were being exchanged, and where the only current coin was blood?65


The two cornerstones for the war, he postulated, were swaraj and swadharma—love for one’s country and one’s religion. These were the guiding principles for all revolution, in India or elsewhere. He quotes the proclamations of the Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar exhorting fellow Hindus and Muslims alike to arise and fight to protect their lands and faith. Vinayak traces the same trajectory for revolutions elsewhere, including the one in Italy under Mazzini. His conceptualization of revolution and its causes is thus at variance with the general Marxist hypothesis.

Having thus laid out his thesis on the principles guiding a revolution, Vinayak forcefully argues that the histories of revolutionary wars need to be written as part of a nation’s strategy. His book was an attempt to do precisely that and present a correct analysis of the ‘war’, not a ‘mutiny’. He repeatedly mentions that the motive behind writing the book was to instil a burning desire among his countrymen to wage a well-planned armed struggle against foreign rule. He expected this historical account to also place before the revolutionaries an outline of a programme, plan of action and organization to achieve that end. There are delightful and dramatic pen pictures and anecdotes of Lakshmi Bai, Nana Saheb, Tatya Tope, Bahadur Shah Zafar, Mangal Pandey, Maulvi Ahmed Shah, Kumar Singh, Rana Amar Singh, Begum Hazrat Mahal and others. From Delhi, Ayodhya, Kanpur, Bihar and Jhansi to Benares, Rohilkhand, Allahabad, Meerut, Aligarh, Lucknow and Oudh, the narrative traverses the entire spread of the revolution. The book is rich in historical details, citation of sources and has a narrative flourish to it. He credits the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar for providing the movement a symbolic leadership and that it was in the Diwan-i-Khas (Hall of Private Audiences at the Red Fort) of Delhi that the seeds of revolution began to take root. Sympathizing with the Mughal plight, he writes:

The English had not stopped at merely taking away the Padshahi of the Padshah of Delhi, but had recently decided even to take away the title of Padshah from the descendants of Babar. The Emperor, though reduced to such an extremity, and Zinat Mahal, the beloved, clever, and determined Begum of the Emperor, had already decided that this last opportunity of regaining the lost glory should not be allowed to go by, and if dying was the only resource, then they should die the death which would only befit an Emperor and an Empress.66


Agreeing with Nana Saheb’s belief, Vinayak also suggests that the 1857 movement was one that brought Hindus and Muslims together; that Hindustan was ‘thereafter the united nation of the adherents of Islam as well as Hinduism’. 67 The animosity between the two communities, he explains, was necessitated in the past when the Muslims were aggressive invaders and rulers and the Hindus the submissive ruled. But now, both of them had a common enemy in the British who threatened both their regime and religion. Hence that antagonism of the past was buried and common cause was made. Thus, to protect their respective swadharmas and swaraj, it was necessary for Hindus and Muslims to join hands. Elaborating on this point, he states:

As long as the Mahomedans lived in India in the capacity of the alien rulers, so long to be willing to live with them like brothers was to acknowledge national weakness. Hence it was, up to then, necessary for the Hindus to consider the Mahomedans as foreigners. And moreover this rulership of the Mahomedans, Guru Govind in the Panjab, Rana Pratap in Rajputana, Chhatrasal in Bundelkhand, and the Maharattas by even sitting upon the throne at Delhi, had destroyed; and, after a struggle of centuries, Hindu sovereignty had defeated the rulership of the Mahomedans and had come to its own all over India. It was no national shame to join hands with Mahomedans then, but it would, on the contrary, be an act of generosity. So, now, the original antagonism between the Hindus and the Mahomedans might be consigned to the past. Their present relation was one not of rulers and ruled, foreigner and native, but simply that of brothers with the one difference between them of religion alone. For, they were both children of the soil of Hindusthan. Their names were different, but they were all children of the same Mother; India therefore being the common mother of these two, they were brothers by blood. Nana Sahib, Bahadur Shah of Delhi, Moulvi Ahmad Shah, Khan Bahadur Khan, and other leaders of 1857 felt this relationship to some extent and, so, gathered round the flag of Swadesh leaving aside their enmity, now so unreasonable and stupid. In short, the broad feature of the policy of Nana Sahib and Azimullah were that the Hindus and the Mahomedans should unite and fight shoulder to shoulder for the independence of their country and that, when freedom was gained, the United States of India should be formed under the Indian rulers and princes.68


He even praised the spirit of ‘jehad’ that ‘the great and saintly’ Maulvi Ahmed Shah had so cleverly woven through every corner of Lucknow and Agra. Delhi was liberated on 11 May 1857 and by 16 May all remnants of British rule were erased, and Zafar was declared the emperor of India. Celebrating this momentous episode, Vinayak writes: ‘The five days during which Hindus and Mahomedans proclaimed that India was their country and they were all brethren, the days when Hindus and Mahomedans unanimously raised the flag of national freedom at Delhi. Be those grand days ever memorable in the history of Hindusthan.’69

He emphasized how the event had helped unite Indians against all divisions of caste, creed, religion and region. It was this unity and sense of national identity that he wanted to tap into and mobilize yet again for a unified struggle against British tyranny.

Not one individual, not one class, alone had been moved deeply by seeing the sufferings of their country. Hindu and Mahomedan, Brahmin and Sudra, Kshatriya and Vaishya, prince and pauper, men and women, Pandits and Moulvies, sepoys and the police, townsmen and villagers, merchants and farmers—men of different religions, men of different castes, people following widely different professions—not able any longer to bear the sight of the persecution of the Mother, brought about the avenging Revolution in an incredibly short time.70


The book ends on a note of both poignancy and optimism in which he describes a scene in the Delhi Durbar of the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar:

During the heat of the Revolution he (Zafar) composed a Ghazal. Someone asked him:

Dumdumay mein dam nahin khair maango jaanki
Ai Zafar thandi hui shamsher Hindusthanki.

(Now that, every moment, you are becoming weaker
pray for your life [to the English]
for, Oh! Emperor, the sword of India is now broken forever!)

The Emperor replied:

Ghazion mein bu rahegi jab talak iman ki
Tab toh London tak chalegi teg Hindustan ki.

(As long as there remains the least trace of love of faith in the hearts of our heroes
so long, the sword of Hindustan shall remain sharp
and one day shall flash even at the gates of London.)71


For Vinayak the historical legacy of India was an important aspect of all his writings. History was a tool that served to propagate a particular reading, and evocation, of Indian national identity from time immemorial. He hoped that a historically enlightened Indian would identify with a sense of national pride and move forward, just as the revolutionaries in America (1776), France (1789) and Italy (1848–49) had done.

Just like the Mazzini biography, this book too had a tortuous route to publication and sale. The journey of the book towards its publication is as fascinating as its contents and the research that went into it. In fact, it created a literary history of sorts by being the first book to be proscribed even before it was published. By 1907, the British government had enough suspicions about the activities at India House and had planted several moles there to get regular feedback. As mentioned earlier, a few chapters of Vinayak’s book on 1857, which were in Marathi, were found missing from the House. They found their way to the British Intelligence Headquarters at Scotland Yard. Yet Vinayak and his associates in Abhinav Bharat managed to smuggle the manuscript out of London and dispatched it to India, foiling the strict customs vigilance at Indian ports.

Babarao tried his best to find a printer, but no one dared to take the risk. Mr Limaye of Solapur, editor of the weekly Swaraj, agreed to print it. But the authorities got wind of it and with the threat of an impending raid looming large, Limaye backed out. Simultaneous raids took place at several prominent printing houses across Maharashtra. Finding it impossible to get the book printed in India, Babarao sent the manuscript to Paris. Here too, as Vinayak noted, ‘the French detectives were working hand in hand with the British Police to suppress the . . . revolutionary activities in France; and under their threat even a French printer could not be found ready to run the risk of printing this history’.72

Thereafter, it was decided that the book should be printed in Germany. Since Germany was a seat of Indology and Sanskrit learning, it might have the Devanagari script. However, the compositors there were totally ignorant about Marathi and did a shoddy job. In London, a few Abhinav Bharat members—Koregaonkar, Phadke and Kunte—decided to translate the book into English, under the supervision of V.V.S. Aiyar, to enable a wider readership. Once again, they tried to publish the translated version and the original in France and Germany but met with little success as both countries did not want to offend Britain. The German publisher showed the manuscript to his lawyer who warned him that his ‘business would be ruined if the firm is known to undertake such works’. 73 Finally, the manuscripts made their way to Holland where a printing press was convinced to publish it. The revolutionaries spread rumours that the book was being printed in France in order to hoodwink and distract the British intelligence and police. The book was finally printed and was ready for distribution.

The British intelligence carried reports about the book, and the viceroy, Lord Minto, sent back a terse message on 14 December 1908: ‘I hope we can stop Savarkar’s book on the Mutiny from entering India.’ 74 Accordingly, J.C. Ker, personal assistant to the director of criminal intelligence, noted that to prevent the import of the book they would need to use Section 19 of the Sea Customs Act, 75 given it was a ‘most objectionable book’. However, he advised caution that it would be unsafe to publicly notify it as such, prior to examining the title, contents and the tone of the book through a proof copy that could be procured. 76 An alternative route of using the Post Office Act was also considered but vetoed by C.J. Stevenson-Moore, the officiating director of criminal intelligence.

The British newspapers carried reports of the proscription of the book and ban on its sale in British India. The Homeward Mail from India, China and The East dated 9 August 1909 and the Times, dated 11 August 1909, reported:

The mail from India brings the following notification issued at Simla on July 23—‘In exercise of the power conferred by Section 19 of the Sea Customs Act 1878 (viii of 1878), the Governor-in-Council is pleased to prohibit the bringing by sea or by land into British India of any copy of the book or pamphlet in Marathi on the subject of the Indian Mutiny by Vinayek Damodar Sarvarkar or any English translation or version of the same.77


Vinayak wrote a spirited letter challenging the proscription. This was published in The London Times:

It is admitted by the authorities that they were not sure whether the manuscript had gone to print. If that is so, how does the government know that the book is going to be so dangerously seditious as to get it proscribed before its publication, or even before it was printed? The government either possesses a copy of the manuscript or does not. If they have a copy, then why did they not prosecute me for sedition as that would have been the only course legitimately left to them? On the contrary, if they have no copy of the manuscript how could they be so cocksure of the seditious nature of a book of which they do not know anything beyond some vague, partial, and unauthenticated reports?78


On 17 September 1909, Vinayak wrote in the Kal:

My attention has been drawn to the orders issued by the Government of India under the Customs Act, prohibiting the entry of a History of the Indian Mutiny alleged to be written by me, into India. It may be legal to suppress a book even before it is published. But certainly it can never be just. The Governor-General of India has mentioned my name in this connection without any inquiry and thereby laid himself open to censure. If the evidence in the hands of Government was reliable, they should have informed me of the charge and heard me. If the proper evidence was not forthcoming, it was the moral duty of Government to ask me to enter on my defense before condemning me. But it appears that Government are pleased to attack me unawares. Under such circumstances, I can declare that I have no connection with any book of such a nature as is indicated in the orders of the Government of India.79


The revolutionaries of Abhinav Bharat however found ingenious ways of having the book smuggled to India. Copies were wrapped in artistic covers printed with innocuous and bogus names such as ‘The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club’, 80 ‘Scott’s Works’ and ‘Don Quixote’. Boxes with false labels were used and one such box was smuggled into India by Sikandar Hayat Khan. However, since there was no ban on its sale in England, books were secretly sold and distributed at several places. The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and the India Office Library (IOL) hold copies of the first edition. Madame Bhikaji Cama, who was in Paris, made copies available at a price of 10 shillings. She also got a second edition published in France. Vinayak had given her the original Marathi manuscript for safekeeping, which she had deposited in a bank locker in Paris. However, it was generally believed that during the First World War, the bank was destroyed and with it, the manuscript. It was only in 1947 that Savarkar received a letter from one Ramlal Bajpayee in America stating that the original was safe with his friend D.D.S. Kutinho in London, and two years later he managed to get the copy back through one Dr Gohokar of America. 81 A third edition was published by Lala Har Dayal and the Ghadr Party in America. Copies were sold in New York at $2 for a hardback and $1.50 for paperback versions.

A few decades later, the great Indian revolutionary Bhagat Singh had the fourth edition of the book secretly published in India. 82 There are references of how Bhagat Singh was deeply influenced by a small English biography of Savarkar that he read in the Dwarkadas Library of Lahore. 83 Copies of the book were found during raids conducted on all the members of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA) who were accused in the Lahore Conspiracy Case (1928–31), including Bhagat Singh. This fact is bolstered by a first-person account given by Durga Das Khanna in an interview in 1976.84

Khanna was the former chairman of the Punjab Legislative Council in independent India but in his younger days he had been a revolutionary. He recalls his first meetings with Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev Thapar, the Punjab revolutionaries who had formed the HSRA in the 1920s. During their recruitment drive for the organization they had met Khanna, spoken to him about politics and a wide range of issues to gauge his political orientation, and they had also recommended several books. These included Nikolai Bukharin and Evgenii Preobrazhensky’s The ABC of Communism (1920), Daniel Breen’s My Fight for Irish Freedom (1924), and Chitragupta’s Life of Barrister Savarkar. It hence becomes clear that Bhagat Singh and his associates expected new recruits to the HSRA to not only read about the Russian Revolution and the Irish Republican Army, but also Vinayak Damodar Savarkar’s life story.

A decade later, in the 1940s, the other major national heroes, Rash Behari Bose and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, also got an edition of The Indian War of Independence of 1857 printed in Japan. A Tamil edition of the book, edited by Jayamani Subrahmanyam, one of the publicity officers of Netaji’s Indian National Army (INA), was also discovered in tatters in one of the raids.

Thus, for almost three-and-a-half-decades the book served as a veritable Bible for all revolutionaries. Through the book, Vinayak managed to draw a lineage of revolutionaries starting from its roots in the 1857 war till the time of India’s independence, positing himself at the centre as one of its important intellectual fountainheads. Subbarao, editor of Gosthi, notes about the book:

The British Raj in India has treated Savarkar’s book as most dangerous for their existence here. So it has been banned. But it has been read by millions of our countrymen including my humble self. In trying to elevate the events of 1857, which interested historians and administrators had not hesitated to call for decades as an ‘Indian Mutiny’, to its right pose of Indian War of Independence, albeit a foiled attempt at that, it is not a work of patriotic alchemist turning base mutineering into noble revolutionary action. Even in these days, what would the efforts of Subhas Bose’s Azad Hind Fouj be called if Savarkar’s alchemy had not intervened? True, both the 1857 and 1943 ‘wars’ have ended in failure for our country. But the motive behind—was it mere mutineering or War of Independence? If Savarkar had not intervened between 1857 and 1943, I am sure that the recent efforts of the Indian National Army would have been again dubbed as an ignoble mutiny effectively crushed by the valiant British-cum-Congress arms and armlessness. But thanks to Savarkar’s book, Indian sense of a ‘mutiny’ has been itself revolutionized. Not even Lord Wavell, I suppose can now call Bose’s efforts as a mutiny. The chief credit for the change of values must go to Savarkar, and to him alone. But the greatest value of Savarkar’s book lies in its gift to the nation of that Torch of Freedom in whose light a humble I and a thousand other Indians have our dear daughters named after Laxmi Bai, the Rani of Jhansi. Even Netaji Bose in a fateful hour had to form an army of corps after Rani of Jhansi. But for Savarkar’s discovery of that valiant heroine, Rani of Jhansi should have been a long-forgotten ‘mutineer’ of the nineteenth-century.85
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Re: Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past by Vikram Sampath

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Part 1 of 3

5 And the Storm Breaks

London, 1907

The commemoration of the martyrs of 1857, speeches at India House and the articles in the Indian Sociologist brought Shyamji and his boarding house under the surveillance and attack of the British government and press. On 9 May 1907, as news came in about Lala Lajpat Rai and Sardar Ajit Singh’s deportation, without trial, to prison in Mandalay, Burma, for alleged sedition, a wave of indignation swept through Indians in London. The Indian Sociologist carried several articles and letters from leaders such as Dadabhai Naoroji, Bhikaji Cama and others condemning this act. Shyamji wrote in the June 1907 editorial:

To us personally the sudden disappearance of Lala Lajpat Rai from the field of operations in India under such painful circumstances has given a shock, which we cannot describe in words. On almost the very day of his arrest we received a highly pathetic letter from him imploring us to do all in our power to bring the ‘Panjabee’ case to the notice of the British Public and Foreign Press. Little did he think when he penned that letter that in less than three weeks he would be arrested and deported under a cruel and oppressive regulation of the so-called civilized Government of India.1


Thereafter, a public meeting of Indians was held at India House on 7 June 1909. Presiding over it, Shyamji passed a public resolution condemning the unjust deportation by a ‘tyrannical and oppressive alien Government of India’. 2 In the course of his speech, Shyamji remarked: ‘We, representing the advanced section of the Indian people, absolutely deny the right of the British to remain any longer in India, and are prepared to achieve Indian Independence at all risks.’ He declared that all Indians serving the British government must be treated with suspicion and that they could not trust British promises any longer.3

A litany of abusive articles by several eminent British gentlemen began appearing in newspapers after this. F.F. Skirme, a retired ICS officer, denounced the activities of India House and Shyamji, saying that several young fellows coming to England for studies ‘have been ruined by these scoundrels’, 4 who have plenty of money and assist their young compatriots in finding tuition and lodgings. Sir Evan James, KCIE, wrote in an article titled ‘Ambition and Sedition in India’, in the June issue of the National Review:

Curiously enough, even in England exists an ardent Indian rebel, a Mr. Shyamaji Krishnavarma, President of the Indian Home Rule Society, numbering 150 members, whose influence over the young Indians who come to England for legal or other education can scarcely be very good from the British Government’s point of view . . . That the desirability of ousting the English from India is being widely taught is a fact . . . if once the tolerant millions are fully imbued with hatred of the British, our rule has gone. Our Army may be strong, but it will be impossible to hold hundreds of millions in check if they are determined to get rid of us . . . the perambulation of political missionaries should be stopped and the prosecution of seditious speeches and articles in the Press revived . . . we might give India autonomy, but it must be complete, as we cannot leave our white troops to be used as mercenaries by native rulers.5


In response, Shyamji wrote that he considered it an honour to be called an ‘ardent Indian rebel’ for advising his countrymen to shake off an ‘oppressive foreign yoke’. 6 The issue regarding India House and Shyamji even reached the British parliament where Mr Rees, a member of the House of Commons, questioned the Secretary of State, Lord John Morley, if he was aware of the speeches, the tone and tenor of the editorials of the Indian Sociologist , and the comment of considering it an ‘honour to be an ardent Indian rebel’. He was also asked if the government was aware of ‘the boarding house to which young Indians are attracted for the purpose of perversion’ on their arrival in England. 7 He also urged the government to prosecute Shyamji to ‘his ultimate expulsion as an undesirable alien who endeavoured to debauch the loyal subjects of His Majesty’. 8 Morley brushed away the question. But the London press was captivated by the subject. The Daily Telegraph had a heading ‘Debauching the King’s Subjects’ 9 while the Standard screamed: ‘British Rule Defied: Occupation of England by India Suggested’.10 The Globe went further:

Mr Rees will ask Mr Morley in the House today whether a gentleman of the name of Shyamji Krishnavarma may receive it in the neck for sedition. He edits in London a paper called The Indian Sociologist , and it is fearfully bitter. In fact its subscribers say that if it would only start a good limerick competition as well, it would shake London to its core.11


An article in the Indian Sociologist in July 1907 titled ‘British Financial Jugglery in India: Beware of Indian Rupee Promissory Notes’ warning potential investors against placing their money in Indian securities further raised British hackles. 12 In July 1907, under Section 26 of the Post Office Act (1898), the Government of India intercepted copies of the Indian Sociologist sent to British India. Along with the Indian Sociologist , a ban was imposed on the import of newspapers, for example, the newsletter Justice of H.M. Hyndman and the Gaelic American , given their revolutionary content.13

Shyamji realized that it would be impossible for him to continue his work in this hostile situation in London. The breaking point came when O’Brien, a detective from Scotland Yard, arrived to India House posing as an Irish sympathizer and a staffer of the Gaelic American . He had attended meetings of India House as a spy from early 1907 itself. On this occasion, he solicited Shyamji for an interview in such a clumsy manner

that it alerted the latter. Shyamji thereafter decided to leave Britain for good and move to Paris in September 1907. 14 The October 1907 edition of the Indian Sociologist mentions this change of address to: 10 Avenue Ingres, Passy, Paris. By 1909, there were nearly 250 politically active Indians in Paris.15

It is worthwhile examining why western Europe was fast emerging as a nerve centre of activities of several anti-colonialists. Many of them, like Ho Chi Minh and Jomo Kenyatta (and men like Gandhi and Vinayak), would become leaders of independence in their own home countries. Compared to the autocratically ruled colonies, more liberal laws were in place in these metropoles. Anti-colonialists were thus able to make use of this to protect themselves from persecution by the colonial governments back home. They could take advantage of the fact that European empires did not constitute unified legal spaces. This means that the laws that existed in Europe were entirely different from those in the colonies. The anti-colonialists were thus free here to carry on their political work without the threats of immediate imprisonment or accusations of sedition being slapped on them. In France, publication of material considered antiBritish was easy as there were no legally binding restrictions. The Russian revolutionaries too were successfully evading government surveillance and printing their pamphlets in Switzerland. 16 Continental Europe was also considered a safe place to learn how to manufacture bombs and explosives. As an officer noted in his official report of 6 December 1910 that Miss Perin Naoroji, granddaughter of Dadabhai Naoroji, ‘with one or two others, was recently receiving instructions in the manufacture of bombs from a Polish engineer named Bronjesky in a private flat in Paris’. 17 Additionally, weapons could also be purchased and smuggled back to India from these countries. Innovative methods were used to achieve this end. For instance, Virendranath Chattopadhyay and Madame Cama sent revolvers to India in 1910, by concealing them in toys ‘forwarded ostensibly as Christmas presents’.18

Anti-colonialists moved from Britain to France prior to the First World War, and after that from France to Germany or Switzerland in the interwar period. This transnational dimension of anti-colonial activity contributed significantly to the extension of colonial surveillance institutions across countries and continents in the early decades of the twentieth century. Anti-colonialists created alliances with local liberation movements, white politicians, writers, intellectuals and the press in order to amplify their views to a larger global audience. They succeeded in tapping the strong nationalistic sentiments and the fascination with justice, liberty and democracy that existed in different European countries.

With Shyamji’s exit from London, the responsibility of the management of India House fell on Vinayak. He decided to concentrate largely on foreign propaganda—showcase the cause of India’s liberation in countries outside England and enlist their support. The Irish press came out in open support and regularly carried his articles. The Gaelic American of New York and its editor, G.F. Freeman, also became a willing partner in Vinayak’s efforts. His articles were soon translated in French, German, Portuguese, Italian and Russian newspapers and, thereby, managed to thrust India’s politics on to the world stage.

A diehard supporter of Shyamji and Vinayak, and an avowed communist, Guy A. Aldred, brought an important Russian revolutionary to India House for an interview with Vinayak in mid-March 1909. Madan Lal Dhingra too was part of these meetings. The revolutionary was none other than Vladimir Ilich Lenin. What transpired between them is unknown and even Vinayak concealed these details till almost 1937.

Under Vinayak, the atmosphere at India House was completely transformed. The London press began to call it ‘The House of Mystery’ as one did not know what transpired behind its seemingly innocent high walls. A young Irish revolutionary, David Garnett, who was living in London, and had visited India House several times before, notes its atmosphere during a visit in 1909:

At my entrance there was some surprise. Nanu (Niranjan Pal) came forward and welcomed me and stopped a young man, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, and introduced me to him. He was small, slight in build, with broad cheekbones, a sensitive refined mouth and an extremely pale skin which was almost as pale as ivory on the forehead and cheekbones, but darker in the hollows. Soon after my arrival we trooped into the dining room and Savarkar, after addressing the company in Hindi, stood up and began to read aloud. I looked at Savarkar and thought that his was the most sensitive face in the room . . . the sight of those brown men, some sitting round a long table, others leaning against the walls, all listening intently to the staccato voice of the speaker, was very strange to me . . . I listened attentively and made out that he was reading about a battle in which an Indian General called Tatia Tope had been defeated by English troops and Sikhs. Savarkar was, although I did not know it, reading aloud a chapter from his extremely propagandist history of the Indian Mutiny called The Indian War of Independence of 1857 . . . when he had finished his chapter, the greater part of the audience went into an adjoining room and someone put a record of Indian music on the gramophone. It was ‘Vande Mataram ’.19


The ‘seditious activities’ and pamphlets of India House became a constant feature in the London press towards the end of the decade and also a topic for discussion in the British parliament. Campbell Green wrote in the Sunday Chronicle dated 14 March 1909:

India House looks pretty much like a hostel or a lodging house for students. That is the truth. The point of moment is—is it the whole truth or nothing but the truth? Those who profess to know, not only in London but in Calcutta and Bombay, will tell you that it is not the whole truth; that in fact it is far from the whole truth!20


Around the same time that Vinayak took over the leadership of India House, news emerged that the International Socialist Congress was going to be held at Stuttgart in Germany from 18 to 24 August 1907. Nearly 900 delegates from across the world were expected to participate and discuss matters related to colonialism, militarism, immigration and women’s suffrage. It was organized by socialist and labour parties in Europe. This was too big a platform to let go for Vinayak and his associates. They hoped to enlist the support of the powerful working-class movements and other socialist parties from across the world; more so when colonialism was listed as a topic of discussion. It was decided that Madame Bhikaji Cama and Sardar Singh Rana would attend the Congress as Indian delegates. Vinayak designed what was to become one of the earliest flags conceptualized for free India. 21 It had three horizontal stripes of equal width, each of three colours—‘green (the sacred colour of Muslims), the centre band was saffron (the sacred colour of the Buddhists and Sikhs) and the lower stripe being Hindu red’. 22 In the centre, Vande Mataram , or Salutations to the Motherland, was embroidered on a golden band. The top section had eight stars in a row, the middle had the sun on the left and the moon on the right. These symbolized the different faiths and provinces of India.

Speaking about this flag on the occasion of its anniversary celebrations in 1937 in Poona, Vinayak said: ‘When we designed this national flag, we had many flags of different nations in view. On the USA flag a bunch of stars is depicted. Each star represents one state of the United States of America. Abhinava Bharat Society was founded by a band of young Indian patriots. The green colour on the flag suggests this sense. Saffron is the colour of glory and victory. Red colour implies strength.’23

The British Labour leader, James Ramsay Macdonald, who later went on to become the prime minister, tried his best to scuttle the invitation to Madame Cama and Rana as delegates. But the Indians were supported by Marxist labour leaders such as French socialist leader Jean Jaurès, German leaders August Bebel, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, and the British representative of the Social Democratic Federation, H.M. Hyndman. In fact, in his speech there, Hyndman made a passionate plea for Indian freedom:

India was conquered for the Empire not by the English themselves but by Indians under the English and by taking advantage of Indian disputes . . . if civilization is to be gauged by the standard of science, art, architecture, industry, medicine, laws, philosophy and religion, then the great state of India at that period was well worthy of comparison with the most enlightened and cultured parts of Europe, and no European monarch could be reckoned in any way superior to Akbar, Shah Jahan, Aurangzeb or Shivaji; while it would be hard to name any European Minister of Finance equal to the Hindu Rajahs: Todar Mal and Nana Furnavis.24


Madame Bhikaji Cama made history at the Congress by proudly unfurling the Indian flag of independence on 18 August 1907, overcoming all odds and opposition. She thundered with pride, amid a protest walkout by Ramsay Macdonald:

This flag is of Indian independence. Behold, it is born. It is already sanctified by the blood of martyred Indian youth. I call upon you, gentlemen, to rise and salute the flag of Indian independence. In the name of this flag I appeal to lovers of freedom all over the world to cooperate with this flag in freeing one-fifth of the human race.25


Moving a resolution in English, she went on to add:

The continuance of British rule is positively disastrous and extremely injurious to the best interests of Indians. Lovers of freedom all over the world ought to cooperate in freeing from slavery the one-fifth of human race inhabiting the oppressed country, since the perfect social state demands that no people shall be subject to any despotic or tyrannical form of Government. This Congress calls upon the socialist members of the Parliament to urge the government to give self-government to the Indian people . . . you are discussing colonies all the time, but what about dependencies? Take up the cause of justice and make it a point to bring India to the front at every Socialist Congress.26


Madame Cama’s speech was widely appreciated by the delegates and she was hailed as India’s Joan of Arc. Several Independent Labour Party delegates stoutly opposed the resolution being brought to the Congress. Anglophile Miss Mchillan strongly upheld the view that British rule was greatly beneficial and necessary for Indians. However, Hyndman and other pro-India leaders vociferously opposed this view.27

A few months after the Socialist Congress, Bhikaji Cama made a whirlwind tour of America to spread the propaganda and enlist support for Indian freedom. She was widely interviewed by the American press. In one such interview given at Hotel Martha in Washington where she was staying, Madame Cama called for total liberation of India from British control. On 28 October 1907, addressing the members of Minerva Club at the Waldort Astoria Hotel, she said:

The people here know about the conditions in Russia, but I don’t think they know anything about the conditions in India under the English Government. Our best men are deported or sent to prison like criminals and there they are flogged so that they have to go to the prison hospitals. We are peaceful, we do not want a bloody revolution, but we do want to teach the people their rights and to throw off despotism.28


Such calls for complete freedom and an uncensored view of British rule to the international community were a far cry from the patient demands and respectful petitions that were still being made by the INC back home. The narrative of the discourse on independence had suddenly been changed.

Thrilled by the success at the Socialist Congress, Vinayak and his comrades drew out an elaborate plan of action for the future. The main task on their agenda was the purchase and manufacture of arms from within and outside England and smuggling these back to India. The Indian Arms Act of 1878 made it illegal for any Indian to possess a weapon of any kind without a licence that was most cumbersome to procure. Abhinav Bharat was in constant touch with revolutionaries in Russia, China, Ireland and Egypt. Vinayak and V.V.S. Aiyar met Mustafa Kemal (later Atatürk), the Turkish revolutionary who was fighting for the establishment of the Republic of Turkey, when he came to London. They drew plans to orchestrate a simultaneous armed uprising in different parts of the British Empire. The blockage of the Suez Canal to limit the British further was also planned, with the promise of active support from Egyptian revolutionaries. As writer Emily Brown states:

Savarkar had gained a valuable support from students and sympathizers in the United States and most of the European countries. The extent and importance of this international propaganda, which had its focal point at India House, was not fully realized by either the Indians or the British until the outbreak of World War I in 1914. 29


Vinayak also wanted Abhinav Bharat members to gain experience in warfare. With the outbreak of war between Spain and Morocco, he dispatched his associates, M.P.T. Acharya and Sukhsagar Dutt, to join the Riffs of Moors—a coloured people who were fighting against the imperialist invaders, the Spaniards. A lot of money was spent in the procurement of guns, uniforms and their training. The duo were given a grand farewell, seen off by Vinayak and Aiyar. They left on the German Far East liner Luetzow to Gibraltar. But after seven months, they returned in unkempt and dirty uniforms, crestfallen and worn out. Neither the Moors nor the Spaniards were willing to enlist their services because they thought the Indians had been planted by their opponent. The only result was the expenditure of ‘three hundred pounds, not to mention the physical sufferings undergone by the . . . volunteers’.30

Without letting his spirits dampen, Vinayak decided to create a laboratory of sorts to manufacture bombs within India House itself. It is said that he often appeared at Abhinav Bharat meetings with the yellow stains of the highly explosive chemical—picric acid—on his hands. Vinayak sent Hemchandra Das Kanungo of Anushilan Society of Bengal who had come to London, along with Senapati Bapat and Mirza Abbas to Paris to procure the ‘Bomb Manual’. It had detailed instructions on the ingredients that went into making a bomb, the process of manufacture and use. In an interview, Senapati Bapat mentions how they stayed in the faraway suburbs of Paris during this time. 31 Hemchandra was a skilled photographer and also knew the art of making cabinets. A Russian professor who never revealed his name but had been involved in a political assassination and was fleeing to Spain advised them about the organization of a secret underground society, even as Bapat assiduously noted it all down. They met a Russian tailor who gave them a copy of the ‘Bomb Manual’. Hemchandra quickly took about fifty photographs of it and returned the manual. Some opine that it was Russian revolutionary, Nicholas Sanfranskie, who had given them the manual in Paris.32

However, the manual was in Russian and none of them could read the script. The tailor then introduced them to two young Russian ladies, one of whom had completed her MA and the other her MBBS. The latter, Miss Amaya, was studying in Berlin and asked them to come there so that she could assist them in translating the text. Bapat and the others hid the photographed manual, escaped two custom checks in Belgium and Holland, reached Berlin where they kept shifting homes to avoid police scrutiny, and finally reached Amaya. She took a long time to translate the manual, and eventually a translated copy was printed and brought back to London. Another version of this story is that the manual was translated by Bapat’s German girlfriend, Anna Klauss, who lived in Berlin and was well versed in Russian.33

Bapat mentions in the interview that he met Vinayak and expressed a desire to bomb the British Parliament, but the latter dissuaded him and asked him to instead go with copies of the manual to India where it could be put to good use. The copies were smuggled into India in boxes with false bottoms to escape customs.

Bapat reached Bombay on 26 March 1908 and met several Abhinav Bharat members in Maharashtra. Thousands of cyclostyled copies of the manual were distributed to Abhinav Bharat cells in Bombay, Poona, Nashik, Kolhapur, Aundh, Satara, Gwalior, Baroda, Amravati, Yavatmal, Nagpur and other places. Hemchandra returned to Calcutta to his comrades Barin Ghose and Aurobindo Ghose, and began utilizing the manual for manufacturing bombs across Bengal. Their activity led to the famous Alipore Bomb Case, or the ‘Maniktala Bomb Conspiracy’. This was the famous trial conducted against Bengali revolutionaries for throwing bombs in Muzaffarpur. Executed by Prafulla Chaki and Khudiram Bose on 30 April 1908, it was masterminded by Aurobindo Ghose, his brother Barin Ghose and many young revolutionaries of the secret society Anushilan Samiti. A nineteen-year-old Bengali member of the society, Khudiram threw a bomb into a carriage carrying two Englishwomen, mistaking it to be that of Calcutta magistrate Douglas Kingsford. While Chaki committed suicide when cornered by the police, Khudiram was later hanged. In a harsh and swift reaction, the Government of India enacted the Explosive Substances Act and the Newspaper (Incitement to Offences) Act in June 1908. District magistrates were empowered to seize newspapers and presses deemed to be of seditious nature. Incidentally, for defending Prafulla Chaki and Khudiram Bose in the Kesari , Tilak was charged with sedition, tried and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment in the prison in Mandalay, Burma. It is said that a copy of the ‘Bomb Manual’ also reached Tilak. 34 Thus, the activities originating from India House sparked off explosions literally all across British India.

In his newsletter dated 19 July 1907, Vinayak theorized the action of armed struggle, making a case against the ‘passive resistance’ that Tilak and later Gandhi postulated. He argued that the French had tried innumerable political experiments and various models of governance— uncontrolled monarchy, controlled monarchy to anarchy, monarchy appointed by the people and democracy. They had even toyed with the idea of passive resistance. Through passive resistance, the French intended to bring the government to its knees by not cooperating with it at all levels. Such an experiment was conducted by some farmers, protesting against government taxes, in a vineyard of southern France. Large groups congregated and the passive resistance began meticulously with the chiming of church bells across Narbonne. From students, workers, municipal councillors, to representatives of local councils, soldiers and even members of Parliament participated. But in no time the government clamped it down with martial law and excessive use of force and arms. The balance was to tilt, invariably, in favour of the one who had more arms. Thus, passive resistance, argued Vinayak, was futile without the backing of arms. He wrote:

When attempting passive resistance, it is assumed that all the human beings are noble. It is presumed that all government employees will leave their jobs—that is the beginning. But poverty stricken people do not have the strength to live without government service; howsoever they may like to do that. Moreover, it is assumed that the rulers are also noble. It is assumed that they will not break existing laws and will not promulgate new ones—that is the theory. But this is impossible. Rulers who are prepared to go against public opinion are also capable of making new laws and implementing old ones that were not used for years.35


Even as he was managing and coordinating the logistics involved in procurement and shipment of arms to India, Vinayak was also building a strong intellectual case for the same, with references from various episodes in world history.

That the British considered Vinayak and his associates at India House a major threat is confirmed by the enormous amounts of money and time that Scotland Yard invested in gathering intelligence about its activities. There was always some Scotland Yard policeman hanging about on the street outside India House. 36 The quantum of correspondence between various colonial policemen and officials of the intelligence branch and India Office reveal the extent of this surveillance.37

But what exactly was the architecture of this British surveillance on India House and Indian students? What one often calls Scotland Yard was the Special Branch of the Metropolitan Police at Scotland Yard, a group that was tasked with maintaining a keen watch over ‘anarchists in London’.38 By the turn of the century, this Special Branch had merely twenty-five detectives.

