Bal Gangadhar Tilak

(This post was already published by me at Offprint, I am reproducing the same here


The mathematics class was going on, and the teacher asked a rather difficult question to the class.  The other students were still working on it, but one voice gave out the answer in an instant.

“Who is it that answered the question without even working on the sum” asked the astonished teacher.

Couple of boys in the class pointed out to where the voice came from.

The teacher went to the boy,looked at his note book,  and was surprised, he had not even written down the problem.
“Where have you worked out the problem?”  he asked
“In my mind sir”  the boy replied with an impish smile,pointing to his head with his index finger.
“But you should work it out in your book”  insisted the teacher.
“Why sir,  when I can do it orally”.

The boy was Bal Gangadhar Tilak, for whom such math problems were pretty much a walk in the park.  Where his classmates often struggled with tough problems,  Bal just walked through them casually. This brilliant boy would one day shake the British with his struggle for freedom against them.

The boy was born to Gangadhar Ramachandra Tilak a Sanskrit scholar and teacher himself.  Apart from Maths,if there was another subject that Bal took to easily it was Sanskrit. Born in the coastal town of  Ratnagiri,  located in the Konkan, Tilak was a brilliant but equally mischievous student too. Independent in nature,  not awed by authority,  this was the reason why he was not  exactly the teacher’s favorite.  And he never accepted injustice meekly.

There was this anecdote about his class teacher once seeing groundnut shells scattered in the class. He demanded to know who did it, and when none answered, he decided to punish every one with two strokes of the cane.  However Bal refused to accept the punishment saying he did not litter the class,  and this made the teacher more angry to the extent of sending him out of the school.  Bal’s father had to come the next day and convince the teacher that his son indeed never ate anything outside.

Bal grew up listening to the stories on the 1857 revolution of people like Jhansi Lakshmi Bai, Nana Saheb and Tatya Tope from his grandfather who was in Kashi that time.  Their valor and courage impressed Bal.  He however soon had to go to Pune, when he was just 10,as his father was transferred there. It was a new phase in his life shifting from a small town to a large city.

Pune at that time was a major educational center, called the “Oxford of the East” for it’s colleges,schools and universities. Bal joined the Anglo Vernacular school, he was able to get good education.  Sadly his mother passed away soon and his father when he was just 16 years. Bal was still a Matriculation student then, and he took the full name Bal Gangadhar Tilak  after his father.  He joined the Deccan College soon.

Bal however felt that having a good physique was important,  and began to exercise regularly. Even his food intake was regulated, and he took active part in all games and sports. He became an expert swimmer, and equally good at wrestling. Soon he got his BA in 1877,  and later got his LLB too. Bal was good at academics as well as physical activity too.  With his academics, Tilak  could have easily got a job like many others and serve the British.

However Tilak decided to dedicate his life for the country,and he felt that first one must inculcate the concept of Swaraj. People should be made to feel the thirst for freedom and patriotism had to be nurtured. And that meant an education that would make people take pride in being an Indian.  Unlike the current Western oriented education system, that made “educated” Indians look down on their own country. He got support from his class mate Gopal Krishna Agarkar,  who decided to found such an educational institute.  They were joined in by the great Marathi writer Vishnu Shastri Chiplunkar. Himself a teacher, Chiplunkar wished  that the younger generation should receive the kind of education Tilak dreamed of.



And soon the three great men, joined hands to create the educational institution of their dreams. The New English School was the result of their dream, and with it’s success, the Deccan Education Society  was founded in 1884 and a year later the Fergusson College was founded.  The seedlings planted by Tilak, Agarkar and Chiplunkar had now grown into a banyan tree, that was spreading out it’s branches. Both Tilak and Chiplunkar put in their efforts into the school,not even drawing salary for the first year.  With the school and college well established, Tilak  turned his attention to another task, awakening the people, especially the youth to the evils of British rule and inculcating the spirit of nationalism.

And that resulted in Tilak starting the Marathi weekly  Kesari and the English weekly, the Mahratta. Kesari  soon became popular, and Tilak used it to spread his ideas on nationalism,  as well as expose the evil British rule. Through Kesari,  Tilak exhorted every Indian to fight for their rights and stand up to the tyranny of the British rule.

You are not writing for the university students. Imagine you are talking to a villager….. Be sure of your facts. Let your words be clear as day light.

Basically Tilak managed to spread the message using very simple language that an ordinary person could understand. When Shivaji Rao became the Maharaja of Kolhapur, Tilak wrote a series of articles in Kesari,  exposing the shabby treatment given to him by the British. This aroused the indignation of ordinary people and unrest gripped Kolhapur, Pune.  The Government arrested Tilak and Agarkar on charges of inciting passions,  and were sentenced to 4 months rigorous imprisonment.

