Saturday, January 19, 2013


Vinayak niti: Veer Savarkar’s socio-political ethics

Part I

For Part II click on :

By Shrinivas Tilak


The mission and writings of Svatantryaveer Vinayak Damodar Savarkar provoke different kinds of reactions from politicians, media persons, and academics. Unabashed admirers and ‘devotees’ of Savarkar lionize and glorify him as the prince of revolutionaries, patriot, and a nationalist. P. V. Vartak for instance is convinced that Savarkar was a superhuman hero. Once while in a state of deep trance (samādhi), realization came to Vartak that Bhīma, the hero of the Mahabharata, was incarnated as Sant Jnāneśvara (1275-1296; author of an influential commentary on the Bhagavadgīitā in Marathi), who in turn, took birth as Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (1883-1966; hereafter Savarkar). In Svatantryaveer Savarkar: the Gita incarnate; first and the only one (2003), Vartak lists more than two hundred instances that demonstrate Savarkar’s uniqueness as a superhuman hero (this is not to belittle Vartak’s book; in what follows I have used many instances from it to elucidate some of the finer points of Vinayak niti).

Unabashed detractors of Savarkar, on the other hand, hold a totally opposite view of Savarkar. In Savarkar and Hindutva: The Godse Connection (2002) A. G. Noorani dismisses him as an unpatriotic coward who sought collaboration with the British betraying the people of India. Without going that far, many others demonize Savarkar’s thought and mission as being replete with fanatic, fascist, and fundamentalist ideas on the basis of just one small book Hindutva: Who is a Hindu? This is unhistorical, besides being incompetent and biased scholarship considering the fact that Savarkar lived to be eighty-three and his collected works run to over eight thousand printed pages. American Indologist Lise McKean has noted that conforming to the official All India Congress Party’s (hereafter the Congress) disdain for Savarkar, influential Indian and western social scientists have largely ignored him (1996: 74). Even though Savarkar was physically liberated from prison by 1937, the academics, media personnel, and politicians continue even today to hold his thought prisoner in the straight-jacket of Hindutva. Defining Hinduism: A Reader edited by J.E. Llewellyn (2005) is a case in point. Most of the essays have something to say about Hindu nationalism, which generally tends to be something unfavorable, with most of the blame laid at the feet of Savarkar and his concept of Hindutva. A more appropriate approach to Savarkar would be to consider his entire thought a serious work that now belongs to history and assess its strength and weakness as such. It would take an open-minded look at Savarkar’s life and mission analyzing all his thought and works (not just Hindutva!) at their face value. It would examine Savarkar’s words in order to discern both the light and shadows of his vision and career. Such an approach is to be found (at least to some extent) in the works of Lise McKean (1996) and Jeffrey D. Long (2008). 

In what follows I have opted for a similar approach without lionizing or demonizing Savarkar. I first provide an overview of the making and unmaking of Savarkar as a hero and then argue that on balance Savarkar’s more useful contribution lies in the field of nīti which deals with (a) what should be done and what should not be done (karmākarma) and (b) what is righteous and what is not righteous (dharmādharma). According to Lokmanya Tilak, the Bhagavadgīitā explains nīti as the science (nīitiśāstra) of what is doable and non-doable at the individual and collective level (karyākaryasthiti 16:24) and develops on that basis the socio-religious ethics (kartavyaśāstra) and the socio-political ethics (samājavyavasthāśāstra) (Tilak 1995: 89). 

I argue that from 1906 (when he arrived in London) to 1937 (when he entered active politics) Savarkar concentrated more on the socio-religious dimension of nīti promoting unity between Hindus, Muslims, and other minorities in India. Here, by nīti he understood the art of living wisely and in harmony with others in society on the basis of the principle of samanvaya as outlined in the Gītā. In order to extend a hand of unity to others however, Hindus must operate from a position of strength, that is, they must develop internal solidarity and maintain the existing demographic balance. This approach comes out clearly in Savarkar’s activities in Britain, in the Andamans prison, and in his work The First Indian War of Independence-1857 (1909, 1970), and in his interpretation of Medhātithi’s commentary on the Manusmṛti. This dimension of socio-religious ethics may be designated Vinayakniti I (kartavyaśāstra).

After Savarkar was released from interment in Ratnagiri in 1937 and allowed to engage in active politics, he began to realize that it was no longer possible for Hindus and Muslims to live in India as one nation in light of a long string of developments involving Muslims as a community starting with the foundation of the Congress party in 1885. Some of the major ones may be listed here: Refusal of Muslims to subsume their religious identity in the broader Indian citizenship, the foundation of the All India Muslim League to preserve and promote Muslim interests, active participation in the Khilafat agitation, the provisions of the Communal Award that introduced separate electorates for Muslims, and the Moplah rebellion in Kerala. Such and other events dashed any hopes of Hindu-Muslim unity that Savarkar had worked for in his younger days. After 1937 nīti for Savarkar came to mean a practical wisdom of living wisely in a state and in situations where non-Hindu communities aggressively vied with Hindus for a maximum possible share (far above and beyond their percentage in the total population) in the available pie of public goods and services. 

His Hindutva: Who is a Hindu (1923) provided a rationale for a new interpretation of nīti which presupposes that Hindus have considered, and rejected, the possibility of living as a saint in the manner Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948; hereafter Gandhi) had advocated.  For the benefit of Hindus perplexed by Gandhian saintliness and Nehruvian secular socialism, Savarkar began to explain how to anticipate and outwit the opponent’s strategies and come out the winner in the manner of the wily jackal in Viṣņuśarman’s classic Paṅcatantra and Kauṭilya’s Arthaśāstra. This dimension of a political ethics may be designated Vinayakniti II. 

 Make peace even with the vilest, when your life is in danger; once life is well protected, the whole realm becomes secure (# 7; Of Crows and Owls).    

Vinayakniti I (1906-1937) 

As a manual of wise conduct of life, Vinayakniti I may be better understood in light of Nītikalpataru of Kśemendra’s (a seminal thinker from Kashmir ca. 110th century) which defines nīti as (1) untarnished discriminating intellect (amalā prajnā ) where amalatvam implies an ethical approach and perspective that takes into account the welfare of one as well as that of others (svaparahitatvam). This comes out quite clearly in the expression that all Indians are familiar with: vasudhaiva kuṭumbakam: Consider the entire earth as your own family. For Kśemendra, amalā prajnā was superior to Kauilya’s advocacy of nīti which is dismissed as tainted and defective (malabhta) for being self-centered. 