The counterpart of this Special Branch in India, at Simla (Shimla) and Calcutta, was the Department of Criminal Intelligence (DCI), 39 which worked closely with the home department and also local governments to gather intelligence. It was after the spurt of revolutionary activities in India, following the Partition of Bengal in 1905, that Lord Morley and Lord Minto were convinced of the need to further activate the DCI that was established in 1903. In 1907, H.A. Stuart, the director of the DCI, expressed the reasons for the creation of such a department:

The formation of the Criminal Intelligence Department in 1903 was justified by the fact that the operations of the modern criminal in India extend over several provinces and cannot be traced by the local police . . . The operations of the professional sedition-mongers are far more widespread, far better organized, and far more advanced than those of any professional criminals . . . The range of their activities includes England, America, Egypt and Turkey, and they have no hesitation in allying themselves with our enemies and rivals in any part of the world.40


The director of DCI was a figure of importance within the Indian government and provided weekly reports to the home department and local governments on the emergent political situation. But his initial fund outlay was Rs 12,000 with a nominal staff of twenty-six that made surveillance a difficult task.41

Stuart advocated the creation of a branch within the department that focused specifically on ‘sedition’. An act or word that was spoken or printed and which was deemed offensive or threatening to the security of the Crown was deemed as sedition. Closely linked with it was the idea of conspiracy, where an individual joins a group to politically harm the state. The British government was deeply aware of the nature of activities the revolutionaries were carrying out. Stuart’s deputy, who later became the director, C.J. Stevenson-Moore, writes:

The chief centres of the Indian political movement are Calcutta, Lahore, Poona, New York, London, Paris, and perhaps Japan. The chief agitators in these places are in close connection with each other, and the necessity for secret agents in America and London has recently been brought to notice in letters from London and Dublin. From Calcutta in the old province, the agitation in the new province has been engineered. The Punjab sends money down to Calcutta, which is probably distributed to the lead agitators in Eastern Bengal and Assam. An outbreak of disturbances in Bengal is reflected in an outbreak of disturbances in Madras. Lahore and Rawalpindi in the Punjab send money to Peshawar in the NWFP, which is again used for stirring up the Frontier Tribes over the border. Political Sadhus or missionaries tour all over India, New York, and Paris; send out letters which are used for disaffection in the Army and among the civil population; and Shyamji Krishna Varma from London offers prizes and other attractions to those who will devote themselves to preaching the subversion of our rule in India.42


Despite all this knowledge of ‘subversive’ activities across continents, the two organizations—the Special Branch in London and the DCI in India— hardly interacted across the seas. It was only by 1909 that Scotland Yard began sending weekly reports on Indian agitators to the DCI. On its part, the DCI often scoffed at the alleged incompetence of the London Special Branch. This was an open secret, and was discussed at the highest level between Secretary of State Lord Morley and Viceroy Lord Minto:

Experts from the Home Office and Scotland Yard pointed out that their men are wholly useless in the case of Indian conspirators. They have no sort of agency able to distinguish Hindu from Mahomedan, or Verma from Varma. The whole Indian field is absolutely unfamiliar, in language, habits, and everything else. In short, both you and I can easily understand that the ordinary square-toed English constable, even in the detective branch, would be rather clumsy in tracing your wily Asiatics.43


Initially, white policemen were used to shadow the revolutionaries. But police detective Harold Brust found out to his peril when Indians whom he was shadowing in Oxford, Cambridge and London beat him up. He later reminisced that most members of the Special Branch ‘held a sneaking admiration for the ardour of these lads who mistakenly believed themselves the appointed “saviours” of their “downtrodden country”’.44

The first of the preliminary attempts at surveillance was in May 1907 when a member of the Scotland Yard infiltrated into an India House meeting and reported that ‘seditious pamphlets were distributed’. 45 M.P. Tirumala Acharya writes that within a few days of his arrival at India House (possibly in 1907), he found that ‘all the inmates had detectives shadowing’ 46 them wherever they went. The place was considered as the ‘hot-bed of sedition’. 47 He describes the barrier that existed between the India House residents and all other students. ‘It was like a lepers’ home,’ he rues, adding that, ‘. . . patriotism and sedition were synonymous, as far as Indians’ were concerned in England. 48 Having left India after being hounded by the British intelligence, it pained Acharya to see a repeat of the same in a supposed land of liberty. Indian students outside India House were extra anxious to maintain complete distance from its inmates, lest the British suspect their motives too.49

In September 1908, intelligence was gathered that Free Hindustan , a US-based newspaper ‘devoted to the cause of Indian freedom was distributed at the meeting’. 50 However, no structured and organized framework was created for intelligence gathering nor had the process of infiltration been described. Acharya writes about this vague method of intelligence gathering and how the India House members dealt with it:

Early in the morning, the detectives used to stand or loiter about near the house to follow anyone who went out of the India House. First it was disgusting to me to see their faces. I wanted to make use of them as my guide. I went out for a walk. About

50 yards behind me one detective followed me like shadow. I went on walking till I passed a post office. Then I walked back. The detective was waiting before the post office to let me pass. Suddenly, when I came in front of the post office, I asked him, ‘Where is the post office, please?’ The man answered, ‘I do not know.’ I asked him then, ‘If you cannot help me find out the post office and other places I want, why do you follow me?’ He was very perturbed and angry. I used to try the same method upon every new man that was set against me, to show that I know who he was. Sometimes, Savarkar and other members of the House tried to get rid of the detectives in a peculiar manner. They walked till they came to a lone taxi and suddenly jumped into it and drove away, while the detective used to stand helpless, looking for a free taxi.51


There are a few documented instances of how spies were implanted at India House. For instance, there was an informant named Sukhsagar Dutt (which was the nom de plume of Sajani Ranjan Banerjea) who also stayed here. The DCI had engaged him as an informant from October 1909 until June 1913. His passage and outfit (£100), fees for admission to the bar (£90), final fee when called to the bar (£40), purchase of law books (£10), purchase of other books and instruments (£10), cost of a course of study at the Imperial College of Science (£124–10) and passage back to India on completing the course (£42–2–8) were fully borne by the intelligence department and paid through Thomas Cook & Sons. In addition, he was paid a monthly allowance as retainer fee for £20 for forty-five months during this period. Close to £1316 was spent on merely one informant at India House.

Dutt claims to have turned informant to pay off his family debts. He reported to the superintendent of the Special Branch, P. Quinn, and gave him regular updates. His letter dated 20 November 1912 to Quinn mentions how it was settled even before his departure to London that he should stay there till July 1913 and supply information. The approval of his science course was to ensure he came in touch with several Indian students as science was what ‘appeals to Indians with extremist tendencies’. But his studies at the Royal College of Science were discontinued after a short while when the money sanctioned for that purpose was not paid to him. Now that he was being called by the bar after finishing with the Inns of Court, he wanted to encash the money owed to him, in order to stay on for longer, so that ‘my friends here may get suspicious of my stay till June next, but if I join a barrister’s chamber for practical work for the period of six months there will be no cause for my friends to question about my stay here till June 1913’. 52 If his services were needed for a longer period, he was ‘glad to continue it for another three to six months’. His case was recommended thereafter to Sir Thomas W. Holderness, the undersecretary of state, mentioning that Dutt had ‘been of great use’ and had ‘a good knowledge of Indian seditionists’. He was assessed as having ‘the great merit of reporting, truthfully, and not making sensational statements in order to magnify his usefulness’. Dutt was ‘also eager to know if he is to put himself in touch with any official of the Criminal Intelligence Department on arrival in India. He will probably on the way back call and see Madam Cama and Virendranath Chattopadhyay in Paris and if thought advisable would go to Pondicherry to see V.V.S. Aiyar.’ 53 Dutt managed his work so adroitly that neither Vinayak nor his associates ever found out about the mole in their midst.

However, not everyone the British intelligence employed was so skilled. Kirtikar was one such person. In the early summer of 1909, Kirtikar arrived at India House unannounced, bags in hand, and managed to get close to Vinayak with his fluent Marathi. He claimed to be of aristocratic descent and that he had come to London to study dentistry. But this was merely a pretext and he was given a year’s leave by Indian authorities. He registered himself at a London hospital as a cover. Kirtikar was indolent and lazy, came late for breakfast, often skipped hospital and returned very late at night. He soon began a romantic dalliance with the English maid at India House, forcing Vinayak to relieve her of her duties. But Kirtikar managed to find her a new accommodation nearby where he frequently visited her. He was a regular at all meetings of the Free India Society and also donated a pound every month to its cause.

His actions roused suspicions and Vinayak asked Dr T.S.S. Rajan to casually inquire about him at the hospital. To their horror they discovered that he had barely attended classes for a week since his admission. It became clear to them that he was a spy and had not come there to study. One night, when Kirtikar had gone to watch a play with his English girlfriend, Aiyar opened his room with a master key. In a box there he discovered a report prepared by Kirtikar on the activities of the week at India House, to be passed on to British intelligence agencies. They decided to confront him on his return. Aiyar locked the room and held a loaded revolver to Kirtikar’s head, forcing him to confess after much denial. He fell at Aiyar’s feet and begged for pardon. Vinayak decided that Kirtikar should be allowed to stay on at India House on the condition that all reports sent by him to the British would first have to pass their scrutiny. The British were thus fed false and concocted information by Vinayak and his associates through their own spy.54

Given Scotland Yard’s general incompetence, it is unlikely that they might have had a role in planting Kirtikar. Lord Morley had asserted that the Yard did not know a Verma from a Varma. To infiltrate India House with a Marathi speaker so that the spy could get close to Vinayak, the leader, was a well-planned strategy, and expecting this level of detail from Scotland Yard is hard to believe. The DCI had an agent whom they enigmatically called ‘C’ who had been dispatched to India House along with two other Indians in early 1909. The identity of Agent C was a secret, more so because the DCI distrusted their counterparts in the Special Branch. It was Agent C who sent a secret report in June 1909 that India House members had accelerated the levels of their revolver practice at a shooting range on Tottenham Court Road in London. 55 It is quite possible that the secret Agent ‘C’ was Kirtikar. The information that he provided was to prove very beneficial, as time would tell.

Vinayak then decided to place his own double agent, twenty-year-old M.P. Tirumala Acharya, to convey misinformation to Scotland Yard. Vinayak and Aiyar were initially wary of Tirumala Acharya and watched him closely to ensure there were no dubious activities. He was given the task of a double agent only after being convinced of his loyalty. Acharya was an affable young man who managed the kitchen too and shopped for groceries and other requirements at India House. He managed to make an extra £5 with the false information that he was supplying to a happy and satisfied Scotland Yard.

In India too there were several Abhinav Bharat members who acted as double agents. Balkrishna Janardhan Marathe, Bhaskar Ramachandra Khare, Gangadhar Ganesh Chitale, Shankar Narayan Moghe and G.R. Vaishampayan were some of the members who helped leak government messages exchanged between India and England regarding the activities of the revolutionaries. 56 Many of them joined the postal department and worked in the telegraph service. The exchange of telegrams between the two countries was usually during the night in India, given the time difference. The British assigned only Anglo-Indian workers during such sensitive shifts. But these double agents somehow managed to befriend them and offered to bear their burden, while they could steal some time out at night with their love interests! Moghe, for instance, had once managed to procure an entire cache of telegrams on the subject. Since he was unaware of the code language in which the messages were transcribed, he secretly broke open the cupboard that explained the codes. Using this, he managed to decode the messages dispatched. Moghe was shocked to find a telegram from Lord Morley to Lord Minto that referred to a certain ‘G.K.’ who had informed him that given the proximity between Tilak and the Savarkar brothers and Bapat, a close watch on them was necessary. Given that Gopalkrishna Gokhale was then touring London and was regularly meeting Lord Morley, they deduced that the mysterious ‘G.K.’ was none other than him and that he was passing on information about the revolutionaries to the British. Coincidentally, a few days after this, the police instituted a regular surveillance on Babarao. This enraged many revolutionaries such as Brahmagiri Bua, Palande, Paranjpe and Shidhaye from Poona and there was an unsuccessful attempt on Gokhale’s life. Much later, they all confessed to their crime and were sentenced.57

Another important link for the Abhinav Bharat who acted as a mole was Bhaskar Ramchandra Khare. On completing his matriculation, Khare joined a European company, mastered shorthand and typing and thereafter got introduced to the influential barrister Jamnadas Mehta. Mehta recommended Khare to Dorabji Tata who was in urgent need of a good typist and shorthand expert. Joining the Tata group gave Khare easy and regular access to the Imperial Secretariat at New Delhi. Excelling at his work, Khare secured several promotions, including one with Sir Reginald Craddock of the sensitive home department. Yet, all the time, his motive remained constant—leaking information out to the revolutionaries. 58 Thus, either side kept a track of developments happening on the other, through their own ingenious ways.

On 10 May 1908, Vinayak distributed copies of the ‘O! Martyrs!’ pamphlet on the occasion of the anniversary of 1857 War of Independence. Unsurprisingly, within a month, on 8 June 1908, C.J. Stevenson-Moore of the Department of Criminal Intelligence wrote to the home department about the pamphlet and its seditious and incendiary content. The home department noted that quite possibly the pamphlet was written and printed in England as the ‘phraseology is better than usual, and unlike other fulminations we are accustomed to here’. 59 Interestingly, one also finds a nationalist like Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya informing J.W. Hose of the United Provinces government about the pamphlet, but without taking Vinayak’s name:

I enclose a most seditious leaflet, which I received yesterday with the English mail. Evidently it is a copy of the same to which his Honour referred in his speech on the political situation. I was going to tear and throw it away as I did not wish that it should fall into the hands of any person; and as I thought it was not necessary to send it to Government as the contents of it are already known to them. But it struck me that I should yet inform you that this incendiary leaflet is still being mailed out to this country, so that the Government may take such further steps as it may deem proper to prevent the circulation of such poisonous matter.60
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Re: Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past by Vikram Sampath

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Part 2 of 3

In addition to surveillance, the British government decided to also issue ‘Certificates of Identity’ to Indian students living in Britain. These were intended to be simple forms that provided the government biographical details of Indians living in Britain, while ensuring that the India Office would have a record of every Indian in the country at any given point of time. Indian students found the process cumbersome, discriminatory and highly denigrating. In the nationality column, the applicants had to fill ‘British subject by birth’ in clear, black ink. The assertion here was that the nationality of Indians or their Indianness did not matter. Such documents existed throughout the Empire. Gandhi, commenting on the use of these documents in the Transvaal during the early twentieth century, argued that the use of such permits set Indians apart as a separate, polluted class, akin to the treatment of ‘bhangis’ by upper-caste Indians. 61 Indians travelling to Britain most probably associated these new certificates of identity with these earlier documents of negative and discriminatory racial profiling.

By 1909, under the leadership of the undersecretary of the Political and Secret (P&S) Department, William Lee Warner, a kind of a bureau of information for Indian students was created. While on the outside the bureau appeared to provide career-related guidance and advice to Indian students coming to Britain, it also managed to control and gather information about them. While the bureau failed to penetrate India House, it helped prevent, to a certain extent, some of the new migrant students from switching over to the revolutionary side or get influenced.

Despite knowing fully well that they were perpetually on the radar, several members of India House wanted to learn how to wield a gun. But they were never allowed membership at the shooting range. On 14 January 1909, the home department even wrote to the India Office in London with a sense of alarm about how permission could be granted for the establishment of a miniature rifle shooting range by Lord Robert’s Association, close to India House. 62 To circumvent the problem, Dr T.S.S. Rajan decided to join a polytechnic in London that imparted skills in cooking, saloon services, photography and so on. After giving them the impression of being a very diligent student and learning a few skills, he requested to be taught shooting as well. The unsuspecting institute allowed him to, and soon he was adept at shooting a revolver at short and long range. Meanwhile, Mirza Abbas and Sikandar Hayat Khan organized to smuggle a large cache of arms—twenty automatic Browning pistols purchased from Paris, and thousands of cartridges. They were neatly packed in a false-bottom box and dispatched to India with the India House chef, Chaturbhuj Amin, who had done diplomas in cooking and tailoring in London.

Leaving London on 15 February 1909, Amin set sail, dodging detectives and customs officials, and reached Bombay on 6 March. 63 The parcel was delivered to Gopalrao Patankar as Hari Anant Thatte, then president of Abhinav Bharat in Maharashtra, could not be reached due to surveillance troubles. By March 1909, Amin was back in London with the news of the safe delivery of the consignment.

But along with this news, Vinayak also received the tragic message of the death of his four-year-old son, Prabhakar, due to smallpox. His comment, made in jest while departing from India, that Prabhakar might reach the God’s abode if not vaccinated, had unfortunately come true. He was overwhelmed with emotion and he poured his heart out in a very poignant elegy—‘Prabhakaras’. Suddenly, everything seemed to unravel in the most unfortunate manner for Vinayak.

Nashik, 1909

Misfortunes, they say, never strike alone. Even as Vinayak was grappling with the tragedy of the death of his only child, he received another alarming news from back home. On 28 February 1909, Babarao had gone to Bombay to visit his maternal cousin, V.M. Bhat, in Girgaum, when there was loud banging on the door of their home. The police had come looking for Babarao and arrested him under Sections 121 and 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Babarao had mentioned to a friend about Amin’s delivery of pistols from London. The police got wind of this and an arrest warrant was issued for him. The dreaded Section 121 referred to aiding and abetting treason against the king and if convicted, it could result in confiscation of property and death by hanging or ‘transportation for life’. A year earlier, on 17 June 1908, Babarao had been convicted under Section 151A of the IPC and Section 127 of the Bombay Police Act, on extremely frivolous charges of inciting a mob of 500 to 600 people to help free S.M. Paranjpe who had been arrested on charges of sedition. At the time, Babarao was sentenced to a month-long rigorous imprisonment at Dongri Jail in Bombay and later, Thane Jail.

This time, Babarao was taken back to Nashik in a police vehicle and constantly questioned en route. Even before he could alert his younger brother to destroy or hide some of the explosive literature at home, the police raided their house in Nashik on 2 March 1909. Among the documents found concealed in the eaves were about sixty pages of closely typed material in English, which was in fact the ‘Bomb Manual’ that Hemchandra and Bapat had procured. The intelligence agencies verified that similar copies had been found in Bengal in connection with the Maniktala Case. The book had about ‘45 sketches of bombs, mines, and buildings to illustrate the text’. 64 They also discovered Frost’s Secret Societies of European Revolution, 1776 to 1876 65 that contained details of the ‘Russian nihilists consisting of small circles or groups affiliated into sections, each member knowing only the members of the group to which he belonged’ 66 —quite like how Abhinav Bharat was structured. Four poems of Aabaa Darekar, alias Kavi Govind, that Babarao had published were also confiscated. These included two Marathi poems—one was titled ‘Bodhapur Puratan Mauj’ that made Puranic references of gods and demons to assert Indian victory over the British. In another, titled ‘Shivakalin Lokamanovrutti’, the poet had imagined Indians requesting Lord Ganesha seeking the birth of an icon such as Shivaji.

C.J. Stevenson-Moore of the DCI elaborated to the district superintendent of police in Nashik, Mr J.F. Guider:

An incriminating letter written by Tatya (Vinayak) to his brother was intercepted along with The Indian Sociologist in the Sea Post Office. The Bombay Police have now made an important find in the brother’s house. One item is the Manicktolla Explosive Manual. This is the first copy of the Explosive Manual, which has been found outside Calcutta and perhaps P.M. Bapat brought it. There was only one complete copy of it in Calcutta. Were it and the Bombay copy written by the same hand? Deputy Director, please inquire regarding this and note. If necessary, get photos of the first page from Calcutta and Bombay. Neither original is available now. We should send to Bombay any information about the Savarkars, which they are not likely to have and ask for copies of the statements against them when complete.67


The ‘incriminating’ letter that the police had confiscated was of Vinayak writing to Babarao to send him the Bande Mataram essay. 68 Vinayak was termed as a ‘well-known rank extremist’ 69 and it was decided that his residence in London, India House, needed to be searched thoroughly. Eight letters written by Vinayak to Babarao were translated and sent to the India Office on 13 May 1909. Stevenson-Moore himself admits to the letters being hardly ‘dangerous’:

The Tatya letters do not in themselves amount to much; the worst document in that collection is the Vande Mataram effusion; which, however, was not, as I gather, the production of Vinayek Damodar Savarkar at all. It is found in his brother’s house at Nasik, and in several of his letters Vinayek asks for it to be sent to him. Vinayek gives mostly the facts reported by secret agents of Scotland Yard as to his doings and speeches at the India House. These are ostensibly private meetings, and I question whether these reports would carry much weight with the Benchers of Gray’s Inn. It seems that the only public occasion on which Vinayek really let himself go was the Guru Govind meeting in London on 29th December 1908. But I question whether a single wild utterance would tell much against him.70


On the one hand, attempts were being made to find evidence against Vinayak and build a legally tenable case to justify his possible arrest and extradition to India. While the government could justify its detention of Babarao with the excuse of having found the ‘Bomb Manual’ and other revolutionary literature, in Vinayak’s case, was he to be tried only through guilt of association? On the other hand, the idea was to influence the Gray’s Inn to prevent admission to Vinayak at the Bar, now that he had completed his course in London. This is the dilemma that StevensonMoore discusses in his letter above.

Babarao’s trial was initially conducted before the district collector of Nashik, Arthur Mason Tippetts Jackson. Advocate Gole was the public prosecutor with the deputy superintendent of police assisting him. The youngest of the three brothers, Narayanrao Savarkar, desperately tried to find an advocate to represent Babarao and even managed to raise Rs 200 for the trial costs. No one was prepared to take up the case. He finally went to advocate Thosar in Thane and pleaded with him to help them in this hour of crisis. Thosar was moved and agreed to assist along with his fellow advocates, Pradhan, Sathye, Ketkar and Gadre. Advocate Gole brought to the judge’s notice the seditious content of the literature seized from Babarao’s house, including the ‘Bomb Manual’, revolutionary poems by poet Govind, and the books and pamphlets published under the Abhinav Bharat Mala series.

In his written deposition to the court, Babarao said:

I published these materials but due to the tumultuous situation in India, I had neither time nor inclination to look into their sales. I am solely responsible for my actions. Though I have not written the books or poems, I do not think that they were written to preach treason or incite people to rebel against the King . . . Some of the items found in the raid on my house on 12 March 1909 belong to me. The other items have been planted in my house by the police who bear ill will towards me. For the last three-four years, there has been enmity between the police and myself and they have built up a false case against me.71


The judge, Justice B.C. Kennedy, was not convinced and on 8 June 1909 he pronounced his verdict:

The Penal Code has given me very little leeway to decide the quantum of punishment. Under Section 121, I sentence Ganesh Damodar Savarkar to Transportation for Life in the Andamans and order forfeiture of his entire property. Under Section 124A, I sentence him to two years’ rigorous imprisonment. This sentence has to be served simultaneously with the sentence given under Section 121.72


It was a severe blow for the Savarkar family. But as the Kesari of 15 June 1909 reports: ‘Babarao heard this terrible punishment stoically.’ 73 The Black Waters, or Kalapaani, of the Andamans was notorious for its monstrosity and torture. Convicts seldom returned alive or healthy from this hellhole. Babarao’s wife, Yesu Vahini, had lost two children in their infancy and now with her husband transported for life, she had nothing to look forward to. Yet, she bore the verdict with determined courage. The police confiscated all their belongings including utensils. It is said that when neighbours came to offer their condolences and sobbed at her piteous condition, she remained resolute and consoled them instead: ‘Do not cry! It is only when several homes such as ours are devastated that the nation will prosper!’74

People began to shun Yesu and hurl insults at her since they considered her to be from a family of convicts. She was boycotted from all social events. If they had to share a bullock cart with her anywhere, they would turn away or insist that she dismounted. She was often abused in public as kaidyaachi baayko (wife of a convict). Each time she visited her maternal home, the women in the neighbourhood passed jibes at her being a woman who was a ‘burden on her maternal home’. 75 Yesu bore these abuses and insults with immense fortitude.

However, the Abhinav Bharat members and family friends took care of Yesu and Narayanrao who was still completing his studies. Madame Bhikaji Cama began sending Rs 30 every month for the family’s maintenance. Aabaa Darekar, or the poet Govind, was so moved by the Savarkar family’s condition that he raised money for them and boosted their morale. He even composed a poem for her in the form of a prayer seeking protection for Babarao—‘Sankati raksha mama kaant, kaant’ (Protect my husband from crisis!). Yesu would often keep humming this prayer to herself.

Before being taken to the jail, Babarao was publicly humiliated by being paraded on the streets of Nashik in fetters and handcuffs, wearing prisoner clothes, his meagre belongings of a small bundle of clothes, a rusted plate and water pot balanced precariously on his back. He spent a month in a Nashik jail before bidding adieu to Nashik and his family. Babarao was then shifted to the Yeravada jail in Poona as convict number 4193. As a precursor to the harsh times ahead in the Andamans, his abusive jamadar, or constable, Malhari ordered him to grind 25 pounds of grain each day. This was then increased to 35 pounds. He was then given the punishment of ‘standing handcuffs’ 76 which entailed standing with his arms hung to the wall for six hours in the morning and four hours in the evening. This would go on for several weeks. At times he remained handcuffed all through the night and had to sleep in the same standing position. The halfcooked food of millet or wheat breads caused bouts of intense diarrhoea. Convicts even had to pass stools in their cells standing handcuffed. He was administered electric shocks in a bid to make him confess to his crimes. In about six weeks, his body gave in and he developed high fever. He was then shifted to the hospital for treatment. Thereafter, he was given a lighter job of spinning wool.

Narayanrao came to see his elder brother and his heart broke at the hardships Babarao was undergoing. They decided to appeal against the verdict at a higher court. But on 21 November 1909, the Bombay High Court upheld the sentence. Babarao was shifted to the Alipore prison in Calcutta and from there transported to the Andamans in the S.S. Maharaja . Prisoners and convicts were locked in the ship’s basement. Suffocated by the stench and in the inglorious company of thugs, murderers, dacoits and rapists, Babarao reached the wretched Cellular Jail of the Andaman Islands. Little did Babarao know that he would soon get a companion in the dreaded jail—his younger brother Vinayak.

London, 1909

Vinayak’s grief knew no bounds when he received the telegram informing him about Babarao’s transportation for life to the Andamans. He longed to be back in Nashik with his family. But there were responsibilities in London that he could not run away from. On 20 June, at a public meeting in London, Vinayak swore vengeance against the British for their treatment of Babarao. 77 As he had expected, two days after his fiery speech, on 22 June 1909, Vinayak received information from Gray’s Inn that they had decided to postpone admitting him to the Bar. Right from May 1909, given the wide negative publicity that Vinayak had received in the British press and his brother’s conviction, speculation was rife about the Bar’s attitude towards him. On their part, the British authorities in India were keen to nab Vinayak as well and have him arrested and extradited to India. In a demi-official, J.H. DuBoulay writes from Bombay to Sir Harold Stuart in London on 8 May 1909:

The other day I was directed to send you copies of Savarkar’s letters from the India House to his brother in Nasik, with the suggestion that they should be brought to the notice of the Secretary of State. In Reuter’s telegram of 7th received this morning, I see that one student about whose call to the Bar they are hesitating has been one of the managers of the India House. We know that Savarkar has been the Manager of the India House and also that he has had some examination before him. It occurs to me that it might be worthwhile wiring to the India Office to tell them that you have papers showing a clear connection between Savarkar and his brother who has now been committed for trial on charges of waging war and sedition, in whose possession was found a voluminous typed document giving detailed instructions as to the manufacture and use of bombs, besides the draft of a most violent essay in praise of various Bengal murderers. If the India Office laid this information before the proper authorities, their hesitation should give way to decision presuming the student in question is Savarkar, and the effect would be excellent. In any case I trust you will not think the suggestion an impertinence.78


This was possibly the lowest ebb in Vinayak’s life, with both his personal and professional lives in the doldrums. But being committed to the revolutionary cause, he was prepared to face such seemingly insurmountable challenges. He shifted out of India House temporarily to deflect the attention the place was gathering in the press. On 3 April, he moved to Bipin Chandra Pal’s residence at 140, Sinclair Road.

One of the key influencers of the Gray’s Inn decision with regard to Vinayak’s admission was Sir William Hutt Curzon Wyllie (1848–1909). He was a British Indian Army officer who rose to the position of a lieutenant colonel. He had served as the British resident to Nepal and one of the princely states of Rajputana. On his return to Britain, he was appointed aide-de-camp to the Secretary of State for India, Lord George Hamilton. One of his main tasks was the control of high-ranking Indian visitors to Britain and the continent who were suspected of seditious activities. This included native Indian princes such as Gaekwad, the Maharaja of Baroda. 79 He kept a close watch on their movements, the contacts they made while in Europe and the level of official recognition that they were awarded by continental governments. 80 Wyllie also made personal contacts with several Indian students, on occasion inviting them home for a drink or dinner and craftily extracting information from them, all the while behaving as their well-wisher. If any of this information merited attention, he passed it on to his superiors.81

In late April 1909, Curzon Wyllie had personally written to the benchers of Gray’s Inn dissuading them from calling both Vinayak and Harnam Singh to the Bar. Through May 1909, he wrote several letters and supplied a plethora of information to Gray’s Inn about Vinayak’s ‘undesirable’ activities, terming him a particularly dangerous and seditious force. While Harnam Singh was called to the Bar, it charged Vinayak with ‘condoning assassination, inciting revolution and advocating against the nation’. 82 It is said that Curzon Wyllie even travelled to France to gather information about Vinayak and his associates at India House. He spearheaded a few unsuccessful attempts to establish a boarding house for Indian students sponsored by the India Office. He believed that this master stroke of his would help strip away the uniqueness of India House, wean away new recruits for Vinayak and also help foster loyalty towards the British government in the minds of young students.

The anger and resentment among several Indian students in London had reached its zenith and was all set to explode. It was merely a matter of time. On the evening of 1 July 1909, at about 8 p.m., a young, handsome Indian student left his room on the first floor of a lodging house on 106 Ledbury Road in the Bayswater neighbourhood of London. The National Indian Association (NIA) was holding one of its routine parties to encourage interaction between the British and Indians in London. It was being held at Jehangir Hall in the Imperial Institute at South Kensington. Miss Beck, the honorary secretary of the NIA, greeted him at around half past nine. She had met him a few months back and inquired how his studies were progressing. To this he replied that he had finished his course at the University College and would take up the examination for qualifying as an Associate Member of the Institute of Civil Engineers (AMICE) later in October before heading back home to India. Since he knew quite a few people at the party he told Miss Beck that he would keep himself busy socializing with them. 83 The young man walked around confidently, waiting for the opportune moment. At around 11 p.m. William Curzon Wyllie, the honorary treasurer of the NIA, made his entry into Jehangir Hall. He exchanged pleasantries with a few Indian students and stopped by to have a longer conversation with the young man. Suddenly, the young man fished out a small Colt pistol and fired four shots at pointblank range, right into Curzon Wyllie’s eyes. 84 Wyllie collapsed to the ground and died instantly. Cawas Lalcaca, a forty-six-year-old Parsi doctor from Shanghai, who rushed to Curzon Wyllie’s aid upon hearing the first shot was also inadvertently hit and lay writhing in pain on the ground. He eventually succumbed to his injuries.

Douglas William Thorburn, a journalist of the National Liberal Club, and several others rushed towards the young man, leapt on him and grabbed him tightly, pinning him to chair, to prevent further harm. In the process, his large gold-rimmed glasses fell. The young man placed the revolver to his own temple and was going to kill himself, but he had used all the bullets. People jostled and struggled to get the pistol off him. In the scuffle, one of the guests, Sir Leslie Probyn, fell and injured his nose and ribs. Thorburn asked him why he had committed such a ghastly act. The young man looked at him sternly and stoically responded, ‘Wait, let me just put my spectacles on!’ 85 He seemed unruffled and calm.

The Evening Telegraph described this trait of his in its report of him: ‘. . . not only being an expert revolver shot, but was the calmest man in the room after the tragedy, coolly inquiring if he might have his glasses’. 86 A fellow Indian, Madan Mohan Sinha, who was at the party, questioned him in Hindustani but the young man remained silent. The former wondered if the young man was under the influence of intoxicants as he appeared in a half-dazed and dreamy condition. Captain Charles Rolleston who held the young man tightly asked him repeatedly what his name was. Finally, he shouted: ‘Madan Lal Dhingra.’

The police came in no time and arrested Dhingra. Constable Frederick Nicholls and Detective Sergeant Frank Eadly testified that Dhingra also carried a dagger, a Belgian revolver with six chambers and extra ammunition. 87 A search at his apartments in Ledbury Road by Inspector Draper yielded seventy cartridges and another magazine revolver. There was a letter by Curzon Wyllie to Dhingra lying on his table. It was dated 13 April, asking Dhingra to meet him for any assistance that he might require. In fact, Dhingra’s brother, having heard that he was associating with members of India House, had written to Curzon Wyllie to counsel him. The letter was as follows:

Dear Sir: Your brother, Mr K.L. Dhingra, whose acquaintance I had the pleasure of making in England, has written to tell me that you are in London, and asking me to be of any assistance I can to you. I expect to be abroad . . . but on my return I shall be very pleased to see you at the India Office, if you can conveniently call between 11 and 1 or 2:30 and 3:30.88


Curzon Wyllie had tried the same trick of creating goodwill among Indian students, extracting information from them and passing these on to his superiors. But Dhingra did not respond to his overtures, viewing him as emblematic of the establishment’s efforts to track his doings. 89 A diary of his shooting practice was also discovered.90

But how did Dhingra, the most unlikely candidate to undertake a political assassination, who barely participated in India House events, end up pulling the trigger? He would dismiss the lectures of India House as ‘mere talk’ not worth attending and believed in action rather than discourses. He considered the Indian revolutionary Kanailal Dutta of the Jugantar group as his role model. Dutta, along with fellow revolutionary Satyendranath Bose, had shot dead Narendranath Goswami, an approver of the British in the Alipore Bomb case. Dutta was hanged to death on 31 August 1908.

As a young man in Punjab, Dhingra had worked at the settlement department where he had been badly treated and racially discriminated against by Englishmen. Harishchandra Krishnarao Koregaonkar was one of Vinayak’s trusted translators of his book on 1857 and a member of India House. He was arrested by the DCI in Bombay after he returned to India in December 1909. He turned into a government approver and his testimony was collected to build a case against Vinayak. Koregaonkar testified in the trial about Dhingra:

His (Dhingra’s) hatred of Englishmen was intense. This was fed by the articles against Indians that used to appear in the English papers from time to time. He used to read them over and over again, articles like ‘Coloured men and English women’ which appeared in London Opinion, ‘Babu, Black Sheep’, which appeared in Cassell’s Weekly.91


Dhingra had prepared for the assassination assiduously. As early as 26 January 1909 he had procured a gun licence and purchased a Colt automatic magazine pistol for £3.5s from Gamage’s Limited, Holborn. Thereafter, for three months, he made regular visits, thrice a week, to the shooting range at 92, Tottenham Court Road, to practise. Given that he had a valid licence, he managed to gain entry to the shooting range. He fired nearly twelve shots on each visit and soon ‘acquired considerable proficiency’. 92 Dhingra had supreme confidence in himself in the run-up to the assassination. The evening before the murder, Dhingra had come looking for Vinayak at Bipin Chandra Pal’s house. M.P.T. Acharya who received him there recollects that he found Dhingra ‘happy like a bird. He was always of a brooding temperament when he was in India House but not so that evening. But it is true that he spoke very little so that one could have no inkling of what was going on in his mind.’ 93 Even on the day of the murder, before heading to Kensington, Dhingra stopped by at the shooting range at around 5.30 p.m. and fired twelve shots from a distance of 18 feet; eleven of them hit the target accurately. 94

There was reason why Dhingra was so fastidious about his practice sessions. His real targets were Lord Curzon, the villain of the Partition of Bengal who was back in Britain, and Lord Morley. 95 He had narrowly missed assassinating both on earlier occasions. His icon and leader, Vinayak, met him at the Notting Hill Gate Station on the evening before the assassination and, while bidding him farewell, told him sternly: ‘Don’t show me your face if you fail this time!’ 96 Vinayak has been criticized by commentators for leading Dhingra to act as if in a haze, hypnotized by blind obedience to him. As the mastermind behind attacks who goaded his followers, Vinayak himself stayed away from wielding any weapon in his life. His threat to Dhingra to not show his face in case he failed in this attempt too was taken so seriously by Dhingra that he resolved to succeed at all costs. 97 But like every revolutionary organization, Abhinav Bharat too needed an intellectual strategist and mastermind—a role that Vinayak played—and several foot soldiers to implement the plans.

After the murder, Dhingra was taken away to Marylebone Police Station and was formally charge-sheeted. The charges were read out to him and he nodded. 98 When asked if he wished to communicate with his friends in London, he replied nonchalantly: ‘I do not think it is necessary tonight, they will know later on.’ 99 On the morning of 2 July, Dhingra was taken to Westminster Police Court. Just before being remanded, he told the magistrate: ‘The only thing I want to say is that there was no wilful murder in the case of Dr Lalcaca; I did not know him; when he advanced to take hold of me I simply fired in self-defence.’ 100 The magistrate adjourned the case for a week and remanded Dhingra to judicial custody.

