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Babarao Savarkar, a forgotten hero

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June 13th is Ganesh Damodar Savarkar’s birthday: The cellular jail in the Andaman islands was a place which could break any freedom fighter’s morale. The punishments ranged from solitary confinement to standing handcuffs. This was where both the Savarkar brothers – Vinayak and Ganesh (Babarao) spent nearly a decade, undergoing the worst torture.

This was not the first prison sentence of Ganesh Savarkar, who was famous for his revolutionary activities. He took the responsibility of bringing up his family at a young age, thereby sacrificing his education. He pinned his hopes on Tatyarao (Veer Savarkar) who went to London to become a Barrister. Years later, meeting Veer Savarkar at the cellular jail in Andaman would be a shock for Babarao.

Mitramela and Abhinav Bharat

Rashtrabhaktasamooha was formed in 1899 by VD Savarkar and in 1900, it was rechristened as Mitramela. This would later pave way for the secret society called Abhinav Bharat. The primary activities were organising public celebrations of Hindu festivals, inviting other freedom fighters and intellectuals to give lectures. Lokamanya Tilak had close ties with this group, whose secretary was Babarao.

On a dussehra procession, the Mitramela members marched the streets of Nashik with loud “Vande mataram” slogans. It infuriated the Britishers. Babarao and some members were arrested as they thrashed a policeman who hit Babarao with a baton. They were tried, found guilty and punished with a hefty fine. This was widely known as the Vande Mataram trial.

First Imprisonment

Babarao was arrested in Bombay for a duel with Hussain, a sub inspector posted for crowd control. He had come forward to save a Khoja gentleman from the policeman. After he was arrested, JF Guyder the Superintendent of Police recognized the Tiger of Nashik was in his clutches. He left no stone unturned to ensure Babarao’s conviction.

The first charge slapped against him was organizing an illegal gathering, which was dismissed. This was because the crowd had come to see the editor of Hind Swarajya, not Paranjpe of Kaal (Babarao’s friend). He had to argue on his own as he did not get a lawyer. He was found guilty for disobeying the Sub Inspector and had to spend a month in prison, where he would meet Lokmanya Tilak for the last time.

Surveillance and Second Trial

Gopal Krishna Gokhale is believed to have told the government about Abhinav Bharat’s links with Tilak. Now, the Savarkar residence was under surveillance and Babarao had detectives following him everywhere. He was arrested from Mumbai where he had reached for a discussion, after evading the detectives who were behind him. 

Snippet from Babarao Savarkar’s biography on savarkar.org

Laghu Abhinav Bharat Mala, a collection of 18 Poems, was cited as the evidence for proving him guilty for waging war against the Empire. His trial was initially before the Nashik District Collector, Jackson who ensured Savarkar’s Transportation of life. The judgement was pronounced on 8th June 1909, which happened to be Babarao’s birthday as per the Hindu calendar.

It would be unfair to omit the suffering of Ganesh Savarkar’s wife – Yesuvahini. She had lost everything and was alone when Babarao was transported for life. The couple had lost two children in infancy. She had to spend the rest of her life in Rambhau Datar’s house as the two families were close. Savarkar’s other friends also pitched in to help her in all ways they could. Veer Savarkar’s poetic letter Saantvan was an attempt to console her, from England.

Wrath of the patriots

The news of Babarao’s sentence spread far and wide. This made the blood of the Indian revolutionaries boil. On 1st July 1909, Madanlal Dhingra, a patriot assassinated Curzon Wylie as a “humble revenge for hangings and deportation of patriotic Indians”. Dhingra was hanged to death.

In November 1909, the Bombay HC upheld the verdict against Babarao. Anant Laxman Kanhere, a 19 year old student hatched a plot to kill Jackson, the DC of Nashik. They knew that he was the kingpin behind Babarao’s sentence. The same DC had saved a Britisher from the law, when he murdered an Indian driver On 21st December 1909, they killed Jackson. Kanhere, Karve and Deshpande were tried and executed. The Britishers conducted several raids and arrests to prevent further retaliation.

Babarao’s days in Andaman Cellular Jail

He was constantly tortured and forced to reveal the names of other revolutionaries in mainland prisons. He never gave them even the slightest hint. This torture affected his health. In the Cellular Jail, he faced the worse torture under a cruel Irish jailor, Barrie. The conditions were so harsh that some of them preferred to commit suicide or escape.

In 1911, Veer Savarkar joined his brother in Andaman. He was found guilty for various crimes, mainly the supply of guns to kill Jackson. However they were not allowed to communicate and were separated. They organised ‘Shuddhi’, to bring back those Hindus who had converted to Islam. This was to prevent forced conversions by the muslim jailors.

There were informers and traitors too, among the inmates. One of them, who was known as Ainewala Babu, had plotted to accuse Babarao of a murder and later tried to poison him. Finally, on 2nd May 1921, the Savarkars were released from Andaman and repatriated. This was mainly due to their younger brother – Narayanrao’s efforts.