Making of a revolutionary hero  

In 1905, the Presidency of Bengal was partitioned by then Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon ostensibly for administrative purposes. Bengal was as large as France but with a significantly larger population. The eastern region was thought to be neglected and under-governed. By splitting the province, an improved administration could be established in the east where the mostly Muslim population could benefit from new schools and employment opportunities. The position of Hindus, who were in the forefront of political agitation for greater participation in governance, would thereby be weakened since Muslims would now dominate in the East. Hindus therefore opposed the partition though it received enthusiastic support from the Muslims. The partition of Bengal precipitated a nation-wide anti-British movement involving non-violent and violent protests and boycotts which the twenty-two year old Savarkar, who was then a student in the Ferguson College, Pune, joined. He next founded a student organization called the Abhinav Bharat to fight for India’s freedom. 

Within a year (1906) Savarkar was on the way to London for higher education when he carried the flame of revolution there. He had been offered a scholarship by Shyamji Krishnavarma (1857-1930) to study law there. It is argued below that during the five stormy years that he spent in England and ten years of hard labor in the Andamans prison, Savarkar made earnest attempts to promote unity between Hindus and Muslims in the cause of gaining India’s freedom from the colonial rule based on the principle of harmony and conciliation (samanvaya) as outlined in the Gītā and other texts. Krishnavarma was a wealthy Indian and a Sanskrit scholar living in London where he had founded the India Home Rule Society in association with Madame Bhikhaiji R. Cama (1861-1936). As a protégé of Krishnavarma and Madame Cama, Savarkar developed and promoted revolutionary ideas and activities among Indians (Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs) studying in Britain by founding the Abhinav Bharat Society (along the lines of Mazzini’s Young Italy) and the Free India Society. 

Prominent members of the Abhinav Bharat Society in London included S. R. Rana, Bhai Paramananda, Lala Har Dayal, J. C. Mukherji, Gyan Chand Verma, Sikandar Hayat (later Sir Sikandar) Khan, Acharya Kriplani (later a minister in the Congress ministry), B. G. Kher (later the chief minister of Bombay Presidency), P. M. ‘Senapati’ Bapat ( a noted revolutionary), and Harnam Singh. Niranjan Pal, Ashutosh Mitra, Sukhsagar Datta,  Asaf Ali (later Barrister), Virendranath Chattopadhyaya (brother of Sarojini Naidu) were all students who stayed at India House and became members of the Abhinav Bharat at one time or another. Gandhi was in Britain at that time to plead a case for his client in South Africa. He came to India House but rolled his bedding and shifted to a more comfortable lodging.  Abhinav Bharat was then a truly secular, non-sectarian body committed to India’s Independence. Among sympathizers of Abhinav Bharat were Englishmen Guy Aldred and novelist, journalist, war-reporter and editor, David Garnett who was a familiar figure at the India House (1892-1981) and was a friend of Savarkar. Garnett had read the translations of Ramayana, Mahabharata, and Kālidāsa’s Śakuntalam. He had also browsed through the Upaniṣhads. After his arrest, Savarkar was lodged in the Brixton prison where Garnett came to meet him and tried to free Savarkar by writing about Savarkar and his fight for the freedom of India in British newspapers. 

Harnam Singh had shared a cabin with Savarkar while traveling from Mumbai to London. Born in Amritsar, Harnam obtained a B.A degree after which he was offered a scholarship by Maharaja of Nabha to study Agriculture at Cirencester. He was debarred from there, for bearing a badge commemorating the 1857 war and refusing to remove it when ordered and for not apologizing. Maharaja of Nabha thereupon was forced to withdraw Harnam’s scholarship. Harnam continued to live on his own and later studied Law at Grays Inn with Savarkar. Even though Savarkar and Harnam Singh had passed the examination of Bar-at-law, Greys Inn refused to give them the Barristers’ degrees unless they gave a written undertaking that they would not participate in politics. Savarkar rejected the offer in toto. So did Harnam Singh. Sir Sikandar Hayat Khan (1892-1942) later became a politician in Punjab and led an all-Punjab political party formed to represent the concerns and issues of Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus alike. In the 1937 elections Khan’s party won and governed the Punjab with Khan as premier. Like Savarkar, Khan had initially opposed any future state of Pakistan because it would result in the partition of Punjab. However, in 1937 Jinnah hoodwinked Khan into signing what later became known as the ‘Sikander-Jinnah pact’ in support of an independent Pakistan.

Savarkar’s ideas were influenced by currents of European social and political thought, which is reflected in a work in Marathi on his boyhood hero: the Italian revolutionary Giuseppe [Joseph] Mazzini (1805-1872). On his sea voyage from India to England, when the ship stopped in Marseille, Savarkar took the opportunity to search for and visit the place where Mazzini had lived in exile. Published and proscribed in 1907, this work later acquired the fame as ‘the Bible’ for the revolutionaries. Valentine Chirol, a noted journalist and an ardent supporter of the British Empire in India, described it as a ‘textbook’ for the nationalist and a standard for nationalism. 

The first day of May used to be celebrated in England as uprising in India since 1857. In 1907, however, the first day of May was destined to dawn with a difference. A significant section of the English people decided to celebrate the day as a “Special Thanks Giving Day” to make it the fiftieth anniversary of their “great triumph over the Indian mutineers of 1857 (Shrivastva 1983: 41). On 8th May the Daily Telegraph, a leading London Daily, carried the headline: FIFTY YEARS AGO THIS WEEK AN EMPIRE SAVED BY DEEDS OF HEROISM. Plays were staged in which Tatya Tope, Rani Laxmi of Jhansi, and other leading personalities were shown as professionals ruffians, gangsters and uncouth villains.’ At the India House, London, the scene was totally different.  It celebrated the Golden Jubilee of 1857 on a grand scale in which Savarkar was a key figure. “The House was tastefully decorated with flowers, festoons and arches. Huge portraits of heroes of 1857 hung on the stage. More than two hundred Indians from different parts of Europe attended the meeting. Castigating the British for the misnomer “mutiny” Savarkar redefined the uprising as “The Indian war of Independence.” (Shrivastava 1983: 43). By that singular audacious act, he managed to draw the attention of the world to the cause of India’s independence. 