The incident shook London to its core. The press was inundated with reports on the murder. Eyewitness accounts and graphic details of the scene of crime were reported in almost all the major newspapers. The issue rocked the British Parliament as well. Dhingra’s father, Dr Sahib Datta Dhingra, sent a telegram to Lord Morley informing him that the family had disowned their son forthwith. He also wrote to the Pioneer asking them to publish his public ‘abhorrence of the dastardly deed, depriving the family of one of the kindest of friends’. 101 Dhingra’s two brothers, Bhajanlal and Beharilal, were also in London, and they quickly followed their father in publicly disowning him. Condolence messages poured in from various vassals of the Empire. The raja of Benares, Sir Prabhu Narain, in a long demi-official dated 14 July 1909 stated:

It is superfluous, rather useless, on my part to tell you how very horrified and shocked, I feel at the atrocious crime which has been perpetrated in London by an Indian student and which cost the life of the two best friends of India. No man who has any stake in the country, can look with indifference upon such matters. These crimes which only a year or two before were quite unknown to this country are now becoming only too frequent and it is a wonder—rather I might be pardoned to say—a pity, nay, a shame, that nothing is being done seriously to eradicate this evil . . . it is rather a question of life and death to us. England might not think it necessary to care much for the Indians, but we Indians cannot afford to lose England’s protection. Our wealth, our happiness, our stability, even our very existence as a nation, depends upon England, and woe be the day when she would think of giving up hold upon this country . . . Indian students such as Savarkar and his associates are openly expressing their sympathy with the murder and men like Veerendra Nath Chatterjee are publishing letters in public papers and declaring that ‘the catalogue of coming assassinations will be probably a long one . . . Anarchical attempts to murder should be treated as murder and their sympathizers dealt with as felons. Until such sorts of drastic measures will not be carried out at least for a year or two, I have no doubt these crimes will rise by leaps and bounds.102


The entire Indian community and its political leaders too began a series of condemnations of Dhingra. On 3 July, a meeting presided by Surendranath Banerjea and on 4 July, one by Gopalkrishna Gokhale, castigated Dhingra for this brazen act. Gokhale mentioned that the foul act had ‘blackened the Indian name and is one for which Indians would have to hang their heads in shame before the whole civilized world’.103

In retaliation, Madame Cama’s Bande Mataram was scathing in its attack on leaders such as Gokhale for their denunciation of Dhingra. In its 10 September 1909 issue, it stated:

The clique of ignoble and cowardly politicians who trade in the tears and groans of their countrymen and who are represented by that conscienceless shameless poltroon, Gokhale of Poona, have been doing their best to mislead our young men by means of utterances and writings as specious as they are mischievous. All these pseudo-patriots resort to the same tricks to win the favour of the Government and secure their personal safety in the midst of the general ruin of their nation. It is amusing to see that these selfish and unprincipled wretches sometimes quarrel among themselves out of vanity and personal jealousy. So much the better for us. A house divided against itself cannot stand, and already the Moderates are showing signs of disunion and internal collapse. Gokhale has been treating the people to some fine speeches: he is a past master in the art of clothing mischievous nonsense in the garb of high-sounding phrases . . . meanwhile Surendra Nath Banerji has been licking the shoestrings of the British people and making himself ridiculous in the eyes of the whole world.104


On 5 July, the Indian community congregated in large numbers in London’s Caxton Hall to condole the assassination and to condemn Dhingra. Several Parsi ladies, reported the Daily Telegraph of 6 July, ‘came attired in their picturesque costumes’. His Highness the Aga Khan presided over this distinguished audience and said that they were meeting to see how best they could ‘rehabilitate themselves among their fellowsubjects of the Empire in the face of a dastardly act of revolt’. 105 Among those who spoke on this occasion were distinguished Indians such as Sir Mancherjee Bhownagari, Surendranath Banerjea, Bipin Chandra Pal and G.S. Khaparde. The audience included several eminences such as the maharajkumar of Cooch Behar, Sir Dinshaw Petit, Fazalbhoy Karimbhoy, Syed Hussein Bilgrani, K.C. Gupta and others. The speakers used disparaging terms for Dhingra, ranging from ‘savage’, ‘brutal’, and ‘treacherous’ to ‘cowardice’, ‘unpardonable’ and ‘inhuman’. Sir Bhownagari moved a resolution to express the community’s horror and indignation at the crime and this was seconded by Ameer Ali. It also conveyed condolences to Lady Wyllie and the family of the assassinated. The resolution stated:

The general meeting, consisting of representatives of all communities of India, and the bulk of the Indian residents in Great Britain, desires to express the horror and indignation with which they in common with the whole of the people of India view the terrible crime committed by an Indian youth last Thursday, which resulted in the deplorable death of Sir Curzon Wyllie and also of Dr Lalkaka.106


Going into an oratorical flourish, Bhownagari said that there could be no sane man, woman or child within the confines of that hall or throughout the length and breadth of British India who did not regard this catastrophe as a national disaster. He lamented that in this fallen moment, the misguided youth Dhingra had given a death blow, albeit temporarily he hoped, to the amazing success with which Indians had been negotiating their demands with the British government and especially Lord Morley.

After his speech, something dramatic happened. Theodore Morrison, a member of the India Council, led a shy young Indian youth to the dais. He was seemingly in grief and shame, dressed in a grey, lounger suit and wearing gold-rimmed glasses. He was introduced as Dhingra’s younger brother who lived in London. Morrison claimed that the younger Dhingra had visited his office earlier that morning and conveyed his family’s extreme consternation at Madan Lal’s renegade behaviour. He asked Morrison what he could do in his capacity to show his repugnance to his brother’s act. He was told by Morrison that it was his duty to come to Caxton Hall that evening and publicly express his sentiments and also disassociate himself and his family from the crime. As the Dublin Daily Express reports: ‘The dramatic suddenness of this incident created a considerable sensation in the hall and many were moved to tears.’ The young man was not allowed to speak a word and it was Morrison who did all the talking while the former just hung his head nervously. He was guided back to his seat and the meeting proceeded. A new resolution was moved:

That this meeting considers it due to the British public to assure them that they deplore with feelings of humiliation, an act of heinous character, committed in the metropolis of the British Empire, and beg that they realize that this is the act of a fanatic or madman, which had aroused the deepest indignation of all the people of India.107


When the meeting was deciding to unanimously adopt the resolution and condemn Dhingra for his lunatic act, a young man leapt on his feet and screamed defiantly: ‘No! Not unanimously!’ The congregation was stunned into silence. They turned to see who had made this audacious assertion. It was Vinayak coming out in support of his friend and protégé, Madan Lal Dhingra, even as the latter’s family and friends were publicly dissociating themselves with him. Cries of ‘Turn him out’, ‘Pull him down,’ were made by the shocked leaders as people rushed towards Vinayak who stood there calmly with his arms folded and head held high. ‘It is all right,’ he muttered confidently even as a well-built Eurasian, Edward Parker, 108 sprang on Vinayak and struck him in the right eye. His spectacles broke and he suffered a broken nose. Blood all over his face, Vinayak leapt on to a chair and in a loud ringing voice announced that he was against the resolution and that he would oppose it till the last drop of his blood. M.P.T. Acharya had a stick in his hand and ‘instinctively struck him (Parker) on his head’. 109 The assailants however pulled Vinayak down and he was eventually thrown out. V.V.S. Aiyar, M.P.T. Acharya and Gyanchand Verma who were also present in the hall followed Vinayak out. Surendranath Banerjea walked out in protest against what he termed a cowardly act against an unarmed Vinayak, and the Aga Khan too did not quite relish the manner in which the sombre evening had turned out.

Vinayak and his associates rushed back to their Sinclair Road residence and the same night, he wrote an elaborate letter to The Times that was published.

Sir,

In all fairness to me, will you kindly insert the following lines in the next issue of your valuable paper? In reference to the unfortunate incident, which happened in the meeting held at Caxton Hall this evening in order to express horror at the murder of Sir Curzon Wyllie, it is to be feared that my attitude would be open to misinterpretation.

The fact is that when the President put the resolution before the meeting and asked those in favour of the same to raise their hands, he acknowledged the right, in accordance with the invariable practice in all public meetings, of everyone who was present to vote according to their choice. The resolution was explained by those who proposed and seconded it, so as to presume the criminality of the man who is accused of having committed the murder. It seemed to me an encroachment upon the assumption of the authority of Law and Courts to declare a man, who is still under trial, to be a criminal. So it seemed to me more just and appropriate to omit the word ‘crime’ and ‘criminal’ from the resolution. As the proceedings had advanced too far to effect this, I simply voted against the resolution as it stood and wanted to bring to the notice of the President the fact that the resolution could not be declared as passed unanimously. I was perfectly within my rights as a voter and the only proper way for the President was to count the votes against and for, and declare the result. But some excited spirits forgot themselves, so much as to shout ‘eject him’, etc. and even went so far, as to threaten me with physical force. I stood perfectly calm, simply asserting my right and without giving the least provocation. In a minute or two, one man, Mr Parker by name, reached to the place where I was standing and attacked me while I was actually in the act of explaining the meaning of my opposition in clear terms, though they were drowned into the city of the excited few.

The man who committed this unprovoked assault upon one who simply insisted upon either being heard or ejected will soon be brought before the courts. Meanwhile I hasten to write this letter to you to explain my conduct at the meeting and prevent any misunderstanding or misinterpretation.

Thanking you in anticipation,

I am,

Yours faithfully,

V.D. Savarkar.

140 Sinclair Road, July 5.


The contents of his letter and the meticulous legal position that Vinayak articulated was referenced by several other leading London newspapers. Even Parker who had punched Vinayak in the face wrote a rejoinder in The Times on 8 July alluding to the greatness of the British Empire and all his ancestors who had established English rule in India. His contention was that Indians in Britain were enjoying the hospitality of the ‘noble British people’ and hence someone who objected to the resolution at the Caxton Hall meeting was not worthy of his consideration. He also alleged that Vinayak’s associates stood on a chair and struck him with a stick. This was the reason, he explained, why he ‘planted a truly British blow between the eyes of Savarkar’, 110 and that he was not at all sorry for what he did.

Newspapers also mentioned excitedly that the decision of the benchers of the Gray’s Inn was impending. The Daily Dispatch, termed Vinayak as ‘a fervent nationalist . . . an extremely brilliant scholar . . . a political theorist . . . deeply versed in all the literature of political liberty . . . awaiting the decision of the House of Lords to whom he has appealed’ 111 against the postponement of his call at the Bar. The Bolton Evening News too mentioned: ‘Mr Savarkar occupies a rather prominent position in the community of Indian students in this country, and in fairness to the attitude, which he assumed at the meeting, allowance must be made for the point of view that a man in his position was bound to take.’ 112 It spoke about the considerable attention and excitement that the decision regarding his call at the Bar was eliciting among legal circles. It was during the Easter term that his application to be called ‘was defeated in a large meeting of benchers by a majority of only three votes’ out of twentyfour and that his renewed application ‘backed by a strong array of counsel’ was being considered at a special meeting the following week. But an obvious outcome of the Caxton Hall altercation was that the benchers of Gray’s Inn resolved at a meeting held on 14 July that Vinayak was not eligible for a call at the Bar.113

Scotland Yard found an excuse in the assassination to connect the inmates of India House with the act. The London Police went to every one of them to unearth the conspirators. They wanted M.P.T. Acharya and other Indians to leave London. 114 Detectives used Syed Haidar Raza to influence Acharya to leave for America, but he flatly refused. Many Indian revolutionaries had been shipped off to America simply on the suspicion that they might give cause to some sensation to the press.115

Meanwhile, Dhingra’s trial recommenced on 10 July. Sir Edward Henry, the commissioner of police, Sir Charles Mathews, the director of public prosecution, and others were present. Twenty-five-year-old Dhingra with ‘dark olive complexion, with thick black hair . . . large gold rimmed glasses . . . dressed in a black and gray double-breasted suit’ was brought in by the police. 116 The prosecution brought more witnesses before the court, including Dr Thomas Neville who had conducted a post-mortem of Curzon Wyllie’s body. He had found a bullet entrance wound on the right eye and an exit wound at the neck, two more wounds on the left eye, and the back of the neck, one below the left ear and another over the left eyebrow. The bullets were found in the head and the cause of instantaneous death was ascertained as brain injury. 117 Throughout the proceedings, Dhingra stood leaning on the dock rail, ‘his right hand behind his back, the left hanging idly by his side’. 118 Tindal Atkinson was present to represent Dhingra’s family that once again said that they ‘view this crime with the greatest abhorrence, and they wish to repudiate in the most emphatic way the slightest sympathy with the views or motives which have led up to the crime’. Atkinson also mentioned on behalf of Dhingra’s father and the rest of his family ‘that there are no more loyal subjects of the Empire than they are’.119

The judge then asked Dhingra if he wished to make any statements regarding the prosecution’s case, to which he nonchalantly replied that he concurs with all the witnesses. He did not want to call any evidences in his favour but however wished to read his statement. The historic statement of Madan Lal Dhingra was as follows:

I do not want to say anything in defence of myself, but simply to prove the justice of my deed. As for myself, no English law court has got any authority to arrest and detain me in prison, or pass sentence of death on me. That is the reason I did not have any counsel to defend me.

And I maintain that if it is patriotic in an Englishman to fight against the Germans if they were to occupy this country, it is much more justifiable and patriotic in my case to fight against the English. I hold the English people responsible for the murder of 80 millions of Indian people in the last fifty years, and they are also responsible for taking away £100,000,000 every year from India to this country. I also hold them responsible for the hanging and deportation of my patriotic countrymen, who did just the same as the English people here are advising their countrymen to do. And the Englishman who goes out to India and gets, say, £100 a month, that simply means that he passes a sentence of death on a thousand of my poor countrymen, because these thousand people could easily live on this £100, which the Englishman spends mostly on his frivolities and pleasures.

Just as the Germans have no right to occupy this country, so the English people have no right to occupy India, and it is perfectly justifiable on our part to kill the Englishman who is polluting our sacred land. I am surprised at the terrible hypocrisy, the farce, and the mockery of the English people. They pose as the champions of oppressed humanity—the peoples of the Congo and the people of Russia—when there is terrible oppression and horrible atrocities committed in India; for example, the killing of two millions of people every year and the outraging of our women. In case this country is occupied by Germans, and the Englishman, not bearing to see the Germans walking with the insolence of conquerors in the streets of London, goes and kills one or two Germans, and that Englishman is held as a patriot by the people of this country, then certainly I am prepared to work for the emancipation of my Motherland.

Whatever else I have to say is in the paper before the Court. I make this statement, not because I wish to plead for mercy or anything of that kind. I wish that English people should sentence me to death, for in that case the vengeance of my countrymen will be all the more keen. I put forward this statement to show the justice of my cause to the outside world, and especially to our sympathizers in America and Germany.120
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Re: Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past by Vikram Sampath

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Part 3 of 3

The Court was stunned and the room fell silent. When asked if he still wanted recourse to legal aid, an irritated Dhingra said:

I have told you over and over again that I do not acknowledge the authority of the Court. You can do whatever you like. I do not mind at all. You can pass sentence of death on me. I do not care. You white people are all-powerful now, but, remember, it shall have our turn in the time to come, when we can do what we like.


The judge pronounced Dhingra guilty of the crime on 17 August and sentenced him to death by hanging. He was committed to the sessions trial held at Old Bailey, to be conducted by Chief Justice Lord Alverston. Even as he was being led away by the police, Dhingra addressed the judge and said: ‘Thank you, my Lord. I don’t care. I am proud to have the honour of laying down my life for the cause of my motherland.’121

Dhingra was lodged at Brixton Jail where Vinayak came to meet him on 22 July. While his entire family had disowned him, Vinayak stood firmly beside Dhingra. The two had an emotional meeting with tears streaming down their cheeks. ‘I have come to have the darshan (meeting) of a great patriot and martyr,’ 122 Vinayak is said to have told Dhingra, to which the latter fell to his feet with tears of joy and gratitude. During their next meeting a few days later, Dhingra conveyed two wishes: that he should get a small mirror so that he may be sure that he was going to the gallows with the same cheerful face and that he be cremated in strict accordance with Hindu rites and that no non-Hindu should be allowed to touch his body. He also decreed that his clothes and belongings be sold and the money thus obtained be utilized for the nationalist cause.

As disturbed as Vinayak was with the execution of Dhingra looming large, he resolved to commit himself to another duty towards his friend. He was determined to get Dhingra’s voice published in the press so that he did not go down in history as the violent and misguided lunatic that the Indian community and his own family had portrayed him as. This was a dangerous and a seemingly impossible task. But Vinayak was adamant. There was a second statement that Dhingra wanted to read out in court but the police had confiscated it and prevented him from doing so. Vinayak and his associates managed to get a copy of this suppressed statement. The best tribute, they thought they could pay Dhingra, was to get this second statement published. Several British leaders, such as Hyndman, who were sympathetic to the Indian cause but did not approve of Dhingra’s means, admitted that his indictment of the British government was stinging and true. The statement thus needed to be read and understood by a wide cross section of British people. Vinayak got copies of the statement printed and Gyanchand Verma rushed to Paris to post them to various American and Irish newspapers. The British intelligence reports contend that the style of writing was so like Vinayak’s that it could have well been written by him. Vinayak approached David Garnett, a friend who worked with the Daily News in London, and asked him if he had the courage to publish the statement that no other London newspaper dared to. Garnett took the piece to his boss, Robert Lynd, who agreed to publish the ‘scoop’ as an exclusive for the morning edition of 16 August 1909—a day prior to Dhingra’s execution. The editor’s note had the following preface to Dhingra’s final statement that was titled as ‘Challenge’: 23

A copy has been placed in our hands of the statement, which Dhingra drew up before the murder, intending it to be read as if it had been subsequently drawn up. To this document, the prisoner referred in the course of the trial, but it was not given to the public. We may add that a copy has been, for some time, in the possession of certain of Dhingra’s compatriots. The statement is as follows:

CHALLENGE

I admit, the other day, I attempted to shed English blood as a humble revenge for the inhuman hangings and deportations of patriotic Indian youths. In this attempt I have consulted none but my own conscience; I have conspired with none but my own duty.

I believe that a nation held in bondage with the help of foreign bayonets is in perpetual state of war. Since open battle is rendered impossible to a disarmed race, I attacked by surprise; since guns were denied to me, I drew forth my pistol and fired.

As a Hindu, I feel that a wrong done to my country is an insult to God. Poor in health and intellect, a son like myself has nothing to offer to the Mother but his own blood, and so I have sacrificed the same on her altar. Her cause is the cause of Shri Rama. Her services are the services of Shri Krishna. This War of Independence will continue between India and England so long as the Hindu and the English races last (if this present unnatural relation does not cease).

The only lesson required in India at present is to learn how to die and the only way to teach it is by dying ourselves. Therefore I die and glory to my martyrdom.

My only prayer to God is: may I be reborn of the same Mother and may I re-die in the same sacred cause till the cause is successful and she stands free for the good of humanity and the glory of God.

Vande Mataram!


Decades later, when Lloyd George explained to Winston Churchill his admiration for Dhingra’s patriotism, it is said that Churchill exclaimed: ‘Dhingra’s last words are the finest ever made in the name of patriotism’ and even compared him with Plutarch’s immortal heroes.124

On the destined morning of 17 August, large crowds had gathered outside Pentonville Jail. Quite significantly, the ‘crowd comprised hardly a handful of Indians’. 125 As the clock struck nine, Dhingra embraced death with cheer and the confidence that his martyrdom would inspire thousands of young men like him back home. In a vile move, the British turned down the petition for handing over the dead body for cremation and decided to bury it inside the jail as per usual practice, despite Dhingra’s last wish. Gyanchand Verma, however, performed the obsequies as per Hindu traditions and even shaved his head. It was only on 13 December 1976 that Dhingra’s mortal remains were repatriated by the Indian government led by Indira Gandhi, brought to his hometown Amritsar, where a memorial was built in his honour.126

Dhingra’s martyrdom and his soul-stirring statements were covered widely by the American, European and Irish press. While most of them honoured Dhingra’s courage and conduct during the trial, the New York Times editorial, entitled ‘British Complacency and Crime’, found fault with both India House and British nonchalance when it came to Indian students in London. It said:

But other things were done at India House. Every week a secret society there whose members called themselves ‘The Destroyers.’ [sic] This society was formed to put into practice Mr Krishnavarma’s principles . . . ‘The Destroyers’ were so many kittens that must be kindly stroked and not restrained, it was said. They must be taught the error of their ways by tracts and editorial articles setting for the magnanimity of British rule in the mother country.127


Undeterred by criticism, the Indian revolutionaries in London, under Vinayak’s leadership, got pamphlets published titled ‘To the memory of our patriot Madan Lal Dhingra’:

This day the morning of the 17th August 1909 will remain engraved in red letters in the heart of every Indian who loves his Motherland. This is the morning that our great patriot, our beloved Dhingra, is swinging to and fro with his sacred neck in the grip of execution ropes in Pentonville prison. His high soul is rising from his earthly body, giving more spirituality to the cause on whose altar he is sacrificed. This great patriot is no more with us in his earthly body, but in spirit he is with us, will remain with us, will guide us in the battle of freedom of our motherland, and his name written in the history of India will go down to posterity. The alien oppression of his Motherland he could not bear, and he decided to help the movement, which is engaged in freeing Her, by giving his life . . . ‘I told you that the English Court has no authority over me. I do not care for my life. You are all powerful. You can do what you like. But remember that one day we shall be powerful, and then we shall do what we like’— were his words when the English Judge, who must have been feeling demoralized in inner heart, told him that his life will be taken . . . and how our enemies have killed him! But let them remember that they will never, never succeed in suppressing or killing the movement. Moral force like gentle tides at the touch of storm sweeps away hills and lands. The act of a patriot comes like storm to the moral waves of human society, and sweeping away the barriers, leads the cause to success.128


The London newspaper, New Age, made a significant observation: ‘India in the future will regard him (Dhingra) as a hero with full responsibility. We say India will be right. Our own opinion must be put on record. It is the beginning of the end of British Rule in India.’129

The Dhingra episode—the first daring act of political violence against the British, right on their home turf—sent shock waves across the world and back home in India. V.V.S. Aiyar’s articles in India , a Pondicherry weekly edited by Subramania Bharati, created a stir. Bharati also resigned from the daily in protest following ideological differences with the owners of the newspaper. Aiyar continued to contribute to the newspaper under various pseudonyms such as ‘Deshabhaktan’, ‘Bharata Sevakan’ and ‘Bharata Priyan’. There were articles about Dhingra’s trial, his last days in prison and the well-behaved convict that he was, and how he only read spiritual books in his last days. G.S. Khaparde, political activist, lawyer and Tilak’s close associate, who was in England between 1908 and 1910, gave interviews about Dhingra’s martyrdom and what it meant for the cause of freedom. In a conversation with W.S. Blunt, he said that if ‘India could produce 500 men as absolutely without fear, she would achieve her freedom . . . no great fortitude was ever shown by a martyr for any faith. With such men to love her, Mother India must succeed’.130

There had been trouble brewing between Shyamji and the young revolutionaries of India House for a while now. This became more intense following Dhingra’s martyrdom, especially because of Shyamji’s stoic silence after Curzon Wyllie’s assassination. It was ten days after the assassination that he broke his silence, after repeated entreaties by Vinayak and others. From Paris, he wrote a letter to The Times strongly condemning the search of the India House, but also hastened to add that he had never known or met Dhingra who had come to India House after his departure to Paris. However, Shyamji added:

Although I have had absolutely no connection with the assassination in question, which according to the patriotic and courageous statement made last Saturday by Mr Dhingra in the course of the police court enquiry was committed entirely on political grounds, I frankly approve of the deed and regard its author as a martyr to the cause of Indian Independence. The name of Madanlal Dhingra will go down to posterity as that of one who sacrificed his life by remaining faithful to the altar of the ideal . . . his statement before the magistrate and his final declaration during the trial at the Old Bailey in London, conspicuous as they both are for their courage, truth, and patriotism, put him on the very highest plane among the liberated heroes in the world’s struggle for freedom.131


Curiously enough, in the July 1909 edition of the Indian Sociologist , Shyamji had mentioned that, ‘political assassination is not murder . . . we have the support of International Law according to which political offenders have not sinned against the morality of the universe but against the absurd laws of an antiquated political system, like the one now prevailing in India’. 132 The coincidence of the Curzon Wyllie murder happening in the same month as this long article justifying political assassinations, naturally pointed the needle of suspicion directly to Shyamji as the mastermind. In all fairness, given he had no knowledge of Vinayak and Dhingra’s plans, Shyamji thought it prudent to distance himself from the act, though not disagreeing with it in principle. This became a sore point for the young revolutionaries who felt let down by their mentor. This, despite the August 1909 edition of the Indian Sociologist heaping encomiums on Dhingra’s bravery and martyrdom, and pronouncing that, ‘the declaration of faith, as embodied in his statement and utterances . . . will no doubt be circulated among Indian Nationalists as a holy tract’. 133 Shyamji also announced four scholarships in Dhingra’s memory.

Vinayak and his associates had strayed from the purely theoretical radicalism that Shyamji propounded. Shyamji’s contradictory stands on the issue of political violence and assassinations caused consternation among the revolutionaries. They were naturally ‘incensed and exasperated in an ever-increasing degree at the over-weening self-conceit and high pretensions of leadership that were implicit in Shyamaji’s writings’. 134 His attempts to control the young revolutionaries from Paris did not go down well with many of them, leading to several open, ugly arguments. Vinayak however stayed away from attacking Shyamji as it was the latter who had ‘installed him in the India House’ 135 and also enabled his education through the scholarship.

However, a volatile young man like Virendranath Chattopadhyay had no such qualms. He wrote stinging indictments of Shyamji in The Times , saying, ‘He may call himself by whatever name he pleases but he is not in any sense of the word a Nationalist. He (Shyamji) has never been accepted as a leader even by a small minority in India, although during his seventeen years’ residence in this country he has striven hard by “patriotic gifts” to take part in a great movement that absolutely and categorically refuses his guidance.’136

Vinayak’s many revolutionary associates were absolutely dismayed by the meticulous care that Shyamji took to disclaim personal connections with the revolutionaries, and yet give theoretical support to political assassinations. Chattopadhyay writes in another letter to The Times : ‘The day that I feel convinced of the necessity of political assassination and underground work I shall cease to write. I shall return to my country and put my theories into practice. But I shall certainly not seek a safe retreat within the hospitable walls of a European city.137

A year later, in April 1910, Chattopadhyay apologized and made up with Shyamji. Their relationship remained warm and cordial thereafter till Shyamji’s death in 1930.

For publishing Shyamji’s views supporting Dhingra in the July edition of the Indian Sociologist , the printer of the journal, Arthur Fletcher Horsley, was tried for sedition on the same day as Dhingra. Chief Justice Lord Alverston decreed that anyone writing or printing such seditious material in the future would be liable for prosecution. On 23 July, Horsley was also sentenced to four months’ imprisonment. Being a staunch advocate of free press, twenty-two-year-old Guy Aldred, a publisher and an avowed anarchist and supporter of revolutionaries, decided to defy this diktat. He published a long, bitter article attacking British imperialism and praised Dhingra and the other Indian revolutionaries in the August 1909 edition of the Indian Sociologist , in his own name. Among other things, he wrote:

In the execution of Dhingra that cloak will be publicly worn, that secret language spoken, that solemn veil employed to conceal the sword of Imperialism by which we are sacrificed to the insatiable idol of modern despotism, whose ministers are Cromer, Curzon and Morley & Co. Murder—which they would represent to us as a horrible crime, when the murdered is a government flunkey—we see practised by them without repugnance or remorse when the murdered is a working man, a Nationalist patriot, an Egyptian fellaheen or half-starved victim of despotic society’s bloodlust . . . Why then should Dhingra be executed? Because he is not a time-serving executioner, but a Nationalist patriot, who, though his ideals are not their ideals, is worthy of the admiration of those workers at home, who have as little to gain from the lick-spittle crew of Imperialistic blood-sucking, capitalist parasites as what the Nationalists have in India.138


On 25 August 1909, Guy was picked up from his house at 35, Stanlake Road, Shepherd’s Bush. The police confiscated 369 copies of the August edition of the Indian Sociologist . Guy admitted to printing 1500 copies of which 1000 had been sent to Shyamji in Paris. The police also seized copies of correspondences between Shyamji and Guy. In a letter dated 28 July, Shyamji had commended Guy for displaying rare courage of conviction and that he ‘did not fear risk one bit’ 139 by undertaking to print the Indian Sociologist even after Horsley’s arrest. There was also a letter from Shyamji dated 10 August requesting Guy to ensure that the paper comes out at least a day or two before the fateful date of Dhingra’s execution, so that ‘the martyr should see in print’ 140 what Shyamji had said about him. Guy’s press itself was called Bakunin Press after the wellknown Russian revolutionary. Guy was tried on 7 September at the sessions court and on 10 September, Justice Coleridge pronounced him guilty. He was convicted for resisting the laws in force in the British Indian Empire, raising discontent in the minds of native Indians against the king, and promoting the use of physical force, violence and disorder. He was sentenced to twelve months of rigorous imprisonment.141

The police, under Francis Powell, detective inspector of the Metropolitan Police, New Scotland Yard, also traced one James Tochatti who lived in Hammersmith in London. Tochatti was accused as Guy’s associate, and who had in his possession copies of the seditious Indian Sociologist . It was also revealed that Tochatti was preparing to publish the September edition of the magazine and the type too had been set for the same. Frank Kitz and five other men were assisting him in the process. The court ordered the rounding up of all the men involved. Thus, along with the Indian revolutionaries, several British and Irish men who supported the cause of Indian liberation and stood by the Indians also faced the brutal consequences of the law.

The Dhingra episode echoed across different parts of the world for a long time. The newspaper, Vande Mataram, that Aurobindo Ghose and others were bringing out in Calcutta, was suppressed after the Alipore Bomb case. This was revived as The Bande Mataram—a Monthly Organ of Indian Independence by Madame Bhikaji Cama and Lala Har Dayal. The Indian revolutionaries in Paris had also started the ‘Paris India Society’. The very first issue of The Bande Mataram that was published in Geneva on 10 September 1909 was dedicated to Dhingra and his memory. In a tribute titled ‘Dhingra—the Immortal’, it said:

Young India has produced another hero, whose words and deeds shall be cherished by the whole world for centuries to come. Dhingra’s declaration will be treasured in the archives of national and universal history as a precious heirloom for future generations. Dhingra has behaved at each stage of his trial like a hero of ancient times. He has reminded us of the history of Medieval Rajputs and Sikhs, who loved death like a bride. England thinks she has killed Dhingra: in reality, he lives forever and has given the death-blow to British sovereignty in India. Life immortal is his; who can take it away from him. All nations have watched Dhingra’s trial with bated breath, and have felt that New India is unconquerable because she can give birth to such heroic sons.

The Indian patriotic party, which has declared War of the Knife with England has issued a manifesto, in the course of which it says: ‘Dhingra has found out the secret of Life; he has discovered the path of Immortality. He has realized the highest destiny of Man . . . he has lifted himself above the common run of men and joined the company of the saints and heroes.’ These words sum up the attitude of India towards our patriot-martyr.

In time to come, when the British Empire in India shall have been reduced to ashes, Dhingra’s monument will adorn the squares of our chief towns, recalling to the memory of our children the noble life and the nobler death of him who laid down his life in a far-off land for the cause he loved so well.142


The inaugural issue of Talwar , started by Virendranath Chattopadhyay from Paris in November 1909, also paid rich tributes to Dhingra.

But even though there was overwhelming support and appreciation for Dhingra in the months following his execution, there was an equal amount of condemnation of his act by several elements of the political spectrum. Leaders of the moderate wing of the Indian National Congress, quite like the eminent members of the Indian community of London, were deeply critical of Dhingra’s act. They believed that it decelerated the pace and tenor of the negotiations they had been having with the British for greater autonomy. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was stinging in his criticism of Dhingra. He wrote:

It is being said in defence of Sir Curzon Wyllie’s assassination that it is the British who are responsible for India’s ruin, and that, just as the British would kill every German if Germany invaded Britain, so too it is the right of any Indian to kill any Englishman. Every Indian should reflect thoughtfully on this murder. It has done India much harm; the deputation’s efforts have also received a setback. But that need not be taken into consideration. It is the ultimate result that we must think of. Mr Dhingra’s defence is inadmissible. In my view, he has acted like a coward. All the same, one can only pity the man. He was egged on to do this act by ill-digested reading of worthless writings. His defence of himself, too, appears to have been learnt by rote. It is those who incited him to this that deserve to be punished. In my view, Mr. Dhingra himself is innocent. The murder was committed in a state of intoxication. It is not merely wine or bhang that makes one drunk; a mad idea also can do so. That was the case with Mr. Dhingra. The analogy of Germans and Englishmen is fallacious. If the Germans were to invade [Britain], the British would kill only the invaders. They would not kill every German whom they met. Moreover, they would not kill an unsuspecting German, or Germans who are guests. If I kill someone in my own house without a warning—someone who has done me no harm—I cannot but be called a coward. There is an ancient custom among the Arabs that they would not kill anyone in their own house, even if the person be their enemy. They would kill him after he had left the house and after he had been given time to arm himself. Those who believe in violence would be brave men if they observe these rules when killing anyone. Otherwise, they must be looked upon as cowards. It may be said that what Mr. Dhingra did, publicly and knowing full well that he himself would have to die, argues courage of no mean order on his part. But as I have said above, men can do these things in a state of intoxication, and can also banish the fear of death. Whatever courage there is in this is the result of intoxication, not a quality of the man himself. A man’s own courage consists in suffering deeply and over a long period. That alone is a brave act, which is preceded by careful reflection. I must say that those who believe and argue that such murders may do good to India are ignorant men indeed. No act of treachery can ever profit a nation. Even should the British leave in consequence of such murderous acts, who will rule in their place? The only answer is: the murderers. Who will then be happy? Is the Englishman bad because he is an Englishmen? Is it that everyone with an Indian skin is good?143


Despite the criticism of the revolutionary methods, it was no mere coincidence that on 15 November 1909 the government introduced the Indian Councils Act, popularly known as the Morley–Minto Reforms. It was way back in 1906 that Viceroy Lord Minto had prepared a minute arguing for a greater say of Indians in governance, given their rising education levels and awareness. Yet till the revolutionary movement caught steam and a spate of bombings and political assassinations shook both India and Britain, there was little progress on the reforms. Finally, the Act legitimized the election of Indians to various legislative councils across India for the first time. The reforms also granted the request of Muslim groups that had come together under the umbrella of the Muslim League, formed in 1906, demanding separate electorates for their community. This remained a bone of contention for a long time, till it spelt its ultimate disaster on the subcontinent.

In fact, Gandhi too acknowledged the reason for the rapid implementation of these administrative reforms. When asked in an interview, if the Secretary of State Lord Morley’s reforms were driven by the fear of the revolutionaries, Gandhi candidly admitted that: ‘The English are both a timid and a brave nation. England is, I believe, easily influenced by the use of gunpowder. It is possible that Lord Morley has granted the reforms through fear, but what is granted under fear can be retained only so long as the fear lasts.’144

The questioner was confused with the self-contradiction in the reply and pointed that out:

Will you not admit that you are arguing against yourself? You know that what the English obtained in their own country they obtained by using brute force. I know you have argued that what they have obtained is useless, but that does not affect my argument. They wanted useless things and they got them. My point is that their desire was fulfilled. What does it matter what means they adopted? Why should we not obtain our goal, which is good, by any means whatsoever, even by using violence? Shall I think of the means when I have to deal with a thief in the house? My duty is to drive him out anyhow. You seem to admit that we have received nothing, and that we shall receive nothing, by petitioning. Why, then, may we not do so by using brute force? And, to retain what we may receive, we shall keep up the fear by using the same force to the extent that it may be necessary. You will not find fault with a continuance of force to prevent a child from thrusting its foot into fire? Somehow or other we have to gain our end.145


In response, he was given an extremely long-winding series of justifications, theological and philosophical constructs that largely contradicted each other, forcing him to move on to another question.

Exactly three years after their first meeting in October 1906, Gandhi met Vinayak again on 24 October 1909. The Indian community gathered to celebrate the festival of Vijayadashami, the tenth day following the nineday festivities and fasting of Navaratri. To avoid British surveillance, Englishmen were also invited. Nearly seventy Indians participated. Gandhi was invited to preside over the meeting. He agreed on the condition that ‘no controversial politics were to be touched upon’ 146 and that he would rather speak on the greatness of the Ramayana. He was dressed in a swallow-tailed coat and stiff front shirt. In his address, Gandhi mentioned that the occasion of Vijayadashami that marked the victory of Lord Shri Ramachandra was a momentous one and that He needed to be honoured by every Indian as a historical personage. Gandhi went on:

Everyone, whether Hindu, Muslim or Parsi, should be proud of belonging to a country, which produced a man like Shri Ramachandra. To the extent that he was a great Indian, he should be honoured by every Indian. For the Hindus, he is a god. If India again produced a Ramachandra, a Sita, a Lakshmana and a Bharata, she would attain prosperity in no time. It should be remembered, of course, that before Ramachandra qualified for public service, he suffered exile in the forest for 12 years. Sita went through extreme suffering and Lakshmana lived without sleep all those years and observed celibacy. When Indians learn to live in that manner, they can, from that instant count themselves as free men. India has no other way of achieving happiness for herself.147


It was then Vinayak’s turn to speak. Indirectly puncturing holes in Gandhi’s arguments, he said that it would be worthwhile to remember that Vijayadashami is preceded by a nine-day fast to propitiate Goddess Durga, who is a symbol of war and annihilation of evil. He concurred with Gandhi that Ramachandra was the life and soul of India but urged the audience to remember that even he could not establish Rama Rajya (his kingdom) without slaying Ravana who symbolized tyranny, aggression and injustice. If Ramachandra had merely sat on a fast, it was unlikely that his kingdom could have been established. He went on:

Hindus are the heart of Hindustan. Nevertheless, just as the beauty of the rainbow is not impaired but enhanced by its varied hues, so also Hindustan will look all the more beautiful across the sky of future by assimilating all the best from the Muslim, Parsee, Jewish and other civilizations.148


Vinayak’s stirring speech won him many accolades from the audience. Barrister Asaf Ali who was present at the event described Vinayak as being as ‘fragile as an anemic girl, restless as a mountain torrent, and keen as the edge of a torpedo blade’. He later wrote that it was not an exaggeration to say that Vinayak was ‘one of the few really effective speakers I have known and heard, and there is hardly an orator of the first rank either here or in England whom I have not had the privilege of hearing’.149

The clash between the ideologies of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar had only just begun.

As a consequence of the Dhingra episode and Curzon Wyllie’s murder, the attitude of the British government toward Indian students in London became harsher. It was a deeply embarrassing incident for Scotland Yard and the British intelligence community. People wondered how Dhingra managed to take rifle-shooting lessons for months, with no detective ever being able to trace it. After the assassination, the letters exchanged between Morley and Minto convey their frustration and their disappointment especially with Sir Edward Henry, the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. ‘I much fear,’ Morley wrote, ‘that Henry has no real grasp of a situation that has caught him entirely by surprise . . . On the whole the police frame of mind strikes me as extremely casual; either making needless fuss or else not making serious fuss enough.’150

Scotland Yard’s response to the crisis was to put Morley and Lord Curzon under protective surveillance. Within three weeks of the assassination, Morley had his own personal retinue of three Special Branch detectives follow him to and from work at the India Office. 151 These additional agents and increased surveillance were cosmetic changes that were deemed inadequate by the British government, press and the public alike.

