Veer Savarkar: Active Role in Assassination of British Officials; Coined ‘Hindutva’
Orator, lawyer, politician, poet, writer, scholar, historian, playwright – these are only few labels that well describe the versatility of one of the greatest freedom fighters of India. He is Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, popularly known as Veer Savarkar. His role as a pro-independence activist, wherein he was involved in underground revolutionary activities, believing in armed revolution against the ruling British, was noteworthy. He opposed the peaceful freedom struggle spearheaded by Mahatma Gandhi.
His Early Life and Education
Veer Savarkar was born to Damodar Savarkar and Yashoda Savarkar on 28 May 1883 at Bhagur, Nasik. He lost his parents at a very young age. His eldest sibling Ganesh, known as Babarao, who took responsibility of the family, supported him in all his endeavors. He did his schooling in the local village. At the age of 18, i.e, in 1901, he married Yamunabai, whose father supported his university education. In 1902, he enrolled in Fergusson College, Pune where he completed his graduation. Shyamji Krishna Varma, a freedom fighter, lawyer and journalist helped Savarkar attain a scholarship and study Law in London. He enrolled in Gray’s Inn law College in London.
Why He was Called ‘Veer’
Veer means ‘braveheart’. An incident that Veer Savarkar encountered at the age of 12 earned him the title of ‘Veer’. A horde of Muslims, in a rampaging mood, attacked his village. Savarkar, led a group of his friends, all fellow students, and immediately reciprocated. Though outnumbered, he inspired his group to fight back until the last Muslim was driven off. This brave victorious encounter at such a young age earned him the nickname ‘Veer’. Henceforth, he was called Veer Savarkar.
Veer Savarkar’s Role in Assassination of British Officials
Veer Savarkar and his brother Ganesh Savarkar formed a secret group called the ‘Mitra Mela’ in 1899. Veer was only 16 years old then. The aim of the group was achieving absolute Independence from British through use of arms. The group was renamed Abhinav Bharat Society in 1903 when Veer was still a student of Fergusson College. Soon, hundreds of freedom fighters from across the state joined the group. It spread its wings across the country and various branches were set up with thousands of patriots joining the common cause – freedom of Bharat. After Savarkar was enrolled to study Law, the group’s activities extended to London too!
The group carried out a few assassinations of British officials. When in London, Veer Savarkar formed the Free India Society, comprising of Indians overseas. Following the assassinations, the Savarkar brothers were convicted and imprisoned. One of the few British officials assassinated was Sir William Curzon Wyllie, political aide-de-camp at the India Office, London. Madanlal Dhingra, a keen follower and friend of Savarkar, shot dead the British official in 1909 in a public meeting. Dhingra was arrested, tried and hanged. Though the Savarkars were arrested following this incident, Veer’s active role in this assassination was proven months later after his death in 1966 by Dhananjay Keer, who wrote a biography of Veer Savarkar. It was first published in 1950, titled, Savarkar and His Times. In its 1966 edition, Keer wrote that Savarkar gave Madanlal Dhingra a nickel-plated revolver on the morning of Wyllie’s assassination and told him, “Don’t show me your face if you fail this time.” Dhingra’s first attempt of killing the official had failed once.
On December 29, 1909, Anant Laxman Kanhere, a freedom fighter and member of Abhinav Bharat Society shot dead AMT Jackson, the Collector (district magistrate) of Nasik. The district magistrate was then watching a Marathi play called Sharada, in a theatre. Following this assassination, Ganesh Savarkar was arrested and banished to the Andamans.
The British continued interrogating more freedom fighters from the area. From Kanhere’s accomplices, few of Veer Savarkar’s letters were discovered. The Browning pistol that Kanhere used to assassinate the Collector was linked to Savarkar. Likewise, Veer Savarkar had sent 20 such weapons to India from England. The British sent a telegraphic warrant of arrest to London from where Savarkar was arrested. It was March 13, 1910. He was brought to India, tried, and sentenced to transportation to the Andamans for two terms of 50 years each.
Abhinav Bharat Society was disbanded in 1952.