‘Ditcher’s Diary’ in The Capital

The Capital was a periodical in which a defamatory article titled – ‘Ditcher’s Diary’, was published. It was a propaganda piece which was a concocted fairy tale of the writers. It was written to complicate the release of the Savarkars and to break any support they still had.

Narayanrao dragged the Editor of the periodical to court for libel. They apologised unconditionally and withdrew the article two months later on 28th July 1909. Today, it’s Congress who plays this role of defaming Savarkar.

Gandhi Amanullah Pact & Critical Analysis of Gandhian thought

Babarao met Maulana Mohani from Sabarmati prison. He was part of the Khilafat movement. It whipped up the pan islamist sentiments of Indian muslims in support of the defeated Ottoman Empire. He learnt about the sinister Gandhi Amanullah pact from the Maulana. According to this, Amir Amanullah of Afghanistan was ‘invited’ to invade India to drive the Britishers away. Babarao smelt something fishy in this.

He was familiar with few Gandhians whom he met in prison. He learnt about Gandhian school of thought from them. Some of the incidents he observed in jail are as follows.

Snippet from Babarao Savarkar’s biography on savarkar.org
Snippet from Babarao Savarkar’s biography on savarkar.org
Snippet from Babarao Savarkar’s biography on savarkar.org

This was when he saw the loopholes in such a philosophy and the damage it was doing to the cause of Swarajya. Babaro disagreed with Gandhi’s theory of ‘Go to jail for patriotism’. He believed that the ideas like spinning charkhas and filling up prisons would not win the cause. He felt that Gandhi was refusing to adapt to the industrial age, which was needed in any modern country. He viewed Gandhian ideals of ahimsa and non co operation as ‘shackles’ in the fight for freedom.

Release and recovery

Narayanrao had intensified his efforts after learning that Babarao was going to die in prison. The British government did not want that to happen, so they allowed him to be released. He was released from jail in September 1922, after 13 years of imprisonment.

He came out of jail on a stretcher and was in a critical stage. He knew that death awaited him as the Civil Surgeon did not predict he would live beyond a few days. Fortunately he managed to recover and dedicated his life to awaken the Hindus.

Here is one incident mentioned in his biography, which occurred after a year.

Snippet from Babarao Savarkar’s biography on savarkar.org

Efforts to save Bhagat Singh and others

Though he did not agree with Gandhi, he set aside differences and went to meet him to save Bhagat Singh from execution. They met at Gandhi’s Ashram in Wardha on 15th February 1931 where they had a long conversation.

Babarao had come to know of his meeting with Irwin, the next day. A smart man he was, he could see the emergence of a pact where political prisoners would be released. He urged Gandhi to strive for Bhagat Singh’s release. Though he tried hard, he could not convince Gandhi, who kept his ideal of ahimsa above the lives of revolutionaries. That was their last meeting as Gandhi had walked away, unable to answer Babarao.

Tarun Hindu Sabha, meeting KB Hedgewar and RSS

He formed the Tarun Hindu Sabha to find and groom patriots to work for Bharat, between 1923-24. It was also to provide a cadre base for the Hindu Mahasabha. Babarao met Anusilan Samiti member – KB Hedgewar in 1924 at Nagpur. Hedgewar left a lasting impression on Babarao during their meetings. He later handed over the Nagpur Branch’s charge to Hedgewar when it was time for him to leave Nagpur. In 1925 when Hedgewar founded the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Babarao was also present in the function. He had helped them in preparing the pledge and flag.

In April 1930, Babarao merged his organisation into RSS and started working for the Sangh. He further approached other Hindu nationalist organisations to merge their groups with the Sangh and work for the Nationalist cause.

Writings

As someone who was not much of a writer before his Andaman imprisonment, Babarao yearned to write. He became a voracious reader and kept notes in diaries. One of his best works was Rashtramimansa va Hindusthanche rashtraswaroop (Analysis of the concept of nation and the nature of India’s nationhood). It was in two parts where he discusses nationhood and India’s nationalist sentiments.

Hindu Rashtra- poorvi, aataa aani pudhe (Hindu nation – past, present and future) was another landmark. His other works were Shri Shivaraayaanchi aagryaavaril garudjhep, Veeraa-Ratna- Manjusha, Christaparichay arthaat christaache Hindutva,Dharma havaa kashaalaa?, Nepaali aandolanaachaa upakram, Nepaali aandolanaachaa upakram etc. He also wrote articles for periodicals like Kesari, Vande Mataram and Sakaal.

Last days

By 1944, Babarao had become weak. His body was already battered with the treacherous imprisonment and strain due to his work. On 31st July 1944 Dr. Syama Prasad Mukherjee, President of the Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha came to visit Babarao. Here is the message he had for Dr. Mukherjee.

Snippet from Babarao Savarkar’s biography on savarkar.org

Babarao Savarkar breathed his last on 16th March 1945. The subsequent events in Indian history would prove that Ganesh Savarkar was right. He could not live to see the light of the day India would become independent. His brother Veer Savarkar continues to be vilified and attacked by the Congress party and its ecosystem. However the Savarkar family’s legacy lives on and inspires many. Today, the top leaders of India are groomed by RSS, which had Babarao’s blessings.

References and further reading

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