In the aftermath of Curzon Wyllie’s assassination, the British government ordered a closure of India House as it was seen as the nerve centre of revolutionary activity. In the last meeting held at the House on 4 July 1909 before it was shut down, Vinayak made a speech eulogizing Dhingra’s bravery. In a reference to Harishchandra Krishnarao Koregaonkar who had shadowed Dhingra during the assassination, Vinayak said: ‘There was one man to watch and guide the whole thing and he says that Dhingra stood cool, and calm firing at the prostrate figure of his country’s enemy, Wyllie.’ 152 On 21 July 1909, a farewell meeting was held at an Indian restaurant at No 17, Red Lion Passage, Holborn, that was attended by all the India House inmates. They had gathered to wish Koregaonkar well, as he was on his way back to India, and to thank him for his contributions. Vinayak and others personally saw him off at Victoria Station.

The British were conscious that with the closure of India House and in view of heightened police surveillance, a flight of the revolutionaries abroad was imminent. Most revolutionaries would now find safer havens in other European cities, especially Paris. In October 1909, Sajani Ranjan Banerjee, or Sukhsagar Dutt, was employed specifically for the purpose of a twenty-four-hour surveillance on Indian students who seemed suspicious. He was to act as a conduit between the DCI in India and Scotland Yard in London. It was decided to create an Indian secret service to facilitate easy communication and sharing of information between these two organizations spread across continents.

John Arnold Wallinger, who was to head this new secret service, began coordinating operations between the DCI, Scotland Yard and also the Paris Police Force. 153 Wallinger had earlier served as the superintendent of the Bombay Police and had an excellent grasp over several Indian languages. This appointment and the decision to work in coordination with Paris were to prove fortuitous when it came to Vinayak in the following year.

With India House closing down, Vinayak moved to Bipin Chandra Pal’s house. But after the Dhingra episode, Pal suddenly shifted his priorities to side with the moderates in their denunciation of Dhingra. This made Vinayak’s stay at his house untenable. He was chased from lodge to lodge, sometimes two in the course of a single day due to police pressure. On one such occasion where he had already changed two lodges and had just checked into the third and was beginning to lie down, the owner asked him to vacate since the detectives seemed to have posted themselves around the place. He was exhausted and was on the verge of physical collapse. At this point, a German lady accepted him as a boarder in a room ‘over a small and extremely dirty Indian restaurant in Red Lion Passage’. 154 A police officer noted that this lady was not only a ‘bit of an anarchist herself ’ but also ‘German’. 155 They saw proof of her subversive orientation in the fact that on one instance she had warned Vinayak, who was holding a meeting with fellow Indians in his room, about detectives lurking around. Consequently, one of the Indians was sent outside to distract the agents and after a second warning knock, the meeting ‘dispersed in some evident haste and trepidation’.156

Vinayak interestingly shared the room with a certain Sukh Sagar Dutt. It is not clear whether this Dutt was the same British informant or if they were different individuals—though the latter seems more likely.

Garnett describes how the windows of the room that Vinayak and Dutt shared looked across the filthy alleys of one of the dirtiest London slums. The room opposite theirs was occupied by a lady with four children and she kept ‘screaming and (was) frequently drunk’. But Vinayak seemed totally at peace and ‘was indifferent to her existence and indeed oblivious to his environment. He was wrapped in visions.’ And what were these visions? Garnett speculates:

India was a volcano, which had erupted violently during the Mutiny and which could be made to erupt again and that every act of terrorism and violence would beget further violence and further terrorism until Indians regained their manliness and their mother country her freedom. All the sufferings involved were a fitting sacrifice to her.157


Vinayak knew that his days in London were now numbered.

Unfortunately for Vinayak, bad news did not seem to cease. In November 1909, the viceroy, Lord Minto, was on a tour of the princely states of Gujarat and was to visit Ahmedabad. The British feared that Abhinav Bharat members might cause disturbances and hence heightened the security in and around the viceroy’s travel route. Brahmagiri Bua of the Poona branch of Abhinav Bharat was indeed planning to throw bombs at the viceroy’s cavalcade and they were in regular touch with the Ganganath Bharatiya Vidyalaya in Baroda. Despite the tight security, the revolutionaries managed to hurl a bomb at the viceroy’s procession, although he managed to escape unhurt.

The accused, Mohanlal Pandya, was a close associate of Barin Ghose and Narayanrao Savarkar. Consequently, Vinayak’s seventeen-year-old brother was also arrested on suspicion of involvement in the crime. It was later, on the evidence of his high school headmaster, that Narayanrao was in Poona on the day of the explosion that he was released after a few days. His arrest shattered Yesu Vahini who was already suffering the consequences of Babarao’s transportation to the Andamans. She wrote a heart-wrenching letter to Vinayak, who was her best friend and confidant, conveying her utter despair and grief at these developments. The poet in Vinayak burst forth. The year 1909 had been particularly harsh. Little did he know that the years following it would only be worse. He wrote a deeply moving poem to Yesu titled ‘Santvana’ (Consolation). The rough translation of the Marathi poem is as follows:

(1)

My loving salutations to thee, O my sister!
Whose love hath so tenderly nursed me as to make me forget
The early loss of my mother.
Received your letter of blessing, have taken to heart what you hath written
Thy letter gladdened my heart and made me feel truly blessed,
Blessed indeed is this family of ours in as much as it is
Thus privileged to serve Lord Ram and administer to his Will!

(2)

Many a flower blooms and withers away
Who has kept their count or note
But behold, the lotus flower that was plucked by Gajendra’s trunk
And offered at the feet of Sri Hari and thus withered away there
Became immortal and holy; effecting moksha
Thus is our Mother Bharat like the pious Gajendra seeking deliverance
Let her come to our garden and offer our dark blue-black lotus flower
And pluck it from the bough to offer it at the feet of Sri Rama.
Blessed indeed is our family tree, definitely touched by the divine
In as much as it is privileged to serve Sri Rama

(3)

Let then the rest of our flowers too be plucked thus
And offered at the feet of Sri Rama
Let this mortal body be put to good use
Immortal is the family tree that has extinguished itself for the nation
Its fragrance of human welfare spreads all around
O Mother, weave a garland of all in bloom for the
Festival of the Nine Nights
Once the momentous Ninth Night passes
And the ninth garland is woven and offered
Kali the Terrible will reveal Herself
And grant Victory to her votaries

(4)

Sister! Thou hast ever been the symbol of courage,
The source of my inspiration.
Thou too art a consecrated and avowed votary to Ram’s noble mission
Thy consecration to this great and noble cause
Calls upon thee to be great and noble thyself.
Behold! On one side stand watching the past souls of sages and saints
Of our race gone before and on the other side the
Future generations yet unborn!
May we be able to acquit ourselves today in a manner
As to evoke universal approval from these godly spectators. 158


Physically and emotionally exhausted and broken, Vinayak left London for Brighton, a seaside town. On the evening of 10 December 1909, he was sitting by the Brighton beach with his friend Niranjan Pal, Bipin Chandra Pal’s son. All around him, happy families, parents and their children were enjoying the lovely weather, the sea, surf and sand. Vinayak was overwhelmed with intense pathos and longing for his Motherland. Everything suddenly seemed to have been shattered. His professional and personal lives were in tatters. But more importantly he felt that he had been a colossal failure in the sacred mission—armed struggle to liberate his motherland—that he had set out upon. Dhingra’s execution, the public ostracism and shaming that followed, and constantly being on the run were taking their toll on Vinayak.

Niranjan Pal described that poignant moment:

Presently he commenced to hum a song, he sang as he composed. It was a Marathi song, describing the pitiable serfdom of India. Forgetful of all else Savarkar went on singing . . . Presently, tears began to roll down his cheeks . . . His voice became choked. He sobbed . . . but he still sang. The song remained unfinished . . . he burst and began to weep like a child.159


This catharsis manifested itself in the form of that immortal melody that has haunted innumerable people ever since—Ne majasi ne parat matrubhoomila, sagara, prana, talamalalaa. The classic poem and its translation are as follows:

Ne majasi ne parata matrubhumila, sagara prana talamalalaa

Bhumatecha charana tala tujha doota, mee nitya pahila hota
Maja vadalasi anya deshi chala jaaoo, srishtichi vividhata pahoo
Tayi janani hrid viraha shankitahi jhaale, pari tuva vachan tija didhale
Margagya swaye meecha prushti vahina, twarita ya parata aneena
Vishwasalo ya tava vachani mee, jagadanubhavayoge banuni mee
Tava adhika shakta uddharani mee, Yeyina tware, kathuni sodile tijala,
Sagara prana talamalalaa (1) Shuka panjara vaa harina shirava pashi, he phasagata jhali taishi
Bhuviraha kasa satata sahu ya pudhati, dashadisha tamomaya hoti
Gunasumane mi vechiyali ya bhave, ki tine sugandha ghyave
Jari uddharani, vyaya na tichya ho sacha, ha vyartha bhara vidyecha
Ti amra vriksha vatsalata re, navakusumayuta tya sulata re
To bala gulabahi ata re, phulabaga mala, haaye parakha jhala
Sagara prana talamalalaa (2)

Nabhi nakshatre bahuta eka pari pyara, majha bharatabhumicha tara
Prasada ithe bhavya pari majha bhari, aaichi jhopdi pyari
Tijavina nako rajya maja priya sacha, vanavasa tichya jari vanicha
Bhulavine vyartha he ata re, bahu jivalaga gamate chitta re
Tuja saritpate ri sarita re, tvadvirahachi shapata ghalito tujala
Sagara prana talamalalaa (3)

Ya phenamishe hasasi nirdaya kaisa, ka vachana bhangisi aisa?
Tvat swamitva samprata ji miravite, bhiuni ka angla bhumite
Manmatela abala mhanuni phasavisi, maja vivasanate deshi
Tari angla bhumi bhayabheeta re, abala na majhi hi mata re
Kathila he agastisa ata re, jo achamani ek kshani tuja pyala
Sagara prana talamalalaa (4)

Oh Ocean, take me back to my Motherland!
My soul in so much torment be!
Lapping worshipfully at my mother’s feet
So always I saw you
Let us visit other Lands to see
The abounding nature, said you.
Seeing my Mother’s heart full of qualms
A sacred oath you did give to her,
Knowing the way home, upon your back
My speedy return you promised her.
Fell for your promise did I!
That worldly-wise n’ able be I
Her deliverance better serve do I
Upon returning, so saying I left her.
Oh Ocean, my soul in so much torment be! (1)

Like a parrot in a cage, like a deer in a trap—
Oh so duped am I
Parting from my mother for ever—
Besieged by darkness am I!
Flowers of virtue gather did I
That blessed by their fragrance she be.
Bereft from service for her deliverance
My learning a futile burden it be,
The love of her mango trees, oh!
The beauty of her blossoming vines, oh! Her tender budding rose, oh!
Oh forever lost is her garden to me,
Oh Ocean, my soul in so much torment be! (2)

Stars abound in the heavens above, but
Only the star of Bharat-land love I
Here are found plush palaces, but
Only my mother’s humble hut love I
What care I for a kingdom without Her?
Ever exile in her forests choose I.
Deception is futile now, say I
Let you not be spared, vow I
Suffer the same pangs, cry I
Of parting with the dearest of your rivers!
Oh Ocean, my soul in so much torment be! (3)

Oh Ye of Foaming Surf, pitilessly you mock!
Why go back on your word, oh!
Why deceive my helpless mother,
Oh why condemn me to exile so!
Was it in fear of England
Who flaunts her mastery over you so?
Fearsome though England may be,
O My Mother is not feeble so
Tell all about Sage Agastya she will, lo
Who in one gulp your waters drank!
Oh Ocean, my soul in so much torment be! (4) 160


The poem is one of the masterpieces of modern Marathi literature. Later, it was set to music by musician and composer Hridaynath Mangeshkar, Vinayak’s close associate, and rendered in the melodious voices of singers Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Meena Mangeshkar and Hridyanath Mangeshkar. The song tugs at one’s heart strings. It fails to leave anyone who hears it unmoved.

The emotional trauma and strain that Vinayak suffered manifested itself as physical illness. Around December 1909, Vinayak went down with pneumonia and acute bronchitis. The condition worsened to the extent that he was advised to move to a sanatorium in Wales and was put under the care of an Indian doctor, C. Muthu. The cost of treatment was borne by Shyamji.

But even as he was beginning to convalesce, there was more stormy news from back home coming his way.
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Re: Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past by Vikram Sampath

Postby admin » Thu May 13, 2021 2:32 am

Part 1 of 2

6 Endgame London

Nashik, December 1909 It was planned as an evening of festive celebrations. On 21 December 1909, several eminent members of Nashik had congregated to bid farewell to the district collector, Arthur Mason Tippetts Jackson. The district collector, who had been in India since 1888, had managed to beguile several people in Nashik with fanciful tales that in his past life he was a learned Brahmin and hence felt connected to them all. He had even learnt Marathi and Sanskrit to endear himself to the natives. So much so that he was called ‘Pandit Jackson’ by many.1

Jackson was being promoted and transferred to Bombay as commissioner and hence a public felicitation was being organized at the Vijayanand Theatre in Nashik. The Kirloskar Theatre Group was staging a Marathi play, Sharada , on this occasion and speeches and Jackson’s felicitation was planned during the intermission. Jackson arrived at the stipulated time, accompanied by two ladies and an assistant collector, Mr Jolly. Excitement peaked among the welcome party that had gathered at the theatre’s door to lead him inside.

Even as Jackson was exchanging pleasantries with the gathering, a young man, barely eighteen, leapt from amid the welcome party, took out a Browning pistol from his coat pocket and shot at Jackson. The bullet missed him, flying past his hand. Before Jackson and the others could comprehend what had transpired, the young man swiftly came forward and fired four bullets straight at Jackson’s chest. Jackson fell to the ground and succumbed to his injuries. Police officer Todarmal grabbed the young assailant. Among the welcoming party of the city’s dignitaries, one Khopkar snatched the pistol from his hand and another agitated gentleman, one Panashikar, hit the young man hard on his head with his stick, causing him to bleed. Inside the theatre, in the front gallery meant for important persons, where seat tickets cost 12 annas each, two other young men were seated much before Jackson arrived. They were on stand-by, just in case the young assailant failed in his attempts.2 After they heard the shots, they made a quick escape in the ensuing commotion.

The young assailant was Anantrao Laxman Kanhere, and his two comrades in the crime seated inside the theatre were twenty-three-year-old Krishnaji Gopal Karve and twenty-one-year-old Vinayak Narayan Deshpande—all members of Abhinav Bharat.3

While several people in Nashik were charmed by Pandit Jackson, there were few who knew that this was a trick he employed to gain the people’s confidence and elicit secrets from them. He was staunchly opposed to any movements that sought freedom. Stories abounded about how when one of his officers beat an Indian peasant to death for merely touching his golf ball, instead of having him convicted, Jackson whitewashed the case and got the officer transferred. Fake documents were manufactured to prove that the peasant had died of diarrhoea. On another occasion, young men returning from a fair chanting slogans of ‘Vande Mataram’ were rounded up for anti-national activity. A conscientious lawyer, Babasaheb Khare, who fought cases for the young revolutionaries put to trouble by Jackson, was hounded, barred from court practice, his property confiscated and he was imprisoned in Dharwar prison. The shock was too much for Khare to bear and he lost his mental balance. The last straw was Jackson’s enthusiasm in getting Babarao Savarkar arrested and tried. The visual of him being handcuffed and paraded in the streets of Nashik at Jackson’s behest angered many young men. They were itching to take revenge. And Kanhere executed this plan on that fateful evening.

Born in 1891 in the Ayani Mete village of Khed district, Ratnagiri, Kanhere had two brothers and a sister. After completing his primary education in Nizamabad, he moved to Aurangabad for his secondary English studies. He had even written a novel, Mitra Prem , about the friendships he had developed during this time. Significant among them were Gangaram Rupchand, a Marwari businessman, and Gopal Govind Dharap, both members of the Aurangabad branch of Abhinav Bharat. Their association exposed him to revolutionary ideas, and he was stirred by the fire of liberating his country. He became a member and took the oath as well. Kanhere was enraged about the treatment meted out to Babarao Savarkar and expressed his determination to avenge this. Providentially, Ganesh Balwant Vaidya (Ganu, as he was affectionately called)—an acquirer and keeper of Abhinav Bharat arms in Nashik—visited Aurangabad around this time. Being in the Nizam’s domain, acquiring arms was easier in Aurangabad. Ganu stayed at Gangaram’s house where the latter showed him daggers, swords, guns and other kinds of weapons. They discussed plans related to Abhinav Bharat. Kanhere happened to eavesdrop on their conversation and at night woke Ganu up and conveyed his resolve to avenge Babarao’s sentence. Ganu did not commit to anything and said he needed to consult his associates in Nashik. On his return, he spoke to his Abhinav Bharat associates and they decided to invite Kanhere over to Nashik for a preliminary discussion.4

In this meeting on 19 September 1909, Kanhere was acquainted with leading members of Abhinav Bharat in Nashik: Vinayak Narayan Deshpande, Wamanrao Narayan Joshi and also Shankar Ramachandra Soman who had a secret organization similar to Abhinav Bharat. Twentyone-year-old Vinayak Deshpande was an assistant teacher at Panchavati School at Nashik and also ran a small handloom business. On the third floor of the building where the handloom operated, in a dark old room, Abhinav Bharat meetings were conducted. Deshpande had gathered explosives and stored them in a box here. At Deshpande’s house in Deolali, Ganu and Deshpande manufactured the explosive chemical picric acid from sulphuric acid, nitric acid and carbolic acid. These were all buried in the ground to safeguard them. A year younger than Deshpande, Joshi was his colleague at Panchavati School, while eighteen-year-old Soman was still a student at Nasik High School. Soman taught the members how to manufacture explosives from his chemistry manuals.

Kanhere was thoroughly questioned several times about why he felt this strong urge to murder Jackson, and after ascertaining his genuineness the group embraced him. He was taken to the District Office a few times by Waman so that he saw Jackson and had no doubts about his identity. He was thereafter given a pistol by Vinayak Deshpande, taken to a desolate place on the outskirts of Nashik and made to practise shooting at short and long ranges. Kanhere, who knew he would not live after committing this act, went to a local studio on 22 September dressed in his best attire. He wanted to get himself photographed so that his family could have something of him as a memory.

For some reason though the execution kept getting postponed. Kanhere had to return to Aurangabad as his family wanted him to stay with them. He took a small automatic Browning pistol along to practise shooting back home. His comrades in Nashik got him back based on a false telegram from his brother stating that he was ill in Nashik and wanted his support. At the Nashik Road Station, he was met by Deshpande, Soman, Waman Joshi and Ganu, in addition to a new young man, Krishnaji Gopal Karve who was the head of the Nashik branch of Abhinav Bharat. Twenty-threeyear-old Karve was a BA (Hons) graduate and was studying law in Bombay. He knew the art of making bombs and had taught the same to Soman and Damodar Mahadev Chandratre. Around May–June 1909, he had procured seven Browning pistols, one revolver, and a country-made pistol from Gopalrao Patankar, the same man who had received the consignment of Browning pistols sent by Vinayak from London through the cook Chaturbhuj Jhaverbhai Amin Patidar in March 1909. Till then, Karve was not aware of the plot to murder Jackson, and he wanted to meet Kanhere. In the dark hours of the evening, the young men discussed their plans. Kanhere’s demands to have a helper in the task was scoffed at by the rest of the group and somehow the differences led to them departing. Also, Karve and the other members of the Nashik branch said they were not prepared yet to commit the murder.

It was towards the end of November 1909 when it became known that Jackson would soon be gone for good from Nashik that the group got reactivated. On 21 December, Deshpande went to Aurangabad and fetched Kanhere. Some other young men from Aurangabad such as Kashinath Hari Ankushkar and Dattatraya Panduranga Joshi (Dattoo) also came to Nashik around this time and stayed with Ganu.

Karve got two Browning pistols and was also given a packet of poison to consume after the murder or try shooting himself with the spare pistol. It was decided that Karve and Deshpande—both fully armed—would lurk around Vijayanand Theatre and in case Kanhere failed in his attempt, they would step up and fire at Jackson.

Kanhere was arrested on the spot after the act, and he made a statement before the magistrate admitting that he had murdered Jackson and that he had no accomplices. A paper was found in his possession that confirmed the apprehensions of the police that the murder was committed for political reasons. The same night, Ganu and his accomplice, Dandekar, tried to hurriedly conceal the explosives and chemicals they had in their possession at Deolali. But within the next three to four days, the police rounded up Karve, Deshpande, Soman, Waman Joshi, Ganu and Dattoo Joshi. Narayan Damodar Savarkar was arrested in the midnight of 23 December on suspicions of his possible association with the Nashik branch of Abhinav Bharat and he was tortured in prison. A sowkar (banker) of Yeola, Kashinath Daji Tonpe, was also arrested on charges of financing the conspirators. By the first week of January 1910 all of them had made their statements in front of Mr Palsikar, a first-class magistrate. 5 A search of Kanhere’s residence in Aurangabad was conducted and torn pieces of letters with covers carrying the postal address of Nashik were found, ascertaining that the men were in regular contact. The letters when pieced together were couched in studiously obscure language and post facto it could be deduced that they alluded to the murder of some important person.

The judgment in the case was delivered on 29 March 1910 by the chief justice of Bombay. Kanhere, Karve and Deshpande were to be hanged; Soman, Waman Joshi and Ganu were transported for life; and Dattoo Joshi was sentenced to two years’ rigorous imprisonment. Narayan Savarkar was sentenced to six months of rigorous imprisonment. However, Ganu and Dattoo turned approvers and were pardoned.6

On 19 April 1910, Kanhere, Karve and Deshpande were sent to the gallows at 7 a.m. at Thane jail. They were both surprisingly confident and calm. The government did not even allow their families to collect their bodies. The police cremated their bodies at the Thane creek and threw the ashes into the sea themselves, depriving their families of this last symbolism.

The Jackson murder and the subsequent trial of Kanhere and others created a stir in the London press. ‘It is impossible to describe the grief and indignation created by the crime,’ wrote The Times . 7 The press linked the murder to the life sentence meted out to Babarao Savarkar and also added that he ‘has a brother, who has made himself notorious in London’. 8 Narrating the entire litany of revolutionary events in 1909, the Telegraph carried an extremely condescending and offensive article:

Obviously, the conspiracy against British officials is not to be trifled with, and will not be eradicated by the passing of resolutions, which may be less or more sincere, at meetings of the natives, against the perpetration of such outrages. We have ourselves largely to blame for these crimes. We have educated these Hindus in Western ideas before they were able to appropriate them, with the result as often happens amongst ourselves, in the case of the children of self-made men who come into the possession of wealth of which they do not know the value, and which they do not make, they frequently become intoxicated with their possessions which too often prove their ruin; wherein, had they had some share in the acquiring of this wealth, or had they been carefully taught how to use, but not abuse it, their patrimony might have been a blessing to themselves and to their friends. In like manner, Indian students dazzled by the wealth of London, and unbalanced by the arguments of English text books on Constitutional history, which they have been unable to digest, are some of them ready for any enterprise, no matter how hare-brained, provided it is undertaken in the sacred name of patriotism, of which they have no real or true conception; whereas if they could only see the question from an unprejudiced standpoint, or look at it in a sober, disinterested manner, they would view it very differently . . . if instead of putting these Hindu students through a course of English constitutional history, they were required to make a special study of their own country, political and economic and compare its condition a century ago with its present state, they would see more cause for gratitude in our rule than they now appear to imagine . . . the only argument which these fanatics seem to respect is that of force, which apparently must be used with an ungloved hand before the evils referred to have been suppressed. Peaceful methods do not appeal to the Oriental mind as they do to ours.9


Commending the job done by the revolutionaries in London to arm their compatriots with Browning pistols, Lala Har Dayal wrote:

We know that the hero possessed Browning pistols. Now these pistols are not manufactured in India, but in Europe. How have they been imported by the revolutionaries? It is clear that this fact is a testimony to the efficiency of our organization and the secrecy of our activity. Besides, the imported arms are not the only weapons on which we have to rely. Daggers can be manufactured in India out of sharp nails to stab all vile agents of the British Government, English or Indian.10


In the months to come, the trial was to become the means for the British government to build a case against Vinayak and extradite him from London back to India.

Paris, 1910

Given the massive outrage and hostility in London against Indian students in general, and him in particular, and because of his precarious health, Vinayak decided to move to Paris. Shyamji and Madame Cama had been prevailing upon him for a long time to relocate to Paris. Finally, he decided to make the move some time around 5 January 1910. On his last day in London as a free man, he expressed a desire to Gyanchand Verma to ‘eat rice and gram (curry-chawal )’. 11 Seeing his weak condition, Verma went to the Nizamuddin restaurant and got these dishes made for him, which he ate heartily. Verma and others saw Vinayak off at Victoria Station.

Vinayak was received enthusiastically by Shyamji, Madame Cama and Sardar Singh Rana. He stayed at Madame Cama’s house at Rue Montaigne.

Commenting on the political situation in India after the political assassinations, Shyamji wrote in the Indian Sociologist:

On the 21st of December last at about 5 PM we wrote a letter to a near relation of Mr Ganesh Damodar Savarkar, stating that we had learnt with great sorrow that on appeal the sentence of transportation for life passed in his case for attempting ‘to wage war’ against the Mleccha king 12 had been confirmed by the Bombay High Court, one of the two judges of which was an Indian traitor and whose order about the forfeiture of all his property was simply barbarous. As a token of our sympathy and commiseration with the members of his family and as a mark of our appreciation of the services rendered by this brave young man to our country, we respectfully enclosed a cheque for their kind acceptance. The next day, i.e., on December 22 we were surprised to see a telegram in an English newspaper to the effect that Mr A.M.T. Jackson, collector of Nasik, had been shot dead at a quarter to 10 o’clock on the previous evening by Anant Laxman Kanare [sic] who stated that he had resolved to avenge the sentence of transportation for life passed in June last on Ganesh Damodar Savarkar for sedition. It will thus be seen that allowing for the difference in the longitudes of Paris and Nasik the time of our writing to sympathize with the members of the family of Mr Savarkar synchronized almost to a minute with that of the assassination avenging the sentence of transportation passed on him. There is a sort of ‘poetic justice’ in all this, which will, we doubt not, strike the imagination of our readers.13


Shyamji also announced two additional scholarships in the names of Hemchandra Das and Ganesh Damodar Savarkar in honour of their immense contribution to the country. The same edition of the Indian Sociologist also noted with great disappointment the manner in which the Brahmin community, especially the Chitpawans, was being hounded by the British government. It quoted a Times article that called for ‘an attack on the Chitpavan Brahmins of Bombay’ 14 and rued how more than sixty members of the community were languishing in prisons after judgments by the Secret Tribunal.

Despite convalescing from illness, Vinayak was not sitting idle in Paris. He wrote articles for Virendranath Chattopadhyay’s newsletter Talwar and created awareness among the Indian community in Paris, trying to enlist members for the Free India Society. During his research on the 1857 War of Independence, Vinayak had come across the lesser-known fact related to the armed uprising of the Kukas in Punjab. He had delivered lectures on Guru Ram Singh, the leader of the Kuka movement that was eventually crushed by the British. His fascination for Sikh history and his collection of material related to Sikh literature and stories of the various gurus have been mentioned earlier. While he was recuperating in the sanatorium in Paris, Vinayak managed to complete writing an entire book titled History of the Sikhs . The book was dedicated to the memory of his son who had died a few years ago. Three copies of the manuscript were made. One was sent to India, which was unfortunately lost in transit or was seized by the police. Another was sent to India through an Indian artist who had agreed to smuggle it back. But during the journey when he realized that strict searches were being conducted on the passengers’ baggage, he stealthily threw the manuscript into the sea to avoid getting caught. The third copy was possibly with Madame Cama. 15 Sadly, the manuscript and its copies were all lost, and the book never saw the light of day. Only references to the existence of such a manuscript exist in Vinayak’s memoirs.

From Paris, Vinayak also wrote a stirring pamphlet addressed to the rulers of the Indian princely states, many of whom had quietly accepted British suzerainty to save their privileges. This was an appeal to their conscience to stir them to make a wise choice and stand up for their country. It was aptly titled ‘Choose, O’ Indian Princes’. Among other things, the appeal said:

But, if in spite of this clear warning, failing to realize the mighty forces that are working under the ground and which have already revolutionized the modern world of Indian thought, you try to ally yourself with the enemy and array yourself to stop the eruption of this fire-emitting volcano with your thumbs, then woe upon you O! Princes of India! When the mightiest of empires is trembling at the very birth pangs of this revolution, you, weak as you are, cannot hinder its onward march or smother its birth any more than you can change the gravitation or the rotundity of the earth . . . But everyone who might have actively betrayed the trust of the people, disowned his fathers and debased his blood by allying himself against the mother, he shall be crushed to dust and ashes and shall be looked upon as a harlot, a bastard, and a renegade . . . Choose what you will, and you will reap what you sow. Choose whether you should be the first of the nation’s traitors or last of the patriots.16


Even as he was writing these fiery articles and pamphlets, Vinayak was aware of murmurs of criticism that had started growing against him, just as they had against Shyamji. Especially after Dhingra, there was talk about how Vinayak only lectured and instigated others, how he never led from the front. His flight to Paris might have also been construed as an attempt to seek permanent asylum, like his mentor Shyamji. At the same time, Vinayak was receiving news from India and his hometown of how his family members and other young men were being rounded up and tortured in the Jackson murder trial. There was no way, he thought, that he could sit idly in Paris and write articles.

The moment of epiphany came on a bright, sunny morning in Paris when he was taking a walk in the garden as per his doctor’s advice. 17 Swans and ducks swam merrily in the ponds, water lilies had just bloomed, and the skies were a clear blue. The scene seemed straight out of a painting. Reclining on a bench there, Vinayak pulled out the newspaper and was horrified to read about death sentence awarded to Kanhere, Karve and Deshpande. He was overcome by emotion and cursed himself for enjoying walks in the park, while his compatriots were facing the worst tribulation. As someone who used to preach that one must put everything aside for the cause of freedom, he felt repulsed at his inaction. The time of reckoning and leading by example had come. He decided that he would head back to London, even if it was at the cost of his life and liberty.

There was another reason for Vinayak’s decision. He believed that ‘London would provide him scope for fighting on behalf of the accused in India’ even though he did not know Karve, Kanhere and Deshpande. ‘London,’ he thought, ‘was famous as having given asylum to many exiles and revolutionaries. Orsini, the Italian revolutionary who shot Napoleon III, Karl Marx . . . and many others had lived in London unmolested. London should be safe for him also.’18

He hurried back and told Shyamji, Madame Cama and Sardar Singh Rana about his decision and they tried their best to persuade him against it. They had a reason for doing so. The investigation of the arrested persons in the Jackson murder case was slowly leading back to Vinayak and his activities in London. The government had already been wary of him and after Babarao’s arrest they wanted to foist a case on Vinayak in order to extradite him. The leads that many witnesses gave were helping the government create a watertight case against Vinayak.

Lord George Sydenham Clarke, a former British army officer and the new governor of Bombay from October 1907, was determined to prosecute Vinayak whom he considered ‘one of the most dangerous men that India has produced’. 19 Official correspondence mentions that: ‘A case should be put up against Savarkar even though its [sic] not very strong. If he is convicted of being a member of a conspiracy the second conviction is by no means unprovable. If he is acquitted of course the whole petition drops.’ 20 A lot of information had been gathered about him and his writings, but it was felt that these were not enough to nail him in a court of law. The official correspondence hence also drives home a point of caution, and also the need to build a case that did not allow any room for a second trial so that he would be convicted in the first attempt itself:

It should be clearly understood there is chance of acquittal on charge of abetment of murder, whereas in all probability sentence on conspiracy charge will be transportation for life, which would be probably maximum on conviction on other charges. If such a sentence now given, effect might actually be to induce clemency at a second trial. Political effect of second trial would be most unfortunate, as vindictiveness of Government would be alleged.21


Lord Montgomerie, a special magistrate at Nashik, was appointed to record evidence particularly to build a prima facie case against Vinayak and have him extradited. A complaint was filed against Vinayak in Montgomerie’s court on 17 January 1910, and on 8 February 1910 a warrant was issued against him, charging him with five offences under the Indian Penal Code (IPC):22

1. Waging of war or abetting the waging of war against the King in India. (This offence is not quite equal to the offence of treason in England, the legal definition of war being any covert act calculated to subvert the Government. The offence is punishable by death or transportation for life and the forfeiture of property .)23

2. Conspiring, in contravention of Section 121A of the Indian Penal Code to deprive the King of the Sovereignty of British India or a part of it.

3. Procuring and distributing arms in London in 1908, thus abetting the murder of Mr A.M.T. Jackson, collector of Nasik, which occurred at a local theatre on 21st December 1909.

4. Procuring and distributing arms in London in 1908, and otherwise waging war against the King from London.

5. Delivering seditious speeches in India, at Nasik and Poona, January to May 1906; and in London, from 1908 to 1909. (This was also included in the first offence.)


The warrant was granted against Vinayak in his absence from London on the grounds that these offences came within the Fugitive Offenders Act (FOA) of 1881. The FOA presumed that the suspect in question had been guilty of a crime and had fled to evade arrest.

There were several legal loopholes in the charges. First, Vinayak was not a fugitive when he left India for Britain, nor had he been previously charged, evaded arrest or ever been imprisoned. He had come to Britain like any other Indian student in a legal manner to pursue his law studies and with a scholarship supporting him. But the British government realized that the only way Vinayak could be extradited was by producing charges of an unresolved and unrecorded ‘crime’ in India. To execute this, all that the government could come up with were Vinayak’s speeches (of a seditious nature) made in India nearly five years ago, before his departure for Britain. However, the Indian government could have charged Vinayak and arrest him on sedition charges even back then given that he had been under constant watch. Instead, they built a case against him for sedition in India by raking up a non-existent crime based on forced testimonies of several amnesty witnesses. The reason for the same was that sedition was near obsolete in Britain, but given its prominence in India, if Vinayak got convicted for that in India the sentence could be the harshest. It was easier to secure jury convictions based on sedition in India and hence an extradition was paramount. As Janaki Bakhle puts it:

Sedition trials per se were no less politically explosive in India than in England, but the outcome could be guaranteed because the juries could be counted on to convict. The legal definition of sedition made no real separation between word and deed, intention and implementation, representation and reality. In India, sedition became the pre-emptive as well as the ex post facto legal mechanism that allowed the colonial state, in anticipation of a dangerous act, to proscribe all thought, writing or language that might produce it. At the same time, sedition also allowed for a post-event roundup and arrest of everyone even remotely connected with the actual act, on the grounds that their rhetoric had clearly been the cause of incitement of the natives to agitate against the government. At the moment of its demise in England, because of its association with illiberalism, sedition was reborn in India with colonial occupation as the midwife.24


Based on the five charges against Vinayak, a telegram was dispatched to London with the result that on 22 February 1910, the Bow Street magistrate granted a provisional warrant of arrest. With Wallinger’s intervention, the British managed to secure some partial cooperation from the Paris police. Despite knowing all these facts, Vinayak decided to leave for London. His decision is variously described as ‘rash’ or ‘honourable’ depending on the perspective of the author. There have been other insinuations too, of him having fallen prey to a honeytrap, Lawrence Margaret, the British agencies had set up for him. The insinuation has no basis and there has been no reference or details available about the lady. These are as wild and contradictory to the other often repeated innuendos about Vinayak that ‘he had been a consumer of opium for years. He was also, although few of his followers were aware of it, a homosexual.’ 25 They seem to be made more from a pejorative view of maligning Vinayak, and using his personal life, which was his business and none other’s, to score political brownie points against him and his actions. In any case, it might be fair to state that Vinayak miscalculated the liberalism of London and also misunderstood his position as a domestic terrorist, not a foreigner. Shyamji warned him several times and also wrote about this:

We felt that he was no longer safe in England . . . after repeated appeals he was at last persuaded to come to Paris and we were delighted to know that our dear young friend was safely in our midst, free from the clutches of his relentless enemies. Alas! Our pleasure was short-lived. A few months ago, much against our earnest advice, he took it into his head to return to England. Amongst other things, we drew his attention to a special danger to which he was exposed. Inasmuch as two of his brothers had already been entrapped by the British Government, one transported for life and the other on the way to receive a like sentence, the probability was that the alien oppressors of our country would take good care to put him out of the way, fearing lest an active and capable young man of his temperament might wreck a righteous vengeance.26


Victoria Station, London, 13 March 1910

Vinayak had promised to meet Shyamji and others one last time before leaving for London, but he unexpectedly left France on Sunday, 13 March 1910. He left behind a letter expressing sorrow at not being able to see them before leaving and thanked them profusely for their generosity.

Vinayak left Paris by train to Calais and crossed the English Channel. There he boarded another boat train from Newhaven Port for London. At 7 p.m., as the boat train steamed into Victoria Station, Vinayak knew that he was being shadowed. Interestingly, Miss Perinben Naoroji, Dadabhai Naoroji’s granddaughter, who was in Paris and helping the revolutionaries in manufacturing bombs, was travelling with him. But the police did not notice or catch her. Just as Vinayak stepped out of the train a battery of detectives and police officials pounced on him. Chief Inspector John McCarthy and Inspector E. John Parker of Scotland Yard who had pursued the case triumphantly cried: ‘Here he is . . . he is here!’ Vinayak merely smiled and said, ‘Yes, it’s me . . . I am Savarkar.’

He was taken to the waiting room where the arrest warrant of the Bombay High Court demanding his extradition was read out to him. He smiled and replied, ‘Yes, sir! Doubtless the case would prove very interesting!’ 27 Thereafter, he was formally taken into the custody of the Bow Street Police. Searching his trunk, the police discovered two copies of his book, The Indian War of Independence of 1857 , seven copies of the pamphlet ‘Choose O! Princes’, one copy of Mazzini, and several newspaper articles. Though, lack of warm clothing and the English cold woke him a few times in the night that he spent at the police station, he slept well and without a care.

