Meet Savarkar, the man who fought againist the British occupation of India
I have heard a lot about Rotund Pilecki, a Polish war hero who is known for his heroics, including surrendering voluntarily to the germans, so as to visit the Auschwitz camp, and document the cruelties that were being inflicted upon the Jews there.
I have also seen some of his stickers inside lifts, whenever I am in any normal polish multi-storied block of flats. Especially the ones that were constructed in the late 80s & 90s.
Whenever I read or hear about the polish war of independence, whether it’s against the Soviets or the Germans, it reminds me of the Indian struggle for independence from the Britishers. I have noticed that we have a lot of similarities.
one such war hero of ours was Damodar Savarkar, or as we call him affectionately, Veer(the Lion), Savarkar.
Veer Savarkar was born on 28th May 1883, and he was a Hindu Nationalist. Savarkar himself was an atheist but believed strongly in Hindu philosophy. Savarkar was active in politics even while he was at school. He studied in Bombay at the Ferguson college and later went to the UK to study law. Savarkar along with his older brother formed the Hindu Mahasabha, which was an organization that aimed to educate the youth about Bharath(or India as you call it in the west), and its traditions, as well as instill pride in the youth of the country about their heritage, culture and its past.
Mind you, this was a time when India was ruled by the British, and there was rampant guilt among our youth about our traditions, values, and culture. Indians thought that we were inferior and that our culture is of no value. Otherwise, why would we be ruled by a foreign nation like Britain? Britishers adopted a policy of divide and rule. We already had problems with caste-based divisions in our society. Britishers made full use of it, and put people against each other, based on their castes and skin colour. So that created a lot of fractures between people of various backgrounds in India. Our youth started learning English at schools and colleges. Hindi, the national language of India was ignored. Savarkar wanted India to be united, and he knew that language had the power to unite people. Savarkar was also against the caste system in Hinduism.
He traveled extensively inside India, giving speeches that were meant to educate the youth about loving one’s country. He wrote poetry as well which were published regularly in newspapers, and weekly’s that promoted nationalism in India.
There was a reason why he went to the UK to study. There were a lot of Indian nationalists who were in the UK, trying to gain independence for our country from the Britishers. You might be wondering, but why did he choose the UK? The same reason why Poles chose to create a government in exile in the UK during the polish Soviet war. There were Polish nationalists in the UK who were part of the allied forces, doing everything to overthrow the communist government in Warsaw.
In the same way, Savarkar went to the UK to study and was simultaneously working for the cause of Indian independence. He talked to British lawmakers who had the power to convince the monarchy in the UK to give Indians their freedom. You might be wondering, whether Indians had no backbone that they had to beg for their country’s independence? It’s not like you think. In India, if Savarkar would be caught fighting for India’s freedom from the Britishers, he would be either hanged or shot at site. India was very hostile during that era. There was some fraction of the Indian society who were pro-British, and they cared about money, and a lavish lifestyle in the UK in the future. Britishers promised to give asylum to people who were pro-British. Those pro-British Indians would snitch on Savarkar at the first given chance. But Savarkar was a lion and would go to any extent to liberate India from British rule.
In the UK, he secretly met with other Indian nationalists in the India house in the UK. India house was a hostel/ lodge for Indian students and diplomats in the UK. Mind you, these secretive meetings were illegal. But he did it anyway. They were discussing ways to overthrow the British government.
Savarkar would write material that would motivate Indian youth to take up arms against the Britishers. He would send those pieces of literature over the sea route to India. Most of the packages were hidden with other goods so that the police won’t find out. Sometimes even manuals on making bombs and guns were made in Hindi and sent along with other shipments to India. Mostly via Calais in France, and then onwards. You would think that Savarkar was a treacherous murderer? A cruel man? NO.
Would you fight for your country, if you were kept as a prisoner and had no chance other than to fight back? Savarkar and his adepts were forced to fight back. During the 1900’s, a lot of British officers stationed in India would take laws into their own hands. Lifes of Indians were not valuable. Sometimes Britishers would kill Indians and punish them, for being brown, uncultured couths. Savarkar and his followers would later plan the assassination of many such officers. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. No mercy. Of course, Indians who planned those assassinations were later caught and hanged to death. The British controlled the Indian legal system, so executions of Indians were swift, and normally with no serious trial. Indians living in India had no civil or liberty rights.