With the goal of accelerating foreign propaganda to mobilize world opinion in favour of India, Savarkar encouraged Madame Cama and Sardar Singh Rana to attend the international Socialist Congress at Stuttgart in Germany on 22 Aug. 1907. Cama and Rana moved a resolution of Indian freedom and unfurled a flag of free India at the conference with support from Morris Hyndeman of Germany and Jean Jaures of France. From early to middle of March 1909 Guy Aldred arranged a series of meetings between Savarkar and Lenin. The meetings ranged from thirty minutes to three hours and touched upon everything from economics to religion and politics to history. On some days, they were open to others (Srivastava 1983: 120). Savarkar made efforts to unite revolutionaries fighting wars of independence in different parts of the world. He was in close personal contacts with Turkish, Italian, Irish, Egyptian, French, and Russian activists. In addition, he encouraged active participation of fellow Indian revolutionaries in ongoing wars across the world in order to gain first hand experience of warfare. Thus, Savarkar arranged for M.P.T. Acharya (a Tamil journalist and close colleague of his) to fight against Spain on the side of Morocco. 

In 1909 Madan Lal Dhingra assassinated Sir Curzon Wylie of the India Office. The British government suspected Savarkar’s complicity in it making London too hot for him. Krishnavarma had to sell off India House. Even Bipin Chandra Pal (a noted leader from Bengal) could not keep Savarkar as his paying guest due to the British hostility and pressure. Savarkar had to put up in London slums where he developed a serious lung infection. Dr. Muthu, the Vice President of the Indian Home Rule League, took Savarkar to his nursing home in Wales. Fortunately, he recovered in those pre-antibiotic days.

Immediately afterwards, on December 29, 1909, the twenty-six year old young student arranged the birthday celebration of Guru Gobind Singh in London with Bipin Chandra Pal in chair. The speakers were Prof Gokulchand Narang (celebrated author of The Transformation of Sikhism), Lala Lajpat Rai (the noted leader from Punjab), and Savarkar. Savarkar explained the meaning of the words Deg (principles or values), Teg (sword) and Fateh (success). Principles however noble need the strength of force behind them to succeed which is why Guru Gobind Singh took to sword to protect Dharma. Karaprasad was distributed at the end. Even a Sikh scholar would not have been able to give such a scholarly speech” was Dr. Narang’s comment on Savarkar’s speech. M.P.T. Acharya, who also attended the function, concurred with Dr Narang. Within the short period of eight weeks, the manuscript of about two hundred pages tracing the Sikh history from the birth of Guru Nanak to the founding of an empire by Maharaja Ranjit Singh was ready. It was entrusted to a trustworthy follower for taking it to India for publication there. Somehow, the manuscript fell into the hands of Government of India’s Secret Intelligence Department and was destroyed (Savarkar 1971: 458). Years later he was honored at the Golden Temple in Amritsar by the Shiromani Guru Prabandhak Committee with Master Tara Singh (an important leader of the Sikh community at that time) presiding.  

At the behest of his comrades in arms, Savarkar left London to avoid arrest and went to Paris in the latter half of January 1910 and stayed with Madame Cama. In Paris he began revising manuscript on the history of the Sikhs in Marathi. He had learnt the Gurumukhi script and could read the Adi Granth and Bhai Bala’s Janamsakhi in the original. He also read histories of the Sikhs, written by British authors, like J. D. Cunningham. Savarkar used to send patriotic pamphlets to the camps of Sikh soldiers.  All of a sudden, within weeks of his arrival in Paris, Savarkar decided to return to London (despite Madame Cama’s efforts to persuade him) where he was promptly arrested on March 13, 1910. Savarkar’s lawyers tried hard so that his case would not be transferred to India where he was likely to receive harsher punishment. His supporters (including David Garnett and Guy Aldred) organized a fund collection drive. At that time, the young and wealthy Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964; future first prime minister of India) was studying in Cambridge. When Niranjan Pal went to Nehru to ask for a contribution, he flatly refused and had Pal thrown out (the Prince of Dharampur, Chandra Devji, on the other hand, donated (albeit secretly) £ 500 for this cause (Godbole 2004). All these efforts, however, came to a nought and Savarkar was ordered deported to India to stand a trial there. 

On July 1, 1910 S.S. Morea left London transporting Savarkar, the prisoner. He escaped through a port-hole on July 8, 1910, when the Morea had anchored at Marseille and swimming the short distance to the shore of France asked for asylum. However, the English guards were in hot pursuit and managed to catch him and return with him to S.S. Morea. Savarkar’s immediate capture on French soil lent an aura of romance to his fame as a revolutionary. Within five short years he had become a hero. He was brought to Mumbai on July 22, 1910 and was tried by a Special Tribunal and sentenced to two consecutive terms of transportation for life in the Andamans. Since the Tribunal did not take cognizance of the legality of Savarkar’s arrest on French soil, the trial was an outrage on international law. Savarkar’s courageous and strong stand and statement after he was awarded a fifty years sentence is quotable here: when the jail officer consoles Savarkar tauntingly, “Do not be afraid, brave young man, the kind Government will release you in 1960.” Savarkar retorted in an equally sarcastic manner: When I know the death is more kind and it would relieve me much earlier. “Do you think we will survive these years of imprisonment, and return alive?’ pinched another sadist jail officer. “And do you think,” once again Savarkar retorted “that this barbaric and brutish British rule will stay in India for fifty years (Shrivastava 1983: 307-308). Savarkar started serving his sentence in Andamans on July 4, 1911 when he was twenty-seven years old. He would return to India ten years later in 1921 and serve internment at Ratnagiri until his unconditional release on May, 10, 1937 by which time his fame as a firebrand revolutionary and a social reformer had been firmly established and recognized in India and abroad.

