He was the mentor to many leading lights of India’s revolutionary movement, ranging from Veer Savarkar to Lala Hardayal to Madame Bhikaji Cama. He gave up a flourishing legal career to take part in the freedom struggle. He founded the India House in London, which would become the center for most Indian revolutionaries, operating outside of India or in exile. Shyamji Krishna Varma, one of the most brilliant minds of the modern era, a selfless patriot, who gave his everything for the nation’s freedom. He was deeply influenced by the views of Swami Dayanand Saraswati’s teachings, as well as that of Herbert Spencer.
Resistance to aggression is not simply justified, but imperative
Shyamji Krishna Varma was born in the year of India’s great mutiny, 1857 on October 4, in Mandvi, Kutch to Krushnadas Bhanushali, a laborer in a cotton press and Gomatibai. His ancestors were from Bhachunda, a village now located in Abdasa taluk of Kutch. He migrated to Mumbai later, where he learnt Sanskrit, and was a student of the Wilson High School. He got married to Bhanumati, daughter of a rich businessman, sister of his close friend Ramdas.It was in Mumbai he met Swami Dayananda Saraswati in 1875, and was deeply influenced by his teachings. He soon began to speak on Vedic philosophy and also became the first non Brahmin to be awarded the title of Pandit in Kashi in 1877, for his prowess in Sanskrit.
He studied at Ballol College, Oxford in 1881, and later came back to India in 1885 for law practice. During his stay in England, he delivered an impressive speech on the origins of writing in India, and was made a member of the Royal Asiatic Society. In India he set up his legal practice at Ajmer, and also invested in cotton printing presses, there which gave him a steady income. He worked in the princely states of Ratlam, Udaipur for some time. However a rather bitter experience with a British agent in the state of Junagadh shook his faith in their rule, and he resigned in 1897.
Plunging headlong into the freedom struggle, he was a close associate of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, and a part of the Extremist section of Congress. After Swami Dayananda, it was Tilak who influenced him the most. He however had no faith in the Moderates tactics of petition, campaign, and felt only an aggressive resistance, could get rid of the British rule. He once again moved to England, where he would play a very significant role in the freedom struggle.
His major contribution was setting up the India House at London in 1900. Located in Highgate, this home would soon be a meeting spot for various revolutionaries living in exile or abroad. He used his money to fund scholarships in the name of Herbert Spencer and Swami Dayananda Saraswati, two thinkers he greatly admired. These scholarships would be greatly beneficial to poor Indian students, as well financially supporting Indian students in London.
His India House, by now had become a hub for the Indian freedom struggle abroad, and a refuge for many Indians arriving in England then. Veer Savarkar, Madame Bhikaji Cama, Lala Hardayal, Madan Lal Dhingra, all were nurtured in Shyamji’s India House in London. From Irish revolutionaries to free thinkers to rationalists, the India House was soon teeming with activity, it became a center of discourse.
He also started the Indian Sociologist, a magazine to spread, economic and political ideas. He aimed to awaken Indians against the British Raj, and also spread nationalism through it. In February 1905 he also set up the India Home Rule Society with the objective of securing home rule for India and carrying on the propaganda against the British rule. His activities however began to worry the British Govt that saw him as a threat. He was debarred from the Inner Temple, his membership was revoked. Even the British media wrote against him regularly, and he was put under constant surveillance by the Government.
Leaving India House in charge of Veer Savarkar, he managed to escape the police, and reached Paris in 1907. Though the British Government tried to extradite him, it was in vain, as he had the support of many influential French politicians too. Shyamji by now managed to get support for the cause of India’s independence all over Europe, and even among many sections in Britain. When Veer Savarkar was arrested, Shyamji successfully managed to ignite public opinion against his arrest.
However he had to once again flee Paris in 1914, to Geneva, due to the visit of King George V there. And with a ban on political activities, he had to live under virtual seclusion in Geneva. Even in Geneva, he was placed under house arrest, where he got in touch with Dr. Briess, president of the pro India Comittee there. In reality Briess was a secret agent of the British Government, who regularly informed them of the activities. He also offered a sum of 10,000 francs to League of Nations to endow a lectureship on independence, freedom, which however was rejected on pressure by the British Government. He even made the offer to the Swiss Government, however inspite of all the applause for it, nothing really came out, leaving him disappointed.
He spent his last years there and passed away in 1930, a disillusioned man, broken by the betrayal of what he felt were close friends around him. Though the British suppressed the news of his death, it managed to come out and tributes were paid to him by Bhagat Singh, then undergoing trial in the Lahore prison. He made a deal with the Swiss Govt to preserve his ashes for a 100 years, and send them to India only when it became independent. A truly great son of India, who mentored many other revolutionaries, set up India House, ignited a national discussion. A thinker, freedom fighter, intellectual and activist, that was Shyamji Krishna Varma.