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‘Congress leaders never went to Kaala Paani’: Historian Vikram Sampath speaks about Savarkar, Indian history, Hindutva and more on ‘The Ranveer Show’

Aghast by the vilification of a man who suffered for a whopping 27 years, Sampath said, "So easily today sitting in air condition rooms people pass judgements that he was a traitor, a stooge - that is grossly unfair."

On Tuesday (January 24), historian Vikram Sampath spoke at length with Youtuber Ranveer Allahbadia on his show about Veer Savarkar, Indian history, Hindutva and other controversial facets of Indian politics.

At about 16:35 minutes into the candid interview, he recounted the controversy related to the labelling of freedom fighter Bhagat Singh as a ‘revolutionary terrorist’ in a Delhi University textbook. Vikram Sampath pointed out how the term was originally coined during the colonial time but Indians had held onto it.

“Imagine a young child who is reading this and at the same time, he is seeing what is happening in Kashmir. He may equate terrorism to the connotation that it has today and wrongly picture Bhagat Singh in it,” he added.

Vikram Sampath pointed out how historians of the past, including Bipin Chandra and Mridula Mukherjee, toed the line as directed by the political dispensation (Congress government) of that era.

As such, anti-establishment historians such as the likes of RC Majumdar were cornered and denied the opportunity to chronicle the Indian freedom movement by the Nehru government.

Vikram Sampath speaks about Veer Savarkar

Sampath, who wrote two books on the life of Veer Savarkar, informed Ranveer Allahbadia that his freedom struggle started India’s first organised secret society known as Mitra Mela (later called Abhinav Bharat).

He stated that Savarkar was the frontrunner in the first student-led bonfire against foreign garments at Fergusson College, resulting in his rustication in 1905. He added that the freedom fighter led revolutionaries from London as a law student, and also wrote a book on the First Mutiny of 1857 by reading British documents.

Veer Savarkar was the first to refer to the mutiny as the ‘First War of Indian Independence.’ According to Vikram Sampath, Savarakar’s book became an inspiration for other revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and Ras Behari Bose.

He informed how the freedom fighter spent 12 years in Cellular jail (kaala paani), 2 years in Indian mainland jails and spent 13 years under house arrest in Ratnagiri. He added that Veer Savarkar’s law degree was withheld, and family property was confiscated, rendering the women in his family to a life of begging.

Aghast by the vilification of a man who suffered for a whopping 27 years, Sampath said, “So easily today sitting in air condition rooms people pass judgements that he was a traitor, a stooge – that is grossly unfair.” He also spoke about mercy petitions and how it was a common practice in those times (similar to the bail applications before Indian courts today).

Sampath made special mention of a 1917 petition wherein Veer Savarkar sought the freedom of every other political prisoner in Cellular Jail in exchange of his own continued incarceration. He regretted how the issue of mercy petition is raked up time and again to demonise the freedom fighter.

He added that only hardened criminals and revolutionaries were held at Cellular Jail and that no Congress leader ever faced the hardships of incarceration at that particular jail.

Vikram Sampath gives insight into life at Cellular Jail

The historian gave a sneak peek into the life of political prisoners at the dreaded Cellular Jail in Port Blair. He recounted his visit to the jail for the purpose of research and regretted how the horrific aspect of this Indian freedom movement is rarely talked about.

“You can literally feel the kind of suffering that your ancestors who fought for the freedom of this country faced,” he emphasised. Sampath said that prisoners were denied basic human rights and subjected to unspeakable atrocities.

He pointed out how prisoners were often restricted in standing handcuffs, with legs tied for weeks and months. He added that the prison food was often contaminated, resulting in inmates developing diarrhoea.

He also told Ranveer Allahbadia that there were fixed timings to use the bathrooms, forcing prisoners to defecate in their prison cells and eat and sleep amidst the squalor.

Sampath said that prisoners were subjected to Kolhu ka bail punishment wherein they were replaced with bullocks in the scorching heat of Port Blair and made to extract 30 pounds of oil. Despite falling ill, prisoners were denied medical treatment.

He informed that Veer Savarkar would write poetry in Marathi will nails and charcoal on the wall and prison staff would whitewash the walls to demoralise him. “I was deeply moved. I remember coming back to my hotel and breaking down. The Kalapani should be a place of pilgrimage for all Indian students,” he added.

“The least we can do as a nation is to pay our gratitude to them. We owe our freedom to them,” Vikram Sampath emphasised.

On the true meaning of Hindutva

Sampath also spoke about Hindutva and how it was popularised by Veer Savarkar through his book ‘Essentials of Hindutva’ as a counter to the pan-Islamist movement of Khilafat.

Vikram Sampath pointed out how MK Gandhi had extended his support to the movement and crystallised the seeds of partition in this process. He pointed out how Savarkar felt that Hindus were being misled by Gandhi. 

He emphasised that Hindutva is nothing but Hinduism that resists and that Veer Savarkar described the term as a cultural and essential identity marker. He also informed that the freedom fighter wanted to foster unity amongst Hindus by annihilating caste altogether, and not just untouchability (like MK Gandhi).

Sampath regretted how Hindutva is being misunderstood as ‘Manuvad’ while it essentially means devotion to the land of one’s ancestors.

On Nathuram Godse and Mahatma Gandhi

Sampath also spoke about Nathuram Godse, the assassin of Gandhi. He pointed out that Godse was raised as a girl due to the death of male infants in his family in childhood.

Vikram Sampath said that Godse first met Savarkar in Ratnagiri, and went on to become his secretary and confidant. He added that Nathuram Godse was a member of Hindu Mahasabha, who later became disillusioned with Veer Savarkar for turning into a pacifist around Independence.

Dismayed by the plight of refugees, trains full of corpses, plundered houses, and raped women, Godse intended to avenge the Partition. He was aghast at the decision of MK Gandhi to sit on a fast to force India to provide monetary compensation to Pakistan. And he assassinated Gandhi in revenge.

Sampath said that despite all insinuations, Savarkar was exonerated in the murder case of MK Gandhi.

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