Vinayak Damodar Sawarkar
General of the freedom fighters, leader of the revolutionaries, proponent of Hindu nationalism, philosopher, active organizer for Hindu unity, action-oriented social reformist, an inspiring poet, rationalist and staunch proponent of active defence preparedness of the nation and an intellectual.
Vinayak Damodar Sawarkar was born in a small village Bhagur near Nashik in Maharashtra. He had a sharp intellect, aggressive and daring personality and at the same time a sensitive mind and a brilliant creative poetic imagination. He started reading large volumes on history, philosophy and religion at the young age of ten. His poetry started being published in reputed contemporary Marathi newspapers and readers could not believe that the poet was merely ten years old. His family was very well placed monetarily and was untouched by the British rule and servitude. However……
Sawarkar became influenced by the events of history that he read - nationalism took shape in his mind and brotherly love grew in his heart for his countrymen. He drew inspiration from the biographies and the sacrifices of Guru Govind Singh, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, Maharana Pratap, Banda Bairagi and thousands of others who laid their lives for the motherland. He was stirred by the blood shed of the revolutionaries while fighting the oppressive British rulers. The hanging of the Chaphekar brothers who had killed Rand for his brutality was the last straw. At the age of sixteen, he pledged at the feet of his family deity thus: “I will fight to the very end for the independence of my motherland. If I win I shall make an offering of independence at the feet of my motherland, and if I lose I will do the same with my blood”.
Sawarkar’s youth is filled with thrilling events. He founded Abhinav Bharat and Mitramela, two secret revolutionary societies. He started the Swadeshi Movement to encourage the use of indigenous products and to ban imported goods. With this aim he, for the first time in 1905, burnt imported clothing in a public bonfire in Pune and the Swadeshi Movement picked up like wild fire all over the country.
Under the pretext of pursuit of higher education, Sawarkar travelled to London. At the India House there, the era of Abhinav Bharat’s revolutionary activities began. Madanlal Dhingra was his first martyr disciple. Dhingra shot Curzon Wiley, a British officer and smilingly accepted martyrdom. Sawarkar contacted revolutionaries in other nations and learned the techniques to make bombs. He sent these techniques and twenty two Browning pistols to his colleagues in India. Using one of these pistols, Anant Kanhere, a sixteen year old youth, shot Jackson, the collector of Nashik. He was executed because of his increasing persecution of the people and because he jailed Sawarkar’s brother, Babarao Sawarkar. Anant Kanhere, Krushnaji Karve and Vinayak Deshpande, all members of Abhinav Bharat, were hanged in the shooting case of Collector Jackson.
Sawarkar enthralled the revolutionaries in England and in India by his impressive personality and fluent and inspirational oratory. On realising the danger of his charisma, the British government arrested him. They shipped him back to India. But en route, when the boat was near Marseille in France, he jumped in to the sea and swam ashore (1910). He sought political asylum in France with the thought that because of the Repatriation of Prisoners treaty the British had no jurisdiction in France and could not arrest him there. But the French coast guards could not understand his language and unfortunately for India the British soldiers arrested him illegally and brought him back to India. He was prosecuted and sentenced to two life sentences (50 years) in the harsh environments of the Andaman Islands (Kala Pani) in 1911.
In order to break Sawarkar’s spirit, the British jailers tortured him in the Andaman jail. He was hung in a vertical position, tied to a running oil mill, made to pound coconut fibre and kept in an isolation cell. This brilliant Barrister had to eat worm infested food in a dark cell and quench his thirst drinking dirty water. But through all this horrendous harassment and pain, he never once forgot his goal to free India, his motherland. His creative poetic and revolutionary mind withstood all the agony for eleven torturous years. The British could not break his spirit. He inscribed two great poetic compositions on the walls of his prison using thorns.
From the dungeons of the Andaman jail, he studied the changing political situation in India. He became uneasy over the change in the attitude of the British rulers, the growing arrogance of the Muslim League, and Gandhiji’s extreme stress on non-violence. He realized that the British had ceased to be the chief enemy and were bound to leave India eventually. It was essential to bring the Hindus together and unite them. Through the perseverance of leaders like Vitthalbhai Patel, Rangaswami Iyyengar, Sawarkar was released from the Andaman jail under certain conditions.
The release from Andaman was a turning point in his life. His days spent in imprisonment and his days after his release are two important chapters of his life. During imprisonment, Sawarkar comes across as an aggressive revolutionary whose fiery personality was an inspiration to other revolutionaries and a passionate writer. But after his release, Sawarkar comes across as more mellowed. He undertook the mission of social reforms, Hindu unity and purification of Marathi language. He wrote poetry and plays and was recognized as a great litterateur. He was a rationalist who tried to reform the Hindu religion. He spent a lot of time to develop scientific attitude amongst the masses. He was a great orator, philosopher and thinker. Sawarkar’s multifaceted personality was thus revealed.
On his release from Andaman, he was placed under house arrest in Ratnagiri. His work to bind the Hindu society together is incomparable. He recognized that the caste system and orthodoxy was responsible for the regression amongst the Hindus. He tried hard to eliminate these evils. He threw open the doors of hundreds of temples to the untouchables (dalit), who were banned from entering them for generations. He started a campaign to publicly partake food together with the dalit. He established a PatitPavan temple in Ratnagiri and arranged fifteen inter-caste marriages in this temple. He realised that the Hindu religion was corrupted by the caste system and thereby has brought inequity in the society. In order to rectify this, he made people examine the religion rationally. He strongly criticized the rituals and blind-faith amongst the Hindus.
He was confined in Ratnagiri for about thirteen years. From 1937 he was president of the Hindu MahaSabha for seven years. This was an organisation founded to propound Hindu unity. He worked for the Hindu MahaSabha, addressing massive meetings and touring extensively all over India. He campaigned for enlistment in the Armed forces and established Rifle clubs at many places.
He was a rationalist and firmly believed in modern science. He struggled hard to bring about improvements in the Hindu religion. He also strived to improve Marathi language and introduced new and appropriate words to replace the English words being used extensively in Marathi.
Sawarkar is also recognised as a great litterateur. He wrote many books like Joseph Mazini (biography of an Italian revolutionary), 1857 Che Swantantra Samar (the first Independence struggle of India of 1857), Shikhancha Itihas (History of the Sikhs), Mazi Janmathep (a narration of his jail term in the Andaman Islands), Sanyast Khadga (a play), Kale Pani (Black Water), Mala Kay Tyache (What is it to me), Hindutwa (Hinduism) and Gomantak. He also was a gifted poet and wrote brilliant poetry. Some of his poems, full of emotions about the motherland like Jayostute Shri Mahanmangale, Jaydev Jaydev Jay Jay Shivrai, Ne majasi ne parat matrubhumila, sagara prana talamalala, are unforgettable. His poems were published by under the title Kamala.
He was the president of the all India Marathi Literary Meet held in Mumbai in 1938 and from the dais in his presidential speech he appealed to the audience to “drop the pen and take up a gun” and fight for independence. He believed that only weapons could save the nation.
A revolutionary, a firebrand litterateur, a great poet, a social reformer, a Hindu leader - Sawarkar was a multifaceted jewel. His thoughts stirred the masses. He contribution to the country’s freedom struggle is unprecedented. He opposed the country’s partition and the policies of the then Indian National Congress Party tooth and nail. Even after Independence he vociferously campaigned for increasing the forces of the army, border security and improving the quality of our defence preparedness.
Sawarkar strived for almost sixty long years for Independence and better governance. At the age of 83, he undertook a fast unto death and on the 22nd day of the fast his spirit left his body.