The Story of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar

M Venkaiah Naidu

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar endures torture and inhuman treatment at the infamous Cellular Jail

The beautiful islands of Andaman & Nicobar… the horrific Cellular jail -A monument of British atrocities…

One evening, a prisoner was presenting his roll call to the warder. As he turned back, his eyes widened in disbelief and shock… he saw his younger brother in the jail!

Last time they had met was when the younger brother was leaving for London to pursue his higher studies. The whole family had imagined a brighter future for him… But today he was standing in front of him, in an abject condition as fellow prisoner.

The younger brother was – Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. British were feeling so scared of the revolutionary activities that they brought him all the way from London to this remote island in Bay of Bengal… to face the ultimate punishment of ‘Kaala Paani’.

Warder did not let the two talk, but the elder brother Ganesh Damodar Savarkar managed to send him a message on a paper telling how heartbroken he was to see him in jail, Vinayak replied-

“Baba, success and failure are but coincidences. It is not our fault if we failed in our first battle. In fact, we are fortunate to have stood our ground in the face of failure. It is a matter of pride that we are bravely enduring those sufferings, which we exhorted others to undergo… Remaining free and achieving fame whilst fighting is no doubt considered glorious. But it is equally glorious to die unknown and suffer abuse.”

The saga of India’s freedom struggle is replete with the heroic tales of many great and ordinary men and women and the selfless sacrifices made by them to liberate the country from an oppressive colonial rule.

As the country approaches the landmark event of 75 years of Independence, we not only need to retell their inspirational stories of martyrdom, valor and indomitable spirit, but we also need to give them their due place in the annals of our history.

During the past few months, I have penned a number of Facebook posts recounting the heroic stories of lesser known women freedom fighters. I believe that the people of the country, particularly the youngsters, should be fully aware of the invaluable role played by them in the attainment of India’s independence.

In a new series starting today on Facebook, I will recall the remarkable personal stories of our freedom fighters, who were sent to the infamous Cellular Jail and tortured there. Their jail diaries will shed light on their individual strength and their unwavering love for the motherland.

During my visits to the Cellular Jail, I was always anguished and moved by the stories of extreme torture and abuse faced by our freedom fighters. Also known as ‘Kaala Paani’ (Black Water), it was one of the most dreaded prisons of colonial times. The Britishers built the jail in the middle of the sea to isolate political prisoners. The horrific treatment meted out to freedom fighters by the British authorities made people to be mortally afraid of ‘Kaala Paani Ki Sazaa’.

Many great freedom fighters, intellectuals and revolutionaries were sent on exile to the Cellular Jail and tortured in the name of confinement. Freedom fighters like Batukeshwar Dutt, Diwan Singh Kalepani, Fazl-e-Haq Khairabadi, and the Savarkar brothers — Ganesh Damodar Savarkar and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar were among the many freedom fighters who were incarcerated in the Cellular Jail in an attempt to break their spirits and to demoralize them from participating in the freedom struggle.

In my post today, I will write about one of the brave sons of India– Vinayak Damodar Savarkar.

Vinayak, popularly known as Veer Savarkar, began his political activities from a very young age. During his stay in England, he got involved in revolutionary activities organized at Shyamji Krishna Varma’s India House and the Free India Society. He published books advocating for Indian Independence by revolutionary means. One of his books on the 1857 rebellion, ‘The Indian War of Independence’ was banned by the British authorities.

Soon came the day in the year 1910, when Savarkar was arrested and extradited to India for his involvement with the revolutionary group at India House. On his journey back to India, Savarkar tried to escape while the ship was docked in the port of Marseilles, France. However, he was caught by the French authorities and handed over to the British.

Savarkar was awarded double life imprisonment of 50 years, which clearly showed how terrified the British were of him. He was sent to the Cellular Jail and tortured in a most inhuman way. He was shackled, flogged, put on standing handcuffs for days and put in solitary confinement for six months. He was tied to a mill and made to extract oil. That was not all. He was deprived of the basic necessity of toilet.

Savarkar once wrote about his traumatic experience at the oil-grinding mill, he said, “Hardly out of bed, we were ordered to wear a strap of cloth, were shut up in our cells and made to turn the wheel of the oil-mill. Coconut pieces were put in the empty and hollow space to be crushed by the wheel passing over them, and its turning became heavier as the space was fuller. Twenty turns of the wheel were enough to drain away the strength of the ‘strongest coolie”.

Savarkar said that it was the hardest work in the prison and many prisoners died while doing it, while others were driven to insanity. Describing the ordeal, Savarkar wrote, “From six to ten in the morning they were yoked to the wheel, which they turned round and round till their breath had become heavy. Some of them had fainted many times during the process. They had to sit down for sheer exhaustion and helplessness. Ordinarily, all work had to be stopped between ten and twelve. But this ‘Kolu’ as the oil-mill labour was called, had to continue throughout.”

That was the kind of torture that he had to go through during his incarceration at the Cellular Jail. Many other freedom fighters too had to endure such extreme brutalities at the hands of the British authorities.

Once talking about his ordeal in his memoir, Savarkar said, ‘Who can describe the suffering–These agonies of mind and body? I may give you an instance, however, to point the moral. Of all the hardships of personal life in the Cellular Jail of the Andamans-gruelling work, scanty food and clothing, occasional thrashing and others- none was so annoying and disgusting as its provision for urinals and lavatories.”

The inhuman conditions and torture made Savarkar fight for the basic rights of the prisoners. In the year 1913, after several attempts at drawing the attention of authorities towards the barbarous treatment of the prisoners, the inmates went on a hunger strike and finally, their actions caught the attention of Reginald H Craddock, a British official who was sent to Andamans to conduct an inquiry into the rising cases of unrest in the prison. Craddock later granted Savarkar the permission to submit petitions for his release.

Savarkar wrote petitions for the next few years but they were rejected and the torture continued. Later in the year 1921, both the Savarkar brothers were freed from the Cellular jail and transferred to another jail in Ratnagiri, where they were again subjected to torture. After three-year incarceration, both the brothers were released but only to be confined to Ratnagiri district.

The horrific years spent in jail enduring the worst forms of torture reflected the mental resilience of Savarkar, who did not let brutality and hardship defeat him.

The walls of the Cellular Jail remind us of the extreme maltreatment of the freedom fighters and the countless sacrifices made by them to free our motherland. I call upon the younger generation of India to visit the cellular jail. As we pay homage to them, let us all strive together to build the India that our freedom fighters dreamt of.

Jai Hind!