It was getting tougher for Tilak,  he had to quit Fergusson and Deccan Education Society,  over differences with management on salary raise.  An institution which he nurtured and raised,he had to leave, nothing more sad than that.  He was not getting much profit from the Kesari and Mahratta either.  Too proud to work under the British, he began to take up classes by himself to earn a living.

It was this period between 1890 when he resigned from Deccan Education Society to 1897 when he was arrested,  that would mould Tilak’s character and value system too. Tilak too the British head on now, he was now the leader of thousands.  He organized the Ganesh Puja on a large scale, as well as Shivai Maharaj  Jayanti. His intention was to foster a sense of community among ordinary Indians, above feelings of caste, class, religion. Soon he became a member of Pune’s  Muncipal Council, the Bombay Legislature and an elected “Fellow” of  Bombay University. He was actively into politics now, and in the midst of it all, published his maiden work “Orion”.

Tilak’s  idea of inculcating nationalism and community spirit through the Ganesh Puja and Shivaji Jayanti was working.  As people participated together overlooking differences of caste, community,class. When famine broke out in 1896, Tilak asked the Government to help the distressed farmers. He published in depth news of the famine in both Mahratta and Kesari. The British Government however was indifferent to the plight of those affected and revenue was collected forcibly.  Tilak began to expose the indifference of the British Govt in his magazines. He exhorted the people to question the Government on their failure,  and indifference to the whole famine crisis.

However instead of responding the British Government actually went ahead and decided to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria’s reign. Around the same time, Pune was in the grip of a severe plague.  The officer in charge Rand, adopted harsh measures, that included barging into the private quarters of people’s homes, pulling them out of their beds, separating infected people rudely from their families. Enraged by the actions,two brothers Damodar Hari and Balakrishna Hari known as the Chapekar brothers way laid Rand and assassinated him. Both were arrested and hanged for their act.

Tilak took on the Government more strongly than ever with a series of articles titled “Has the Government gone mad?”  in the Kesari. His fiery writings now made the Government officials concerned and they decided he was a threat. The Government put a case on Tilak,accusing him of abetment to murder in the Rand case, and arrested him in 1897. Charged with sedition  and slapped with charges of disturbing peace, Tilak was sentenced to one and a half years rigorous imprisonment. Put in a dark cramped cell, filled with mosquitoes and bugs, and given coarse food,Tilak  was subjected to the worst ever indignities. He had to make mat and ropes from coir, his fingers got blisters. His spirit was however not broken and he wrote his landmark  work “Arctic Home in the Vedas”  in prison. Finally on pressure from other leaders and scholars, the Government released Tilak from prison.

Released in 1898,  Tilak by now had become a hero, people rushed in the streets to have a glimpse of him. His portrait began to be worshiped in homes by people. He was a national, pan Indian leader now. Soon he began to spread the message on Swadeshi through newspapers and lectures.  Travelling all over Maharashtra, Tilak exhorted people to boycott foreign goods and buy only Indian ones. Foreign clothes were burnt in a bonfire, local jaggery was used. Cotton mills, paper mills,factories by Swadeshi entrepreneurs were started.

“Swadeshi, Swaraj, National Education”
  was Tilak’s  motto,  and soon the feeling spread like wildfire among the masses.  The Government was looking for an opportunity to curb Tilak, and found it soon enough.  The wife of a rich man Baba Maharaj  complained that Tilak was misusing their trust’s money.  Once again the Government conducted a sham trial, and he was arrested, handcuffed like a common criminal.  Coming out on bail,Tilak  fought a long battle for justice and was finally rewarded damages after 14 long years. When the Globe and Times of India, alleged that Tilak incited people to commit murders, he sued both of them and made them apologize.

When Bengal was partitioned in 1901, massive protests broke out against the arbitrary decision. A district magistrate was assassinated by a young revolutionary Khudiram Bose.  One of the main leaders Aurobindo was handcuffed and taken to the police station like a common criminal. Any one suspected of using explosives could be sentenced to 14 years, without any proof.

It is unfortunate that bombs are being made in the country. But the responsibility for creating a situation in which it has become necessary to throw bombs, rests solely on the government. This is due to the gover nment’s unjust rule.

Tilak criticized the repressive measures in Kesari, under an article “The Country’s Misfortune”.  The Government now decided that Tilak was too dangerous to be left free any longer and charged him with sedition. Arrested on June 24, 1908, Tilak was sentenced to six year’s rigorous imprisonment at Mandalay in Burma.   He was in his 50s by then, a diabetic,and the sentence angered many a supporter of his, as well as many Western thinkers. Once again in Mandalay, Tilak was placed in a cramped prison with just a cot, a table, a chair and a bookshelf.  Placed in solitary confinement,  his room had no protection from the heat or cold. He spent time, reading and once again wrote another book Gita Rahasya. He also learnt German and French in prison,and followed a simple routine. Every morning he would pray to God, chant the Gayatri Mantra and do his daily rituals. It was around this time, his wife too passed away.