Hindu-Muslim unity based on conciliation (samanvaya)

The First Indian War of Independence-1857 was a result of research carried out at the India Office Library in London in 1908 while Savarkar was ostensibly pursuing his studies to qualify as a barrister. Savarkar did his research for his book at the India Office Library and Records which contained the records of the East India Company. Indians were not easily admitted to the library in those days. One Mr Mukherjee was married to an English woman. With his influence Savarkar obtained a reader’s card and secured the confidence of the librarian by condemning the Indian heroes of that war. Thereupon, the librarian gave Savarkar much more information than otherwise was possible. He showed Savarkar many secret and confidential documents which were not normally available even to the English. On 11 August 1909 the librarian was surprised to read in the Times that Savarkar's book on 'Indian Mutiny' was proscribed by Government of India. 

Originally written in Marathi, the book revolves around the ‘heroes’ of 1857: from Rani Laxmibai, to Nanasahib Peshwa, Mangal Pande, Tatya Tope, Kunvar Singh, Maulana Ahmad Sahib, Hazim Ulla Khan, to the last Mughal Emperor, Bahadurshah Zafar. The English translation was published in 1909 with the help of W. V. Phadake, Koregavkar, and Kunte, friends of Savarkar who knew Marathi. Though the book was immediately proscribed, private copies continued to circulate with Madame Cama, Har Dayal, Bhagat Singh, and Subhas Chandra Bose managing to get it published abroad in four different editions. The original text in Marathi kept changing hands ultimately reaching Dr Coutinho, himself a member of the Abhinav Bharat. He took it with him first to Lisbon and then on to the U.S.A. where he had migrated. When the ban on the book was eventually lifted in 1946 and the English version was formally published in Mumbai in1947. Dr Coutinho handed the Marathi text to Dr Gohokar who was a student in the U.S.A. then. Gohokar brought it back to Mumbai and handed it over to Savarkar in 1949. 

Even Noorani, a staunch critic of Savarkar, is forced to acknowledge that there are whole pages that move the reader even now as they did very many Indians during British rule. Savarkar’s subsequent career should not blind one to the message which he sought then to convey to fellow Indians-- Hindus and Muslims alike: refutation of British accounts which treated the events of 1857 in India as a failed mutiny. Its purpose was to unite Hindus and Muslims in the struggle for freedom from British rule and for the establishment, thereafter, of a United States of India in which all would be equal citizens (Noorani 2002: 16, 39).  

Citing his hero Mazzini, Savarkar argued that every revolution spins around a fundamental principle; an “all-moving principle” that inspires men to fight and die (Savarkar 1970: 1-3). In 1857, the principle that moved the people of India was Dharma/Din which Savarkar elaborated as ‘Swadharma’ (one’s own duty) and Swaraj (self-rule). The people of India rose against the British for Swadharma in order to attain Swaraj (Savarkar 1970: 10-11). In 1857 Indians arose to free ‘Hindusthan’ from the British rule; ‘Hindusthan,’ a united nation of the adherents of Islam as well as Hinduism. Earlier, the Marathas under Shivaji had laid the foundation of Swaraj and when under Mahadji Scindia they came to control the Mughal throne in Delhi (1787-1803), the Hindus had effectively laid the claim to share the land of Hindusthan with their Muslim brethren as equals. Unfortunately, the British had managed to outwit both Hindus and Muslims seizing military and political control over Hindusthan. So, now, was the time to consign to the past the antagonism between the Hindus and Muslims in order to face the common foe. The Chapter entitled “Secret Organisation” delineated strategies to prepare for and engage in revolutionary warfare that remind us of Kautilya. Indians should learn from the way Nanasahib (adopted son of the last Peshwa, Bajirao II; one of the leaders of the War of 1857) carried out clandestine negotiations among political and religious leaders figures. The way he used religious personages from pandits, sadhus, and swamis to fakirs and maulavis as publicists of the cause need to be emulated (Savarkar 1970: 77-78).

Savarkar was concerned to warn his fellow Indians that history should be read not with a view to find out the best excuse to perpetuate the old strife and stress, bickerings and bloodsheds…but precisely for the contrary reason of finding out the root causes that contributed to, and the best means to the removal of that stress and strife, of those bickerings and bloodsheds, so that man may be drawn towards man because he is…the child of that our common father God and wield humanity in a World-Commonwealth (Savarkar 1964 6: 96). One should study the struggle between the Marathas and the Mughals in the medieval period to learn how Hindus and Muslims in contemporary India could forge an honorable unity. “It would be as suicidal and as ridiculous to borrow hostilities and combats of the past” he wrote, “only to fight them out in the present, as it would be for a Hindu and a Muhammadan to lock each other suddenly in a death-grip while embracing only because Shivaji and Afzulkhan had done so hundreds of years ago” (Savarkar 1964 6: 96). The day that witnessed the Marathas enter Delhi (the Mughal capital) and gain effective military and political control over the Mughal throne, was the day which made an honorable unity between the Hindus and Muslims feasible. Only after conquering the Mughal emperor they could embrace him, if so he wished, as a fellow countryman and friend. Viewed in this light, the history of the Marathas will not stand in the way of any real and honorable unity (foreword to Hindu-Pad-Padashahi (A review of the Hindu empire of Maharashtra), Savarkar 1964 6: 97). Analyzing the ways in which heroes created meanings and promulgated them through history therefore is a more worthwhile historical exercise than simply unraveling the authenticity, or otherwise, of historical events. A text such as the Ramayana, which is woven around the heroic deeds of its central character Sri Rama, supplied an idiom or a vocabulary for political imagination for the public mind and discourse in India between the 11th and 14th centuries. Rāvaņa then became the metaphor of the demonic Turuksas (Turks) whose military and political power was being established on a firm basis during that period. 

Savarkar believed that in contemporary India a similar imaginary could be re-appropriated with suitable modifications. Thus, in independent India the relation between the Hindus, Muslims, and other minorities would not be one of rulers and ruled; foreigner and native, but simply that of brothers with the one difference between them of religion alone. For, they were both children of the soil of Hindusthan. Their names were different, but they were all children of the same mother (Savarkar 1970: 75-76). But Savarkar did not want to stop with a free Hindusthan. “The Hindus will become free and will liberate the world for the protection of equality, kindness and the righteous people’’ wrote Savarkar in a last poem composed in Marathi: “aika bhavishyala [listen to the future].” In that future, humanism, rationalism, and universalism would be the guiding principles of a higher goal once the task of liberating India from Britain’s colonial rule was accomplished. For Savarkar, the ultimate aim of all politics was the formation of a world state where nationalism would be transcended by humanism, a ‘religion’ more worthy than the established religions of the world today.

