~ by Abhijeet Kumar Bhatt
Savarkar’s life has different shades. It has dichotomy between before incarceration and after incarceration. Before incarceration he was a young revolutionary whose fierce speeches inspired persons like Madan Lal Dhingra which eventually lead to slaying of scoundrel like Curzon Wyllie and after incarceration, he became a more sober strategic planner whose objective was to organise disoriented Hindu society.
This dichotomy can also be seen in his ideas for Muslims. There are many instances which prove that Savarkar really believed the peaceful assimilation of Muslims with Hindus. In his book ‘The Indian War of Independence 1957’ , he admired the movement as one which brought Hindu-Muslim together. He contended that the animosity between these two communities was necessitated in the past when Muslims were aggressive rulers and invaders, and Hindus were subservient to them. He added, ‘but the present relation between Hindu Muslim is not of rulers and ruled, foreigners and native, but simply that of brothers with only one relation that is religion.’ Savarkar held these two religions are children of same soil Hindustan and they are brothers by blood.
The second instance which is against the contentious image of Savarkar of anti-Muslim is when Madame Bhikaji Cama and Sardar Singh Rana went to attend International Socialist Congress which was held in Germany in 1907. Sarvarkar conceptualized the first flag of free India for this Congress. This flag had three horizontal strips with equal width and three colours- green at top (the sacred colour of Muslims), the saffron at middle (the sacred colour of Buddhists and Sikhs) and at the lowest strip was of Hindu Red colour. Top section had eight stars in a row and the middle section had sun on the left and moon on the right. In the centre part ‘Vande Mataram’ was mentioned. The flag inherited the unity by depicting different faiths and different provinces of India.
The third instance which shatters Savarkar’s Anti-Muslim image is when he met Gandhi ji on 24th October 1909 in London on the occasion of Vijyadashmi. The Indian community gathered to celebrate the festival. Vinayak in his address to the people added:
‘Hindus are Heart of Hindustan. Nevertheless, just as the beauty of the rainbow is not impaired but enhanced by its varied hues, so also Hindustan will look all the more beautiful across the sky of future by assimilating all the best from the Muslim, Parsee, Jewish and other civilizations.’
Savarkar’s speech was applauded by many people in the audience. Barrister Asif Ali who was present there and heard the stirring speech of Savarkar described him as being as ‘fragile as an anemic girl, restless as a mountain torrent, and keen as the torpedo blade’. Later he addressed Savarkar as a most effective orator.
These pictures shows how Savarkar tried to assimilate the two religions amicably. Then what happened in dark confines of Port Blair’s Cellular that metamorphoses the revolutionary leader to a Hindu nationalist? To get the answer of this we have to see his experience at jail.
The jailor, David Barrie with the idea to create discord between Hindus and Muslims, placed Hindu prisoners under most bigoted of Muslim warders and jamadars who were fanatical Pathans, Sindhis and Baluchis from Sindh and North-west. Atrocities on kafirs gave them special thrill. Savarkar had to take bath in near absolute nudity and this was delightly watched by Muslim jamadar. Prisoners were not allowed to consult doctors when they happened to suffer from ailments such as diarrhoea.
Hindus and non-Hindus were being discriminated in jail. Hindus were not allowed to keep the sacred thread. It was cut-off at the time of entry into the jail. But the same things were not being followed against the Muslim traditions. Muslims were allowed to sport their beards. This discrimination was to the extent that Hindu prisoners used to receive few or no religious holidays but the same provisions were readily made for Muslim prisoners.
Hindu prisoners were subject to extreme labour and physical torture by Muslim jamadars. Several Hindus were converted to Islam with the desire to get more comfort life. They were induced by sweets and tobacco and less labour. The conversion of Hindu prisoners just needed dine with fellow Muslims and to take ‘Mohomedan food’ (possibly beef). Then, they were given Muslim names and the so-called conversion got completed. There was no reciting of Quran or offering of any namaz for the conversion. Savarkar agitated on this coercive conversion and also made an official complaint against the conversion. Savarkar also made attempts to reconvert them and bring them to Hinduism by the practice of Shuddhi (the process of purification).
While in jail, Vinayak advocated for large Hindu organisations and unity movements. Vinayak came with the idea of pan-India organisation coalition of Indic faiths of all castes- Sikhs, Sanatanis (orthodox Hindus), Arya Samajis, Jains and Buddhists.
Muslim warders and jamadars forbade Hindu prisoners from reading scriptures. They used to call pictures of some book including Ramayana and Mahabharata indecent and comment that it is their religious duty to disperse the gathering that read such books.
Savarkar magnum opus ‘Hindutva’ was written in the context of Khilafat movement. It played a key role in making belief of Savarkar to organise Hindu Society. This movement created pan-Islamic feeling among Indian Muslims. And the support of Gandhi ji fuelled this feeling among Muslims. The nationalists leader Ambedkar mentions:
‘The movement was started by the Mahomedans. It was taken up by Mr.Gandhi with tenacity and faith and must have surprised many Mahomedans themselves.’
The sympathy of Indian Muslim for the Khalifa, the Sultan of Turkey reminded Savarkar of their foreign allegiance. The long history behind the sense of alienation and separatism among a vast section of Muslims was in the backdrop of Savarkar’s Hindutva.
Khilafat movement eventually led to tragic Malabar carnage by Moplahs. The blood-curdling incident committed by mass murders of Hindu families, brutal rapes of women in front of their family members, murders of pregnant women, desecration of temple, cow slaughter, forcible conversions, pillage, arson loot reigned till the British troops took control. Gandhi ji described the Moplahs as patriot who were fighting for what they consider as religion, and in manner which they consider as religious. Criticizing Gandhi’s stand, Ambedkar wrote:
“Any person could have said that this was too heavy a price for Hindu-Moslem unity. But Mr Gandhi was so much obsessed by the necessity of establishing Hindu-Moslem unity that he was prepared to make light of the doings of Moplahs and the Khilafats who were congratulating them.”
On the contrary Savarkar strongly condemned the barbarity of the Moplahs and the pusillanimity with which the Congress reacted to this, just to save their movement. He wrote several essays from jail to make the Hindus aware about the danger and realities of the Khilafat and pan-Islamism movement.
So it was the Savarkar’s experience in the jail which led him to think about Hindu organisation. Before incarceration he was young revolutionary who used to run the secret societies like Abhinav Bharat. He also led India House, which was the base of many Indian freedom fighters. But after incarceration he became a Hindu nationalist. His jail experience distrilled his Idea of Hindutva. The instances of discrimination between Hindus and non-Hindus in jail and the coercive conversion of Hindu prisoners’ metamorphoses a brash radical revolutionary to more sober strategic planner whose focus was to oraganise Hindu Society. Khilafat movement and Malabar massacre led him to concoct his Idea of Hindutva and which eventually made his figure anti-Muslim.