The next day, Vinayak was produced at Bow Street Police Court before the chief magistrate, Sir Albert de Rutzen. The court was crowded with spectators who had come to watch the high-profile proceedings. Although it was announced that the proceedings would be formal, ‘there were many people in court, the greater portion of them being well-dressed young Indians’. 28 Vinayak’s counsel, Reginald Vaughan of Gray’s Inn, put forward an application for his client’s bail. Vaughan addressed the magistrate: ‘There is very considerable doubt whether there is any authority to send this man back to India. This, however, is a question, which your Worship will consider later. I ask in the meantime that this man shall be admitted to bail . . . The offence is of a political nature really; whether in law or not is another matter.’ 29 V.V.S. Aiyar stood solidly behind Vinayak in these trying times and even engaged Vaughan. Vinayak was refused bail after the preliminary hearings. ‘No bail at all?’ exclaimed Vaughan to which the chief magistrate said, ‘Not until I know more about the case.’30

On 18 March, H.B. Simpson, the undersecretary to the Secretary of State for India, sent an official correspondence regarding this:

I am directed by Secretary Mr W. [Winston] Churchill to acquaint you, for the information of the Secretary of State for India, that Vinayek Savarkar has been arrested in pursuance of a warrant issued under the Fugitive Offenders Act, 1881, on the information of the Metropolitan Police and having been brought before a Magistrate at Bow Street Police Court on the 14th instant was remanded for seven days on a charge of sedition and abetment of murder committed within the jurisdiction of the Indian government.31


Almost immediately a telegram was wired from the viceroy’s office in Shimla to the India Office in London:

Government anxious to proceed against Savarkar. His brother Ganesh has been convicted under Section 121 I.P.C. We agree that this is desirable and propose to send to London an Indian Police Officer having intimate knowledge of Conspiracy Case here. We are advised that the best evidence against Savarkar will be obtained from Sikhs and therefore have selected Sikh Deputy Suptd. Dyal Singh Gyani. We propose that he should receive full pay of Rs 400 a month and present allowance—Rs 100 with travelling expenses and 10 shillings a day subsistence allowance in England. We request your sanction by telegraph to deputation on these terms.32


Aiyar met Vinayak in prison on 15 March and on several occasions thereafter. He was his messenger and a window to the outside world. On the same day, he also wrote to Shyamji conveying the details of the arrest, initial hearings and his engagement of a counsel that could help them prove Vinayak’s innocence ‘beyond a shadow of doubt’. Aiyar said, almost prophetically, that the prospect of transportation for life to the Andaman jails looms large for Vinayak and they must do all that they can to prevent his extradition to India. He writes about meeting Vinayak in jail:

This morning I saw Savarkar and he was the same as ever except that we had to converse through the iron bars. But I feel it deeply—too deeply, that he should be interned in the English jail. A lion in the toil of his hunter! He said that Jail Superintendent, etc., treated him with due attention and care and that he had nothing to complain under the circumstances. I know you as well as Mrs Shyamaji would feel so much to find that but the day before yesterday he was with you safe and today! . . . there is no use crying over spilt milk. We must do our best to see that he is not sent to India. If once he is sent, we shall see no more of him and one of the dearest and most devoted sons of the Motherland would be rotting away in cells of a malarious island. It was pathetic when Savarkar said this morning, if he were to be taken to the Andamans, he would have the happiness of seeing his elder brother. I hope that melancholy sort of happiness will not be his, but that he will be released and will work out the salvation of his country according to his lights.33
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Re: Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past by Vikram Sampath

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Part 2 of 2

Aiyar also wrote about collecting funds for Vinayak’s defence and that nearly £200 might be needed for the legal process. Shyamji replied promptly and expressed his deep consternation on the misery that had befallen Vinayak and one he had brought upon himself despite their advice. He also sent a cheque for £10 to aid Vinayak in his hour of crisis. On 20 March, Vinayak was sent to Brixton prison, situated at Jebb Avenue in London. Aiyar visited him regularly. Interestingly, Vinayak himself recounts in detail this encounter with Aiyar at Brixton prison from his memoir written in 1925 from Ratnagiri to condole Aiyar’s passing away:

In 1910 . . . I stood as a prisoner, then only very recently pent up in Brixton—the formidable prison in London. The warder announces visits; anxiously I accompany the file of prisoners to the visiting yard. I stand behind the bars wondering who could have come to call on us and thus invite the unpleasant attentions of the London police. For to acknowledge our acquaintance from the visitors’ box in front of the prison bars was a sure step to eventually getting behind them. The visitors are let in. They crowdedly pass past our window. Presently one dignified figure enters the box in front of us. It was V.V.S. Aiyar. His beard was closely waving on his breast. He was unkempt. He was no longer the neatly dressed fashionable gentleman. His whole figure was transformed with some act of dedication of life. ‘O leader!’ he feelingly accosted me. ‘Why did you leave Paris at all?’ I soothingly said, ‘What is the use of discussing it here?’ Rightly or not, I am here, pent up in prison—and the best way now is to see what is to be done next, how to face the present. While fully discussing the future plans, the bell rang and the warders came running and shouting unceremoniously, ‘Time is up.’ With a heavy heart we looked into each other’s eyes. We knew it would perhaps be the last time we ever saw each other in this life. Tears rose. Suppressing them, we said: ‘No! No! We are Hindus. We have read the Gita. We must not weep in the presence of these unsympathetic crowds.’ We spoke in Hindi, curious crowds of Englishmen watched the young Indian rebel and his friend. We parted. I watched him till he disappeared and said to my mind, ‘For, one of the two fates was certain to my lot, the gallows or the Andamans, and neither could hold any prospect before me of seeing my friends again.34


Virendranath Chattopadhyay made nearly fifteen visits to the prison even though he lived in Paris. Niranjan Pal too met Vinayak at Brixton and remonstrated with him for disregarding their objections about leaving Paris despite knowing what would befall him on reaching London. Vinayak coolly replied that ‘his shoulders were broad enough to bear the consequences. He had the courage of his conviction.’ 35 David Garnett, who had befriended many Indian revolutionaries in London and was Vinayak’s ardent admirer, visited Brixton too. He was grilled by Inspector Parker of Scotland Yard and only then allowed to meet Vinayak. Garnett describes his first meeting with Vinayak:

He was perfectly calm and at his ease. I discussed his defence and offered to collect money for it, and to do anything I could to help him. All he wanted at the moment were some clean collars, the size of his neck was only 13 ½—the size of a school boy . . . I went practically every week to Brixton Gaol to see Savarkar, taking with me some clean collars and handkerchiefs and I collected a few pounds for his legal defence.36


From the confines of jail where the gallows or the Andamans seemed certain, Vinayak penned a long and impassioned will and testament. This was written in the form of a letter to Yesu Vahini. Vinayak poignantly referred to the happy times they spent together in childhood and youth under the open skies and moonlit nights; how lovingly she had taken care of them as a mother would; the games they played together as children, and the stories they heard and were inspired by. His initiative to begin Abhinav Bharat was not a whimsical spur-of-the-moment decision. He, and his countless young comrades, had done so with the full knowledge that ‘those who would have life must lose it’ and hence it was better to lose it for one’s motherland. He saw the silver lining in the dark clouds that hovered over them. In just a few years of its establishment, so much had happened to Abhinav Bharat and its members; his entire family was in prison. This was cause for cheer, according to Vinayak. It was their action that spurred and roused the country—it had inspired them to armed struggle; to ‘cast off the beggar’s bowl and put Her hand on the hilt of Her sword’. Now, his resolve would be put to test. All those innumerable speeches, lectures, writings, and oaths would have to pass the trial of fire. Were those empty words that fell flat in the wake of exacting times or would these hard times harden them further is what needed to be seen. Vinayak asserted that ‘it was on thy altar that I sacrificed my health and my wealth. Neither the longing looks of a young wife vainly waiting for my return nor the peals of laughter of dear children, nor the helplessness of a sister-in-law stranded and left to starve could hold me back at the call of Thy Trumpet!’ His two brothers had also sacrificed all they had and this was only because they believed the cause to be true and holy. Their family tree might terminate with them, but how would that matter when they had fulfilled their duties for their motherland? Vinayak instilled courage and faith in his Vahini, and as the wife and sister-in-law of daring patriots, she had the double duty to remain resolute despite the tough tidings. He conveyed his love to his wife and asked her to remain steadfast.37

The British government was awaiting the papers related to Vinayak’s case to arrive from India. The documents finally arrived in mid-April 1910. Some of Vinayak’s comrades at India House who were rounded up in London and India had turned government approvers. The twenty-five-yearold Maratha and engineer from Gwalior state, Harishchandra Krishnarao Koregaonkar, testified that he had gone to London in May 1906 to study engineering and was there for about three years. He had not known Vinayak earlier and came to know of him only in November 1906. He had visited India House during the meeting held in honour of Guru Gobind Singh’s birth anniversary and went to stay there for a month in April 1907. Gyanchand Verma and Madan Lal Dhingra were also residents at the time. Koregaonkar claimed to have left India House after the Curzon Wyllie murder as he felt it was too dangerous to remain. He spoke about the discussions that Vinayak had with others on armed struggle as a means to attain independence. He recounted a talk held in early 1908 which was titled ‘Are we really disarmed?’ Vinayak gave a lecture in which he articulated that India was actually not disarmed and that there were plenty of arms in the native states that constituted nearly a third of the country. One needed to find innovative ways and means to tap into this cache and procure them for the freedom struggle movement.

Another meeting on ‘The future constitution of India’ was also headed and lectured by Vinayak. There were deliberations on whether free India would be a republic or a constitutional monarchy. Vinayak had suggested that there should be an Upper House where native princes were to be members, and a Lower House of elected members. This was quite akin to the British Parliament. In his speech, Vinayak suggested that the native prince who offered the maximum assistance in the freedom struggle would be appointed monarch. All the native states would be forced to give constitutional guarantees to their subjects. The national language of liberated India would be Hindi.

Koregaonkar also spoke about a meeting on ‘The life of Mazzini’ in which Aiyar delivered a lecture, one on Shivaji during Shivaji Jayanthi and a Caxton Hall meeting in December 1908 in honour of Guru Gobind Singh. In the last meeting, Vinayak had made a fiery speech and held a flag that said ‘Deg, Teg, Fateh’, explaining the meaning of the three words —faith combined with the sword leads to victory, independence in this case. Koregaonkar also spoke about the May 1908 gathering to felicitate the martyrs of 1857 where Vinayak and Aiyar offered rich tributes to the memories of Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, Maulvi Ahmed Shah, Kunwar Singh, Rani Lakshmi Bai, Nana Saheb and others. He himself had sung the opening song Vande Mataram at that meeting. The ‘O! Martyrs!’ pamphlet was distributed here. He admitted to donating £50–60 to the cause of the Free India Society, although he was not told in detail about its activity and agenda. Vinayak had spoken to him about his vision of smuggling arms into India after procuring them from Belgium, America, Switzerland and Egypt, to have military training and also learn how to manufacture arms and explosives. Govind Amin, Chaturbhuj Amin’s brother, had brought some Browning pistols and one of these was used by Dhingra in his practice sessions at Tottenham Court Shooting Range. The pamphlets were usually sent to Germany or New York from where they were sent to India to avoid suspicion. Koregaonkar testified that Vinayak’s society was widespread with branches in Egypt, Paris, Hamburg, New York, Switzerland, Vancouver and other places.

Koregaonkar and Dhingra were good friends; in fact, they had sailed to England in the same steamer. Even on the day of Curzon Wyllie’s murder, Dhingra had visited Koregaonkar’s house at Russell Square. He did not in the least appear excited or unusual. By then, Koregaonkar had received a message from Vinayak and Aiyar that he too must accompany Dhingra to shadow him and complete the task in case the latter failed. On that night when Curzon Wyllie entered the room, it was Koregaonkar who alerted Dhingra about his victim’s arrival. When Dhingra seemed to dither, Koregaonkar sternly urged him, ‘Aa jao na, kya karte ho ?’ (Well, come on! What are you doing?) 38 Koregaonkar also revealed in his testimony that he had later learnt that Dhingra had armed himself with additional revolvers and weapons to shoot indiscriminately at Englishmen and women at the party, and also murder Sir William Lee Warner if he were present. After the murder, Koregaonkar met Dhingra in jail. Vinayak wanted Koregaonkar to carry a message to be handed over in Bombay, copies of his book The Indian War of Independence of 1857 to Thatte, along with addresses of likely purchasers in Pondicherry.

Koregaonkar arrived in Bombay on 18 August 1909 by the S.S. Austria and thereafter proceeded to Gwalior. He was rounded up by the DCI in Bombay in December 1909. He identified various players at India House and also Vinayak’s handwriting as he had translated half of the 1857 book from Marathi to English. He spoke of Vinayak leaving India House in the beginning of 1909 after differences with a man called Hyder Raiza.39

Next, it was Chanjeri Rama Rao’s turn to testify against Vinayak. The thirty-five-year-old Deshastha Brahmin had moved to England in August 1909 to study sanitary science and was earlier the plague inspector in the Rangoon Municipality. He went to England to pass his examinations that were to be held on 3 and 4 December 1909. He met Vinayak through a friend at 11 Upper Addison Gardens. Thereafter, he attended a few meetings of the Free India Society and took the oath, which he claimed Vinayak had coerced him into since he had attended one of their meetings. He left England in the first week of January for Paris, where he stayed with Tirumala Acharya and Govind Amin, the India House chef ’s brother. He also carried Aiyar’s letter for Tirumala Acharya. In Paris, he met Vinayak at Madame Cama’s residence. When he demurred, Madame Cama and Vinayak asked him to carry ten copies of his book The Indian War of Independence of 1857 and one revolver. The books were packed in a box with a false bottom. Rao was asked to collect these from Sardar Rana’s house before leaving for India. Govind Amin told him then that the box contained a pistol with fifty cartridges, which he had to hand over to Vinayak or Aiyar when they came to India.

He also testified that he went around Paris with Govind Amin, looking for a house where bombs could be manufactured. Vinayak had told him that he too must know the process of making bombs and that there were people expected from London to teach them this. He had also sold him a photograph of Dhingra for 1 shilling and urged him that every member of the Free India Society must have the image of this martyr with them. On 10 January 1910, when he was about to board his train, he claimed that Vinayak came running to the station and handed over the ‘Bomb Manual’ too to be carried ‘next to my skin’. He had also carried a few pamphlets in his boots. One of them, titled ‘Bande Mataram’, was purportedly written by Vinayak. ‘Terrorize the officials, English and Indian, and the collapse of the whole machinery of oppression is not very far. The persistent execution of the policy that has been so gloriously inaugurated by Khoodiram Bose, Kanailal Dutt and other martyrs will soon cripple the British Government in India. This campaign of separate assassinations is the best conceivable method of paralyzing the bureaucracy and of arousing the people. The initial stage of the revolution is marked by the policy of separate assassinations.’ The copy of The Indian War of Independence of 1857 that Chanjeri Rama Rao carried had the publisher’s circular that was ‘so worded as to be fully intelligible only to those who knew more than the ordinary casual reader’ and seemed to ‘point to the existence of some widespread secret society of young men’. 40 As an illustration, a passage quoted was: ‘Send an international postal order to any trustworthy young friend of yours residing in or going to England or France. We are known to all young men in both countries . . . Do not by any means send this money to any old friend.’41

Rao was arrested on his arrival in Bombay, his belongings searched, and the false bottom discovered. He was sentenced to two years’ rigorous imprisonment for offences under the Arms Act, and was undergoing the same while testifying against Vinayak. 42 Aiyar’s biography mentions that it was not Vinayak but Aiyar who had prevailed upon Chanjeri Rao to carry the pistol and books, and it was severe police torture that broke Rao and made him falsely testify in accordance with police guidelines. The British government wanted to somehow ‘establish that it was Savarkar who had sent the revolver that was used to shoot Jackson in Nasik. But they had no evidence. It was here that Rama Rao came in handy . . . for his atrocious lie and betrayal, Rama Rao got pardoned and got a job in the Indian Police Department.’ 43 Whatever be the truth behind this aspersion, it was certain that the Indian government had sent some irrefutable evidence as part of their documentation to the London court that was trying Vinayak.

The trial with these documents recommenced on 23 April 1910. Sir Rufus Isaacs, 44 the then solicitor general, defended the Crown on the charges slapped on Vinayak, along with Mr Bodkin and Mr Rowlatt. Mr K.C. Powell and Mr J.M. Parikh appeared for Vinayak. Depositions of several people were recorded. James Adolphus Guider, the deputy inspector general of the Criminal Investigation Department in Nashik, was in charge of the investigation into this case right from the beginning. He testified that Vinayak and Babarao were guilty of establishing a secret society, whose main aim was the subversion of British government in India. 45 Guider mentioned that between 1 January 1906 and 28 May 1906 Vinayak made five speeches—four in Nashik and one in Poona. The common theme was an inflammatory call to cast off the foreign yoke through armed struggle by invoking heroes such as Shivaji, Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi, Mazzini and others. Jaffar Ali, a Nashik police inspector, testified that Vinayak, in a speech at Nashik, had said: ‘Though we were made armless, still we require arms . . . When we have determined to overthrow the Government we want weapons . . . Let us fight with weapons. It means that we must preserve our religion.’ 46 Referencing all the letters written by Vinayak to his brother that were seized from their house in Nashik, the prosecution stated that all of them began with the salutations: ‘May the Goddess of Independence be pleased’ [Swatantrya Lakshmi ki Jay ]! This, they claimed, was a clear indication that Vinayak sought independence for India from British rule.

At the next hearing on 30 April 1910, much to Vinayak’s surprise, depositions of his hitherto trusted associates—Chaturbhuj Amin and Koregaonkar—were recorded. In Vinayak’s defence and of the speeches of the Mitra Mela, his counsel Powell said:

The depositions contain a reference to the Mitra Mela, which has been described as a secret society formed for the purpose of subverting the Government. But in truth it was founded for the purpose of celebrating the festivals of four gods, and the members advocate devotion to the religion of their own country. The speeches are quite Oriental in their character and English people would regard them as sheer nonsense. There is no more harm in them than there is in the election songs, which some school children are taught to sing, and no more importance should be attached to them than to the gathering of people who loudly sing ‘Scots wha hae’ [sic] and allude to ‘Edward’s chains and slavery’. Savarkar most strenuously denies the suggestion that he had anything to do with the dispatch to India of some pistols, one of which was sold to a youth or man [Kanhere] who used it in a nefarious way.47


The hearings continued on 7 May 1910 before de Rutzen, the Bow Street magistrate. But despite all the efforts of the revolutionaries and the counsel, Magistrate de Rutzen ruled on 12 May 1910 that Vinayak must be sent to India and stand trial there.

Meanwhile, several leaders tried to create a public opinion in Vinayak’s favour. In a letter to the editor of the London Daily News , Bipin Chandra Pal wrote:

There is no justification to bring up speeches made in times of comparative peace and quiet and make them the subject of criminal prosecutions, after three, four, or five years, when owing to the altered state of things, they might reasonably be regarded as likely to create disorder. The delay makes it practically impossible for the accused to prove the inaccuracies of the police report of his speeches, unless he had published at the time, an authorized version of it himself.48


Vinayak’s lawyers appealed against this decision at the High Court of Justice, King’s Bench Division. Comprising three judges, the Bench Division began its proceedings at Brixton prison. The justices on the bench were the Lord Chief Justice of England, Lord Alverstone, Justice William Pickford and Justice Bernard John Seymour Coleridge. Quite interestingly, and perhaps ironically, Lord Alverstone too in his youth was part of a secret society—the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes. Proceedings began on 25 May 1910 with the defence motioning for a writ of habeas corpus, to determine the legitimacy of Vinayak’s imprisonment. His lawyers argued that the speeches for which Vinayak had been imprisoned were poorly translated. They contained no seditious tenor and merely supported the swadeshi movement, which was no offence in the Indian penal provisions. If they had indeed been seditious, why had the Government of India not acted earlier or arrested him right there when he was in the country, they argued. Given the frivolous nature of the charges, they contended that Vinayak must be released forthwith. If the literature he wrote and disseminated whilst in England were construed as seditious, there was no case of extradition to India, and that Vinayak would have to face trial in England itself.

During the resumption of hearings on 2 June 1910, the counsel for the prosecution, Sir Rufus Isaacs, quoted copiously from Vinayak’s speeches in India. Vinayak’s allusions to ‘Shivaji Maharaj, that great patriot who delivered the land of Bharat from the yoke of foreigners’ 49 was referred to. At this, Lord Alverstone wryly noted that mere discussion of independence could not be construed as sedition. Isaacs argued that Vinayak’s speeches were not merely discussions but a call to arms as he had once told his audiences in India before his departure to England: ‘Every one should, while sitting, talking, sleeping, nay, even when winking, remember “Swadeshi Bhakti ” that is, devotion to one’s country . . . You are all slaves like myself . . . When we have determined to overthrow the Government we want weapons.’50

Isaacs invoked Chaturbhuj Amin’s testimony, the activities at India House, the import of Browning pistols and the ‘Bomb Manual’, and their delivery to India. All of this showed that while in England, Vinayak had been found guilty of certain acts, which, in law, constituted an offence in India as well as in England. These were sufficient to legitimately extradite Vinayak as per Section 2 of the FOA.51

Waiting eagerly for Isaacs to quote this section of the Act, Powell immediately stood up with his objections. The Section 2 of the Act was valid only when the person in question was a fugitive in the eyes of the law. But Vinayak had not run away from India; he was in England as a legitimate student on scholarship. ‘Am I a fugitive if I leave my Chambers in Temple to go to my home, or to leave this Court to go to the Court of Appeal?’ asked Powell to peals of laughter among everyone in the courtroom.52

Isaacs did not fare well by quoting Section 2 of the Act as the judge was not convinced by the argument. He then turned to Section 33 of the same FOA. 53 This seemed to cover the offences that Vinayak had allegedly committed. The reason why a lawyer as shrewd and skilful as Isaacs did not invoke Section 33 in the first instance was that this was meant to be applied in conjunction with Section 10 of the FOA, while Section 2 remained independent. 54 Section 10 allowed the accused some freedom to avail any benefit of doubt that could arise due to frivolous charges made due to the lack of complete knowledge or distance from the country of offence and the general absence of facilities of communications. In such cases, the accused could be tried in the country where he was caught, and was also eligible for bail or complete discharge if the court decided so in its wisdom.

It was now Vinayak’s turn to convince the court that the Indian government had not issued the warrant in good faith, because it had taken them four years to realize the so-called seditious character of his speeches delivered back in India in 1906. Had he been tried then, he would have been entitled to a legal trial, including a jury, the right to which had now been suspended.

When the court resumed on 4 June 1910, Lord Chief Justice Alverstone ruled in favour of the prosecution’s case to extradite Vinayak under Section 33 of the FOA. He referred to the rulings of de Rutzen and the warrant of Montgomerie, the Nashik special magistrate, and that they had arrived in favour of invoking the FOA. He expressed satisfaction that the evidence was sufficient enough ‘to raise a strong or probable presumption that the applicant [Vinayak] had committed the offence mentioned’. 55 Powell continued to argue that extradition to India meant Vinayak would face a panel of judges and not a jury. This would be ‘unjust’ and ‘oppressive’ to him. The court agreed. Seizing on this, Powell said that in such a scenario the case falls. This was because an invocation of the Act automatically also brought to his client the opportunity to avail of Section 10 of the same Act, which mentioned that in the event of an unjust or oppressive nature of trial, the scales tilt in the accused’s favour. Lord Alverstone dismissed the objections of the defence.

Justice Coleridge initially struck a dissenting note and did not agree with the ruling. He cynically scoffed that ‘Savarkar’s witnesses would appear neither in India nor England’. 56 This possibly implied that the witnesses were being threatened to testify against Vinayak, even as a government witness (he possibly meant Rama Rao) had been pardoned for turning traitor. But eventually Coleridge believed it best not to let his personal opinion weigh in on the matter in deference to the majority view of the other two justices.

Vinayak’s lawyers appealed against the decision yet again before the Court of Appeal. It comprised three judges—Lord Justice Vaughan Williams, Lord Justice Fletcher Moulton and Lord Justice Buckley. The proceedings began on 17 June 1910. Isaacs objected to the very right of appeal afforded to Vinayak, given that it was a criminal case. 57 The following day, Justice Vaughan Williams ruled in favour of the prosecution, though he agreed to hear Vinayak’s original motion. Accordingly, on 21 June 1910, Powell argued that Vinayak was first of all not a fugitive, and that extraditing him to India constituted both an unjust and an oppressive action as per the FOA itself, since he would then have to depose before a panel of judges and not a jury. Powell concluded his motion that ‘in the interests of justice the applicant should be tried in this country, where he would be able to call evidence in his defence which might not otherwise be available’.58

Despite the case built by Vinayak’s lawyers, on the ambiguous and farcical use of the same Act that was being invoked to extradite him to India, Justice Vaughan Williams refused to take note. He decried: ‘In my opinion the connexion [sic] of the charges with seditious acts in India and the fact that nearly all the witnesses to be called are in India is prima facie a sufficient ground for sending the prisoner to India to be tried.’ 59 At the same time he also seemed to agree with Powell’s argument that the case did merit a trial in London given that Vinayak had lived there long enough. But he did not want to displease the King’s Bench Division.

Vinayak’s supporters like Guy Aldred vehemently opposed the judgment, claiming that his return to India was both a legal as well as a moral outrage. Aldred argued in his article in the Herald of Revolt that as per Section 10 of the FOA, Vinayak should have been allowed to undergo trial in London itself. He argued that the witness who would ‘be required to prove that he did not give the Browning pistols to the person who had stated this against him had less to fear from appearing in London than from appearing in India, where no fair trial could be secured’. 60 Making a passionate plea for Vinayak, Aldred wrote:

Even if Savarkar’s witnesses would have appeared neither in England nor India, his return to India was unjust and oppressive, because in England he would have been entitled to give evidence on his own behalf, whereas in India under the Act of 1908, he was not. The Divisional and Appeal Judges held that it would ‘be a very, very grave responsibility’ to take upon themselves to assume that the negation of this right was unjust or oppressive. In other words, in order to secure Savarkar’s return to India, the English judges practically denied that the law substantive involved the law adjective, or that there was a definite relation between law and the forms of procedure, and between these again and mode of evidence or testimony. We assert that the experience of mankind, the history of jurisprudence, and the claims of these judges on other occasions, give the lie to this monstrous cant . . . further objections raised by Savarkar, namely, that he would be tried by three judges instead of a jury as in England, and be able to appeal to no Court of Appeal. The ruling that held these differences of trial were not unjust and oppressive reduces our legal pretensions and traditions to a farce, and abolishes all the laws of evidence and well-established principles of jurisprudence.61


Back in India, a Special Tribunal was being formed to undertake the ‘Savarkar Trial’, which meant, as mentioned earlier, that there would be no jury and there could be no appeal against its findings. This was according to the provisions of the Indian Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1908. Under this new statute some of the rights of the citizen are deliberately suspended.

Even as the trial was coming to an end in England, David Garnett met Vinayak one morning, around the end of June 1910, at Brixton prison. He waited until the warder walking up and down the corridor was out of earshot and asked Vinayak why he was not trying to think of a means of escape. He offered to help with a plan he had in mind. Vinayak replied that he had been thinking about it too, but had decided that there might be more opportunities and chances of success on his way back to India. But if Garnett had any plan he would be glad to work on it. Garnett asked him about his daily prison routine in detail. He was taken every week to Bow Street for formalities of a remand, always in a taxi and not in a Black Maria. He was accompanied by one or two detectives. His weekly trip to Bow Street had become a routine and that too within two or three minutes of the same time each week.

Garnett planned that Vinayak had to be rescued at the prison gates or within a few yards of it. A watcher was to note when the taxi that was to take him to Bow Street drove up. A car would then drive up to the prison with supposed visitors, who would overpower the detective(s) and Vinayak would jump into the car and drive away. There would not be much time for help to arrive from inside the prison, owing to the routine of the two gates. Of course, the rescuers would not seek to avoid arrest or to escape. Garnett arranged an Irish revolutionary named Harold to drive the car and another, Mrs Dryhurst to arrange members of the Sinn Fein movement 62 of Irish revolutionaries who were in London to rescue Vinayak. The rescuers were to be armed with bags of pepper. A woman’s disguise consisting of mooring hats and veils, usually worn by women motorists those days, was also kept in the car along with a cloak for the rescuers. Guy Aldred went to Paris and brought the rescuers who were glad to be imprisoned if it meant releasing Vinayak. When Garnett went to Vinayak with this elaborate plan, he told him:

It does not matter whether one wins or is defeated, whether one succeeds or fails. Care nothing about the result so long as you fight. The only thing that matters is the spirit. You have done wonderfully and there was no reason why you should have done anything at all. Do not worry about me, I shall escape somehow. I have a plan worked out already, in case your plans failed.63


On the planned day, a taxi passed by with a detective and the rescuers managed to waylay it. But sadly for everyone, Vinayak was not inside it. He had already been taken to court for the final judgment where he was handed over in handcuffs to two detectives sent from India. Garnett, Aldred and several Irish and French revolutionaries’ daring attempt to free their Indian comrade thus failed because someone had obviously leaked the plan to the police. It was now a matter of time before Vinayak was extradited to India.

In June 1906, Vinayak had arrived in England with a mission in mind. Four years later, in the very month of June, he was leaving that country. Despite the gloom that his followers and friends faced at the imminent sentence he was to receive back home, Vinayak himself was calm and composed. He seemed resigned and prepared for the inevitable, evident in the letter he wrote to Aiyar, addressing him as ‘Rishi’, or a sage, from Brixton prison on 21 June 1910, even poking fun at the latter’s beard:

By this time, dear Rishi, I have got quite used to the food and mode of living here. It was good that I did not ask for special food from the beginning. Now to make me a full-fledged life transportee, only a change of clothes is wanting . . . I am in excellent health and have added two pounds to my weight (not by growing a four-pound weight beard!) . . . be writing to me the sort of ennobling letters which you have written so many times. One of them I got while just starting for the court to hear the foregone decision of them. It makes me forget all the distance between us and makes me feel as if my Rishi is with me, side by side, in a meeting or in the room nursing me or chatting with me on the exalted topic of the raising of the people, the rebirth of a race and Rao Saheb.64


On 29 June 1910, the Secretary of State for Home Affairs, Winston Churchill, issued orders under the FOA that Vinayak must be taken in custody to British India: ‘Now I, the Right Honourable Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill in virtue of the powers vested in me by the aforesaid Fugitive Offenders Act do hereby order that the said Vinayek Damodar Sawarkar be returned to the Empire of India.’65

Thereafter, Sir Edward Henry, chief commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, wrote to the French government informing the Sûreté, or civil police force, that the Peninsular and Oriental (P&O) liner S.S. Morea would be leaving London for India with ‘an important political prisoner’ on 1 July; that it would touch Marseilles in France on 7 or 8 July. The British knew that Paris was full of Indian revolutionaries like Shyamji, Madame Cama, Sardar Singh Rana, Virendranath Chattopadhyay and others, who might undoubtedly come to their associate’s rescue. Sir Edward Grey, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, therefore, also sought French assistance in preventing any kind of trouble that could be caused by these revolutionaries in Marseilles. The French interior minister had warned his subordinates against any possible escape and in accordance with these instructions, a commissionaire of the French police was placed at the Morea commander’s disposal. On 9 July, Monsieur Hennion, the director of the Sûreté Générale in Paris, replied that the Préfet des Bouches du Rhone had been instructed that the prisoner’s escape must be prevented at all costs.

The British police were in charge of Vinayak during the vessel’s sojourn in French waters. French prime minister Aristide Briand complied. Guy Aldred wrote:

We do not need to ask what were the inducements offered to Briand. The man who betrayed the French workers for office would be quite willing to sell French sovereignty for the equivalent of office. The Minister who can send his old colleagues to prison for fidelity to their principles could be counted on as willing to send Savarkar to the dungeon for patriotism. It is more interesting to learn why the British Government employed him.66


Even as he prepared to depart for India, Vinayak wrote a poignant ode to all his friends and associates in England and beyond, those who had stood by him and worked with him over the last four years. ‘The Farewell’ poem went like this:

Whose heart to heart by silken ties is knit
Of friendship sweet, that sweeter grows by far,
Partaking of Godly Sacrament of Mother’s creed divine:
Oh Friends! Farewell! As tender and fresh
As the morning dew that wakes the fragrance
Friends! Adieu! Adieu!

We part to play our God-appointed parts
Now pent and nailed to burning rocks, now tossed
On surging waves of fame; now seen, now lost
Or humble or exalted—wherever posted by the Lord
Of hosts, yet posted best, as if alone it was
The mission of our life thus there to act.
As in some oriental play sublime,
All characters, the dead as well as living
In epilogue they meet
Thus actors we innumerable all once more shall meet
On History’s copious stage before the great
Applauding audience of Humanity
That would with grateful cheer fill hill and dale
Till then, Oh Loving Friends, Farewell! Farewell!

Wherever may my humble ashes lie,
In the Andaman’s sad brook whose weeping course
Add to its dreariness a tongue or sorted by Ganga’s
Sacred crystal stream in which the stars
Their midnight measures dance—
They will be stirred with fire and glow
When Victory’s trumpet blasts proclaiming
‘Shree Ram’ has crowned his chosen people’s brow
With laurels golden green! The evil spirit is cast
Away and chased back to the deep from whence
It first arose! And Lo! She lordly stands,
Our Mother India, a beacon light Humanity to guide,
Oh martyred saints and soldiers, do awake!
The battle is won for which you fought and fell!
Till then, oh Friends! Farewell! Farewell!

Watch sleeplessly the progress of our Mother
And learn to count it, not by so much work
Done or tried, but by how much they suffered,
What sacrifice our people could sustain!
For work is chance but sacrifice a law;
Foundation firm to rear a mighty dome
Of Kingdoms new and great!
But only great of their roots be in martyr’s ashes laid.
Thus work for Mother’s glory till God’s breath
Be rendered back, the Godly mission done—

A martyr’s wreath or victor’s crown be won! 67


Meanwhile, the British also issued an arrest warrant for Aiyar on the grounds that he had a role to play in the aborted attempt to rescue Vinayak. A high alert was sounded on all exit routes from London to Paris, and even Brazil, to look out for the ‘South Indian Brahmin revolutionary’. But Aiyar was too smart for them. He first went underground and thoroughly frustrated the police attempts. He then looked for the least watched route which turned out to be the one to Holland. Disguising himself as a Punjabi Sikh gentleman, with his strong build and flowing beard, he thwarted the suspicions of a detective on board who was looking for a puny, timid south Indian Brahmin. In an effort to hoodwink Aiyar and confirm if the Sikh gentleman was indeed him, the detective cleverly handed Aiyar, who was reclining on a deckchair, a fake telegram addressed to ‘Mr V.V.S. Aiyar’. Without batting an eyelid, Aiyar returned the telegram saying it was for a certain Mr Aiyar, not him. However, the suitcase lying beside Aiyar bore the initial ‘VVS’ on it. Catching the detective looking at the suitcase, Aiyar smiled and said, ‘Yes, I am Vir Vikram Singh from the Punjab.’ The embarrassed detective apologized and retreated. 68 Aiyar then reached Amsterdam, took a train to Paris, and met Shyamji and Madame Cama.

They had an important task to plan—a rendezvous and promise to keep in Marseilles.
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Re: Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past by Vikram Sampath

Postby admin » Thu May 13, 2021 2:33 am

Part 1 of 3

7 L’Affaire Savarkar

London, August 1910

The mood was sombre in the departmental inquiry chambers of the Metropolitan Police. Churchill was furious and had ordered a thorough investigation into the lapses. In the dock were two officials—Metropolitan Police officer Inspector Edward John Parker and the deputy superintendent of CID, Charles John Power. They were part of the escort that was supposed to bring Vinayak back to India. In a correspondence dated 27 May 1910, Sir Edward Henry, the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, had authorized Inspector Parker as the Scotland Yard officer who could give evidence back in India about Vinayak’s activities in London. Parker had been shadowing Vinayak as a detective for a long time. He was even present as a lay audience at the Caxton Hall meeting held on 29 December 1908 to commemorate Guru Gobind Singh’s birth anniversary. Even after Vinayak moved out of India House, Parker had kept a close watch on him. He was also one of the detectives who was present at Vinayak’s arrest at Victoria Station in March 1910 and had searched his trunk and belongings to discover the revolutionary books and pamphlets.

Earlier, on 10 April 1910, Deputy Superintendent C.J. Power had arrived from Bombay, bringing with him all the necessary papers related to Vinayak’s case, the depositions of witnesses in India in the Nashik trial, and had submitted these at the Bow Street Police Court. Power was a distinguished officer with an unblemished record of over sixteen years of service in the Bombay City and Mofussil Police, with nearly thirteen good service and reward entries. In 1904, he had been deputed to Manila with one of the other officers of the Bombay City Police to effect the extradition of Shapurji Kavasji Sanjana and escort him back to Bombay. He had performed this duty with rare tenacity, managing numerous difficulties that came his way in connection with extradition formalities in Manila. Hence, the Indian government decided that he would be the most appropriate officer to bring home the ‘notorious’ Vinayak to justice.

In London, Power reported himself to Inspector McCarthy at Scotland Yard and to the accountant general at the India Office. He had been authorized to take charge of the proceedings at court against Vinayak and also make suitable arrangements related to his passage back to India. In early June, Power had sent letters to several departments of the government regarding booking the P&O vessel Marmora initially. Given the manner in which the case proceeded with appeals in the divisional courts, the date was missed and thereafter the S.S. Morea was booked on 24 June 1910. Before leaving for London, Power had received strict instructions from his department head in India that his main responsibility was ‘looking after the prisoner on the return voyage’.

