Veer Savarkar- Arrest and Escape

The trial and execution of Madan Lal Dhingra,  was traumatic for Veer Savarkar in many ways. It was not just a question of losing a close associate. It was the crackdown on him and his associates, that was really traumatic. The British never trusted Savarkar, and had always kept an eye on him. Now with the assassination of Wylie by Dhingra, the British targeted Savarkar even more vehemently than before. Savarkar was isolated, for his support to Dhingra, with most other nationalist leaders distancing themselves from him.  The British Government shut down India House,  Savarkar was forced out, and had to stay for some time at Bipin Chandra Pal’s home in London.

However with increasing pressure by the British Government on him, Savarkar felt it better to leave London. No home to stay, starving on the streets, and followed by detectives at every stage, life was miserable for Savarkar. He wandered seeking shelter, but was turned out at every lodge.  For some days, he sought refuge with a German lady there. Tired and weary, Savarkar left for Brighton, a small seaside town in England, where he stayed  in the company of Niranjan Pal. This is where he composed one of his more well known poems.

Take me O Ocean! Take me to my native shores. Thou promised me to take me home. But thee coward, afraid of thy mighty master, Britain, thou hast betrayed me. But mind my mother is not altogether helpless. She will complain to sage Agastya and in a draught he will swallow thee as he did in the past.

Savarkar still continued his activities at Brighton, he had to get Dhingra’s statement published and propagate it all over. He got the letter published in the Daily News through his friend David Garrett.  Through Shyamji Varma, he got it published in various Irish and American papers, ensuring it reached out to as many as possible. Savarkar was now proving too hard to handle, for other Indian nationalist leaders.  Gandhiji  had earlier met Savarkar at India House in 1909, but disagreed with his methods.  Savarkar believed in open conflict, as he once stated.

We feel no special love for secret organizations or surprise and secret warfare. We hold that whenever open preaching and practicing of truth is banned by enthroned violence, then alone secret societies and warfare are justified to combat violence by force.

Savarkar felt bitter and betrayed after his discussions with Gandhiji, who in turn attacked the revolutionaries and their methods. The ideological conflict between these two would define the contours of the freedom movement in the 20th century.

Savarkar spent his time in the library, reading up books, letters and original manuscripts in the British museum.  Reading up on the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny, Savarkar began to pen what would be his magnum opus.  Till then, the 1857 Revolt, was called as a Sepoy Mutiny by English scholars, historians.  Savarkar called it the First War of Independence, and completed his book in Marathi on the landmark event. He sent the manuscript to his brother Baba Rao in Nashik, evading the British who tried their best to get their hands on it. However Savarkar managed to evade them, and get the book published in Holland in 1909. Soon the book was  circulated all over, in China, Japan, India, America, mostly smuggled under a fake name, in this case Charles Dicken’s Pickwick Papers. The translated version of this book would be an inspiration to future revolutionaries ranging from Bhagat Singh to Netaji Subash Chandra Bose.

The idea of the I.N.A. and particularly the Rani of Jhansi segment seems to have originated from Savarkar’s proscribed publication on the 1857 Mutiny-K.F.Nariman

P.K.Atre, the well known Marathi author and journalist, called Savarkar, the greatest Marathi writer since Dhyaneswar.  After Dhingra was hanged, the threats to Savarkar grew even more strident. His supporters in India were persecuted and harassed, the stress was taking a toll on his health. He spent some time at Wales in a sanatorium, to recover from the breakdown. And finally with his life now in danger, Savarkar left to Paris in 1910, from where he would carry out his activities again. Along with Madame Bhikaji Cama and Shyamji Verma, Savarkar continued his struggle against the British rule.

However the crackdown on his followers intensified, his brother was exiled to Cellular Jail, his family was destitute and homeless.  The tragic news coming from India upset Savarkar, who was also found guilty in the assassination of Jackson at Nashik.  George Clarke, the new Governor of Bombay, intensified the crackdown further, he was the Collector of Nashik earlier, which explained his stance towards the revolutionaries. Clarke, targeted Savarkar directly, and soon began to build up a case against him. With the warrant coming from Bow Street Court, London in 1910, charges were leveled against Savarkar. Of sedition, waging war against Her Majesty, distributing weapons illegally to his followers. His followers in India were arrested, tortured, some of them even turned informers.

Savarkar’s own son passed away, his elder brother Baba Rao was in Cellular Jail, his younger brother Ganesh was arrested in the Nasik Conspiracy case.  And in 1910, the British Government issued an arrest warrant against Savarkar, for speeches he made some time back in 1906. It was then he took the most critical decision of his life, of leaving Paris for London. It was like walking straight back into the lion’s den. But Savarkar was prepared to face the lion, that was wreaking havoc on his family members and followers. He did not want that others should suffer because of him.

On his return to London in April, 1910, the Magistrate ordered that Savarkar be sent back to India for further trial. The British Government in India had set up a special tribunal just for Savarkar.  In the mean time,some of the Indian and Irish revolutionaries in London attempted to rescue Savarkar from custody. However with details of the plan being leaked out, it failed.  Finally Savarkar was extradited to India aboard the steamer S S Morea.  As it approached Marseilles in France, the steamer had some engine trouble, and had to report in the port there for further repairs. Knowing that this would be a good chance for Savarkar to escape, the British requested the French to keep close surveillance.

Savarkar on the other hand, saw this is a golden opportunity, and was wondering on how to make the escape. He requested permission from a Scotland Yard Inspector Parkar to use the toilet. Inside the toilet, he managed to squeeze himself through the narrow porthole at the top of the water closet, and jumped into the sea. Amidst a hail of bullets from the ship, Savarkar swam ashore, his pursuers chasing him. He dodged his pursuers, and ran for quite some time penniless on the shores of France. He was finally caught, and dragged back to the steamer.  Unfortunately for him, his associates Madame Bhikaji Cama and VVS Aiyar, who were supposed to receive him, were delayed by a couple of hours.

Though the escape was a failure, Savarkar has by now become a legend of sorts, as it’s news spread all over the world. The entire European media praised Savarkar, he became an icon for most of the other revolutionaries now. On the ship, he was now huddled into a tiny cabin, with just about enough space to move around. No sunlight filtered in, and Savarkar had to spend the rest of the voyage, in darkness and heat. With no light and air, he lay huddled, suffocating, hands bound on both sides, unable to move. Calling it terrible would be an understatement, he was carried along like a captured animal, an insult to such a noble soul. He felt like killing himself at times, however managed to survive the ordeal, that would have destroyed a lesser person. Finally on Sept 22, 1910, he reached Mumbai, where another long ordeal would await him.

About Ratnakar Sadasyula

Blogger with a passion in movies, music,books and history. A techie by profession, and a writer at heart. Author of City of Victory a book on Vijayanagar Empire
This entry was posted in Indian Freedom Struggle, Maharashtra, Revolutionary Movements, Veer Savarkar and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Veer Savarkar- Arrest and Escape

  1. Pingback: Veer Savarkar- The Trial | History Under Your Feet

  2. Pingback: Veer Savarkar- Cellular Jail | History Under Your Feet

  3. Pingback: Veer Savarkar | History Under Your Feet

  4. Pingback: Savarkar My Hero | History Under Your Feet

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