Noorani is forced to acknowledge that Savarkar was not a religious fundamentalist who misinterpreted his religion and perverted its message to secure cultural, economic, religious, political, or social gains (Noorani 2002: 60). According to Bipan Chandra, Savarkar was ‘a practical atheist.’ There is an element in Chandra’s assertion. In 1936 the more mature Savarkar reflected that a close scrutiny of the Vedas as well as the Muslim Quran, the Christian Bible and the Jewish Old Testament and the Book of Moses makes it clear that the so-called divinely written or sent religious scriptures are man-made. No doubt, these scriptures have unprecedented historical and literary value. It is also admissible that these scriptures are a treasure house of words, worthy of respect and deep study…But they are not literally true. Several stories (in them) are purely imaginary! What does not stand the test of scientific reason ought to be verily discarded even if it appears in the Vedas, Avesta, Quran, Bible, Book of Moses and the like. It is not true that an age of yore is necessarily an age of truth! It is incorrect to think that everything that is ancient is necessarily sacred and worthy of worship. (1964 4: 579).

Promoting internal solidarity among Hindus

Barred from any direct participation in political activities while he was interned at Ratnagiri in Maharashtra (1923-1937), Savarkar decided to give himself to the important task of social reforms. Indian social order of his time, he believed, had inherited the legacy of seven social bans or ills that he argued worked like seven shackles or chains devitalizing and dividing the people of India: (1) Ban imposed on the study of the Veda by non-Brahmins and women (Vedoktabandi); (2) Ban on changing one’s inherited trade or profession (Vyavasaya bandi); (3) Ban on close contact with persons of lower social rank (Sparsha bandi); (4) Ban on crossing the sea (Sindhu bandi); (5) Ban on reconversion to Hindu dharma (Shuddhi bandi); (6) Ban on interdining (Rotibandi); and (7) Ban on intermarrying (Beti bandi)(Savarkar 1971: 157).  Working under the banner of Ratnagiri Hindu Sabha that his brother had established, Savarkar decided to continue on a more systematic and organized manner the work of social reforms that he had initiated in the Andamans. 

That all his life Savarkar was anxious to promote the feeling of solidarity among Hindus is evident from the following episodes: When he was sailing to England in 1906, Savarkar noticed that some of the European passengers were making fun of Indians who wore a turban. He therefore suggested all fellow Indian passengers to wear the turban in a show of support. The teasing stopped subsequently.  Savarkar’s will, drawn up after he was released from the Andamans, instructed that upon his death the body should be carried to the cremation ground by four people belonging to the four classes of the Indian social order. “If this wish of mine is fulfilled, my soul will rest in peace” he wrote in an article for a newspaper called Samata in 1928. A decades later in 1938, Savarkar was visiting Baroda (now Vadodara) to preside over the annual Marathi literary convention. He was staying with some fellow delegates in the guest house of the Maharaja of Baroda. The manager of the guest house objected to Savarkar and others coming to dinner in Indian dress. Savarkar firmly told her, “This is India and Indians will dress in a manner suitable for India. Those who have problem with it are free to leave India.” Seeing that Muslim convicts were adamantly disturbing others by playing the call to prayer (azaan) loudly, Savarkar encouraged Hindu convicts to blow the conch loudly thereby drowning the azaan. When a case was filed against Hindus for blowing the conch, Savarkar appeared to argue on their behalf that conch-blowing was an integral part of Hindu religious practice. He offered to stop blowing the conch if the azaan was done within a tolerable decibel limit. The policy of tit-for-tat worked.

Savarkar worked assiduously for admitting the untouchables to the local temple in Ratnagiri dedicated to Vitthala. Mr Bhagoji Keer built a temple in Ratnagiri for the benefit of the untouchables who normally were not admitted to Hindu temples. He acknowledged that the inspiration came from Savarkar who called it the ‘Patitapavan Mandir’ [temple for uplifting of those who had ‘fallen’]. When a Shankaracharya visited the temple, Savarkar arranged for an untouchable to garland the guest. This was the first time that such an honor had been bestowed upon an untouchable. Savarkar used to bring his friend Meher Ali, a Muslim, when the latter was visiting Ratnagiri to the temple. On April 9, 1927, Savarkar’s play Usshap, which sought to bury the evil custom of untouchability and promoting welfare of the depressed classes, was first staged before a mixed audience of Indians including the untouchables. As part of the task of removing untouchability, Savarkar had provided capital to an untouchable named Shivu Chavan to open a café in Ratnagiri. Occasionally, he would himself sit at the counter to welcome clients. Savarkar would refuse to grant interview to anyone who had not previously visited and patronized Shivu’s café. Many professions were traditionally monopolized by Muslims. Playing band music on the occasion of marriage processions was one among them. Savarkar encouraged the untouchables to enter this field and provided finance to a group of untouchables to form a troupe.  

He never lost an opportunity to promote ‘integrated dining’ whenever he visited other parts of India. Thus, on February 17, 1939 he dined in the company of untouchables in Khulna, Bengal and on March 27, 1939 in Monghyr, Bihar. Simultaneously, Savarkar encouraged inter-regional and inter-cultural marriages among Indians. “Charity begins at home” he used to remind all would-be social reformers. “I would love to have a Bengali sister-in-law in the family, wrote Savarkar to his younger brother Balarao who was studying in Kolkata in a letter written on December 15, 1914. He was not opposed to marriages with non-Hindu partners provided they agreed to become Hindus first. Very often it was difficult to find a priest who would be willing to marry the individuals who had returned to the Hindu fold. Savarkar had familiarized with the marriage rituals and he would gladly act as the officiating priest on such occasions.