Released and back  in India on June 16th, 1914, Tilak received a hero’s welcome in Pune. However by this time, a rift had come in Congress between the Extremists and Moderates.  Tilak  headed the Extremist faction,  that also had Lala Lajpati Rai and Bipin Chandra Pal.  However with attempts to unite the two groups failing, Tilak quit Congress and started the Home Rule League along with Annie Beasant,  G.S.Khaparde and  S.Subramania  Iyer.  Tilak  went from village to village  explaining the concept of Swaraj.  For Tilak home rule meant one thing “An Indian should have as much freedom in India as an Englishman has in England.”  He began to tour the North, first Lucknow and then Kanpur, and declared boldly “Swaraj is our birthright, we shall have it”.

We want equality. We cannot remain slaves under foreign rule. We will not carry for an instant longer, the yoke of slavery that we have carded all these years. Swaraj is our birth right. We must have it at any cost. When the Japanese, who are Asians like us, are free, why should we be slaves? Why should our Mother’s hands be hand- cuffed?

Tilak even toured  England and explained the miserable conditions of the masses under British rule. The Home Rule movement was further intensified, and he won the admiration of  Labor  Party members too. When the Jallianwala Bagh massacre took place, Tilak further intensified the struggle, touring all over India.  However  the constant stress took a toll on him, and by June 1920, his condition began to worsen. And on August 1, 1920, the great man was no more, passing away in sleep.A veritable ocean of people surged to have a glimpse of the great man,  Mahatma Gandhi,  Lala Lajpat Rai, were among those who carried the funeral bier of Tilak. A man of honesty,  integrity and simplicity was no more. But he would be an inspiration for many a revolutionary and freedom fighter.  One among them  was Chandrashekhar Azad born on the same date as him.  Tilak  stated  Swaraj is my birthright,  and Azad gave up his very life for that.  It was sheer destiny that both were born on the same date.Mahatma Gandhi’s  tribute to Tilak on passing away.

He used his steel-like will power for the country. His life is an open book. The Lokamanya is the Architect of New India. Future generations will remember Tilak with reverence, as the man who lived and died for their sake.

Posted in Indian Freedom Struggle, Maharashtra, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Veer Savarkar

Veer Savarkar has been one of my heroes. One of the most fascinating, multi talented personalities ever. Freedom fighter, nationalist, activist, thinker, writer and sadly a very misunderstood personality too. Here was some one who braved the worst form of imprisonment at Cellular Jail for not one year, two years, but a whole decade. Imagine spending ten years in a hellhole, that would have broken the spirit of a lesser man. There is so much about Savarkar to be told, his fight for independence, his Hindutva philosophy, his stay in Cellular Jail. Over the past couple of months, I had been penning a series of posts dealing with Veer Savarkar’s life.

.This series of mine is to show case the truth behind Veer Savarkar, who is being portrayed by the Leftists as a traitor, when he was not. Also it is impossible to capture Savarkar’s story in  just one post. There was just so much to his life. On his birth anniversary, I am sharing this series of posts, in chronological order to refer to. This would later be the basis for my book on Savarkar,  that however is a long shot as of now.

  1. A Hero is Born
  2. The Woman in his Life
  3. In Pune
  4. In the Den of the British Lion
  5. Madan Lal Dhingra and Assassination of Wylie
  6. Trial of Madan Lal Dhingra
  7. Arrest and Escape
  8. The Trial
  9. Cellular Jail
  10. Who is a Hindu?

This is not a complete series per se, there still is a lot more to be written on him. The very controversial part of his petitions, his activities with the Hindu Mahasabha, his alleged involvement in the assasination of Mahatma Gandhi.  I would be covering these in my later posts, as also a look at his ideology in more detail.

Posted in Veer Savarkar | Leave a comment

Veer Savarkar-Who is a Hindu?

We had seen how Savarkar’s tenure in Cellular Jail, which on the one hand drained him out physically, also saw some of his best output as a writer, poet. We now look at how his 12 year old tenure in Cellular Jail, shaped his ideology and the birth of Hindutva too.  Though technically, Hindutva was believed to be coined by Chandranath Basu, that is another topic altogether and beyond the scope of this post.

Savarkar was some one who believed in action, much more pragmatic about life and the world. While a revolutionary, and a nationalist, he did not believe in the concept of sacrifice just for the sake of it. He was some one who believed in living to fight another day.  In a sense, he was closer to the central philosophy of the Gita, always do your duty, no matter what the consequences. For him life was a flower with three petals,one rich with the hues of pleasure, another with the color of pain and the third having no colors. For him pain and pleasure were a part of life, and he refused to be overwhelmed by the latter, nor feel let down too much by the former.

