Life story of Veer Savarkar

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The Indian Bastille 

With a blanket on his head and a platter in one hand, S stood in chains before the ferocious lofty gates decorated with all kinds of chains, handcuffs, fetters, guns and bayonets. The gate creaked! Mr Barrie was coming. A voice roared, Leave him, he is not a tiger! Barrie tried to convince S on the futility of being a revolutionary, having been an Irish one himself. Barrie as the jailer of Andamans, had gained a marvelous notoriety among the criminals and political prisoners of India.

S fearlessly entered the ferocious jaws of Deathland. The most wicked and vicious Pathans drilled in the methods of torturous jail administration were posted to guard his cell. It had been the policy of the Brits to use the Muslim mind against Hindu forces and fighters. At every possible instance, they gave vent to their anti-Hindu bent of mind.

It is characteristic of a great life that it is ever full of duties and sacrifices. S’s arrival deeply stirred the whole of the Andamans. Ocean-going ships would sojourn to give leisure to their men of authority or fame to have a talk with the great Veer Savarkar. Barrie tried to incite S by condemning rebels like Nana and Tatya Tope as being self-centered. S told him that he was a prisoner and could not freely express his views. To which Barrie said go ahead.

For Nana wanted to be king and Tatya wanted to attain glory. But is not true that Victor Emmanuel wanted to be king, Washington had an eye to the Presidentship. The fact is that they all fought for national independence. As for the massacres at Cawanpore, what about the atrocities and burning of villages by British troops while approaching Cawanpore. Barrrie was silenced. It was difficult for anyone to argue with a man as knowledgeable as S. He would throw an argument back at you by quoting an example from your part of the world.

The coming of S brought about better days for political prisoners in particular and convicts in general. Barrie hated revolutionaries and treated them severely. He violently abused prisoners and wickedly harassed them. Their condition was miserable. The revolutionaries were yoked to the oil-mill. And its working demanded such hard labor that it squeezed life out of even hardened, seasoned convicts. The oil-mill was regarded as the route to suicide. Educated persons were used as beasts of burden while illiterate persons were given clerical work. Pathans, warders gulped down the share of prisoner’s food and milk. What more, the doctor followed the diagnose of the jailer!

S wrote from the Cellur Jail. Early in the morning and late in the evening, I try a bit of Pranayan and then pass into sweet sound sleep. Solitary monotony for twelve years in a cell! This is a clue to the introversion that clung to S in his later life and made him disinclined to mix freely with people. He was isolated from his colleagues and the current of national life.

For the first fortnight, S was given the work of chopping the barks of coconuts with a heavy wooden mallet. His hands bled, dwelled. Barrie tried his best to overpower, overawe S but his personality, frame, courage were too much for Barrie to handle. Barrie wanted to prove that S was a criminal and not a political prisoner. The others were treated badly. S cheered them up and breathed life into them. Indeed 32 years later, Subhash Chandra Bose hoisted the flag of the Indian National Army over Port Blair and renamed the Andamans as Shaheed Island.

As S lived with the cruelties of working on the oil-mill he was informed that his B.A. degree had been withdrawn by the Mumbai University. Disgusted to dying a slow, painful death, his mind drove him to the thought of suicide. However, the brave S came back to life again, therefore if you want to die, do not die a cowardly death by suicide, but die valiantly”.

There were rumors afloat that all political prisoners were to be released in memory of the Delhi Durbar held in December 1911. Except S and a Bengali political prisoner all were given remission of a month per year. He was happy to know that the partition of Bengal had been annulled. The capital was to be transferred to Delhi as foretold by S, but he said from the standpoint of history, culture, politics and geography Ujjain should be the proper place for capital of Bharat.

In December 1912, a terrific bomb greeted Lord Hardinge at Chandni Chowk. The man responsible Rash Behari Bose had fled to Japan. The Brits tried to have him extradited but failed. S’s younger brother Narayanrao arrested in connection with the Bomb case and brought to Nasik.  Besides Surendranath Banerjee of Bengal another patriot on whose mind S had left an indelible impression was Lala Lajpat Rai of Punjab. Another tribute came from the Great Russian literary figure, Maxim Gorky.

S resolved to resort to agitation within the four corners of law in Andamans to secure the privileges of political prisoners for his comrades and to compel the jail authorities to give physical and cultural amenities to political prisoners. To get there S realized that education of these prisoners was the first step. So he decided to drill them in those fundamentals which gave them a solid base of knowledge of Political science, economics and Constitutional law. This movement needed books, but prisoners got books only on Sundays, that too, they could not be exchanged.

There was resistance from the prisoners, why must be learn? S impressed upon them that to run a govt efficiently they must have the Gokhales, Dutts being masters in constitutional law, economics etc. In their present state they could do no better than equip themselves with knowledge for future work. It was S’s belief that knowledge without action was lame and action without knowledge was blind. S got the Suptd’s approval to store books. The idea of a library appealed to European officers. Some prisoners were entrusted with the work of maintaining the library. The impact was visible. Many completed some course and were appointed Munshi – clerks. Criminals became sober.

With the growth of the literary movement the library began to grow. But the books that appealed to S most were Yogavashistha and the Imitation of Christ by Thomas Kempts. S taught the criminals and his colleagues with the endurance, insistence and patience of a teacher. But none of his moves aroused so vigorous an opposition, as did his efforts for investing Hindu with the importance of the Lingua Franca of India. South Indians and Bengalis opposed it but what S said was, know both, your state and national language. The British officers knew Urdu and thus opposed the introduction of Hindi and Nagari. In this cause the Arya Samajis helped S. Swami Dayanand Saraswati was the foremost leader to champion the use of Hindi with Nagari script. After a long struggle S persuaded the prisoners to write their letters in Hindi, some Punjabis composed their poems in Hindi. S held that if the importance & future of Andamans was to be increased, the safety and predominance of Hindi and Indian culture should be made compulsory in Andamans.

To alleviate the tortures and to blunt the edges of the cruel administration, S began to think, realized that their condition must be known in India. At last Hotilal Varma dared and did it. His secret letter to S Banerjee giving details of jail life reached the Bengal leader through secret channels was then published in his Bengali under the signature of Hotilalji with the number of his cell and chawl. It was through S’s efforts that Andamans wireless system was introduced in Nagari.

Among the heroic sufferers was Indu Bhushan Roy, Ullaskar Dutt of Alipore case (tortured with electric shocks), Nani Gopla a Bengali revolutionary. Meanwhile these stories appeared in the Indian Press alarming the Brit officers. Protests in the press, questions in the Imperial Council, growing volume of public opinion forced the Govt of India to send a Home Member, Sir R Craddock, to visit Andamans in 1913. Things hardly changed. Some political prisoners went on a sympathetic fast since Nani Gopal had not taken food for 45 days. So the third strike began. S joined the strike and went on fast too. Nani and S were allowed to meet, and then Nani broke his fast.

Years rolled by and at last came the news that the Govt of India had decided to bring back the termed convicts to Indian jails, only for those convicts whose conduct was satisfactory. Thus pressure from within and outside slackened the rules of Deathland!

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