To those who insisted that women and the people belonging to the low castes had no right to study the Veda, Savarkar replied in no uncertain terms that they had forfeited the right to study the Veda because they had lost their freedom and lived as slaves and subjects of an alien power. As such they were worse than the shudras. He was opposed to the habit of indiscriminately attributing all evils of Hindu social customs to the practice of untouchability. Thus, he vehemently disagreed with Gandhi when the latter claimed that the earthquake in Baluchistan in Northwest India was caused by the continued practice of observing untouchability. Neither the practice of untouchability nor its non-practice caused the earthquake.  The need of the hour was to worship a deity like Narsimha, an incarnation of Śrī Viṣņu, who (in the absence of proper weapons) used his bare nails and teeth to tear open the enemy, and seek inspiration from him. Savarkar advised Indians to put on the back shelf worship to the image of Viṭṭhala who is usually shown inactive and just standing in the position described as akimbo. The need of the time was for the Dharkari (one who carries a weapon and can wield it when required); not for the traditional Varkari (devotee of Viṭṭhala) who made an annual pilgrimage to the temple of Viṭṭhala at Pandharpur.   

Savarkar worked out reconciliation (samanvaya) between the followers of Lokmanya Tilak who gave priority to political reforms and those of Gopal G. Agarkar who had advocated social reforms first. “In fighting your battle for India’s independence, you will need to use the sword of political reforms as well as the shield of social reforms,” he used to tell them. He was uneasy with expressions such as ‘the leader of the opposition,’ ‘the party in opposition’ because such usage tended to instill the feeling that a government in power must be opposed at any cost for whatsoever reason. He therefore recommended the use of expressions like the party in majority or in minority. Similarly, it was incorrect to say ‘the Congress party is ruling the state and the state belongs to it.’ Since the state belongs to all citizens, it is more correct to say “the Congress party is in charge of administering the state at present.’  

During the festivities of Ganeshotsav and Navratri in 1933, Savarkar delivered lectures on the Manusmṛti for nine days. These were published in the progressive Marathi monthly Kirloskar. An article entitled “Excess of religious simple-mindedness” was published in February 1937 issue of Kirloskar. There is also an article by Savarkar entitled “Which is the true Sanatana Dharma?” Savarkar came to the conclusion that “It is impossible to live according to Manusmṛti today because times have changed and the rules in the book are not applicable for all times... Manusmṛti, just like any other religious text, contains many contradictions. If we regard Manusmṛti as divine, we cannot explain the contradictions. However, if we regard it as a historical document, we can easily explain them. ‘Women in Manusmṛti’ was the title of four articles that Savarkar wrote in 1933 wherein Savarkar says, “We may find many passages in Manusmṛti which can provide valuable guidance to today's problems. We should only accept them if they are found to be beneficial today, not because they were found in an ancient text and certainly not because Manu’s rulings are not to be transgressed. Whatever we find in Manusmṛti to be harmful or ridiculous today should not be followed. That does not make Manusmṛti harmful or ridiculous. On the contrary, when one compares Manusmṛiti with codes of other societies such as Babylon, Egypt, Hebrews, Greece and Roman, the former stands high above the rest. It deserves our respect for that.”

Savarkar criticized some of the false notions involved in cow worship with the aim of removing the chaff and preserving the essence so that cow protection may be better achieved. A worshipful attitude is welcome provided it fosters bovine welfare. It is however improper to neglect the welfare of the cow and indulge only in its worship. The word ‘only’ used here is important. First protect the cow (gopālana) and then worship it (gopūjana) if you must and so desire. Once, a certain Keshavrao Joshi brought a sample of mint candy. Savarkar asked him if the candy would absorb moisture during the rainy season. Joshi replied yes because he did not use gelatin (made from the horns of the cow) to keep it candies dry. Savarkar said “Our products must be competitive in world markets. Do use gelatin if it is necessary” (Vartak 2003: 10). In 1934 Savarkar argued that without spreading religious superstition, let the movement for cow protection be based and popularized on clear-cut and experimental economic and scientific principles. Then alone shall we achieve genuine cow protection like the Americans do (Savarkar 1964 3: 171).  Savarkar recognized the importance of the cow as a useful beast for India’s agricultural and political economy, but he was unwilling to accept the cow as sacred because thirty-three crore deities abided in her and as such worthy of worship. Consequently, he gave the slogan “Actively engage in cattle breeding and ranching (gopālana); not in mere cow worship (gopūjana).    

Savarkar felt that a common national language such as Hindi would help in the promotion of Hindu solidarity. For that reason, he was opposed to the reorganization of the states in independent India on the basis of language. While the English-educated Indians of his time were busy glorifying English to be as empowering as the milk of the tigress, Savarkar sought to generate pride in Hindi as the national language of India. He suggested numerous modifications to the Devanagari script in order to render it more printer and cyber friendly. His modified script uses only eighty keys (compared to 200 required previously) thus making it more suitable for composing text in Hindi or Marathi. He coined alternate or parallel words to replace the use of English words in every day speech or writing. Some of them include: vartahar (news reporter), digdarshak ([film] director), nirmata (producer), chitrikaran ([film] shooting), chitrapat (film), anujna (permission), bahyachitran (outdoor shooting), dhvanilekhan (sound recoding), mahapaur (mayor), nagarpalika ([city] corporation), nabhovani (broadcasting corporation). 

Encouraging the converted Hindus to return home

Savarkar framed his discourse on encouraging the converted Hindus back into the fold on the basis of the authority of the Devalasmṛti (particularly the chapter on the pollution of religion). Devala, who lived in the 9th century, composed this work in order to provide a new code of conduct to recuperate the losses suffered due to the mass conversions of defeated Hindus in Sindh. Prior to Devala, lamented Savarkar, the Hindu armory had weapons to beat the military and aggression of the foreigners and had successfully beaten such attempts on various occasions. But Hindus never developed an effective weapon to fight back Muslim (and later Christian) religious aggression. The sole strategy that they could muster was that of social boycott of any proselyte Hindu man or woman even though by the time of Muslim advance into the Punjab in the 10th century, the number of Hindu converts to Islam had grown to hundreds of thousands. The ban on the re-purification or adoption of converted Hindus back into the fold gradually grew into a new fetter in addition to seven already existing. Instead of checking foreign religious aggression, this additional fetter began to hamper the progress and reforms within Hinduism itself (Savarkar 1971: 162-163). Devala proposed relatively simple and easy to administer rituals of atonement for the benefit of those who had been forcibly converted within a stipulated period of time. Thus, he enjoined that forcibly converted women can be reabsorbed within Hinduism after undergoing a simple ritual after their next menses (Savarkar 1971: 190). Savarkar lamented that Devala did not care for these unfortunate women who were forced to change their religion. He ruled that such children are to be given away to anyone who would take them; they cannot be taken back into the Hindu fold (sa garbho dayite’nyasmai svayam na grahyo na karhicin)(Savarkar 1964 6: 190, 507 endnote # 8).