In a letter dated 26 March 1910, J.A. Guider, the special assistant to the deputy inspector general of police and Power’s superior, had written to him:

The three head constables will sail by the Macedonia next week and will go all the way by sea to London. The Inspector-General of Police desires that you should meet them on arrival and instruct them where lodgings have been arranged for them . . . You will remember the instructions I gave you about looking after the prisoner on the return. You will be careful not to leave the Nasik Head Constable alone at any time with the prisoner. There are reasons why this is undesirable. The Head Constable however is not to be informed of the prohibition, Nevertheless you are to see that it is strictly adhered to. Keep me posted in all your doings by your weekly diary dispatched every Friday.1


Power, thus, had a serious responsibility on his hands. His lapses on board the Morea were hence viewed sternly by the department. In a long-winded inquisition, Power and Parker narrated their tale of woes about all that had transpired on that fateful day when the Morea docked at Marseilles in France.

Marseilles, France, 8 July 1910

On 1 July 1910, the S.S. Morea sailed from Tilbury docks carrying Vinayak who was escorted by Power and Parker and two Indian head constables, Muhammad Siddik of the Poona police force and Amarsingh Sakharamsingh of the Nashik police force. A third officer, Usman Khan, who had been sent from India especially to guard Vinayak, died in England on 14 June 1910. Power hence assigned this duty to both Siddik and Amarsingh. They reached Marseilles on 7 July around noon.

In the week preceding their arrival at Marseilles, Power and Parker followed a strict daily schedule. Either of them had to be in constant attendance on Vinayak. They occupied an inner four-berth cabin without a porthole and at night this was secured by locking the door with a key that was especially obtained from the purser on the day of sailing. Either of the two officers kept the key. Parker and Vinayak occupied the lower berths while Power, the berth directly above Vinayak. Parker’s berth was closest to the door and faced Vinayak directly. The light directly over Vinayak’s head was kept burning all night. Vinayak was not handcuffed till they reached Marseilles. He wore a pair of drawers and a singlet.2

The officers were usually woken up by the cabin steward, Slavin, a little after 7 a.m. every day. That is when Power and Parker would begin to dress. If either or both of them wanted to take a bath, they would wait for the other’s return to the cabin so that Vinayak was always under their watch. After they had finished, Vinayak was allowed to get up and dress. He usually performed his ablutions in the cabin. When he wished to use the lavatory, usually around 8 a.m., it was decided that the two officers would hand him over to the Indian head constables who were invariably waiting outside the cabin at this time. They escorted him to the lavatory and were instructed never to allow him to shoot the bolt, but leave the door slightly ajar. Both of them were to stand close to the door, one to look over by standing on the urinal platform and to watch the porthole of the lavatory. While being taken to the lavatory, Vinayak usually changed into a dressing gown and wore a pair of slippers that he left at the lavatory door after use. This procedure was followed all through when the vessel was at sea.

Vinayak and the two English officers stayed in the cabin till breakfast, at which time they were led to the dining saloon with their prisoner sitting between them. After breakfast, the officers sometimes had a smoke. On a couple of occasions, they took Vinayak to the upper deck to let him have some exercise. He was never allowed to walk by himself or sit alone on the deck. During this time, the two Indian head constables were also on the deck keeping a close watch on Vinayak. He would frequently ask to be led back to the cabin where he spent several hours either reading or sleeping. At all times, Parker and Power, or one of them, stayed in the cabin with the door firmly fastened. Meals were had at the dining saloon again. The afternoons and evenings were spent in pretty much the same manner. Vinayak was never allowed to converse with any passenger on board. He usually retired to bed around 9 p.m. and it was only around 10 p.m. that the head constables were relieved from their duty.

Vinayak had a bath almost every morning during which time he was committed to the care of the head constables. In fact, on many occasions, he had to bathe in Muhammad Siddik’s presence. One day, after he complained of chest pain, Power advised him not to bathe. The doctor on board examined him, found his right lung slightly infected, and prescribed a lotion for external use. Muhammad Siddik applied this on his chest at the time of going to bed.

When the vessel docked at Marseilles on 7 July, Power kept a close watch on Vinayak inside the locked cabin. Meanwhile, Parker stationed himself on the gangway to keep watch for any known Indian revolutionary who might have assembled there with the purpose of freeing their prized prisoner. Power had strictly instructed the team to be cautious when the steamer was docked. Either he or Parker had to be with Vinayak all the time. They had lunch by 1 p.m. and thereafter were in the cabin till 4 p.m. The heat in the cabin was becoming intolerable owing to all the portholes being closed on account of coaling and hence the trio went up to the smoke room. At around 5 p.m., Vinayak was taken down for a wash and kept there till dinner at the dining saloon by 7 p.m. Post-dinner, he was given a little walking exercise for about an hour with all the four in attendance. Unusually, Vinayak requested to be allowed to take a bath at around 9 to 9.30 p.m. Power handed him over to the head constables and instructed Muhammad Siddik to take him to an inner bathroom with no porthole. After the bath, Vinayak retired for the day by 11 p.m., as did the others.

On the morning of 8 July, Vinayak made an unusual request to go to the lavatory as early as 6.15 a.m. The officers had slept late and Power was still asleep. He heard the request but tossed over and went back to sleep. Parker, who was half awake, took it upon himself to lead Vinayak to the water closet and lavatory. Parker followed him in the narrow passage. The two head constables were standing near the lavatory door, on the other side, where they kept their kit boxes. They were still dressing up. A sleepy Parker put Vinayak into the water closet without paying any attention to the state of the porthole. He also did not wait to check if the constables had seen them coming and so were aware that their services were needed to keep a watch as always.

Amarsingh dressed and made his way to the cabin, assuming he had to take the prisoner on the usual morning routine. But Parker whistled to Amarisngh, casually pointing to the water closet and told him, ‘He is here,’ before sauntering back to the cabin. Amarsingh hurriedly ran back to the lavatory and was soon joined by Muhammad Siddik. By this time, which was less than a minute, Vinayak managed to bolt the lavatory door and make the best use of the confusion that prevailed. He discovered to his luck that the porthole in the water closet was open and Parker had not bothered to fasten or clamp it. This was the moment that he had been eagerly waiting for. Summoning all his courage, he made a dash at the twelve-inch-diameter porthole, wriggled his lean frame out of it and made a giant dive into the sea, hoping, towards liberty and justice. He swam for about ten to twelve feet to get to the quay.

There was an opening of about three inches at the top and bottom of the water closet doors. Peeping under the doors, Amarsingh saw a pair of slippers and assumed that Vinayak was seated inside. However, to be doubly sure, he decided to stand on the urinal platform and peep through the top. To his horror he noticed that half of Vinayak’s body was already out of the porthole. He screamed at him to stop the escape. Amarsingh tried to force the door open but it did not yield and two panes of glass broke in the door. By then, Vinayak had jumped out. The two constables raised an alarm and ran across the deck to secure Vinayak, who by then had managed to reach the quay and had begun to run. The constables chased him with loud shouts of ‘Thief! Thief!’ ‘Catch him!’ ‘Catch him!’ and were joined by some of the ship’s crew. Vinayak had run for about 200 yards and was visibly exhausted. He kept shouting for a cab but realized that he had no money.

It was equally unfortunate that Aiyar, Madame Cama and Virendranath Chattopadhyay who were in the vicinity had reached the site late, only after Vinayak had been recaptured. Their delay was possibly caused due to a closed railway level crossing, or for having had a cup of tea, or perhaps both. 3 There is however very little corroborative evidence to suggest that any Indian revolutionaries were present on the site and multifold narratives abound of the episode.

Meanwhile, Brigadier Pesquié of the French Gendarmerie Maritime saw the confusion and joined the chase party. In no time, the head constables and the gendarme managed to seize Vinayak, who specifically told the Frenchman, ‘Take me into your custody, assist me; take me before a Magistrate.’ It was Vinayak’s understanding that since he was now on the soil of sovereign France, if at all he could be tried, it would be through French laws and the British had no jurisdiction there. As a political prisoner, he was eligible for asylum in France. But sadly for him, the gendarme, Pesquié, barely understood any English. He handed him over to the huffing and panting head constables who dragged Vinayak back to the Morea . His heroic attempt had been in vain.

A dripping wet and exhausted Vinayak was ushered into the cabin where Power was still resting and Parker was busy with his morning shave. They were horrified to hear all that had transpired while they remained blissfully unaware. Vinayak was verbally abused and immediately handcuffed. He was not allowed to leave the cabin except for an hour of exercise right in front of the cabin, in the passage. One of the head constables was made to enter the lavatory or water closet with Vinayak. Power and Parker had already ruined their distinguished careers by this act of omission on their parts and hence took every possible care to prevent a repeat.

In this moment of utter despair at having lost a great opportunity to free himself, Vinayak seemed least perturbed. He coolly sat in the cabin, warned the officers not to abuse him, and is said to have hummed a poem that he composed titled ‘Atma bal’ (Spiritual Strength). The poem begins with the lines:

Anaadi mi, ananta mi, avadhya mi bhala
Maaril ripu jagati asa, kavan janmala

(With me the things begin, and they end with me as well
I am in the midst of them all. A foe who can finish me off is yet to take birth.)


The translation of the rest of the poem goes this way:

Resolutely, as the Upholder of Dharma,
Challenging very Death, into the battlefield charge I.
A sword cannot slice me nor can fire burn me,
Craven Death itself shall flee in fear of me, aye!
And yet, O Foolish Foe!
By fear of Death you dare to scare me!
Pushed into the cage of a ferocious lion
Reduce him to a cowering servility, I will!
Flung into the blaze of a roaring inferno
Reduce it to a gentle halo of brilliance, I will!
Bring on your mighty, skilled, armed Legion,
Your weapons and missiles that deadly fire spill!
Ha! Like Lord Shiva consuming the poison Halahal,
Gulp down and digest all, I will!4[/quote]

The S.S. Morea left the port of Marseilles after completing the repairs on 9 July. Reaching the port of Aden on 17 July, the British contingent and their political prisoner disembarked and boarded another ship, the Salsette . Here, Vinayak was confined to a cage-like cabin with a space of only 4 feet to sit, stand or walk. He was kept handcuffed day and night till the vessel reached Bombay on 22 July 1910. He was handed over to Mr Kennedy, inspector general of police, and to J.A. Guider, special assistant to the deputy inspector general of police. He was taken in a taxi to Victoria Terminus, put in a train to Nashik the same afternoon, and locked up in a jail on reaching Nashik.

In Nashik, Guider made several attempts to get Vinayak to write out a statement of the facts relating to his escape from custody at Marseilles. But he did not consent to write one or sign any that Guider offered to record. His reason was that he did not wish to deny that he had escaped but was ‘unwilling to say anything which might prejudice any of the police officers who accompanied him from England’.5

Meanwhile, the departmental inquisition found Power guilty of dereliction. He was demoted in service, incurred a loss of Rs 100 per month for a few years, and his career took a hit. The inquiry concluded with its resolution on 8 October 1910 signed by the undersecretary to the government, J.E.B. Hotson:

Marseilles was the only real danger point on the voyage, and it was Mr Power’s obvious duty to have drawn up a definite plan of action for the safe custody of his prisoner during the stay there, arranging that the prisoner should never be separated even for a moment from himself or Inspector Parker, and providing carefully for all the details, such as the closing of the portholes. The general instructions, which he claims to have issued were not adequate to meet these requirements, nor does it appear that he took adequate steps to secure that they were carried out. The prisoner’s request for a bath on the previous night should have warned Mr Power to be specially on the alert, and Government can only conclude that he neglected his duties with almost inconceivable carelessness, and must be held directly responsible for permitting the prisoner to escape. The story of this unfortunate episode presents no mitigating features, but looking to Mr Power’s excellent record in the past, His Excellency the Governor-in-Council considers that the punishment suggested by the Inspector-General of Police will be sufficiently severe. Mr Power should accordingly be reduced to the last place in the 2nd grade of Deputy Superintendents of Police with effect from 1st October 1910.6


Meanwhile, the French press and particularly those oriented towards the socialists castigated Brigadier Pesquié’s action as a national scandal. That a political prisoner who had landed on French soil was allowed to be taken away by British officials was an insult to French sovereignty, they argued. Almost the entire French Press—L’Humanite , L’Eclaire , Le Monde , Le Temps and Le Matin —denounced Vinayak’s recapture from France and a violation of his right to political asylum. Jean Longuet, socialist leader and grandson of Karl Marx, became Vinayak’s vocal supporter. He wrote a blistering article in the socialist newsweekly that he edited, L’Humanite , on 12 July:

This abominable violation of the right of asylum was effected in absolute secrecy; had it not been for a telegram published yesterday (11 July) in the Paris Daily Mail , we should still have been in ignorance of the incident. But it is quite impossible that the matter can be allowed to rest there. In delivering up a political refugee the Marseilles authorities—admitting that they had acted on their own initiative—have committed an outrage of which account will most assuredly be demanded and in respect of which the sanction of the state itself is necessary.7


Madame Bhikaji Cama wrote protest letters to the French newspaper, Le Temps , which in its issue dated 19 July 1910 added:

It would seem, according to international law, that Savarkar ought to be brought back to France in order that the French authorities should have cognizance of this case firstly because the British Government did not warn the French Government that a political offender would be brought into the port of Marseilles, and secondly that (British) Government lost its rights over Savarkar by the fact of his having escaped on to French soil.8


The Journal des Debates dated 25 July 1910 argued that the British could not retain Vinayak under these circumstances:

Had he escaped from England and reached Calais or Boulogne no application for his extradition would have been entertained. Great Britain, therefore, cannot take advantage of the blunder committed by a French policeman, and Savarkar ought to be sent back to France and there restored to liberty.9


The French socialists looked to their counterparts in other countries to rally support. The case was soon blowing up into an international controversy. The Indian revolutionaries in France reached out to French socialist leader Monsieur Jean Jaurès for his support. The Daily Press rued that the entire episode would have gone unnoticed had it not been for ‘a vigilant compatriot’ of Vinayak’s who brought pressure on the French government and its political leadership that the very principle of the right of asylum that Great Britain lays so much stress on has been violated in this case. ‘There is bitterness in the taunt,’ noted the Daily Press , ‘and it was intended to strike home against the nation which played so conspicuous a part on the occasion of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes.’10

That Jaurès pressured the French government sufficiently is evident in the report that the London Daily News carried:

The arrest of the Indian revolutionary Savarkar at Marseilles, after his escape from the liner that was taking him to India under police surveillance, has been the subject of correspondence between the French Minister of Justice and the English Government. The Minister has informed M. Jaurès, the Socialist Leader that the French Government has begged the British Government to suspend judgment until it has been placed in possession of all the documents. The French Socialists, who have taken up the case, argue that the handing over of Savarkar to the English detectives by the sergeant of the gendarmes who had arrested him after he swam ashore was illegal. ‘The Libertè ’ this evening states that the French Government has addressed to the British Foreign Office a Note asking that Savarkar should be set at liberty or else handed over to the French authorities. ‘Hitherto’, continues The Libertè, ‘the British Government appears to have taken the view that the arrest of Savarkar, effected by the French gendarmes in the port of Marseilles, might be illegal, but that the consequences of this illegality were no concern of theirs. In law however, Savarkar could not be arrested or pursued on French territory. He was apprehended and handed over to the English detectives through an error on the part of the gendarmes with regard to his position as a political prisoner. It may be remarked that in analogous cases the British Government always demands that its territory should be respected; and we are justified in expecting that, making all reservations for Savarkar’s personality and role, the Foreign Office will favourably receive the French Government’s protests in principle.11


James Keir Hardie, Scottish socialist, politician and trade unionist and the founder of the Labour Party, too lent his support. At the Socialist Congress of 1910 in Copenhagen, he reminded those present of the British liberal traditions, which had often aided radical ‘outcasts’ in the past. He named Garibaldi, Mazzini, Lajos Kossuth and Karl Marx as examples. If one allowed the Savarkar case to go through as the British intended, Hardie believed it would create a bad precedent, which might undermine revolutionary work across Europe. He therefore proposed a resolution demanding Vinayak’s restoration to France. This was carried unanimously. Interestingly, Jaurès, an ardent supporter of Vinayak’s cause, who was also present at the Copenhagen Congress, did not participate in the voting of the resolution. He had ‘gone for a walk in the fresh air’ because of a bad ‘headache’.12

The Indian revolutionaries were ‘delighted with the excitement which the Savarkar affair . . . aroused in the press of France, England and other European countries’. They were, however, aware that this stemmed ‘more from feelings of national pride than from any desire to help Savarkar that the French’ took so much interest in the case.13 Virendranath Chattopadhyay voiced his ‘strong belief that they would have Savarkar back among them again’ and the Indians in Paris had apparently ‘already planned Savarkar’s reception after his return’.14

On 18 October 1910, nearly 200 Indians in England participated in the Dussehra celebrations in London. There were tableaus of the Ramayana construed as being symbolic of Indian victory over the British. Quite suggestively, the tableaus had figures of ‘white slave girls’. The French anthem Marseillaise was played and ‘heartily applauded’. This too symbolically indicated the appreciation of French support for Vinayak’s repatriation. The British police present at the venue were further affronted when a proposal to play the British national anthem was ‘ruled out of order’.15

The British press, by and large, dismissed the event as a mere mishap, and also castigated its French counterparts for exceeding their brief. The Evening Telegraph stated that it was impossible to conceive of surrendering Vinayak to France as ‘such an act would have an extremely harmful effect in India and would be seized upon by the revolutionary leaders as an indication of the weakness of the British authorities’.16

Vinayak who had already faced an extradition trial and appeals in London, was now heading towards two more trials—one questioning his recapture in France as part of The Hague arbitration that created a diplomatic row between two sovereign nations, and back home in India for the ‘Nasik Conspiracy Case’.

Various departments in the governments of both England and France were activated after the ‘Savarkar episode’. On 18 July, the French minister for foreign affairs, Monsieur Stephen Jean-Marie Pichon, informed the British embassy in Paris that in view of the facts of Vinayak’s escape and recapture at Marseilles becoming public knowledge, there had been a huge political outcry and media coverage about the incident. Jean Jaurès had notified Prime Minister Briand that he intended to raise serious questions on this issue in the Chamber. The French government had momentarily managed to postpone the issue by citing lack of complete information on the case to avoid embarrassment. But it was imperative on the British government, given the sensitivity of this issue and the involvement of international laws, that the prisoner should not be brought to trial in India until the question that had arisen was suitably settled between the two governments.17

Five days later, on 23 July, French ambassador to Britain, Pierre Paul Cambon, sought Vinayak’s extradition back to France from where the British had captured him without the French government’s consent. This demand was in accordance with the Convention between Britain and France for Mutual Surrender of Fugitive Criminals, 14 August 1874.

Lord Viscount Morley, the British Secretary of State for India, was annoyed by these demands. On 26 July 1910, he informed the Foreign Office and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Sir Edward Grey, that the issue of the trial in India was not something that the executive could decide; it was entirely up to the judiciary to arbitrate on. Hence, it would be impossible for the India Office to give any formal assurance to France that Vinayak would not be tried till the matter was settled between the two countries. However, all he could say was that the Government of Bombay had been instructed to apply for a postponement of the trial in court and that it was now up to the wisdom of the lordships to decide the course of trial. 18 The trial in Nashik was postponed temporarily even though the governor of Bombay was of the view that ‘delay will be inconvenient legally, and gravely disadvantageous politically’. 19

Morley also suggested that given the manner in which this matter was escalating, a meeting of the India Office, Home Office and Foreign Office with himself, Winston Churchill and Edward Grey would help in formulating a coordinated response to the repeated requests from France. Morley nominated Sir William Lee-Warner, member of the Council of India, and Sir Herbert Risley, secretary of the judicial and public department to represent the India Office in this vexed matter.20

Accordingly, the interdepartmental committee met on 29 July 1910. Louis Mallet of the Foreign Office contended that in the interests of maintaining friendly relations with France, the British could consider handing over Vinayak to them. The British government could then pursue the normal course of extradition of a fugitive criminal, namely, handing over a legal copy of arrest warrant and an application through their ambassador in France. Churchill opined that ‘nothing’ was of ‘greater importance’ than the fact that Britain should show herself as a nation that accepted the law of nations. ‘The petty annoyance,’ he added, ‘of a criminal escaping may have to be borne.’21

But the India Office was unrelenting. They stated that given the political importance of the case back in India and Vinayak’s alleged seditious involvement in spearheading a widespread conspiracy across the country, there was no other option but to have him tried. They suggested that the French be informed that the accused was now in Nashik to face trial and the British government was powerless, having to merely wait for the proceedings to conclude. The executive had no power in the courts and it could be conveyed that the Indian court refused to surrender a criminal who had come under their jurisdiction. If Vinayak was acquitted by the Indian court, the question of extradition itself did not arise because he would be a free man. The spirit of the convention of 7 March 1815 was cited whereby European powers had agreed to extradite criminals of other governments. Several past precedents of similar nature were discussed and dissected.

The committee also read and reread the correspondence between the British government and the French Sûreté in which the latter had been informed about an ‘important political prisoner’ being on board the Morea while it docked at Marseilles. Sir Edward Grey, however, opined that the reports suggested that the two native head constables had played a much more important role in his recapture, and Parker and Power were shown in very poor light. Their report could hardly be construed as the complete truth, and someone could pass it off as hearsay, as they were themselves being investigated by the police department. Further, the testimonies of the Indian head constables that they caught Vinayak bolstered the French annoyance, conveyed by the French chargé d’affaires in London, Émile Daeschner who contended that the British government had ousted the French police from the proper discharge of its functions and interfered in its work. Could it be the case that the native constables were simply highlighting their own chivalry to magnify their share in the recapture of Vinayak and it was in reality the French gendarme who contributed to his capture? If such a narrative could be craftily constructed, it would give them the advantage. This new angle put the entire committee into a tizzy and they dispersed after agreeing to elicit the facts from India and also have the Law Office draft the case details well.22

As Sir Grey had feared, the French government was increasingly feeling the heat of the episode that had by now broken out in full public view. On 3 August, it sent a note to the British seeking both an apology and Vinayak’s extradition to France. The apology was because of the reports that the action of the Indian head constables on French territory constituted a flagrant violation of French sovereignty. Who were they to run behind a fugitive who was seeking asylum in France or capture him? A baffled Foreign Office replied that it was after all a French policeman who handed Vinayak back to the Morea , personally delivering him to Power’s custody. Assuming that the French policeman acted stupidly and in contravention of the known procedures of extradition, the onus was certainly not on the British government to set his mistake right. When French minister Pichon made his first representation on 18 July, he merely asked for a postponement of the trial till the matter was settled between the two countries, not for extradition. At that time, had a request for extradition been made, it might still have been possible to consider because Vinayak was still on high seas. But once he reached India, he automatically came under the control of the court there and the British government had no power over him till the court so ruled.

Attorney General Sir William S. Robson gave his considered opinion on the case:

1. That before Savarkar was taken by the British authorities into French territory, the assent of the French government was duly obtained to his being kept in custody there by those authorities;

2. That an agreement was thereupon arrived at between Great Britain and France, that the French authorities should assist the British authorities to prevent the escape of Savarkar from British custody;

3. That in the circumstances this agreement amounted to a stipulation that Savarkar should not be entitled to any rights of asylum on French soil; and

4. That in giving him up the French police properly acted in accordance with the instructions given to them under the above agreement.


He further nitpicked on the action of the Indian head constables in hot pursuit by stating that: ‘. . . there is no rule in International Law which prevents a foreigner in a foreign country from assisting a police officer in the performance of a lawful act of seizure.’ His submission was that the constables were merely assisting the French gendarme; they might have gone a bit overboard, but that could not be construed as a violation of France’s sovereignty. ‘The case therefore,’ Robson concluded, ‘is not of a criminal who has been handed over in violation of the conditions of an extradition treaty, but of an alien who has been excluded from French soil, which he had no right to enter’ in the very first place. 23 He did not think Sir Edward Grey would be justified in promising a surrender of the prisoner to France, nor could the executive interfere with the judiciary at this stage of the proceedings.

Meanwhile, the Government of Bombay was getting restless about the undue postponement of the case. The governor shot off a telegram to London on 5 August 1910 in which he seemed to contradict the narrative that the Foreign Office was constructing. It said:

The gendarme to whom Savarkar ran failed to understand what he said; and Savarkar (according to his own statement) was seized first by the constables in pursuit, who were immediately assisted by the gendarme . . . the statement of the other constable is that the pursuers were joined by the gendarme; and that the capture of Savarkar was affected on his stopping partly because hindered by dock employees and partly owing to exhaustion.24


The governor was lightly admonished in a return telegram dated 15 August from the Secretary of State for ruining the well-crafted narrative, stating that, ‘it is unnecessary to point out that the question of what happened at Marseilles is to be left for discussion by the two Governments concerned; and that as the publication of the version given in your telegram of the 5th would cause inconvenience, questions relating to these details should be kept out of the Indian courts’.25

Subsequent telegrams exchanged between the two conveniently bolster this new narrative and all the previous testimonies of police officials were happily disregarded. Almost confirming Guy Aldred’s accusation of French prime minister Briand’s connivance with the British, the Government of France managed to secure a deposition of Brigadier Pesquié that he single-handedly captured Vinayak by his right hand and that the head constables had little role to play in it. The Secretary of State informed the governor of Bombay by 31 August that further postponement of the trial would not be necessary as they would inform the French government that the proceedings could not be stopped and if required, Vinayak could be restored to them after the Indian court had pronounced its judgment.

Accordingly, on 10 September, Vinayak was committed for trial before the special tribunal upon charges framed by the magistrate under Sections 121 and 121A of the IPC and also on a charge of abetment of murder under Sections 109 and 302. Coincidentally, on the same day as the trial commenced in Bombay, miles away in Copenhagen, the Socialist Conference of Europe that was holding its session in that city demanded Vinayak’s immediate return to France.

With all the new ‘evidences’, by 24 September 1910, Sir Edward Grey’s narrative was embellished with more details of what transpired at Marseilles. He noted that once the Morea docked on the noon of 7 July, a commissaire spécial of the port, Monsieur Leblé, came on board, showed Parker the letter exchanges between Sir E. Henry and Monsieur Hennion, and also saw Vinayak in the cabin. He then took Parker ashore and introduced him to the officer-in-charge of the police on the quay. There were four or five gendarmes in uniform. Addressing his officers, the commissaire spécial said: ‘Let me introduce you to the English police officer who has an Indian prisoner on board. You must give him any assistance he may require and prevent any strange Indians from assembling on the quay or going on board.’26

Whether these were true or a careful post facto reconstruction of events to suit the British narrative is anybody’s guess. None of the police officers on board the Morea —both British and Indian—had ever brought up this vital detail in the departmental inquiries, and one wonders how Sir Edward Grey managed to unearth these ‘facts’ now. In his sworn testimony of 24 July 1910, Inspector Parker, when asked what happened on arrival at Marseilles, had said: ‘Between our arrival at Marseilles and lunch, I went ashore for five or ten minutes to be introduced to the shore police officials.’ 27 This was as casual as it was made to appear and not as intricate and embellished as Sir Grey’s version. It is incredible that Parker, who gave the minutest of details of their travel in his testimony, would have omitted this important incident.

Interestingly, after the British government’s strategic decision, Parker zoomed in on the time they arrived at Marseilles, adding fanciful details to it. The governor of Bombay’s telegram dated 20 August 1910 shows how in less than a month Parker managed to remember so much more than what he had testified to in a departmental inquiry. He suddenly mentioned the details of the commissaire spécial of the port, who came on board and spoke to him in French, which he could understand only a little. He then showed him the letter exchanges. He even said that among the gendarmes who were introduced to him, Brigadier Pesquié too was most probably one of them, although he could not be ‘absolutely sure’. 28 It was a wonderful manipulation of concocted facts.

Sir Edward Grey also took care to note that after his escape, Vinayak was ‘arrested and conducted back to the “Morea ” by a French gendarme. This officer never relaxed hold of Savarkar from the moment he arrested him till he was delivered on board the “Morea”.’29 The testimonies of Amarsingh and Muhammad Siddik were thus craftily airbrushed. Speaking of their role, Sir Grey however mentions:

The action of the ship’s steward and two Indian constables who, on hearing of the escape of Savarkar, had landed and taken part in the pursuit seems, as a result of the fullest investigation to have wholly confined to assisting the French police officer to escort Savarkar back to the ‘Morea ’ and it can hardly be contended that there was anything unlawful or irregular in this proceeding. It is a common occurrence in every country for independent individuals to assist police officers, if they think they need it, in the execution of their duties. In any circumstances the action of these persons on this occasion in no way affected the final issue and being, as it was, cooperation with a French official willingly accepted by him at the time it cannot be regarded as derogatory to French authority either in fact or intention. 30
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Re: Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past by Vikram Sampath

Postby admin » Thu May 13, 2021 2:34 am

Part 2 of 3

Interestingly, as per this account the head constables had merely ‘heard of the escape’, and not seen it themselves, as they had testified solemnly in their depositions. Sir Grey argued that Ambassador Cambon’s demand to restore Vinayak to France on the grounds that he had acquired a right of residence and asylum on French soil was negated by their authorities at both Paris and Marseilles. Moreover, Vinayak was not a French citizen to lay claim to such a right which could be made by France only if it felt that its sovereign rights had been violated. But with this new reconstruction of events that possibility too had been effectively negated. He cited the case of one Lamirande in 1866. A French criminal, Lamirande, who was a cashier at the Poitiers branch of the Bank of France, had escaped to Canada, where his surrender in extradition was demanded by the Government of France. Before the legal proceedings of extradition could be completed, the French consul applied to the British Governor General for a warrant by the latter for the immediate dispatch of the prisoner to France. The Governor General, in complete ignorance of the legal proceedings that were under way for extradition, issued the warrant and the man was shipped off. Before the mistake was discovered, he was given to French custody on board the French ship, and it was too late to prevent his departure. This case, according to Sir Grey, presented striking similarities to the ‘Savarkar Case’. Concluding his argument, Grey mentioned that in case the French still did not agree, the British government was open to submitting the matter to arbitration in accordance with international law.

The French government was totally taken aback by this argument and was found fumbling for a response. Ambassador Cambon called the British Foreign Office in panic and conveyed that the likelihood of Minister Pichon being attacked violently in the French Chamber was considerable. They desperately wanted to get the trial in India postponed. Cambon explained his difficulties that the French Chamber saw no distinction between the jurisdictions of the British government and the Indian government. But the British government was not going to budge, neither was it willing to give any assurances to their French counterparts.31

Clutching at straws, the diplomat at the French embassy in London, Émile Daeschner, wanted to know if an oral assurance that Vinayak would not be executed in India could be given confidentially. An amused Morley suggested that Sir Grey instead give a formal assurance that ‘whatever may be the result of the trial of Savarkar, no step involving “irreparable consequences” will be taken pending the settlement of the international question’.32

Accordingly, by an exchange of notes dated 4 and 5 October 1910, Britain and France agreed to submit to arbitration ‘on the one hand the questions of fact and law raised’ by the Marseilles episode, and on the other hand ‘the demand of the Government of the Republic of France with a view to the restitution to them of Savarkar’. 33 On 25 October, an agreement was concluded between the two governments about the constitution of such an arbitration tribunal and the questions to be placed before it. The following articles were drawn up for the tribunal:

1. Should Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, in conformity with the rules of International Law, be restored or not be restored by His Britannic Majesty’s Government to the Government of the French Republic?

2. The Arbitral Tribunal shall be constituted of five arbitrators chosen from the members of the Permanent Court at The Hague. The two Contracting Parties shall settle the composition of the Tribunal. Each of them may choose as Arbitrator one of their nationals.

3. On 6 December 1910, each of the High Contracting Parties shall forward to the Bureau of the Permanent Court fifteen copies of its case, with duly certified copies of all documents, which it proposes to put in. The Bureau will undertake without delay to forward them to the Arbitrators and to each party: that is to say two copies for each Arbitrator and three copies for each Party. Two copies will remain in the archives of the Bureau. On the 17th January 1911, the High Contracting Parties will deposit in the same manner their Counter-Cases, with documents in support of them. These Counter-Cases may necessitate replies, which must be presented within a period of fifteen days after the delivery of the Counter-Cases. The periods fixed by the present Agreement for the delivery of the cases, Counter-Cases, and replies may be extended by mutual agreement between the High Contracting Parties.

4. The Tribunal shall meet at The Hague on the 14th of February 1911. Each Party shall be represented by an Agent, who shall serve as an intermediary between it and the Tribunal. The Arbitrary Tribunal may, if it thinks necessary, call upon one or other of the Agents to furnish it with oral or written explanations, to which the Agent of the other Party shall have the right to reply. It shall also have the right to order the attendance of witnesses.

5. The Parties may employ French or English language. The members of the Tribunal may, of their own choice, make use of the French or English language. The decisions of the Tribunal shall be drawn up in the two languages.

6. The Award of the Tribunal shall be given as soon as possible, and, in any case, within thirty days following the date of its meeting at The Hague or that of the delivery of the written explanations, which may have been furnished at its request. This period may, however, be prolonged at the request of the Tribunal if the two High Contracting Parties agree.34


The agreement was signed by Paul Cambon and Sir Edward Grey. It was decided that any other points in connection with the arbitration that might arise and which were not provided for by the agreement would be determined by the provisions of the International Convention for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes signed at The Hague on 18 October 1907. The Hague tribunal, formerly known as the Permanent Court of Arbitration, owed its existence to a Europe-based agreement, which later became international law codes.

The composition of the tribunal for the Savarkar case was agreed upon as follows:

1. Monsieur Beernaert, Minister of State at Brussels and a member of the Belgian Chamber of Representatives who was to act as the President of the Tribunal.

2. From Britain, it was the Earl of Desart, KCB, formerly Solicitor to His Majesty’s Treasury, late King’s Proctor and Director of Public Prosecution.

3. From France, it was Monsieur Louis Renault, Legal Advisor to the French Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

4. Monsieur le Jonkheer A.F. de Savornin Lohman, formerly Minister of the Interior at The Hague.

5. Monsieur Gram, formerly Minister of State in Norway.35


They were all members of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague. Eyre A. Crowe of the Foreign Office was to be the British agent. The best course of things would have been to allow this tribunal to settle the case between Britain and France and then continue the trial back in India. The tribunal was anyway mandated to settle the case by February– March 1911. The London press castigated the British government for the mess it had got itself into. As a sharply worded editorial in The Times noted:

It is of course deeply to be regretted that the fate of such a prisoner should in the event of his conviction in the Indian courts be dependent upon the decision of another tribunal on points of international law, which, however important in themselves, are wholly irrelevant to his actual guilt. But, for this, we have unfortunately only to thank the ineptitude of our own officials responsible for sending Savarkar in a ship that touched at any foreign port whilst there were so many ships available that sailed direct from England to India; and secondly that of the officials actually in charge of Savarkar during the voyage on board the Morea through whose inconceivable negligence he was allowed so obvious a chance to escape.36


The Homeward Mail from India, China, and the East lamented:

Every thinking person reading the account of the escape and recapture of Savarkar at Marseilles must be filled with a sense of humiliation. The administration of this country has again been brought into withering contempt. Savarkar was in custody on charge of waging war against the King and abetment of murder. His guilt or innocence will be determined by the Courts; it is perfectly immaterial to our point, which is that he was in custody on a very grave charge. Four police officers were deputed to bring him to Bombay for trial. How did they discharge their trust? . . . it was obvious, even to the meanest intellect, that if Savarkar meant to escape his one chance was at Marseilles.37


Many leaders, activists and legal experts also expressed their displeasure at the double standards of the British government for allowing the trial in India to continue even as the arbitration at The Hague was under way. For instance, the Committee of the International Arbitration and Peace Association, London, was quite annoyed with the continuance of the trial in India. They passed a resolution on 27 October 1910, which said:

This Committee, while expressing satisfaction at the reference to The Hague Court of the question of the legality of the arrest of Savarkar on French soil, protests against the continuance of the trial until the decision of The Hague Court has been given. In view of these circumstances the Committee urges that the tribunal shall be called together with the least possible delay.38


L’Humanite noted with alarm the news of the trial having commenced in India: ‘What we wish to stigmatize is the gross indifference of these magistrates, who, without having the elementary courtesy to await the results of the negotiations actually in progress . . . proceed, despite everything, to try Savakar. If we can call such a procedure a trial.’39

But the British government could not care less for such dissent and was simply unwilling to put the Nasik Conspiracy Case trial on hold. All these suggestions to defer the trial were disregarded. On the other hand, it was mandated to expedite the hearings and wrap up the case by the end of 1910 or by January 1911. Vinayak was too dangerous for the British government to be left locked up in a jail, that too in India, awaiting trial. Even as these hectic international parleys were under way, Vinayak’s fate hung in the balance in what was to be a sham of a trial, its outcome a foregone conclusion.

Bombay, September 1910

The special tribunal—without a jury and with no right of appeal to the accused—began its work in September 1910 in Bombay. It consisted of Sir Basil Scott, the chief justice of Bombay High Court, Justice Narayan Ganesh Chandavarkar 40 and Justice Heaton. The prosecution counsels were the advocates general of Bombay—Jardine, Weldon, Welinkar—and Nicolson was the public prosecutor. Defending Vinayak and his co-accused were Joseph Baptista, Govindarao Gadgil, Chitre, Sethna, Thacker and Ranegenekar. Vinayak was moved from Nashik prison to Yeravada in Poona and then to Dongri Jail in Bombay. There were three trials that Vinayak faced here.