For some one who came close to death, many a time, it held no fears for him.  He felt he had paid his debt to Bharat, by throwing himself into the fire of revolution and consumed to the bone by it. He had to sacrifice everything, his family was scattered, his Bhabhi died a destitute, his elder brother a prisoner, his property confiscated. The long years in Cellular Jail, had developed him in a sense of detachment from the material world.  And he was confident, that his good Karma, would accompany him into his next births.

His solitary confinement in Cellular Jail, had given him ample time to think, and develop his own philosophical, political theories. All the thoughts he gained from books and thinking, began to coalesce into a distinct ideology of it’s own. His main concern was the rapid demographic changes going on, the decline in Hindu population and the proselytizing by Muslims and Christians.  The conversions of Hindus into other faiths, made him restless. Most Indian prisons in the British Raj, had a majority of Hindu prisoners. And the jailors, havaldars, wardens were usually Muslims, especially Pathans. These Pathans, would often brutally beat up the Hindu prisoners, torture them, and often force conversion to Islam. The miserable conditions in prison and the brutal torture meant a good number of Hindus converted for smaller favors.

Savarkar decided to take on this forcible conversion and make Hindus feel more proud about themselves. He began to reach out to Hindu prisoners, asked them to take more pride in their faith, and not convert for momentary gain. When the Superintendent asked him, why he was complaining, why not let Hindus convert.  Savarkar replied back “Hinduism does not believe in conversions. For us Hinduism is not a way to material pleasures, we do not offer inducements to convert for the sake of food or shelter”.  Soon the Hindus began to pay heed to Savarkar, and the conversions came down. In spite of death threats from the superintendent Barrie, Savarkar stuck to his mission. When census was undertaken, Savarkar, persuaded all Hindus and Arya Samajis to record their faith as Hindu or Arya-Sikh Hindu.  As per Savarkar, this was how he defined a Hindu

Aasindhu sindhu paryantaa Yasya Bharata Bhoomika/ Pitrubhu Punyabhuchaiva Tavai Hinduriti Smritah.

Loosely translated it stands for

Those who regard this land of Bharat spread between the river Sindhu (in the north) and the ocean Sindhu (Sindhu Sagar — Indian Ocean in the south) as their Pitrubhumi (fatherland) and Punyabhumi (holy land) are called Hindus

Savarkar did not have any personal animosity towards Muslims, but he hated their aggressive conversion tactics, as well as those of Missionaries. In fact in Cellular Jail he fought for the rights of Hindu as well as Muslim prisoners.

While it may be debated about who coined Hindutva first, the fact remains it was Savarkar who gave it a definitive shape and bought it into the public.  The backdrop was the 1921 Moplah revolt,  in Malabar, where thousands of Hindus were massacred, their women raped and many were forcibly converted. Yet Mahatma Gandhi refused to condemn the brutalities of the Moplahs, and in fact praised them as God fearing noble human beings.

Savarkar came up with the ideology of Hindutva in his landmark work, that he published under a pseudo name Maharatta.It is this book that laid down the foundations of Hindutva and Hindu nationalist movement in the years to come. It was an outcome of Savarkar’s own reflections on the situation around him. As well as a reaction to what he felt was Gandhi’s appeasement of Muslim fanatics  in the name of secularism.  Swami Shraddhananda, noted Arya Samaj leader and one of the key figures of the Shudhi movement had this to say “It must have been one of those Vedic dawns indeed which inspired our seers with new truths that revealed to the author of Hinduvta this Mantra, this definition of Hinduvta”.

Sources- Essentials of Hindutva by Savarkar

Posted in Hindutva, Indian Freedom Struggle, Maharashtra, Modern India, Revolutionary Movements, Veer Savarkar | 1 Comment

Veer Savarkar- The Trial

In my last post, I had taken a look at Savarkar’s arrest in England, his epic escape at Marseilles, and subsequent arrest.

July 22, 1910

Savarkar reached Mumbai, and was immediately sent to Nasik jail. The Secretary of State for India granted permission for a trial, even though many well meaning British people protested it would not be a fair one. They were given the promise that Savarkar would be restored to France if the situation demanded it so. By now Savarkar’s escape at Marseilles had made him a legend of sorts, and the fellow prisoners, applauded him loudly at the trial. Savarkar rejected the jurisdiction of the Government, saying he was entitled to asylum and protection of French law. Even the accused stated, they had confessed to the Magistrate under torture or extreme stress.