The Hindutva Philosophy
Veer Savarkar coined the term ‘Hindutva’ and led the Hindutva movement, influencing the masses from across the length and breadth of the country. Many an Indian, including Hindus who are secular, communists, and atheists described this movement and coinage of the term ‘Hindutva’ as fascist. They even approached the Supreme Court of India. India’s highest court of justice defined Hindutva as a ‘way of life, not a religion’ in its 1995 verdict against a number of appeals which arose from decisions of the Bombay High Court on this matter. Social activist Teesta Setalvad re-appealed the Supreme Court to check the ‘devastating consequences’ of its 1995 judgment on Hindutva. A seven judge constitution bench of the Court in 2016 declined to change the definition, as according to them, Hindutva has nothing to do with “narrow fundamentalist Hindu religious bigotry”.
Coining the term ‘Hindutva’, Veer Savarkar fashioned the spirit of Hindu nationalism to create a collective ‘Hindu’ identity as an essence of Bharat. In his book Hindutva: Who Is a Hindu?, he defined a Hindu as one ‘who was born of Hindu parents and regarded India as his motherland as well as holy land. The three essentials of Hindutva were the common nation (rashtra), common race (jati) and common culture (sanskriti).’ Opposing the British view that India was just a geographical entity, Savarkar wrote in his book that Hindus of Akhand Bharat had existed since antiquity.
In his book, Essentials of Hindutva, Veer Savarkar wrote that ‘Hindutva is an inclusive term of everything Indic’. He defined the term thus, ‘Hindutva is not a word but a history. Not only the spiritual or religious history of our people as at times it is mistaken to be by being confounded with the other cognate term Hinduism, but a history in full. Hinduism is only a derivative, a fraction, a part of Hindutva. … Hindutva embraces all the departments of thought and activity of the whole Being of our Hindu race.’
Imprisonment and Release Terms
On March 13, 1910, Veer Savarkar was brought to India and tried for his involvement in the assassination of British officials. In July 1911, he was sentenced to transportation to the Andamans (Andaman cellular jail), also called ‘Kalapani’ for two terms of 50 years each.
Prisoners at Kalapani were subjected to repeated mistreatment and torture. They weren’t allowed to meet friends and relatives. They were allowed to write only one letter a year to their friends or family. The Savarkars performed their duties in prison diligently. Obtaining permission from the jail authorities, Veer Savarkar taught fellow illiterate convicts to read and write.
After his associates filed mercy petitions, Veer Savarkar was shifted to Yerwada Jail in 1923. And in 1924, he was released under strict conditions and allowed to live in Ratnagiri. He was strictly forbidden of participating in politics for 5 years and barred to leave Ratnagiri district. Police restrictions on his activities were not dropped until he was granted provincial autonomy in 1937.
Few More Activities of Veer Savarkar at a Glance
1. Inspired by Lokamanya Tilak’s announcement to boycott British clothes, in October 1905, he set up a bonfire during Dusshera and burnt all his foreign clothes and goods.
2. Based on the Great Uprising of 1857, Veer Savarkar wrote the book, The History of the War of Indian Independence with an aim to instill the spirit of patriotism and nationalism in the minds of the Indians and trigger them to fight against the British. The book was banned by the British. Likewise, many books and articles by Savarkar were banned.
3. He plotted an armed revolt against the Morle-Minto reform of the British in 1909. It was an Act passed by the British that brought about a limited increase in the involvement of Indians in British rule in India.
4. He worked on the abolishment of untouchability during his stay in Ratnagiri. He was successful in it for which he was compared to Lord Buddha by Baba Saheb Ambedkar.
5. Veer Savarkar was elected president of the Hindu Mahasabha in 1937. He served until 1943.
The list of his activities goes on and on….
Fasting until Death
Savarkar’s wife, Yamunabai, died on 8 November 1963. On 1 February 1966, he renounced food, water, and medicines, observing fast until death, termed atmaarpan. In an article titled Atmahatya Nahi Atmaarpan which he wrote before his death, he opined that ‘when one’s life mission is over and ability to serve the society is left no more, it is better to end the life at will rather than waiting for death’. Veer Savarkar died on 26 February 1966 at the age of 83.
My India My Glory salutes Veer Savarkar! Jai Hind!
Featured image courtesy: Anurupa Cinar (anurupacinar.blogspot.com), IndiaFacts, and Frontline.
2. Essentials of Hindutva, Veer Savarkar.
3. Dhananjay Keer (1966): Savarkar.
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