At least Savarkar had some rights in Britain. It’s hard for the Britishers to execute him so easily in the UK. UK laws were more generous. That’s why he went there in the first place.
Britishers slowly came to know about the Indians living in Britain ploying to overthrow the British monarchy in India. They knew that Savarkar was the brainchild of this movement in the UK. The Britishers had to fight really hard to get him back to India. They traced many such assassinations of British officers in India, back to Savarkar, and he was finally brought back to India.
In India, he was put in one of the worst jails in human history. On the small island of Andaman and Nicobars. which is off the east coast of India near the Bay of Bengal. There, Savarkar and his friends would often spend hours grinding coconut cake to make coconut oil. Normally Cows or bulls are used to mix coconut into a paste to extract oil. It’s grueling work. But the Britishers used prisoners to do this work. Prisoners were given food once a day. Most usually some bread/ tortilla or rice soup, which was nothing but rice and the water in which it was cooked in. Food was prepared in horrific conditions in the jail in Andaman and Nicobar islands. Most Kitchens were infested with rats and cockroaches.
Life in the jail was nothing short of misery. Days were the same. Grueling work after work, with no sense of future. You didn’t even know if you would survive to finish your sentence. Savarkar even contemplated suicide. But he didn’t do it. In the jail cell, he would often give lessons in Hindi to other inmates, who were from various parts of India. Even though Hindi is a north Indian language, and not spoken by many Indians in other parts of India, he knew that this language had the power to unite the whole country. Remember India has more than 21 regional languages. So it’s hard to create a sense of unity among Indians in the whole country, where every second person speaks in a different mother tongue. So that is why Savarkar chose Hindi. He taught Hindi to people from poor backgrounds. There were classes about economics and basic law. The walls in the jail were used as blackboards.
Savarkar hated the caste system in Hinduism. He would teach important life lessons to people from all caste and creeds from all over India. He knew that the caste system was a burden to our society, and we need to move past it if we were ever to defeat the British.
I have to also tell you about some atrocities that Savarkar had to face in the jail. As you already know, Britishers hated Savarkar. They knew about his classes, and how he was unifying the prisoners in the jail against the Britishers. Even though Savarkar is in jail, he had the power to unify the inmates inside the jail, and that might soon lead to a revolution against the Britishers. So Britishers would hire Muslims as prison guards. Not just any Muslim, but Pathans, who hail from present-day Afghanistan. Pathans are known to be brutal. Especially in wars. At least in the 1500’s and 1700’s, that’s how they conquered the northern part of India, and it was Islamized mainly thanks to the Pathans. There are still a lot of Pathans in India. They assimilated pretty well into our society. Now it’s all good.
Back to the Pathan security guards. They hate Hindus, and would often falsely indict Savarkar in petty cases. Complain about him to the British superiors. The guards would put Savarkar in solitary confinement. Beat him, starve him, etc. Britishers knew how to humiliate Savarkar. Pathans or the afghan invaders hate idol worshippers. Hindus worship idols, stones, birds, animals, you name it. So Pathans were the obvious choice for the Britishers as prison guards at various jails in India.
Savarkar was even falsely framed with the assassination of Gandhi. At least of assisting Godse with the murder of Gandhi. Later he was acquitted. As I was telling you, Britishers used every trick in the book to punish him for any anti-British activities that used to happen in India.
For years, Savarkar’s friends had to fight for his freedom in various courts in India. In each instance, Indian courts would turn down his pleas, citing that Savarkar was a threat to Indian society. Bullshit! After years of battle, he was finally transferred back to the Indian mainland. He was transferred briefly to a much less rigorous Indian jail. And after a few years there, he was finally let go. Not as a free man, but put under house arrest. But there was one condition. No more political activism. So Savarkar had to lie low.
He had a wife named Yamuna, who spent most of her married life alone. Because Savarkar was either in the UK for studies, or spending time in various jails in India.
In 1963 his wife Yamuna died. Savarkar’s health at this point was deteriorating. After years of grueling work in Jails, and enduring a lot of torture by the Pathans and the Britishers alike, he slowly started becoming weak. In 1963 he passed away as well.
There are a million more things I could say about him. But I would need to write a book to tell you all of that. I got all of this knowledge about him, by reading his biography, Savarkar- Echoes from a forgotten past.
I hope you got to learn something new about India, our freedom struggle, and ofcourse about our war hero Savarkar.