The court however was adamant in convicting Savarkar, and they choose Abhinav Bharat as the alibi.  Various secret activities of Abhinav Bharat, and it’s political activities were taken into consideration during the trial. Savarkar was accused of trying to wage war against the state, through Abhinav Bharat, on the lines of the Russian Revolution. The fact that Abhinav Bharat had bomb storehouses at Bassein, and factories in Mumbai, made it easier for the court to prove the charges of waging a war against the State.  And not content with this, the Court also convicted Savarkar with the assassination  of Jackson, the collector of Nashik. So effectively on the basis of very flimsy evidence, Savarkar was sentenced twice. On December 23, 1910, Savarkar was condemned guilty and sentenced to transportation for life, seizure of all property. In spite of the fact, that his case was still sub judice in the International Court at Hague.

It was a very hasty prosecution by a kangaroo court, on the basis of very flimsy evidence. For starters the British Government had a written agreement with France to refer Savarkar’s case to International Court at Hague. Many in France, supported Savarkar’s return to the country, and most nations were in uproar against the British action. Savarkar in the meanwhile managed to send out an account of his escape and re arrest at Marseilles, through his friends, embarrassing the British even more. Finally Hague had it’s say, and the trial began on February 2, 1911. However with the then French Prime Minister, M.Briand, siding with the British, the court annulled Savarkar’s right of asylum, and ruled in favor of the British. There was widespread condemnation from the world press, and M Briand became deeply unpopular with the French people for his act.

Though the British managed to convict Savarkar, a severe blow was dealt to the Empire’s prestige. As he was convicted twice, it meant Savarkar would have to spend the next 50 years of his life in imprisonment. And this is when he began to compose poems, to cope with the long period of jail, and also what he felt was a small debt to India.  He wrote poems on Guru Gobind Singh, and another on the crucifixion of Christ. When an officer taunted him that he would be free only in 1960, Savarkar shot back “But is the British Raj itself going to last for fifty years?”.

It was at Nashik, that Savarkar met his wife Mai once again, a remarkable woman.

She had to travel on horseback from Trimbakeswar to Nashik along with her brother to meet her husband in prison. Even worse, fearing the wrath of the British, none of her friends gave her shelter, and she had to spend all the night in heavy rain at a temple in Nashik. She finally met her husband, and they spent around 45 minutes together. When Veer Savarkar was sentenced to life at Cellular Jail, she accepted her fate stoically. However when she saw him in chains at the Dongri prison in Mumbai, she became emotional and almost broke down. It was then Veer Savarkar advised her.

If the Almighty shows compassion, we shall meet again.  Till then, if you are ever tempted by the thought of an ordinary family life, remember that if producing children and collecting a few twigs to build a home is to be called married life, then such a life is led by crows and sparrows as well.  But if a nobler meaning is to be given to married life, then we are blessed to have lead a life fit for human beings.  By breaking our hearth and utensils, golden smoke may ensue from thousands of homes in future.  And did not plague render our homes desolate when we were building them?  Face the odds bravely.

To which Mai replied-“We are trying to do just that.  As far as we are concerned, we have each other.  If you take care of yourself, we shall feel fulfilled.”. Savarkar reassured her that he would take care and walked around with the manacles raised.

Posted in Indian Freedom Struggle, Maharashtra, Modern India, Revolutionary Movements, Veer Savarkar | Tagged , | 1 Comment

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.

Posted in Indian Freedom Struggle, Maharashtra, Revolutionary Movements, Veer Savarkar | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Veer Savarkar- Trial of Madan Lal Dhingra.

In the previous post, we had seen the background of Madan Lal Dhingra, his assassination of  Wylie and relationship with Savarkar. We now look at the trial, and the fallout .

Post the assassination of Wylie, Dhingra, was vilified,  repeatedly in the British media. An ex army officer at Broadhurst Gardens, Capt Charles Rollerton, even made allegations that Dhingra assassinated Wylie under the influence of “Bhang”. The psychiatrists who examined him, his land lady however testified that Dhingra seemed absolutely normal, and gave no indication of the act he would commit.  During the interrogation, Dhingra expressed deep regret for the shooting of Dr.Lalkaka, saying he had no reason to shoot him, and it happened as he came in between.

Dhingra was produced before Mr.Horace Smith, the Magistrate of Westminister Police Court, and he told him clearly

” I do not plead for mercy: nor do I recognize your authority over me…”ho

On being sent to the Sessions Court, Dhingra asked in a trial, in which Indians were not allowed.

“If the Germans have no right to rule over England what right have the English got to rule over India ?”