In the first one, known as the Nasik Conspiracy Case, there were as many as thirty-eight other co-accused. There were nearly 278 depositions that the prosecution had lined up between January and April 1910. When the proceedings began on 15 September 1910, Vinayak was brought to court in a special van and with extra-special security, given his notoriety. It is said that the moment he entered the dock, he heard the sound of claps. When he looked at the vacant benches and galleries and wondered who were clapping, he realized it was all the other co-accused in the dock below him. It was here that Vinayak also saw his younger brother, Narayanrao, after a long time. The two siblings exchanged affectionate looks and non-verbally boosted each other’s morale. The government had managed to secure four approvers in the case—Kashinath Ankushkar, Dattatraya Joshi, W.R. Kulkarni and Chaturbhuj Amin.41

At the commencement of the proceedings, Vinayak’s counsel, Baptista, raised the fundamental issue of the validity of the proceedings and the ongoing international row related to his arrest. He said:

Savarkar was prevented from holding any conversation while the P&O Liner Morea, on which he was being taken out to Bombay, was in French waters. Savarkar, on arrival at Marseilles, requested to be landed, claiming that he had been wrongfully arrested. This request was, of course, refused. Not only this, two French officers went on board the Morea but were not allowed to speak to Savarkar. He then determined to escape. Having gained the shore, he saw that two English detectives and three of the Morea ’s officers were in pursuit. He ran about 300 yards but his pursuers gained on him. He then turned to a French gendarme for help asking to be taken at once to the commissary of Police. At this moment, the detectives arrived and one of them took Savarkar by the neck, the other by the arm. In this brutal fashion, he was taken on board, put in chains and kept in secrecy.42


The judges instantly overruled the objection. In its 28 September ruling it said that since the prosecution had a single, vast conspiracy to expose, it would be appropriate to try the pleaders in conjunction rather than separately. There were allegations of attempts to murder Gopalkrishna Gokhale and Justice Dinsha Davar, who had arbitrated against Tilak in the 1908 sedition case. Hence, the court ruled that the ambit of the trial seemed more expansive than what was initially sought to be examined.

On 1 October 1910, the court discussed the various provisions of the Extradition Act under which Vinayak was brought back to India. When repeatedly asked, Vinayak merely replied that he did not recognize the validity of the court that was trying him and hence would not wish to make any statements there. He clearly stated his judicial boycott:

I am quite innocent of the charges laid against me. I took part in the proceedings of the trial in England where in courts one can expect to get justice. There the authority does not rely upon brute force. The condition of Indian Courts of Law is quite the reverse. I am not amenable to the jurisdiction of an Indian Court of Law, I therefore, decline to give any statement or bring any evidence for my defence.43


The five charges that were pressed against Vinayak were:44

1. Waging and abetting the waging of war against the King (IPC, 121).

2. Conspiring to wage war against the King (IPC, 121).

3. Collecting arms with intent to wage war against the King (IPC, 122).

4. Sedition (IPC 122).

5. Abetment of murder (IPC 302 and 109).


As the trial proceeded, some of these charges were dropped, while others were expanded. For instance, the abetment to the murder charge was divided into two parts. The first charge was that Vinayak, while in London and elsewhere, engaged with certain specified persons and others not specified for the murder of officials of the Government of India. In pursuance of this conspiracy, he had sent out twenty Browning pistols from London to Bombay around February 1909. The consequence of this was that Anant Kanhere murdered Jackson in Nashik in December of the same year. The second charge was that Vinayak had conspired with the specified persons and others ‘to overawe by means of criminal force and show of criminal force the Government of India’ 45 and yet again did this by sending Browning pistols. Vinayak’s speeches of 1906 and before in India were also put to trial for sedition. The various offences were clubbed under three cases titled ‘Nasik Murder Case’, ‘Nasik Conspiracy Case’ and ‘Abetment of Murder and Sedition’. As part of the Nasik Murder case, Kanhere, Karve and Deshpande had already been executed on 19 April 1910 and the other accused were yet to be tried.

The Nasik Conspiracy Case had thirty-eight accused, including Vinayak, from Nashik, Bombay, Pen, Poona, 46 Yeola, Aurangabad, Hyderabad and other places in the Deccan. All except one were Brahmins, mainly Chitpawans. Twenty-seven of them were found guilty and given various sentences. 47 The trial went on for sixty-nine days with more than thirty witnesses brought to testify. 48 Three of the accused—Shankar Balwant Vaidya, Vinayak Sadashiv Barve and Vinayak Kashinath Phulambrikar— were discharged earlier in the trial because they had turned approvers.49

According to J.A. Guider’s deposition, it was the investigation into the Jackson murder that had led the police to unravel a widespread network and to the ‘discovery of arms of various sorts’ and also revealed ‘the existence of secret societies for the overthrow of the British Government in different parts of India’. 50 The plot began to unravel with the investigation of Ganu Vaidya on 23 December 1909. Guider had merely found a piece of paper with Hemchandra Das’s name on it during his raid on Babarao’s house. As per British colonial criminal code and procedure this was sufficient evidence to implicate him. The links between the revolutionaries of Maharashtra and Bengal and their secret societies were a matter of great concern for the British government and the fact that these associations began to emerge in the raids unnerved them.

Raghunath Venkatesh Gosavi, a young member of Abhinav Bharat, also testified against Vinayak. He said that prior to 1906 the organization strove to achieve independence through lawful means, but after that, making war and collecting arms became its primary motive. He said that Abhinav Bharat had three categories of people: the revolutionaries (Vinayak, Babarao, Sakharam Dadaji Gorhe, Aabaa Darekar and Vishnu Mahadev Bhat), those who joined for physical training, wrestling and swordplay (Vishnu Mahadev Kelkar, Dhanappa, Purdeshi and Gadgil), and those who prepared others’ minds through inflammatory speeches (Narayanrao Savarkar, Damodar Mahadev Chandratre and Bapu Joshi). A new recruit usually started in the third category and then graduated to the second class after being thoroughly tested. Finally, with the taking of the oath they were considered to be in the first category, i.e., revolutionaries. 51 He also mentioned that outsiders who visited Abhinav Bharat regularly included S.M. Paranjpe, Syed Haidar Raza and Aurobindo Ghose from Bengal.52

Other testimonies unravelled the physical training imparted to members, the process of initiation, the acquisition, supply and distribution of arms, manufacture of explosives, revolutionary literature and their dissemination and other vital details. One Bapu Joshi revealed that after being arrested, Babarao had instructed Narayanrao in a cryptic manner that he had mistakenly kept a five-rupee note under the roof, and also some cough medicine outside the window. If they did not take these away the cats would eat them up. The allusion was to explosive literature and pamphlets that would fall into police hands. The police found this instruction suspicious and raided the house to find under the eaves a bundle of letters from Vinayak wrapped in a cloth bag and the ‘Bomb Manual’.53

One of the key witnesses in the trial was the twenty-five-year-old cook of India House—Chaturbhuj Jhaveribhai Amin Patidar 54 who was there for a year and a half since 1907. He was a ‘key witness’ because it was essential for the prosecution to establish, beyond circumstantial evidence, that the pistol used by Kanhere to kill Jackson was from among the lot sent by Vinayak from London. The crux of the case rested on this and this was where Chaturbhuj was to act as the important link for the prosecution. He gave crucial evidence about the meetings at India House presided over by Vinayak and the tenor and content of his speeches. On one evening, Vinayak had taken Chaturbhuj inside his room, fastened it from inside, and made him sit on a chair near a fireplace beside a photograph of Shivaji Maharaj and a lamp with its wick dipped in ghee. He poured some water in the hollow of Chaturbhuj’s right palm and chanted hymns in Sanskrit for about ten minutes, following which, Chaturbhuj took the Abhinav Bharat oath in Hindustani. Chaturbhuj testified that he had to do a lot of clerical work, such as sending pamphlet bundles in boxes with false bottoms and posting them to different people within and outside London. He also printed the ‘O! Martyrs!’ pamphlet in a room next to Vinayak’s at India House after 10 p.m., with Vinayak and Aiyar assisting and supervising. On another occasion, one of the India House boarders, Bhattacharya, had an altercation with Lee Warner and the revolutionaries apprehended a raid on their premises. Vinayak asked Chaturbhuj to destroy several bottles with the word ‘Acid’ written on it. He thereby gave credence to the fact that India House was an explosives laboratory of sorts.

In February 1909, when he was leaving for India, Chaturbhuj asked Vinayak for a loan of £5 to which the latter replied that he was willing to give it provided Chaturbhuj carried a parcel containing pistols back to India. A harried and petrified Chaturbhuj was reassured by Vinayak, who advised him to take an Italian liner where checking was not as stringent. Vinayak and Aiyar personally packed the parcels with false bottoms containing pistols and 149 cartridges. A letter addressed to Hari Anant Thatte, No. 320, Mint Road, Fort, Bombay, was also given to him. On the other side of the envelope was the name and address of Vishnu Mahadev Bhat, 3rd Floor, Madhavashram, Girgaum, Bombay. Thatte was supposed to be the first point of delivery and if he was not available, the package had to be left with Bhat. En route to India, he had stopped at Paris and met Sardar Singh Rana. Chaturbhuj managed to successfully smuggle the pistols to Bombay, via Genoa, without being detected by customs. Being unable to find Thatte, he went to Bhat’s house as advised by Vinayak. He was asked to come back in the evening, when he was introduced to Gopal Krishna Patankar to whom the parcel was handed over in Bhat’s presence. Patankar had managed to shift the pistols to a convenient place near Bombay and he selected Vithoba Marathe of Abhinav Bharat in Pen as the depository. Babarao Savarkar did not want the pistols brought to Nashik given the surveillance there. But Chaturbhuj said that defying Babarao’s wishes, the pistols managed to enter Nashik, through Karve, who got them from Patankar ‘naturally, as they used to talk on national subjects’.55

At this point, there was quite a debate because of Edward Parker’s (of Scotland Yard) conflicting testimony. He had stayed back in India to testify. 56 He admitted during cross-examination that he kept a close watch on the members of India House and knew that the Browning pistols were bought in Paris by someone other than Vinayak. Baptista cross-examined him on this matter and wanted to prove that Chaturbhuj had possibly bought the pistols in Paris at the insistence of someone else or on his own and that Vinayak was not party to it. The judges however disregarded this completely. Parker’s testimony clearly stated that based on investigations conducted by the Metropolitan Police in London, it was not possible to establish with certainty that it was Vinayak who had ordered the purchase of the pistols. On the one hand, the tribunal accepted Chaturbhuj’s testimony that Vinayak had dispatched twenty Browning pistols, but on the other, it refused to accept the same man’s testimony that Babarao did not want those same pistols in Nashik. The reason for sending the pistols to India, the tribunal decreed, was ‘for only one purpose, a purpose which, the literature disseminated by Vinayak Savarkar shows, was in his opinion, calculated to conduce to the attainment of the ultimate object of the conspirators—the overthrow of the British Government in India’.57

Meanwhile, Chaturbhuj claimed that after delivering the parcel he returned to Bombay from his native place Virsad a month and a half later. He was then met by Bhat, Thatte and Narayanrao Savarkar. They wanted him to return to London and pass on a message to Vinayak not to return to India lest he be arrested. But Chaturbhuj refused. He was then asked to help them shop for acid at Crawford Market in Bombay. By end December 1909, Chaturbhuj was arrested at his house. It was he who identified Patankar to the police when he saw him at Victoria Terminus.

Baptista cornered Chaturbhuj about the completely contradictory testimonies he had given on 31 December 1909 and 7 January 1910. To these he merely replied that at the time he did not remember the details so minutely, and on careful introspection he managed to revive his memory. Baptista questioned him about why he could not have procured the weapons in Paris itself when it was seemingly such a tough task to smuggle them from London to Paris and then Genoa to Bombay. When he knew he was meeting Madame Cama or Sardar Singh Rana in Paris, would it not have been simpler to get the pistols from them directly? Chaturbhuj had no answer. Several other witnesses opposed Chaturbhuj’s testimonies as being fabricated and exaggerated, but the tribunal summarily dismissed all of them and ruled that ‘since all the established facts point to Vinayak as the source from which the pistols came we accept the story of Chaturbhuj as substantially true’.58

Gopal Krishna Patankar refused to give any testimony because in his opinion ‘the case against Vinayak Damodar Savarkar is brought by the prosecution with a vindictive attitude’ and his ‘conscience does not tell’ him to take an oath or say anything against ‘his countryman’.59

Balwant Ramachandra Barve, Vinayak’s childhood friend, who had earlier testified to being a member of the secret society, upset the prosecution case considerably. He said that the police had extracted his earlier testimony under coercion and torture:

Balwant Ramachandra Barve, Vinayak’s childhood friend, who had earlier testified to being a member of the secret society, upset the prosecution case considerably. He said that the police had extracted his earlier testimony under coercion and torture:

My object in describing V.D. Savarkar as a leader was that he was an excellent poet, an excellent writer, and an excellent speaker. As I know him from boyhood, when we were students, I used to notice these good qualifications of his and as I have heard several lectures by him on swadeshi at Nasik. Among the young people of our age, as he was very smart, I naturally looked upon him as one of the principal leaders . . . It is absolutely false, My Lords, that the Mitra Mela was a political secret society. It was merely a religious mela for singing songs at Ganapati festivals. There was nobody in either a political or secret association called by the name Abhinav Bharat. A body called Abhinav Bharat has been created out of the imagination, from the fact that there is a series of books called Abhinava Bharat Mala and attempting to make it synonymous with Mitra Mela , to suit the purpose of the police theory that there is a large Brahmanical conspiracy to subvert the British Government in the Deccan.60


A similar volte-face by Sakharam Raghunath Kashikar on 1 December 1910 put the prosecution in a bind. There were clear indications of police intimidation to extract testimonies from many of the accused.61 In his testimony, Narayanrao Savarkar stated:

I have joined no secret society. I do not know anything of that kind. All my education was given in Nasik—Marathi as well as English. In the year 1906 I was prosecuted in the ‘Vande Mataram case’ with my eldest brother Ganesh but was acquitted afterwards. After the completion of my study in Nasik, I joined the Baroda College in 1908. During the whole of that year, except the vacation, I was at Baroda. In the beginning of 1909 my eldest brother Ganesh was arrested and so I was compelled to leave the College, as there was nobody except myself to attend to my brother’s food, clothing, and defence. When my brother was in lock up, I used to provide him with food etc. As regards the bundle I never saw it, nor did I know what its contents were . . . During the whole of 1909 I was busily engaged in connection with the defence of my brother. After his conviction in Nasik in June, I came to Bombay in July to prefer an appeal on his behalf. I was in Bombay till the decision of the appeal. It is not true that I saw Chaturbhuj in the months of April and May or in any other month I had never seen him. After the decision of the appeal I was considering about my future course when on the 8th of December 1909, I was arrested by the police on suspicion of throwing a bomb at Ahmedabad. I was taken to Ahmedabad, Bombay, Baroda, and Poona and was eventually released on the 18th of December. I had no time even to breathe when on the 23rd of December I was arrested on suspicion about the murder of Mr Jackson . . . my house was searched and nothing was found.62


Despite these dissonant testimonies to their narrative, the prosecution’s case rested heavily on the various secret and political activities of the erstwhile Mitra Mela and Abhinav Bharat, the literature—books and pamphlets written by Vinayak—found with several members, the details of the oaths, speeches and activities of Abhinav Bharat. The judgment of the case also referred to how successfully they had managed to keep all their activities unknown and secret from the police till the murder of Jackson on 21 December 1909. They managed to establish that these various branches in different cities and towns might not have been formally organized, but they acted in cohort. For instance, the judgment cites that when Babarao was arrested, the paper about explosives that was sent to Patankar by Vithoba Marathe was immediately destroyed; the materials for the manufacture of picric acid were concealed in Nashik after the Jackson murder by Ganu and Deshpande. All of this pointed to a close nexus between members of an association that was formed for seditious purposes.63

On 23 December 1910, after marathon testimonies and witness depositions, the court delivered its verdict. The outcome was a foregone conclusion, yet tension gripped the courtroom. Knowing well what the verdict would be, Vinayak penned a message, which he titled ‘Pahila Hapta’ (‘First Instalment’). This was to be the first instalment of the repayment of his debt to his motherland:

Pleased be thou, Mother! To acknowledge this little service of thy children.
Boundless is our indebtedness to thee: Thou chose us to bless and suckle at thy breast!
Behold! We enter the flames of this consecrated Fire today.
The First Instalment of that debt of Love we pay.
And totally a new birth, there and then will we immolate ourselves
And over and over again till the hungry God of Sacrifice
Be full and crown thee with glory!
With Shri Krishna for thy redoubtable Charioteer,
And Shri Rama to lead,
And thirty crores of soldiers to fight under thy banner,
Thy army stops not, though we fall!
But pressing on shall utterly rout the forces of Evil
And thy right hand, Oh! Mother! Shall plant the golden banner of Righteousness
On the triumphant tops of the Himalayas! 64


Expectedly, the harshest judgment among all the accused of the Nasik Conspiracy Case was given to Vinayak:

We find the accused guilty of the abetment of waging war by instigation by the circulation of printed matter inciting to war, the providing of arms and the distribution of instructions for the manufacture of explosives. He is therefore guilty of an offence punishable under Section 121 of the Indian Penal Code. We also find him guilty of conspiring with others of the accused to overawe by criminal force or show of criminal force the Government of India and the Local Government and is therefore guilty of an offence punishable under Section 121A of the Indian Penal Code . . . Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the sentence of the Court upon you is transportation for life 65 and forfeiture of all your property.66


A pall of gloom fell over the court. Babarao had already been transported for life to the Andamans. It was now Vinayak’s turn to join him. Narayanrao was given a sentence of six months’ rigorous imprisonment.

But this was not all. The trial regarding the charge of abetment to murder was still pending. This charge was on Vinayak alone. On 23 January 1911, the same special tribunal continued the hearings. While delivering the judgment for this case, the tribunal noted right at the beginning that as per the previous case it had already been well established that Vinayak had sent twenty Browning pistols to India and it ‘was incidentally proved that one of the pistols was used in the murder of Mr Jackson at Nasik’. 67 The tribunal referenced the work done by Babarao and Vinayak right from the time of the Mitra Mela to Abhinav Bharat, where lives of patriots were eulogized, inflammatory speeches delivered and publications prepared—all of which had the sole objective of inciting a rebellion. It was ruled that Vinayak’s speeches of 1906 in Poona in February and in Nashik on 22 April clearly alluded to his motive behind going to England. The entire gamut of Vinayak’s activities in London at India House was also referenced.

A photograph titled ‘Rashtrapurush’ (Patriots)—sourced from one of the Abhinav Bharat’s members, Kashikar—consisted of a collage of revolutionaries such as Khudiram Bose, Prafulla Chaki and the Chapekar brothers. The tribunal ruled that Dhingra’s friendship with Vinayak was also proof of his association and inspiration to revolutionary elements. That Vinayak did not know Anant Kanhere or Karve was inconsequential to the case as it were his activities and writings that spurred this very thought among the young men. Despite the fact that the pamphlet ‘Bande Mataram’, allegedly written by Vinayak and calling for terrorizing the British and shedding blood, arrived in India with Chanjeri Rama Rao on 28 January 1910 (a full one month after Jackson’s murder), it was construed as evidence of Vinayak’s hand in the murder.

Based on all these ‘evidences’ the tribunal finally ruled on 30 January 1911 that it found Vinayak guilty of abetment to murder and he was liable to be punished for the same with another transportation for life. 68 On the pronouncement of a double transportation for life, amounting to fifty years of incarceration in the Andaman jails, Vinayak stood up and said: ‘I am prepared to face ungrudgingly the extreme penalty of your laws, in the belief that it is through the sufferings and sacrifice alone that our beloved Motherland can march on to an assured, if not a speedy, triumph.’ 69

The judges were left dumbstruck at the equanimity with which a convict had faced the severest punishment of two life transportations, while anyone else might have broken down and grovelled.
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Re: Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past by Vikram Sampath

Postby admin » Thu May 13, 2021 2:34 am

Part 3 of 3

The Hague, February 1911

The last act in this farcical play was enacted at The Hague immediately after Vinayak’s multiple convictions in India. The Quote of Arbitration met, as stipulated, on 14 February 1911. The arbitrators asked the agents of the respective countries to make brief summaries of the arguments contained in the documents that they had submitted to the tribunal. The British agent, Eyre Crowe, mentioned that ‘this request naturally came upon me as a complete surprise, and I had some hesitation whether I should not raise an objection, as it appeared to me that this procedure was not contemplated by the provisions of the compromise’. 70 However, since it was France’s turn to make its arguments first, he got some time to rummage through the voluminous documentation and come up with a summary of Britain’s case.

In the second meeting on 16 February 1911, the French agent, Monsieur André Weiss, made a powerful representation of France’s case. He was the assistant legal adviser of the department of foreign affairs and a professor of law at the University of Paris. Crowe found ‘nothing new was brought forward’ and that the tribunal gave him a patient hearing. The following day Crowe made his submissions.

Jean Longuet, who was also an attorney in the Court of Appeal in Paris, represented Vinayak at Madame Bhikaji Cama’s instance. Vinayak had given him signed power of attorney to represent him at The Hague. This had been signed on 3 and 4 November 1910 in Bombay in the presence of a notary and his lawyer as one of the witnesses. Longuet wrote a detailed letter to the members of the tribunal stating Vinayak’s case passionately. He argued that if the British government knew all along that Vinayak was a criminal and also knew through their surveillance network that in January 1910 he had moved to Paris, why did it not make an extradition request to the Republic of France? They did not, Longuet concluded, because they knew ‘full well it would have no chance of it being granted by the French Government’.71

To investigate the matter, Jean Longuet and his team had visited the site at Marseilles on 13, 14 and 15 January 1911. They met Brigadier Pesquié and interviewed him, as also Charles Baron, a civil engineer, and Mr Reaux, general secretary of the Sailors’ Union of Marseilles. They informed Jean that it was only on the evening of the ship docking at Marseilles that the British consul in Marseilles had requested Commissioner Leblé to monitor the ship. This was also in consonance with a thorough investigation of the events at Marseilles that journalist Gabriel M. Bellin had conducted, blowing the lid off the British theory about Leblé coming on board once the Morea reached Marseilles. In his article titled ‘L’Odyssee d’un Revolutionaire Hindou ’ (The Odyssey of a Revolutionary Hindu), dated 17 July 1910, in the French newspaper Petit Provincial , he writes:

An arrest made recently in our port—hushed up to avoid any surrounding publicity, that thereby it may pass unmarked—will be the negation of French character and any defense of individual liberty if not brought to light . . . First the Daily Mail and then the Humanite has reported this unprecedented event that will resound in the Gallery of the House where it will be carried by citizens Cadenat and Jaurès; our investigation confirms the unfortunate facts of this event . . . In this case, the maritime police saw a man getting away and assumed he was a sailor or a native taxi driver, especially after hearing the yells of ‘Stop thief!’ dogging the heels of the fugitive. Not for a moment after they had caught Savarkar, accompanied by the British police, did they think they had committed an illegality. On the contrary, confident that they had followed instructions promptly and were within their right in the performance of their duty, they handed over the student. However, (Vinayak) Damodar Savarkar, being pursued for political offenses, was on French soil and should have first been taken to a French magistrate, better informed about the thorny issues of international law than mere police. It was not thought of, it seems, and there arose from the Hindu Colony in Paris an uproar regarding this incident; immediately they went to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and, after having submitted the matter to Mr Pichon, asked citizens Jaurès and Cadenat to intercede.72


From eyewitness accounts and the interview with Pesquié, Jean Longuet reconstructed the events after Vinayak’s escape from the porthole. Pesquié was along the quays as instructed by his superiors to guard the Morea when he saw a man wearing a simple bath suit run up to him asking: ‘You French Policeman?’ When he answered in the affirmative, the fugitive did not run away. By then, three individuals came there raising a huge alarm and several people screaming: ‘Thief, Thief, Catch him, catch him!’ The three men—the two Indian head constables and Slavin, the cabin steward of the ship—seized the fugitive. Given the commotion and the screams of ‘thief ’, Pesquié assumed that the man was a petty thief who had possibly committed some crime on the ship and was running away. He, therefore, took the man by the left hand; the two head constables grabbed him, one by the right hand and another by his neck and dragged him back to the Morea . Pesquié affirmed that he had no clue about the man’s identity nor had he ever seen the political prisoner on the ship. Jean Longuet further argued in his letter—quoting the 13 November 1910 issue of the Journal of Law —whether Pesquié was a person of authority or someone who could understand, at such a volatile moment, the implications of the right of asylum. He merely acted on impulse and in good faith, of catching a petty thief who was running away. Making a passionate case for Vinayak’s return to France, Jean Longuet concluded the letter exposing Britain’s doublespeak of claiming to have been a safe refuge for revolutionaries of other countries in the past, but doing quite the opposite with a revolutionary who challenged their power:

As for violent means, if their employment were sufficient to qualify as murderers or those who advocate anarchist means, England would never have boasted of being in the last century, the ‘mother of exiles’, the haven of Mazzini, Kossuth, Karl Marx, Garibaldi, refugees from the Commune or the Russian Revolution, as well as French monarchists and dethroned sovereigns after the revolutions of 1830, 1848, and 1870.73


After listening to all sides, on 24 February 1911, the tribunal delivered its award. It noted the letter correspondences between the Metropolitan Police and the French Sûreté about an important political prisoner being carried in the Morea that was to dock at Marseilles as well as the subsequent letters by the French police to provide assistance. It noted the testimony of the gendarme, Brigadier Pesquié, who said that ‘he saw the fugitive, who was almost naked, get out of a porthole of the steamer, throw himself into the sea and swim to the quay . . . at the same moment some persons from the ship, who were shouting and gesticulating rushed over the bridge leading to the shore, in order to pursue him . . . number of people on the quay commenced to shout’.74

Despite the evidence furnished by Jean Longuet, the role of the gendarme as the singular authority of arrest and not the native constables was upheld. In view of these testimonies and documents, the tribunal found no case of fraud or force to obtain possession of a man seeking refuge in foreign territory, and that all the actors had played their part ‘in good faith and had no thought of doing anything unlawful’. 75 Interestingly, the tribunal admitted that ‘an irregularity was committed by the arrest of Savarkar and by his being handed over to the British Police’, but hastened to add there was no rule of international law that the country which had obtained custody of such a fugitive needed to hand him over. In view of this, the tribunal decided that ‘the Government of His Britannic Majesty is not required to restore the said Vinayak Damodar Savarkar to the Government of the French Republic’.

There was widespread condemnation of the judgment even from the London press. The Daily News criticized the award for narrowing the limits of the right of asylum. The Morning Post decried it as something that had ‘reduced the right to asylum and the international law to farce’. 76 Germany was miffed at its not being included in the tribunal. Many countries also took positions in accordance with the prevailing climate in Europe that was standing at the threshold of a major global conflagration, the First World War. The Berlin Post , a mouthpiece of the Free Conservative Society and a major influencer in German politics, expressed its displeasure in an aggressive editorial dated 25 February 1911:

We have never thought much of The Hague Court of Arbitration—that is, of its impartiality and objective love of justice. The representatives of the various nationalities vote, in point of fact, in accordance with the interests, the political views, and the grounds of expediency, of their several countries—always excepting our idealist Germans. It is not necessary to suppose that these men act in the fact of their better judgment and conscience. To some extent foreign countries have a different, and certainly, a much more practical sense of values, in striking balance, as between the interests of their own country and the conception of pure justice as it prevails in general with us. National prejudices and prepossessions determine their judgment from the outset. Nevertheless, we should hardly have thought it possible that a court of arbitration in the Savarkar Case would accord an exhibition of such touching naiveté, such an exhibition of ‘pure folly’. It has passed over the real issue of the Savarkar Case in complete silence—namely, the fact that a political offender, who in a foreign harbor has escaped from the ship, which was transporting him and been recaptured by a French policeman with the support of an Englishman in pursuit and that not in the water, though there already he was, on foreign territory, but after he had reached dry land, was forthwith without even an appearance of formal proceedings, handed back to the English ship. That is a gross breach of the international law, and a proof how far the subservience to England (Die Englische Gefolgshaft) has brought proud France. The verdict of the court is as if no such breach of extra-territoriality had ever occurred.77


La Society Nouvelle of Belgium, in its March 1912 editorial, denounced the award stating that ‘England’s infamous Empire rests on blood, ferocious repression and officially acknowledged systematic tyranny’.78

The Hague award was a huge disappointment for the Indian revolutionaries in Paris who had pinned their hopes on a possible extradition. Several articles and editorials appeared in Madame Cama’s Bande Mataram. She wrote that ‘the demoralized people [in Paris] have collapsed’. 79 Penning his thoughts of remorse on this occasion, Shyamji stated:

This decision of the International Tribunal at the Hague has shattered all faith in the maintenance of the rights of political refugees as ordinarily understood, and it is sad to observe that the nations hitherto most conspicuous for their love of liberty are slow to recognize these rights when they are beset by political consideration. L’Humanite was after all justified in finding that the submission of L’Affaire Savarkar to arbitration in the first instance was a tactical error on the part of France, and a friend who was a member of the British Parliament, assures us that the way in which France submitted her case, ensured its failure, all the strongest grounds having been omitted. There only now remains for us to offer an expression of our heartfelt sympathy and commiseration with our dear young friend and associate, Mr Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in the hard fate, which has befallen him, and which has snatched him from us at the very moment when . . . we were all so confident of speedily seeing him once more in our midst. We also desire to tender our sincere condolence to the members of his family, who have had the agony of seeing three brothers one after another doomed to incarceration, two of them having been sentenced to transportation for life.80


In England, Guy Aldred, who had led a relentless campaign and formed a ‘Savarkar Release Committee’ since the time Vinayak was arrested in March 1910, criticized the award. He also created a ‘Savarkar Release Tour’, which would include the whole of England, Scotland and Wales to drum up support for his release. 81 In a pamphlet titled ‘The White Terror in India’, Aldred thundered:

The British working class can strike in sympathy with the wrongs in India. They can secure the release of Savarkar and other illegally detained victims of British Despotism—by rebellion . . . you have the love of freedom, that groans at the illegal detention of Savarkar . . . Demand the release of Savarkar and he shall go free.


In the same paper, he claimed that the only crimes of Savarkar were ‘youthful trust in the honour of the British Government, great literary ability and great determination to educate his fellow-countrymen up to a clear recognition of how they can emancipate themselves from the menace of the white terrorism in India’.82

Der Wanderer, a German fortnightly published in Zurich, supported Aldred editorially and carried his point of view. Aldred singularly blamed French prime minister Briand for ‘voluntarily betraying the sovereignty of France’. 83 Significantly, three days after the Hague award, Briand had to resign as prime minister. While many, including Aldred, claimed that the reason for him doing so was the ignominy of the ‘Savarkar case’, there were bigger triggers such as increasing political tensions in the European continent and Germany’s rising militarism. In a scathing commentary, Aldred said:

The Hague Award was given in February 1911. It annulled the right of political asylum and exposed Briand’s intrigue. Three days later he resigned rather than face questions in the Chamber of Deputies. But the precedent, which, his action has created, established the right of Russian agents acting in collusion with the English police and Government to kidnap any Russian refugee and transport him to Siberia without the knowledge or consent of the British people or even the British Parliament. No rule of International Law could be invoked for his restoration.84


Vinayak’s case was a huge jolt to the Indian revolutionary movement that was gathering steam across Europe. It established Britain as a dangerous place for any revolutionary activity. So, the Indians in Paris began sending literature that was considered seditious to the French enclave of Pondicherry. From there, they would be smuggled into British India. This process had begun since August 1909, but gathered momentum after Vinayak’s case ended in the manner that it did at both The Hague and in India. This new route was pioneered by Aiyar who moved to Pondicherry after Vinayak’s extradition. Upon reaching there, he began to receive Vinayak’s books, pamphlets and weapons from Madame Cama. These were then distributed across British India.

However, the entire Savarkar affair broke the cohesiveness of the revolutionary organizations with the weakest links in the organizations succumbing to become informants and approvers. Ascertaining the true identity, intent and orientation of their group mates and new recruits took up a lot of time, effort and resources—all of which could have been more gainfully spent on political work. The seeds of distrust had been sown and undercurrents of suspicion against one another loomed. The case also agitated public discourse and exposed the inner contradictions between cherished notions of national sovereignty and the willingness of government officials to cooperate across national borders when the need arose.

Bombay, March 1911

With this the curtains came down on a series of trials against Vinayak spanning across continents, and which lasted for more than a year. After the trials, the police kept shifting him to various prisons in Bombay— Dongri, Byculla and Thane.85

It was at Dongri prison that news of The Hague award was given to Vinayak. A policeman told him with a smirk on his face: ‘You are now sentenced to fifty years transportation.’ The word ‘fifty’ kept ringing in Vinayak’s ear. This was to be counted as the first day in that long journey

of half a century. Till the decision of The Hague was made known, Vinayak was not treated as a prisoner in either food or clothing. After this, he had to change into his prisoner clothes that the British superintendent had brought for him. A chill of horror reverberated through Vinayak while changing into those clothes—after all, this was how he was now going to dress for the rest of his life.

To compound his misery, a sepoy brought in an iron badge that had to be worn around the neck. On it was carved the number ‘1960’. It was the year of his release from prison. Wearing this on his neck would be the constant reminder about what life lay ahead and for how long. The superintendent who noticed Vinayak’s change of expression laughed and said: ‘Don’t fear, His Majesty’s benign government will release you in 1960 for sure.’ Vinayak retorted: ‘Death is kinder, it may release me earlier!’ Both of them laughed.

From the second day, there was a regular regimen. His mornings began with a walk in the open square downstairs. Dongri was in the heart of Bombay and during his walk Vinayak could see tenements in the vicinity. Often people crowded on their terraces to look at him. He acknowledged their looks of reverence with gratitude. During the walk, he often recited the entire Yoga Sutras of the great sage Patanjali in his mind. The 196 verses of the Yoga Sutras have the unique ancient wisdom of controlling one’s mind, of sadhana and meditative practices, and of attaining a state free from consciousness of discursive thoughts. This was just what Vinayak needed at this stage in his life. In his cell, Vinayak was given the task of ‘picking oakum’. Coiled ropes were cut into pieces and these had to be broken, spun into thread. A deluge of thoughts would crowd his mind as he went about this monotonous task. He often mocked himself about the barrister he was to become and what he had come to. Meditating strongly on the verses of the Yoga Sutra s, Vinayak would order his mind to behave itself. Looking at the mundane task at hand, he would often philosophize that it was perhaps destiny’s way of teaching him the meaning of life. After all, wasn’t life all about strands woven around five elements, which, on being unknotted would lead to inevitable death and reduce us all to ashes?

Even in those darkest moments, Vinayak decided to find solace in writing. He had always wanted to compose an epic. Perhaps, this was his opportunity to do so. He decided to write one on the life of the valorous Guru Gobind Singh, his eternal inspiration and a prince among martyrs. Lost in thought, Vinayak was oblivious to the fact that picking oakum cut and blistered his hands. After the evening meal, when the door was shut on him, he practised meditation as laid down in the Sutras, before retiring for the day at 9 p.m. Two pigeons that had made a home in his cell were a source of entertainment and diversion. Speaking about this monotony that awaited him day after day, Vinayak writes:

This solitary life, with its fixed routine from minute to minute, wherein I tried my hardest to control the mind by the power of thought and dispassion, sometimes became so intolerable, that I felt, on occasions, that my grief and anxiety were sitting on my chest like a nightmare with their grip in my throat that had almost strangled me. In such moments I could hardly breathe for relief; I felt then that I could even bear this, if I were, sure that my cause would prosper through my sufferings. But then . . .? Instantly I recovered from this dark despair, and I was myself over again. The poise came back to my mind, as if nothing had happened during the interval.86


Even in his state of confinement news from the outside world made its way to Vinayak. He once saw a cutting of Kesari in a prison corner. It had reference to Sir Henry Cotton, one of the founding fathers of the INC and the president of its Bombay session of 1904. At a public gathering of Indians in London he had perchance seen a portrait of Vinayak and sighed that it was a pity that a man so young and talented, and who had a bright future ahead of him, had been reduced to such a pitiable condition. He had hoped that The Hague award might work in his favour and help extradite him to France.

All hell had broken loose thereafter, with severe condemnations, protests and calls for withdrawal of his knighthood. The Congress quickly disassociated itself from the statements of one of its own founders. Sir William Wedderburn, the president of the Congress session that year, and Surendranath Banerjea had given statements to the press that they and other Congressmen did not endorse Sir Cotton’s sympathy for a man like Vinayak Savarkar. Ironically, Tilak’s Kesari too distanced itself by saying that these were Cotton’s personal opinions.87 European newspapers were hailing Vinayak as a brave martyr, while Indian newspapers were scared to take a supportive stand. On his final conviction, the Times of India carried an article that said: ‘The rascal has at last met with his fate.’88

One day, during his imprisonment at Dongri jail, Vinayak had a visitor. Wondering who it could be, he stepped outside to the visitor’s gallery. His heart sank when across the prison bars he saw his young wife, Yamuna, and her brother, trembling with fear and battling their tears. They did not even dare to touch his hands from across the bars. This could possibly be their last meeting. Yet, the parting note had to be conveyed in the presence of a stern, unsympathetic British superintendent who kept watch. Trying to make light of the situation, Vinayak told his wife: ‘Only the clothes have changed, I am still the same! Moreover these clothes are good protection during the cold weather.’ Yamuna burst into tears. Consoling his wife, Vinayak said: ‘Even sparrows and kites enjoy domestic bliss, procreation, building houses . . . We have broken our cooking utensils so that in times to come fortune will probably smile on thousands of our countrymen.’89

Their conversation had barely finished while it was announced that their time was up. While leaving, Vinayak’s brother-in-law whispered the mantra dedicated to Lord Krishna: ‘Krishnaya Vasudevaya Haraye Paramatmane, Pranatah Kleshanashaya Govindaya Namo Nama h ’ (My salutations to Lord Krishna, the son of Vasudeva, who removes the sufferings of all who surrender to Him). He asked Vinayak to recite this without fail every day. They left without looking back.

All the agony and sorrow that Vinayak had been trying to hold back, broke their dams. Almost at the same time he looked up to see the ruckus created by the young ones of the pigeon family that had made its home in his cell. The mother bird had been mistakenly hit and killed by a bullet from the jailor while she had gone out to get food for the little ones. They were now desperately hungry and wailed in sorrow at the absence of their protective mother. The poignancy of the occasion was too much to bear for a sensitive poet like Vinayak. He burst out crying in intense pain. A warder, who was passing by stomped in, poked him with his stick and ordered him not to waste time and get back to picking oakum.