Savarkar drew attention to some of the weaknesses in Hinduism that facilitated the task of proselytization by Muslims. Unlike the armed vigilance that was necessary for hundreds of years to keep the converted Christians, Jews [or Zoroastrians] tied down to the Muslim faith, the work of proselytization in India necessitated only a day’s labor for the Muslims. Once a Hindu was ‘defiled’ by food, drink or rape or even mere association, the responsibility of keeping him/her a Muslim forever was shouldered by Hindus as a religious duty. This is how the punitive measure of ostracism worked, serving the best interests of the enemy who it sought to counteract. Even if a group of converted men and women managed to escape and re-enter a neighboring Hindu state for protection, they were never accepted back. If at all asylum was given the run-away shelter-seeking former Hindu groups had to live as Muslims. Thus, in an unequal war the Muslims managed to defile, with craft or coercion, millions of Hindus inflicting over the centuries immeasurable numerical and demographic loss upon the Hindu nation (Savarkar 1971: 164-166). Muslim women, on the other hand, never had to worry about retribution from Hindu men. Even if the Hindu side won the war, the women of the losing Muslim warriors never had to face any indignities. Muslim women taken prisoners after the war were returned unmolested as dictated by the post-Islamic Hindu dharma of extending chivalry to women. Savarkar is careful to point out that in pre-Islamic times Hindu dharma did not spare a snake who came to bite whether male or female. When Trāṭikā, a she-demon marched on Śrī Rāma along with other demons, Rama did not hesitate to slay her. Śrī Kṛṣņa did not stop with a mere defeat and killing of Narakāsura. He rescued more than sixteen thousand women abducted by Narakāsura and brought them to his kingdom and rehabilitated them suitably (Savarkar 1971: 181-182).    

Every Hindu was made to suck, along with his mother’s milk, the nectar-like advice that religious tolerance is a virtue. But nobody explained to him what the essence of this precept was. Tolerance can be virtue only if it is reciprocated by others. But Christianity and Islam, whose theologies proclaim their respective religions to be the only true religion and destruction of all competing religions to be their duty; can never be described as ‘tolerant’ religions. In respect of such intolerant religions counter intolerance of retaliation becomes a virtue. Imbued with the virtue of tolerance Hindus did not get rid of mosques constructed among the temple complexes of Varanasi or Mathura. To the contrary, there are instances of Hindu kings providing grants to mosques (Savarkar 1971: 169).

It never occurred to Hindus in medieval India that cultivation of a virtue to perfection without regard to practical good sense; might turn out dangerous. A tale from the Paṅcatantra involving four brahmanas is illustrative here (The Scholars who brought a dead lion to life). Three of the brahmanas prided themselves on their scholarship and their mastery over all branches of learning unlike the fourth who had no higher learning. Once journeying through the forest, they came across scattered bones of a lion. They assembled it into a skeleton, clothed it with skin and flesh. Then they revived it by breathing life into the carcass, only to be killed and eaten by the revived lion. The fourth brahmana whom they had sneered at because he had only common sense and no scholarship; had climbed up a tree before the lion was revived and thus lived to tell the tale. 

If in a cattle-herd the number of bulls grows in excess of the cows, the herd does not grow numerically in a rapid manner. On the other hand, a herd with excess of cows than the bulls grows in mathematical progression. The same law applies in the human world. This natural law was adopted and obeyed by the numerically poor but aggressive African Muslim armies in their wars with major populations of North Africa. The ransom collected after a war was won was calculated in terms of money and women in equal share. Women, collected as ransom, were distributed by fives or tens amongst the most faithful followers of Islam. The Muslim chiefs who thus multiplied their numbers were honored as ‘Gazis’ by the religious authorities (Titus 1930: 26; Hughes 1885: 139; Savarkar 1971: 176). 

The foregoing indicates how, according to Savarkar, a perverted conception and sense of virtue worked as a suicidal morbidity that paralyzed the Hindu counter –offensive. The fact is virtues or vices are only relative terms. No virtue can be unqualified and absolute under every circumstance at every place and time. In practice, a virtue should be called virtue only to the extent to which it is useful to the best interests of human society. The moment a virtue begins to cause more harm than good to humankind, it should be considered a vice and as such discarded forthwith until the caused harm and damage is repaired (Savarkar 1971: 167). Hindus had forgotten an important lesson taught in the Paṅcatantra:

By resorting to double-dealing, you will remain secure in your own place; Death will quickly extirpate the enemy obsessed with greed and hate (# 57; Of Crows and Owls).

Rare instances of reconversion during medieval times 

Savarkar provided tangible evidence of some (albeit very rare) instances where Hindus acted upon the precepts and practices outlined in the Devalasmṛti and Medhātithi’s commentary on the Manusmṛti. Where direct evidence was not available, he did not hesitate to take into account circumstantial evidence in order to ascertain the intentions and feelings or emotions of the engineers of deep-laid political conspiracies and plots in the following instances (Savarkar 1971: 321). Bappa Raval (713-753), a powerful and famous rulers of the Mewar Dynasty in Rajputana, managed to unite the smaller states of Ajmer and Jaisalmer in his cause and attacked the areas of Sindh held by the Arabs and annexed them to his territory. He married one of the captured Muslim princesses and their progeny was as respected in the society as that born in the family of the Sun God. Kunwar Jagmal of Mewad defeated the Sultan of Gujarat and annexed his domain to his own he next married Gindoli the daughter of the Sultan. The offspring of this union rose to be great landholders and were assimilated completely amongst the Rajputs. Raimal, another king of Mewad, had six hundred Muslim women reconverted to the Hindu fold and married to noblemen of his court. King Arundevrai of Ajmer built a big temple and a lake named Anasagar. All the men and women, who were converted at the time of Muslim domination, were reconverted to Hinduism by taking a dip in this lake. In Tarikh-i-Sorath, the chronicler says that even at the troubled times of Mahmud Ghazni’s expedition, the King of Anhilwad at the first opportunity carried away several of the Turkish, Mughal, and Afghan women who lingered behind and the Hindus married them unhesitatingly (Savarkar 1971: 199-201).       