Though Dhingra willed that all his belongings, clothes, books be sold and the money, be given to the National Fund, it was no followed by the London Police. The police said that since Dhingra made no official will, his belongings were the property of the British Government, and they confiscated everything. Sadly Dhingra was disowned by his own family itself. His brother Bhajan Lal, who was in London, condemned him publicly in a meeting. His father publicly apologized and disowned his son. All his family members dropped Dhingra from their surname and adopted Lal, to avoid trouble with the British. The only person who actually stood by Madan Lal Dhingra was Savarkar, who visited him in prison. He was emotionally overwhelmed, when Savarkar told him “I have come here to seek your darshan”. For some one disowned by his family, it meant a lot that somebody out there still cared for him.

The Indian Association held a public meeting on July 5, 1909 to condemn Dhingra’s assassination of Wylie. The meeting was chaired by Aga Khan, and as he was prepared to pass the resolution, one hand raised in protest. It was Savarkar who said “No, not unanimously. There are opponents of the motion as well. Take down my name, Savarkar. I oppose the motion.”

The meeting went into a commotion, after Savarkar’s lone defiance. One of the members Bhavanagiri, tried assaulting Savarkar but was restrained by Aga Khan. A European member named Palmer, hit Savarkar with a stick, causing him to bleed in the eye. A defiant Savarkar refused to back down, sticking to his stand. Surendranath Banerjee was outraged at the assault ” Savarkar had a right to have his say. It was outrageous to attack him” and left the meeting in anger. The police had to rush in and prevent the situation from going out of control. That very night Savarkar wrote a letter to the Times, saying that since the matter of Dhingra was “subjudice”, no one had the right to discuss the case in public and using terms like criminal. It amounted to contempt of the court, the letter was published in the Times on July 6,1909.

Predictably most Indian leaders like Gokhale,  NC Kelkar, condemned Dhingra’s act. Some like Hyndman, said that though Dhingra’s act was not acceptable, the allegations he raised against the British Govt, could not be swept away. The Media now turned their focus on Savarkar, claiming him to be the mastermind of the entire act. His relatives and colleagues in India were persecuted by the Govt, students going to London for studies had to produce certificates from the Local Government.

Dhingra meanwhile had some other admirers like W.T.Stead, editor of Reviews, an admirer of Savarkar, and believed in India’s freedom. Stead himself was arrested and put in prison for three months. In a letter to the Observer, Stead contended that Dhingra had committed the murder in a fit of insanity and hence should be given life imprisonment only. In the meanwhile VVS Aiyar,Nitisen Dwarakadas and JS Master, editor of the Gujarati daily Parsee, met the Secretary of India and requested that Dhingra’s dead body be given, so that they could perform the last rites. Savarkar wanted that Dhingra’s ashes, be sent to various parts of India. On the other hand, members of the Secretary’s Morley Council favored life imprisonment, as they felt execution would rather make him a martyr and ignite the volatile atmosphere even more.

King Edward VII was so infuriated with Dhingra’s act, that in a letter to Morley, he proposed that all Indian students should be barred from studying in England. Morley on the other hand was adamant that Dhingra be executed as it would set an example to potential assassins. This was what Wilfrid Blunt, the British poet had to say

No Christian martyr ever faced his judges more fearlessly or with greater dignity…if India could produce five hundred men, as resolutely without fear, she would achieve her freedom. It was recorded in medical evidence at the trial, that, when arrested, Dhingra’s pulse beat no quicker than normal, nor from first to last, has he shown any sign of weakening.

The Irish supported Dhingra with leaflets titled “Ireland Honors Dhingra” pasted all across the country.

August 17, 1909, Pentonville Prison.

Finally the date had come, many of Dhingra’s friends made a request to meet him for one last time. JS Master, made a request to the Under Sheriff of London and Home Office, stating he was Dhingra’s close friend and needed to meet him. However the request was turned down at both places. Dhingra however remained calm and composed, slept well on his last night, and after performing his chores, was ready for the hanging. As the clock struck nine, Dhingra walked to the gallows. Many of his friends and some from the media were waiting outside, all of them in a state of mourning.

When a Christian preacher Hudson, walked up to him, for the last prayer, Dhingra turned him down, saying he was born as a Hindu and would die as one. Metcalfe, the Dy. Under Sheriff of London, read out the death warrant to Dhingra, asked him the usual questions. Dhingra just ignored, walked calmly to the noose, to Officer Pierpoint who was waiting for him there. The noose was put around his neck, and the levers pulled, the life of a brave revolutionary was snuffed out.

JS Master who attended Dhingra’s post mortem, requested that he be taken the body for funeral rites. Dhingra wanted to be cremated as per Hindu custom, but Master’s request was turned down. And Dhingra’s body was buried in Pentonville Prison itself in a coffin.

On being asked if Dhingra would be considered a martyr, Master replied

“Certainly. He has laid down his life for his country’s good. Whether his idea of this ‘good’ was right or wrong is a matter of opinion”.