A month seemed to have passed this way. One day, the superintendent walked in and asked him to pack up. Vinayak thought that the time to depart for the Andamans had finally come. But he was just ushered into a prison van, its shutters were downed and he could see nothing in the pitchblackness that engulfed him in broad daylight. All he could sense was the rough and tumble of the carriage, which suddenly halted. When he was pulled out, the sudden light blinded him. Squinting, Vinayak saw that he stood in front of another prison gate in Bombay, Byculla jail.

The cell here was lonelier and gloomier than the one in Dongri. There were some noises and sights of the outside world there, but here even those were gone. It seemed like he had been pushed further into solitariness. There were no books to read, not a word heard, not a soul that moved, no articles of daily use—Byculla presented a dreary picture. At Dongri, Vinayak had been served bread with milk. Here the milk was stopped, and he had to eat dry pieces of stale bread. He petitioned the jailer that he be served milk along with the bread. The request was immediately shot down. He then asked for books such as John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress , books by W.T. Stead, and the Russian general Prince Kuropatkin—at least one if possible. 90 He was sent an English copy of the Bible that evening. The life and sufferings of Jesus Christ seemed like the most opportune story for Vinayak at the time. He managed to mentally finish more verses of his epic on Guru Gobind Singh, and also a poem titled ‘Saptarshi’ that he had begun at Dongri.

Vinayak had also submitted an application requesting that the two sentences of transportation for life, running up to twenty-five years each, may run concurrently. In support of his plea, he had quoted relevant sections of the IPC. A life sentence meant the active period in a man’s life. While in England this amounted to not more than fourteen years, in British India it meant twenty-five years. Such being the case, being given a double sentence of fifty years, which he may not even live through, was against the code and hence a concurrent award of the sentence was the most logical and fair thing to do.

The government rejected this on 4 April 1911 and it was decreed that it amounted to consecutive sentences, totalling fifty years. It noted that ‘the question of remitting the second sentence of transportation for life would be considered in due course of the expiry of the first sentence of transportation for life’.91

This was mockingly conveyed to him by the British superintendent who said that the government had decided to run their first life sentence for twenty-five years and the subsequent one for another twenty-five years. True to his patented wittiness and equanimity, Vinayak remarked: ‘Good! At least, the consolation that for this purpose the British Government has subscribed to the Hindu doctrine of rebirth, and had disowned the Christian doctrine of resurrection.’ The superintendent was stumped for a suitable response.

Quite soon, he was once again whisked away to another location, this time to the Thane prison. The place bustled with excitement to see a barat-law, a dangerous terrorist who had been condemned to life transportation to the Andamans. But no inmates were allowed to make any contact with Vinayak. Here, he was guarded by the ‘worst known warders’ of the place—they were all Muslims, ‘and the wickedest of them’ in the bargain.92

His meal here consisted of hard-baked jowar bread served with halfcooked vegetables that were too sour to taste. He would often break the bread, put it into his mouth and, being unable to bite or taste it, merely swallow it down with water. By dusk the doors were shut and there was allengulfing darkness. One night, Vinayak heard a soft tap on his door. A warder, whom he considered the wickedest of them all, walked in and told him that he was aware of Vinayak’s valour and was his admirer. He had brought a message to him from another inmate. Even as Vinayak wondered who this inmate could be, the warder pulled out a slate from behind his back. It contained a message from his younger brother, Narayanrao. Unknown to Vinayak, he too was lodged in the same jail. The warder told him not to breathe a word about this to anyone, as that would mean he would be executed.

Vinayak experienced another surge of emotions thinking about his beloved younger brother who had been orphaned in childhood and whom his parents had left behind in the care of the two elder brothers. Neither of them seemed to have done their duty well, he lamented. In the flickering light of a lantern, Vinayak tried to read what was written on the slate. The message was that Vinayak must gather courage and not give up hope; that he must not worry for him. There was not a word of sorrow, repentance or defeatism. Instead, it conveyed a spirit of quiet confidence reassuring his elder brother that come what way, he would not budge an inch from the solemn oath he had taken.

However, Vinayak had doubts about the message; it could be a crafty ploy to fix him. Still he decided that he would send a reply without any names or specific plans of action. Among other things Vinayak wrote: ‘Do not think of me, and do not shed tears of sorrow that you have failed in your life. Some fuel has to burn in a steam engine, so that the steam may rise up from it and the engine begin to move. Are we not that fuel that the fire may burn and the flames rise up and spread far and wide? To burn thus is in itself a great act!’ 93 Within two days of this, he learnt that Narayanrao had been shifted elsewhere.

The chief warder poked fun at Vinayak all the time, taunting him, ‘Oh! Here comes the Tiger!’ He ogled at him while he bathed and praised his toned body and passed snide remarks about how such a handsome man needed to serenade with a fair English maiden and not rot in prison. Dancing with lewd and awkward steps, he often gesticulated at Vinayak and passed jibes at him all day saying it was only his corpse that would leave the prison.94

The Delhi Durbar of Emperor George V was scheduled for the end of the year. Rumours were rife that several political prisoners, including possibly Vinayak, might get a royal pardon and be released as a gesture of supreme goodwill on the part of the ‘benevolent monarch’. However, nothing happened to that effect. Instead, Vinayak’s trunks, books, garments and other belongings were put out for public auction. This was because the trial had sentenced him with forfeiture of all property. The monies so recovered were to go to the government treasury. His property—worth Rs 27,000 and that of his father-in-law’s worth Rs 6725—was confiscated. Even the cooking pots and utensils from his house were seized.95

One morning, the havildar asked him to also surrender his pair of spectacles and a miniature copy of the Bhagavadgita that he kept with him. It was a moment of some poignancy that left even several hard-hearted warders of the jail teary-eyed. But eventually the government took ‘great mercy’ and ensured that the anna-worth of the Gita and the spectacles were duly returned to Vinayak but he was to use them as government property!

One day, at the Thane prison, Vinayak learnt that a large group of convicts was arriving. In prison parlance they were known as ‘chalans’. Given the monotony of prison life where even a crow flying over their heads caused a stir of excitement among the prisoners, this was an occasion for much enthusiasm and eagerness. Finally, by noon, a gang of the most notorious criminals across the country arrived amid the sounds of clanging chains and shackles. The stories of the horrors of their crimes sent shivers down many spines. Vinayak realized that he would soon have to share space with these very men in the Andamans.96

On 25 June 1911, a sea of anxious faces assembled outside Thane prison. It was the day when India’s brave son was to be deported to Madras and from there to the Andamans. Vinayak was led to a committee that was to examine him for his physical and mental health and if he were fit enough to go to the Andamans. A kind officer told him that if he did not wish to go, he would try his best to use his influence to keep him in Bombay itself. After thanking him profusely for his kindness, Vinayak politely refused. He was suffering from high fever yet he was weighed, declared fit to be transported and handed over his earthly belongings— utensils and bedding. He was put up in a tiny cell adjoining the one with all the ‘chalans’. Through the walls he could hear their wails and boisterous laughter. Many of them lived in the moment, made merry like there was no tomorrow and were often thoroughly intoxicated. At that moment, intense grief lashed Vinayak’s mind. A barrister from London, all set to sail to the most dreaded jail of the subcontinent, with a motley bunch of the country’s most infamous criminals—the irony of the situation did not escape Vinayak’s sharp mind.

He thought about his elder brother, Babarao, who too might have travelled to the Andamans with similar ‘chalans’. His emotions were further roused when an older warder told him that Babarao had been lodged in exactly the same cell that he now was in before his departure to Cellular Jail.

Wearing just a vest, a rough rug over it and a small headscarf, with a small pot and iron platter in one hand, and a blanket and mattress tucked under his armpit, Vinayak was a symbol of dignity and grace. He was handcuffed, chained by the legs and roped to an officer. Given their experience with him in London and Marseilles, the police took no chances. He was whisked away into a closely guarded van that took him straight to his compartment in a Madras-bound train. The officer stayed with him all day and kept guard even when Vinayak had to visit the lavatory. The heat of southern India’s summer was unbearable. As they neared Madras, a British officer told Vinayak to pin his hopes on the royal pardon at the Delhi Durbar. He answered: ‘Thank you for your good wishes. My wounds are too raw . . . nothing can heal them. It would be a folly to bank on such meaningless hopes.’

Around the time Vinayak landed in Madras, the collector of Tirunelveli district, Robert William d’Escourt Ashe, had been murdered by a young revolutionary Vanchinathan. Vinayak realized that it could have been the handiwork of none other than his closest associate, V.V.S. Aiyar. There were stories about Aiyar having taken refuge in the French colony of Pondicherry and establishing a strong branch of Abhinav Bharat there. Vinayak was questioned by the police about this murder, and needless to say, he feigned ignorance.

In June 1906, his family and friends had given him a hero’s departure as he boarded the ship to London. Five years later, on 27 June 1911, he was boarding another steamer—ironically named the S.S. Maharaja —but this time as a dangerous convict headed to the frightful Cellular Jail in the Andaman Islands. As the ship set sail from the shores of Madras, sitting in a dark, claustrophobic cage amid filth and squalor, Vinayak wondered if he would ever see his beloved motherland and family members again. Vinayak writes about this heart-wrenching moment:

Climbing into that steamer to be transported for life was like putting a live man in his own coffin. Hundreds and thousands must have gone to the Andaman Islands during these years, and not ten in a thousand had returned alive to India! Young men of 18, as soon as they put their step on that steamer, became old and the shadow of death was visible on their faces. When a man is put upon the bier, his relatives conclude that he had left the world forever, and, overcome with bereavement, watch the corpse with vacant eyes. Even so, the spectators watched us as we climbed into that steamer and felt that we were dead to the Motherland we were leaving behind. The people, watching the scene, fixed their eyes upon me with the same feeling in their hearts. I was dead to the outside world—that feeling was writ large on their faces. Really, I was being put on my funeral bier. The only difference was that I felt what has happening to me while my corpse would have felt nothing. Thousands looking at me in this plight were simply indifferent and altogether cold. They were looking at me, as they would have seen any corpse passing along the road. ‘Poor man, he is dead and gone!’ says the passer-by and forgets him the next moment. It was a pain to me to see them gaping at me—my own fellow-countrymen that they were . . . If but a single one out of these my compatriots was to tell me, ‘Go, my brother, go, I and others like me swear that we shall make India free and fulfill your vow’, I would have felt my funeral bier as soft as a bed strewn with flowers.97
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Re: Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past by Vikram Sampath

Postby admin » Thu May 13, 2021 2:35 am

Part 1 of 3

8 Sazaa-e-Kalapani

Port Blair, July 1911

On entering the cabin in the lowest deck of the S.S. Maharaja , Vinayak found that he had to share space with some fifty other members, the most unkempt and unwashed masses of the country, who had spread their beddings on every available inch of the floor. In front of him was a cask from which a terrible stench choked the air. Later, when he saw a fellow passenger easing himself right there in front of him, Vinayak realized that this was used as a chamber pot and commode by these unfortunate passengers. It needed steely resolve of the mind to overcome this level of ill-treatment, and Vinayak consoled himself with various philosophical stories. There was not even enough space to stretch oneself, as the passengers were huddled together like cattle. Some of the European travellers on the steamer were very reverential towards Vinayak, having heard stories about him. In his honour and with the permission of the captain, a few of them sponsored a meal for the entire lot of prisoners in the basement. It consisted of rice, fish and pickles. After two days of fasting, with just boiled peas and dried grams to munch on, the prisoners exulted at this feast. They thanked Vinayak because of whose presence they had enjoyed it.1

After nearly ten days of travel in this squalor, the Maharaja docked at Port Blair in the Andaman Islands. The Andamans consist of nearly 184 islands and sixty-five islets. The length between the extremities is about 355 kilometres. There are five groups of islands from north to south— North Andamans (81 kilometres long), Middle Andamans (71 kilometres long), South Andamans (84 kilometres long), Baratang that runs parallel to the east of South Andamans (28 kilometres long) and finally Rutland (19 kilometres long). 2 The Rutland portion was full of dense and dark forests. Given its marshy vegetation and swamps, the Andamans were a hotbed of malaria. Flies hummed and spread over in thick swarms. The islands also had abundance of leeches and serpents—the former being more fatal and even causing paralysis in humans who got suckered on. The original aboriginal tribes who inhabited these islands belonged to the Negrito race, although there has been much controversy about the origins of the Andamanese. They possibly were migrants from coastal Burma as well, given the proximity of these islands. The tribes were named variously as Chariar, Kora, Toba, Yere, Kede, Juwai, Kol, Bojigyab, Balawa, Bea, Onge and Jarawa. Some were cannibals too.

The popular notion that Port Blair was the first and only penal settlement established by the British to transport criminals is erroneous. The first British Indian penal settlement was at Benkoelen in Sumatra, Indonesia, from where 1787 convicts were transported to the settlement known as Fort Marlborough. Convicts accused of murder, thugee, frauds, forgeries and so on were transported to these distant places to ‘reclaim them from their bad habits’. 3 The real reason though was possibly to procure recruitment of free labour in large numbers. By the time this settlement closed in the 1820s, nearly 800–900 convicts from the Bengal and Madras Presidencies were involved in hard labour, building roads and clearing jungles. In 1825, Marlborough Fort was shut and the island of Penang was chosen. Settlements were established in Malacca, Tenasserim and Singapore as well. Nearly 1100–1200 convicts from India were kept in Singapore by the 1830s.

From 1789, the Andamans had served as the settlement for convicts for the British East India Company. Lieutenant Archibald Blair, after whom the port is named, surveyed the islands and recommended the establishment of the penal settlement here. But in barely seven years, in 1796, it was abandoned on account of unhealthy climate and high mortality rates. However, after the 1857 War of Independence, the settlement came alive again as several of the ‘mutineers’ were transported to the Andamans. The first batch of nearly 733 freedom fighters began to arrive at Chatham Island of the Andamans on 10 March 1858. 4 Among the important leaders who were transported here were Alama Fazli Haq Khairabadi and Maulana Liaqat Ali. They died in confinement. From the 1860s, the administrative set-up of the settlement began to slowly take shape, with regulations around land cultivation, taxation policies, currency usage, and military and police force. The first jail and gallows were constructed in Viper Island in the Andamans during 1864–67. More than eighty freedom fighters were hanged on a single day by the first superintendent of the settlement, Dr James Pattison Walker, who had been a military doctor and warder at the Agra prison. 5 The officers of the settlement lived in Ross Island, which was the headquarters for over eighty years. In popular parlance, the settlement was known as ‘Kalapani’ or Black Waters. This not only alluded to its seclusion from the mainland, but also the loss of caste due to overseas journey, leading to social exclusion.6

By the early twentieth century, there were close to 12,000 Indian convicts from different regions, religions and castes housed in the Andaman penal settlement. 7 These included over 3000 freedom fighters of the 1857 War, rebels of the Wahabi movement, followers of Wasudev Balwant Phadke and members of the Manipur royal family after the Anglo-Manipur war of 1891. Each of these groups was located in different settlements spread across the islands. Women convicts too were shifted here since the 1860s. A Wahabi convict, Sher Ali, who had been transported to the Andamans, made a heroic leap at the viceroy, Lord Mayo, when he visited the settlement in 1872, and stabbed him to death.

In 1874, a remission system was put in place in the penal administration, whereby if the conduct of a convict transported for life was good, he would be released in twenty to twenty-five years.

Three years before Vinayak’s arrival, the persons convicted in the Alipore Bomb Case of 1908 were to be transported to the Andamans. But many of them were not transported for life (known as non-lifers) and the deportation to the Andamans of such convicts had been suspended from 1906. But by the end of 1910, some of them were especially sought to be shifted to the Andamans so that they could stay away from the mainland and not be able to influence other revolutionaries. The political prisoners included Vinayak’s brother Ganesh Damodar Savarkar, Waman Rao Joshi; from the Alipore Bomb Case (or Maniktala Conspiracy) there were Ullaskar Dutt, Barin Ghose, Upendra Nath Banerjee, Indu Bhushan Roy, Hemchandra Das, Bibhuti Bhushan Sarkar, Hrishikesh Kanjilal, Sudhir Kumar Sarkar, Abinash Chandra Bhattacharji and Birendra Chandra Sen; and from the United Provinces there were Ram Hari, Nand Gopal and Hotilal Varma associated with the Swaraj newspaper, and Ram Charan Pal with Yugantar . There were also Sachindranath Sanyal, Pulin Das, Nani Gopal and others, totalling up to nearly 100 political prisoners.

It was into this mysterious and enigmatic world of pain and torture that Vinayak was ushered in the wee hours of the morning. His arrival in the settlement has been recorded as on 30 June 1911. 8 He was rudely awakened by a sepoy, who was unduly harsh because he was in the presence of his superior, probably hoping that being rude to Vinayak would earn him an early promotion. Bound in heavy chains and handcuffed, it was a chore to drag himself barefoot in the blistering heat of Port Blair. The accompanying warder kept ordering him to quicken his pace. After a tortuous, uphill walk they finally stood at the gates of the dreaded Cellular Jail. The jail’s gate began to grate on its hinges as it was opened and as Vinayak writes: ‘I went in, and it was shut behind me. I felt that I had entered the very jaws of death.’9

The radial, seven-winged monstrous jail with a high watchtower at the intersection sent shivers down the spine of many brave hearts. The seven wings, with three storeys each and having a series of cells totalling up to 698, radiated outwards like the spokes of a bicycle wheel. A large bell hung on the tower to raise alarm. Each cell measured 13'6" by 7'6". There was a small ventilator at a height of 9'8" from the ground. The solitary cells were so arranged as to prevent any communication among prisoners. It was named ‘Cellular Jail’ because there were only cells and no barracks. In the seven-winged radial structure of the jail the front of a cell in each wing opened to the back of a cell in another wing On the recommendations of Charles James Lyall and A.S. Lethbridge who intended it as a massive settlement to mete out the harshest of punishments and enhance its penal character, the construction of Cellular Jail began in October 1896. It was completed a decade later, in 1906, at an estimated cost of Rs 517,352.

As he entered this hell, Vinayak’s eyes caught sight of a festoon of manacles and handcuffs of every shape and size adorning the walls. Heavy shackles for the feet, iron bands for the legs, and other instruments of torture were displayed like proud war trophies. Two sergeants led him there so that this could be Vinayak’s introduction to the gory details, before he met its more gruesome inhabitant—the jailor, David Barrie. It was customary for Barrie to give all the political prisoners a ‘welcome speech’ on their arrival. Notorious for his eccentricities and his exceptionally ingenious ways of torture, Barrie’s name made convicts tremble with fear. In his memoir, the revolutionary Upendra Nath Banerjee refers to him as a 5'3" man with a scowling, bulldog’s appearance who resembled Mr Legree in the famous book Uncle Tom’s Cabin . On Banerjee’s entry, Barrie had told him that this was the place where he tamed the fiercest lions. 10 Barrie entered the room where Vinayak was sternly observing all the fetters and torture tools and gruffly ordered the sergeant to leave the man, as he was not a ferocious tiger. Then pointing to his big stick, he asked Vinayak if he was the one who tried to escape at Marseilles and why he had even contemplated such an act, given the additional trouble it had landed him in.

Being an Irishman who claimed to have participated in revolutionary activities of his compatriots in his youth, Barrie tried to win Vinayak’s confidence with his sympathetic talk. But his nationality did not matter to Vinayak. He coolly replied: ‘But I would not have hated you for being an Englishman. I have spent the best years of my life in England, and I am an admirer of the virtues that characterize an Englishman.’ 11 Trying to shift the conversation, Barrie said it was a poignant moment for him that someone as young, educated, accomplished and scholarly as Vinayak was standing in front of him as a mere convict. But as a jailer it was his duty to warn him that if he ever thought of breaking the rules or tried to escape, there would be none worse than him. Moreover, the place was inhabited by cannibals, he told Vinayak, who might catch him and make a meal of his succulent young flesh and chew his bones like cucumbers. ‘You are a lawyer,’ he told Vinayak, ‘and I am a layman, and I have but little education. But you are a prisoner, and I am the gaoler of this prison. So, don’t reject my advice as useless. Murders are murders, and they will never bring Independence.’

‘Of course, I know it,’ retorted Vinayak, ‘but may I ask you, why don’t you convey this to the Sinfeiners in Ireland? Besides, who told you that I had favoured murders?’12

Barrie was stumped.

Under Barrie were four classes of men known as warders, petty officers, tindals and jamadars. After his customary ‘welcome address’, Barrie ordered a jamadar to take him away to the top floor of barrack number seven and lock him up.

On the way to the barrack was a reservoir of water. The jamadar asked Vinayak to have a quick bath. He had not bathed for four or five days and was covered with sweat and grime. He however had no garment to change into. The jamadar gave him a tiny piece of cloth that was no bigger than a suspender. To bathe in such a naked condition in front of another was repulsive for Vinayak. But he had no other option. He convinced himself thinking of nudists who loved to sunbathe in the nude for health purposes. Was Saint Ramdas too not dressed in a small piece of cloth? Moreover, he could not remain without a bath for fifty long years. This practice of taking a bath in near absolute nudity in front of others was to become a daily practice for Vinayak, as it was for all the other prisoners. Barin Ghose notes pithily about this in his biography: ‘Here [in Jail] there was no such thing as gentleman, not even perhaps such a thing as man; here were only convicts.’ With literary flourish he states that on every such occasion, while taking off his clothes for a bath, he prayed to the Goddess Earth to open and take him into her bosom, just as she took her daughter Sita. He continues:

But the Mother did not open her bosom and we proceeded in that state to take our bath. And here whatever modesty was still left to us, we had to renounce absolutely. The langoti we were given to put on while bathing could not in the least defend any modesty. Thus, when we had to change our clothes we were in as helpless a condition as Draupadi in the assembly of the Kauravas. We could only submit to our fate. There was no help. We hung our heads low and somehow finished the bathing affair.13


All along, the jamadar, a Muslim, watched with delight at Vinayak’s embarrassment. To compound his misery, Vinayak was told to stand up and have a bath. He was to bend down, dip his pot in the water reservoir and only when ordered to rub his body or take another potful of water was he to do so. And he had to complete the bath with just three pots of water. As he poured the first pot of water, Vinayak felt a burning sensation all over his body. When he took a palmful to gargle he spat it out in disgust as it was putrid and salty sea water. The jamadar had a hearty laugh at this discomfiture and exclaimed: ‘What did you expect in an island? Sweet water? Now complete your bath soon!’ Vinayak’s body had become sticky and his hair stiffened due to the saltwater and he felt he had been better off without a bath. He consoled himself thinking that in London and Paris he enjoyed a Turkish bath, and now it was time to experience the ‘Andamanish version’. He was given his prison wear—a half-pant, kurta and a white cap, along with the badge carrying his convict number, 32778, and date of release. He made his way to his cell on the top floor. The entire row had been emptied as Vinayak was to stay there in solitary confinement. To add to his misery, his cell strategically faced the gallows. Every so often, the only sight was of howling and screaming men being led to their deaths.

The first thing that one noticed in the jail was the distinction made between the Hindu and non-Hindu prisoners with regard to their religious traditions. On entry into the cell, the first act that was committed for a Hindu prisoner was that his sacred thread was cut off. However, Muslim prisoners were allowed to sport their beards, as were Sikhs with regard to their hair. It was Barrie’s idea of creating discord between the Hindus and Muslims and hence he placed the Hindu prisoners under the most bigoted of Muslim warders and jamadars. Most of them were fanatical Pathans, Sindhis and Baluchis from Sindh and the North-West Frontier Province. It gave these men a special thrill to brutalize a Hindu kafir. In fact, they belittled their co-religionists from other parts of India such as Madras, Bengal, or Bombay with jibes of being ‘half-kafir s’. These jibes compelled the Muslim warders from the other regions to prove their worth and surpass the Pathans in their brutalities. 14 Other than using the worst invectives and filthiest language to humiliate them, the Pathans casually slapped prisoners at will. More so when they detected even the slightest hint of disobedience or failure to do the allotted work. Barin Ghose mentions in his biography:

There was an apprehension that Hindu guards might sympathize and fraternize with us. Therefore all the masters of our fate, the Petty Officers and warders, were chosen from among the Mahomedans, either Hindusthani, Punjabi or Pathan. A Pathan is what we know ordinarily as a Kabuli fruit-seller. But in Port Blair they form the Myrmidons of king Yama [the God of Death]. Ask them to capture a man, they will bring his head. Lazy and slothful and corrupt themselves, they are violently overzealous in extracting work from other people. 15 . . . ‘Ramlal sits a little crosswise in the file, give him two blows on the neck’, ‘Mustapha did not get up immediately he was told to, so pull off his moustache’, ‘Bakaulla is late in coming from the latrine, apply the baton and unloose the skin of his posterior’—such were the beautiful proceedings by which they maintained discipline in the prison.16


Barrie brought along a small group of Europeans and Vinayak was shown to them, locked up in his cell, as a prized catch. He and the guests engaged Vinayak in polemics around the 1857 War of Independence and tried to solicit his views. Thereafter, Vinayak was not given any work for two days. When he requested for books, he was told that they would be given to him after a couple of months, after supervising his conduct. He then decided to continue composing the verses of his epic that he began at Dongri in Bombay, and since he was never given pen and paper to write, he stored them in the recesses of his memory.

On the fourth or fifth day of his arrival, while he was sleeping, a stone suddenly hit the iron bars of the cell. As he stepped forward another stone with something wrapped around was thrown by a Hindu warder who signalled to Vinayak to read the secret missive. His Pathan superior was woken from his siesta by the noise and came hurtling towards the warder. A thorough check was done of Vinayak too who had hidden the piece of paper in his mouth. After the Pathan had left, he opened the letter and read it. It was a warning to him too look out for himself and not trust anyone. Many Bengali political prisoners who were lodged there had turned government spies and that he ought to always be on his guard. Not being able to bear the extremes of tortures at Cellular Jail many had chosen the easier way out of helping the government to lead a slightly more comfortable life in prison. Many turned wilful government approvers too in several conspiracy cases. While it was easy to judge such people, Vinayak contended, one had to undergo the miseries they did to understand what drove the toughest of men to this state of despair. This was also Barrie’s clever way of pitting one political prisoner against another and eliciting written confessions and testimonies under extreme duress.

For the convicts there was little knowledge of what being a ‘political prisoner’ meant. Even Barrie used to vaguely order his subordinates: ‘Go, fetch that Bomb-Gola wala No. 7’ when he wanted Vinayak summoned. Vinayak educated several of his fellow inmates that not everyone there threw bombs. Of course, some of them did use pistols and bombs, but many used more dangerous things—the pen—and had not even seen a bomb in their lives. He asked them to use the term ‘Raj Qaidi ’ in the vernacular so that they understood it better. After hearing this distinction if any of the prisoners called Vinayak or any political prisoner ‘Babu’, Barrie would be incensed. According to him, everyone there was merely a ‘D’ category prisoner—‘D’ standing for dangerous. Even the clothes they wore had the letter ‘D’ inscribed on them. But despite his objection to the appellations, Barrie and almost everyone there started calling Vinayak ‘Bada Babu No. 7’ since his early days in the jail.

The most agonizing experience of prison life in Cellular Jail was the absence of lavatories—what some might imagine as the barest minimum that a human being could be provided. Vinayak writes about this most heart-wrenchingly in his memoir that he penned after his release from prison:

Who can describe the suffering—these agonies of mind and body? I may give you an instance, however to point the moral. Of all the hardships of personal life in the Cellular Jail of the Andamans—gruelling work, scanty food and clothing, occasional thrashing and others—none was so annoying and disgusting as its provision for urinals and lavatories. The prisoners had to control the demands of nature, of hours together, for want of these arrangements in the cell itself. Morning, noon, and evening —these were the only hours when prisoners were let off for this purpose and at stated time only. It was an outrage to ask the Jamadar for this convenience at any other moment than the stipulated hour. The prisoners were locked in their cells at six or seven o’clock in the evening and the lock was opened only after six the next morning. A sort of clay pot was given to them to use it for that purpose during the night . . . during twelve hours of the night, the warders insisted that the prisoner shall have no occasion to ease himself. The pot was so diminutive in size that one could not discharge into it even once during the night. As for nature’s call, one had to go down on his knees to the Jamadar to let him out. The Warder may or may not take the call seriously. He may be reluctant himself or he may fear the Officer. The prisoner had, therefore to check it till the morning. If the Warder relaxed and carried the matter to the Jamadar, the Jamadar would severely rate the convict for the call at such an odd hour. He would severely reprimand the warder also for having heard the prisoner.17


The matter would become worse if a prisoner happened to suffer from ailments such as diarrhoea that was common with almost all the prisoners. Vinayak writes:

He [the Jamadar] would or would not report to the doctor as his fancy or memory may guide him. The doctor’s report on the ailment was never made, or made only in one case out of a hundred. That report had to go to Mr Barrie and Mr Barrie would take action upon it at his own sweet will. Imagine the prisoner’s condition during the night and during the process of red-tape, particularly when the call was not normal but an abnormal and sudden ailment. In the morning, Mr Barrie would sit in judgment upon it, rebuke sternly the warder and the Jamadar for their lapse of duty . . . the prisoner was also cross-examined by Mr Barrie. And if the former said that he could not help the call of nature, Mr Barrie turned round upon him fiercely with . . . ‘Why the devil did you have it?’ And if the wretched creature had the courage to say, ‘I got it because I got it’, the Jamadar would give a slap in his face and scold him for giving such an insolent answer.18


Many prisoners were forced to defecate on the floors of their cells at night when it became impossible to control themselves. Given the size of the cell, it was a scene from hell to have one’s excreta floating around the tiny cell and having to sleep in the same location and wait for daybreak. The sweeper threw tantrums when the prisoner pleaded with him to clean the mess in his room. He agreed to do it only if he were offered tobacco. If the prisoner refused, the sweeper would report the matter to the jamadar who would ruthlessly kick and abuse the prisoner for committing nuisance in the cell. A punishment of ‘standing in the stocks’ was meted out by Barrie. This was executed between six and ten in the morning and twelve to five in the afternoon, during which the prisoner had to stand with chains fastened on his hand and tied to the roof above him. During this period, he was forbidden from answering nature’s call completely. This was Barrie’s way of teaching errant convicts the art of self-control! This innovative method was implemented particularly frequently with all political prisoners, including Vinayak. They were all put in solitary confinement cells and hence answering the call of nature was forbidden except at the stipulated times.

Barin Ghose too narrates the abominable experience of the most basic of human needs of answering nature’s call, which became so arduous and humiliating in Barrie’s kingdom:

The latrine-going ceremony was also conducted in the same style. You had to sit in couples in a row facing the latrine and then, as the order sounded, to enter it in batches of 8 or 10. In the meanwhile you had to practise self-control 19 . . . we might talk in the latrine, so a guard waited on us even there.20


Apart from the near-absolute nudity in which they bathed, the ‘bathing ritual’ that was followed was disgusting in its own manner. Barin Ghose describes the embarrassment that they were put to every time they bathed in groups in the presence of a tyrannical Pathan Jamadar, Khoyedad:

With the ringing of the bell, the prisoners had to stand up as soon as the order khara ho jao was given and lay by their clothes for search. With the order utha leo they took up the clothes; and they sat down when ordered baith jao . But the system-loving Khoyedad improved upon that business with a thousand intricacies. The first order was khara ho jao (stand up), the next was sidhe ek line se khara ho jao (stand up in a straight line), then kapra utaro (remove clothes), then haath mein rakho (hold in your hands), then kadam uthao (hold one leg up) and finally rakh deo (place on the ground). At the first order we stood up. At the second, we approached each other and formed a line. At the third, we took off our kurtas and caps. At the fourth we held out our hands. At the fifth we stood on one leg, as if about to dance. And at the sixth we put the other leg forward and placed the clothes on the ground. If the whole thing was gone through in perfect order then the khan sahib beamed with delight—his whole forest of whiskers radiant with the glow of his row of crooked teeth—and cried out in joy, ‘Bravo! Heroes!’ We too, on our side, out of the dire necessity of self-protection, parted our lips and grinned smilingly in thankfulness, hoping by that to secure his favour.21


The exquisite meal that they were served after their bath was ganji or kanji — half-boiled rice churned in water to form a gooey porridge. They were given just one dabbu of this. A dabbu was a form of a primitive spoon, made of half a coconut shell with a cane-handle fixed to it. The ganji had no salt and hence was entirely tasteless. Each prisoner was allowed precisely one dram [roughly 3.54 gram] of salt per day, and this was to be used either with the ganji or with the dal and semi-cooked vegetables. Hence, most prisoners preferred to optimize their daily ration and make do with the saltless ganji. Sometimes kerosene oil was found mixed with the ganji.

A big pot was used in the prison kitchen to cook the ganji. It was filled to the brim with rice and water and stirred with huge ladles. The work

usually began very early in the morning. There was insufficient lighting in the kitchen. The half-sleepy cook, who had to work under a faint lantern, mistakenly put kerosene oil into the pot several times. Consequently, even the rotis were either burnt or half-baked. They were mostly hard as bricks. But none of the prisoners could ever complain or bring this up to Barrie or any of the authorities. As punishment for complaining, they would have to go without food for days, and eating the abominable concoction seemed a better option than going entirely hungry.

The prison had a huge kitchen for 800 people. The cooks were dirty and stricken with diseases. Their sweat and spittle falling into the food as they cooked was something the prisoners saw but could do little about. They had to eat something to survive after all.

Barin Ghose gives details of the daily ration per meal that was: ‘Rice— 6 oz. [ounces], flour for roti —5 oz., salt—1 dram, oil ¾ dram, and vegetable—8 oz. No distinction is made here between prisoner and prisoner. A ravenous giant like Koilas and a grasshopper like me were both given the same quantity of food.’22

Vinayak narrates how the Pathan jamadars and warders who came from the same region of the Punjab, Sindh and North West Frontier Province consumed all the wheat that was allotted to the jail kitchens. This was the staple diet for many prisoners who came from the same area. They were thus deprived of their food and forced to eat boiled rice that they were not used to. If anyone refused or demanded anything else, their life was made miserable. False allegations would be levelled, trial for fake charges conducted and finally brutal punishment would be meted out. Since most of the prisoners were Hindu, the Pathans took extra pleasure in depriving them of their food. 23 Even a rice-eating Bengali like Barin found the food unbearable.

The Rangoon rice and the thick and tough rotis , one could somehow suffer; but it would be the rarest thing to find a single Bhadralog boy even in these days of famine who would not shed tears over the wonderful preparation of kachu and unskinned green plantain and all sorts of roots and stalks and leaves boiled together with sand and gravel and excretions of mice.24


Every morning a batch of prisoners were sent to the jungle accompanied by guards to bring back vegetables and various kinds of foliage. The leaves and vegetables would be cut and sent to the kitchen where nothing was boiled carefully. As a result, often there were centipedes and small snakes too that would be a part of the preparation. When prisoners noticed these tiny pieces of semi-cooked flesh and complained to Barrie, he would mock them saying: ‘Oh! But isn’t it so delicious. Just eat it or go hungry!’ The prisoners would have no option but to quietly pick out these pieces from the curry as there was nothing else to accompany the rancid-smelling, half-cooked rice or burnt rotis. Eating such unhealthy food would automatically trigger stomach ailments and diarrhoea and that would lead to another chain of miseries. When they complained, Barrie would peg the blame on a Hindu cook or Hindu petty officer and punish him severely. To prevent this, the prisoners quietly ate what they got without raising a complaint.

Mirza Khan, Barrie’s right-hand man, was the worst offender when it came to inflicting brutalities. He strutted around the prison like Barrie’s alter ego. In fact, people addressed him as ‘Chhota Barrie’ (Barrie junior). He just had to wink at a warder and about ten to twelve rotis assigned to several people would be snatched away and brought to him. He ate these with great relish right in their presence. He minutely inspected the quantity of food being served to the prisoners as they queued up each day. A little extra serving, and the warder would be smacked and the food taken back. Vinayak writes about one such occasion:

Every week a prisoner used to get half-a-coconut [shell] full of curds. This was a gala day for the petty officers and the jamadars, for they filled their pots with the curds and drank it off on the spot. Hardly a particle of it was allowed to be served to the prisoners before them. They seldom touched a drop of it. Once a Hindu prisoner, instead of parting it to the warder, poured it straight upon the rice. When the news was conveyed to the Jamadar, he straightaway rushed into the line where prisoners were dining, picked up the empty coconut-shell and pointing it out to him said, ‘O! you scoundrel, why did you have this leaking shell?’ It was an offence to use such a shell in the prison-ethics of the Andamans. The Baluchi Jamadar instantly caught hold of his tuft of hair, and kept on kicking him all the time. The hair had almost been wrenched when he exclaimed, ‘Kafir, kafir with the tuft of hair’, and abused him in the bargain. The prisoner raised a hue and cry and Mirza Khan came on the scene. He noticed that the quarrel was between one of his own and the Hindu prisoner opposite to him. He carried him to the jailor to frame a charge against him. I was watching it all from my own place. I beckoned to the prisoner to call me in as a witness. And I was sent for. I put before the trying Officers the facts of the case as I had seen them. Mirza Khan, thereupon, began to shout at me. He said, ‘Sir, this Bada Babu is ever found to complain against Mussulman warders and he tells lies against them.’ I told the jailor, ‘Granted that I always give false evidence, I shall add one more to it now. Go and search instantly the shed in which the Baluchi Officer has hidden his pot of stolen curds. Come along and I will show it to you myself.’ The jailor was obliged to accompany me. He got up and followed me to the shed and he found the pot wellconcealed behind a heap of coconut shells. I further deposed that the Baluchi Jamadar had pulled the prisoner’s tuft of hair, had called him kafir , and had kicked him recklessly and for no misdemeanour whatever. On hearing this, the Superintendent became red with anger, called the Jamadar in front of him, and, in order to teach a severe lesson to the rest of them, pulled off his belt and dismissed him from the job.25
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