During the reign of the Khilji sultanate in Delhi, one Khushrukhan, who was originally a Hindu (belonging to the untouchable caste of Paria or Paewar (sweepers) in Gujrat), managed to capture the throne at Delhi and rule for almost one whole year as a Hindu. After having been captured and converted he was taken into the service of Allauddin as Hasan. He rose steadily in the service to become the commander-in-chief of the Sultanate and also the chief administrator. He now acquired the title of Nasir-ud-Din Khushrukhan. In 1319 Khushrukhan led a palace revolt against Mubarik, the Sultan, who was killed. Savarkar reproduces the proclamation allegedly made by Sultan Khushrukhan and his wife Devaldevi upon occupying the throne at Delhi:  

Although till today I was forced to lead the most detestable life of a convert
 to Islam, I am originally a son of a Hindu. The mainspring of my life is Hinduism 
and the blood that throbs into my veins and arteries is that of a Hindu. Now that I have won independence and powerful status of a Sultan for myself I am hereby breaking off the shackles of conversion to a foreign religion, and I do hereby declare that I am a Hindu! I have now ascended publicly the throne of the vast and entire, undivided India as a Hindu Emperor! Similarly Sultana Devaldevi till very recently was originally a Hindu daughter…[she] was forced to marry Sultan Mubarik who was killed in the coup d’etat last night. That Devaldevi is my queen, the empress of Hindustan of today (Savarkar 1971: 307-308).
Savarkar writes that Khushrukhan then converted (with their willing consent) the young wives, daughters, and nieces of the earlier Sultans and other Muslim women to Hinduism and married them to his Paria followers who belonged to the Paria caste (Savarkar 1971: 311). It was Dharmarakshak (Nasir-ud-Din), argued Savarkar, who for the first time in Hindu history showed so very successfully and on such a large scale how the Muslim armed aggression upon Hinduism and the religious persecution could be stopped and retaliated. Unfortunately, in subsequent centuries Hindu leaders did not follow the lead given by Nasir-ud-Din. The almost daily dispatches of great Maratha army personnel like Haripant Phadake to Nana Phadnis at the Poona Court, for instance, do not reveal any yearning to avenge the Muslim atrocities. Neither Maratha commander nor a small troop of soldiers is ever reported to have made any attempt to rescue the converted Hindu women in the manner of Khushrukhan. These hundreds and hundreds of letters show a lamentable lack of realization (not to speak of any anxiety about it) on the part of the Hindu society that day by day they were losing territory and control over it. In one of the letters Haripant Phadke writes casually: Lord Cornwallis sent the two sons of Tipu Sultan to me. When I saw them they pleaded they were hungry. I sent them to a neighboring tent where they were fed and returned to the camp of Cornwallis unharmed. For Savarkar this was a practical demonstration of how expressing chivalry to the enemy during the war can be perverted. He contrasted it with the fact that the life of the two sons of Guru Gobind Singh was not spared when they were captured in a battle with the Mughal army (Savarkar 1971: 235-236). Savarkar therefore pleaded with Hindus to learn from the way the Spanish dealt with the invading Arabs. The Spanish managed to throw away the yoke of the Muslim rule in Spain with the help of France and encouragement from the Pope and with the conquest of Granada in 1492 wiped out the Muslim presence from Spain altogether. The independent Spanish government gave an ultimatum that by a stipulated date all Muslims must either convert to Christianity or leave Spain. Any Muslim found after that date was put to sword (Hitti; Savarkar 1971: 250).   

Savarkar relentlessly warned the people of India that religious conversions invariably end in the alienation of those converted from the national mainstream. He therefore wanted Hindus to take care of their women and fight against their forced conversion to other religions because the progeny of such women invariably grows up to be anti-Hindu. Accordingly, he recommended concrete steps to welcome the converted men and women back into the Hindu fold and their institutional incorporation within Hinduism, which is discernible in the following initiatives:

When he was imprisoned in the Andamans, Savarkar educated the orthodox Hindu convicts who would refuse to eat food touched by Muslim convicts. If food became ‘Muslim’ on being touched by Muslims, then it would become ‘Hindu’ again if they were to touch it, he argued to the Hindu convicts. He asked Hindu convicts why their digestive powers had become so weak. They had to learn to remain Hindu after eating any kind of food. Hindu convicts accepted this argument and started eating food even after it was deliberately touched by Muslims. Next befriended a dreaded Hindu convict and taught him to perform the ritual of re-admittance to the Hindu fold. He then asked him to start the movement of welcoming home those Hindus who had been converted to other religions. In a simple ritual ceremony the converts would be asked to bathe and eat the tulsi leaf. A few stanzas from the Bhagavadgita would be recited and the convert was back into the Hindu fold. 

The Congress refused to participate in the Census of 1941 which for Savarkar was an act of sheer folly. Recognizing the power of numbers in a democratic set up in independent India, he advised Hindus to participate in the census process in large numbers and to have their names officially registered as Hindus. In his presidential address at the 22nd session of the Hindu Mahasabha held at Madura in 1940, Savarkar had laid out an eight point programme for immediate action for the militarization and industrialization of India and for protecting the interests of Hindus. One of the points called for an All-India movement to secure the correct registration in the forthcoming (1941) Census of the popular and demographic strength of the Hindus that would include tribal Hindus variously identified as Santhals, Gonds, Bhils etc. They would be enlisted as Hindus rather than as Animists or Hill Tribes (Savarkar 1964 6: 440). Needless to say, it was on the basis of the 1941 census that India was divided on the basis of religious identity. 

On August 28, 1955 with the Shankaracharya presiding, Savarkar welcomed forty converted fishermen back into the Hindu fold at the Kitte Bhandari Hall in Mumbai. A youth by the name of Vishvanath Soman had converted to Islam. When he expressed the desire to return to Hinduism, Savarkar helped him and found for him a small job with a printing firm. Because the salary there was low, Savarkar paid him a small monthly allowance. In the true spirit of a karmayogin he was keen that this kind of work should continue even after he was gone. He therefore left five thousand rupees in his will for the important work of encouraging the return home of those who had been converted to other religions and were willing to return to the Hindu fold.

(To be continued)

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