“The nonchalance displayed by the assassin was of a character, which is happily unusual in such trials in this country. He asked no questions. He maintained a defiance of studied indifference. He walked smiling from the Dock.”

As desired by Gyan Chand Verma, Dhingra’s last statement was published on a postcard by Sardar Singh Rana in Paris, along with his photograph. The statement was underlined by Vande Mataram, below which it was written “To the sacred and inspiring memory of patriot Madan Lal Dhingra, who died for his country”. The copies of this statement were sent by Rana to Savarkar in London, who in turn sent a large number of them to India. Though banned, neverthless the last statement titled “Challenge” became popular in the public. This was the text of it.

1. “I admit the other day; I attempted to shed English blood as an 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.

2. “I believe that a nation held down in bondage with the help of foreign bayonets is in a 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.

3. “As a Hindu I felt that a wrong done to my country is an insult to God. Her cause is the cause of Sri Ram! Her services are the services of Sri Krishna! Poor in health and intellect, a son like myself has nothing else to offer to the Mother but his own blood and so I have sacrificed the same on her altar.

4. “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 in my martyrdom! This war of Independence will continue between India and England, so long as the Hindu and the English races last (if the present unnatural relation does not cease!)

5. “My only prayer to God is: May I be reborn of the same Mother and may I redie 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- From the Hindu Jagruti article here on Dhingra

In another note, the Indian revolutionaries in London, paid tribute to him with the following words

“This day, the morning of 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 the execution ropes in Pentonville prison. His high soul is rising from 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 last words when the English judge, who must have been feeling demoralized in his inner heart, told him that his life would be taken…And now 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 a storm to the moral waves of human society, and sweeping away barriers, leads the cause to success.”

From the Hindu Jagruti article here on Dhingra

Mahatma Gandhi however condemned Dhingra’s action, calling him and other revolutionaries as “anarchists” saying “Is killing honourable? Is the dagger of an assassin a fit precursor of an honourable death?”.

Dhingra, the immortal, has behaved at each stage of the trial like a hero of ancient times. England thinks she has killed Dhingra; in reality he lives for ever and has given the death-blow to English Sovereignty in India .- Lala Hardayal in Vande Mataram in 1909.

Finally on December 12, 1976 in the presence of Natwar Singh, then High Commissioner of India, Dhingra’s coffin was exhumed, and his mortal remains bought back to India.


Posted in Indian Freedom Struggle, Maharashtra, Revolutionary Movements, Veer Savarkar | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Veer Savarkar- Assassination of Wylie by Madanlal Dhingra.


Madan Lal Dhingra

As the British cracked down, more ruthlessly on the revolutionaries in India and England, the anger against their atrocities grew more. It kept growing till the boiling point had been reached, and the time was ripe for an outbreak. All it needed was one single spark to light the flame. And that spark came in the form of a strapping young land from Punjab, Madan Lal Dhingra. Hailing from Amritsar, the sixth born of the city’s Civil Surgeon, two of his brothers were doctors, while two other were barristers.  Coming from a well to do and influential family, Dhingra, could have settled into a life of luxury and comfort.  Yet he was restless, driven by the call for Swadeshi, right from his student days at the Government College, Lahore in 1904. He led the student protest there against having to forcibly wear a blazer made of imported cloth, which led to his expulsion in turn. Having extensively studied about poverty and famines in India,  he felt that only Swaraj( Self Government) was the solution. For some time, he worked as a clerk at a Tanga service in Kalka, Shimla, where his attempts to organize an union came to nought. It was then on the advice of his brother, he went to London, for studying the Diploma Course in Civil Engineering at University College between 1906-09.  A very illustrious institution of learning where Dadabhai Naoroji  was Professor of Gujarati and Ravindranath Tagore studied English Literature.

Like most other Indian students in England, he was a regular to the India House founded by Shyamji Krishna Verma. His initial days, were spent in frolic and fun, and his good looks ensured, he was in the company of women mostly.  The turning point came, at a meeting in India House that was addressed by Savarkar. Apparently Dhingra along with his friends, was making a noise in the adjacent room, that forced Savarkar to intervene.

“What is the matter? You only talk of action and bravery, avoid coming to our weekly meetings. Is this your bravery”

The rebuke by Savarkar had it’s desired effect, and for quite some time Dhingra was not seen around India House. Too ashamed to show his face, and fearful of facing Savarkar’s wrath, he kept away. Until one day, summoning all the courage, he came face to face with Savarkar again at India House.  Savarkar however had moved on from the past incident, and spoke normally with Dhingra.  A much assured Dhingra asked him “Has the time for martyrdom come?”. To which Savarkar replied

“If a martyr has made up his mind and is ready, it is generally understood that the time for martyrdom has come.”

Having made up his mind, Dhingra now joined the National Indian Association, founded by Surendranath Banerjee and Ananda Mohan Bose in 1876.  The Association was primarily a gathering of moderate Indian nationalists, who denounced extremism and believed in peaceful negotiation with the British.  Dhingra acted as a double agent of sorts, publicly denouncing Savarkar in front of the British, to win their favor. He soon won the trust of Ms.Emma Josephine Beck, the secretary of the Association, and got to know the timings of visits of important officials. He had a fake “falling out” with Savarkar to convince the British officials, and also left India House. Staying for some time at Ledbury Road, in 1909, he began to plot the assassination of one of the most important British officials, Lord Curzon Wylie.

Dhingra had earlier attempted to assassinate Lord Curzon, the British viceroy universally hated for his Partition of Bengal. However Curzon escaped twice, thanks to late arrival at the venue. His plans to assassinate the ex Governor of Bengal, Bramfield Fuller also came to nought, when the latter turned up late for the meeting. It was then that Dhingra decided to target Curzon Wylie, and not just because of the name. Wylie was one of the top ranking officers in the British Government.  Serving the British Army in 1866, Wylie had entered the Political Department in 1879.  He had earned a distinction for his role in the 1879 Afghan War, and later in Avadh, Nepal and above all in Rajputana.  He was appointed the Political Aide-De-Camp to the Secretary of State for India, but more than anything, he was regarded as the “eyes and ears of the government”.

Wylie headed, the Secret Police, a fact not known to any one, except those in the upper echelons of the British Government. He in turn, was keeping an eye on Savarkar and other revolutionaries at the Indian House. He even appointed an informer, Kirtikar at the Indian House, to get information. Kirtikar was however found out by Savarkar, and gave him all the information about the police operations under force. On the home front, things were not going too well. Savarkar’s elder brother Babarao, was arrested and sentenced for life to the dreaded Cellular Jail in Andamans. His home was confiscated, and Babarao’s wife Yesu died a destitute, homeless on the streets.

The other factor was Savarkar being denied access to the Bar, after he completed his studies in 1906. Savarkar was charged of encouraging sedition by circulating pamphlets, advocating armed revolution and assassination. Given time till May 22, the trial was conducted on May 26, 1909, in camera. New charges were pressed, the letters by Savarkar were examined, and he was disallowed. The deportation of Babarao to Cellular Jail, and Savarkar’s trial, enraged the revolutionaries further, the situation was even more volatile now.

Dhingra knew Wylie personally, having met him earlier on April 13, 1909 based on a recommendation from his brother Kundan Lal.  Dhingra apparently wanted to discuss the letter, but in reality his aim was to get closer to Wylie, win his confidence. The moment came when a meeting of the Association was to be organized on July 1, 1909 that would be attended by a large number of Indians and Englishmen, in honor of Lady Lyall, the wife of Sir Alfred Lyall.  Dhingra met Savarkar on June 29,1909 at Bipin Chandra Pal’s home in London,  discussed the plans of the assassination with him. Savarkar asked Niranjan Pal to type out the statement, Dhingra would make after the assassination, and then gave him a Belgian make Browning pistol.  “Do not show me your face again if you fail this time” said Savarkar to an emotionally overwhelmed Dhingra, as he took his leave.

Accompanied by another revolutionary Koregaonkar, he had an early lunch and tea, left at 2 PM, cradling the revolver in his hands. He also bought a brand new dagger in a leather casket, placing it in his pocket.  It was evening 7 PM, when the function started, Dhingra was dressed in a lounge suit and blue Punjab turban. He placed a Colt revolver in the right pocket of his coat, and the Browning gifted by Savarkar in another. He took a cab, arrived at the Institute, where Koregaonkar came also, with his pistol. When the time came for Wylie to leave, Dhingra approached him on the pretext of talking something. Just at the landing, coming closer to Wylie, Dhingra pulled out his Colt and fired two bullets point blank.  As Wylie reeled, Dhingra fired two more bullets, a Parsi doctor, Cawas Lalkaka, who tried to save Wylie  was also shot.

However Dhingra’s plan to commit suicide however failed , as he was overpowered by the security guards around.  He managed to even bring down one of the guards, but was ultimately subdued, and arrested.  He was taken to the Walton Street Police Station, where the Police Officer asked him if any of his friends knew about this. To which Dhingra calmly replied “There is no need, they will know about my arrest tomorrow in the newspapers”. It was a smart strategy, which ensured none of his friends would be implicated.

I will be covering the trial and execution of Madan Lal Dhingra, in detail in the subsequent post.

Posted in Indian Freedom Struggle, Maharashtra, Revolutionary Movements, Veer Savarkar | Tagged , | 3 Comments