June 18, 2024

Early Life

Swatantryaveer Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was a fearless freedom fighter, social reformer, writer, dramatist, historian, political leader, and philosopher. Those who disagree with Savarkar’s political views begin with the assumption that he was a conservative and reactionary fanatic. Since much of his literature is in Marathi, his ideas and achievements in many fields are primarily unknown outside Maharashtra. Savarkar is widely known as a revolutionary freedom fighter and an exponent of Hindutva. It is not widely known that he was also an outstanding social reformer. His contribution to the field of social reform is relevant even today. Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was born on 28th May 1883 in Bhagur, a village near Nashik. His parents, Damodarpant and Radhabai, belonged to a middle-class family. He joined the village school at the age of six. Vinayak grew up listening to his father recite excerpts from the epic Mahabharata, Ramayana, ballads, and bakeries on Maharana Pratap, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, and the Peshwas. These readings instilled a deep understanding of religiosity and historical consciousness in the impressionable mind of Veer Savarkar. He was an avid reader and read any book or newspaper cover to cover, page to page. Savarkar had a rare talent for poetry, and his poems were published by renowned newspapers when he was barely ten.
From childhood, Vinayak found the caste system that plagued Hindu society reprehensible. In his little way, he broke these barriers. Despite being an upper-caste Brahmin, and a landlord, all his childhood friends were from poor backgrounds and belonged to the supposed lower castes. Parashuram Darji and Rajaram Darji, who belonged to the tailoring community, were among his best friends. Even as a small boy Vinayak was very conscious of the people’s sufferings. He was emotionally stirred by the miseries caused by the famine and the plague. In such an atmosphere, the assassination of two British commissioners by the Chapekar brothers in Poona on 22 June 1897 and the subsequent hanging of Damodarpant Chapekar disturbed the young Savarkar. He vowed before Goddess Durga to complete Shaheed Chapekar’s unfinished mission. He resolved to drive the British from his motherland, making it free and great once again since Savarkar tried hard to spread this mission of his life.
Hindu Mahasabha:
After the formation Hindu Sabha at the Ratnagiri, Savarkar began his crusade regarding social reforms. Savarkar was a rationalist but never forced anyone to accept his viewpoint. He always preferred to lay the facts bare for everyone to discern. At the same time, he openly invited dissenting opinions and was ready to discuss and debate them without any prejudice. He knew that subjects such as shuddhi or untouchability eradication were sensitive for orthodox Hindus. Hence a forcible imposition of these beliefs would lead to social tensions and ferment. Rather a nuanced discussion and change of heart was his approach to solving these centuries-old societal problems. During his time, Hindu society was weakened by seven restrictions, namely, Sparshabandi or untouchability, Shuddhibandi or prohibition of re-conversion, Betibandi or prohibition of intermarriage, Rotibandi or prohibition of interdining, Indusbandi or prohibition of sea voyages; Occupation Bandi or prohibition to follow the profession of other castes and Vedoktabandi or prohibition to perform Vedic rites. Since he was just out of jail and the police were keeping a close watch on his movements and utterances. He met groups of people in private and articulated his ideas on the ‘Seven Shackles of Hindu Society.’ Savarkar made a concerted effort to break these seven shackles through his speeches, writings, and actions. Savarkar embarked on his mission of reuniting and cleansing Hindu society—at least in Ratnagiri.The entire crusade of social reforms that Savarkar undertook while in Ratnagiri rested on four pillars of activity: Persuade the orthodox and skeptics through clear, logical arguments; talk about the high and low castes prevalent even among the so-called untouchables and call for their complete eradication; expose the myth of a homogeneous society among Muslims and Christians by enumerating the untouchability that existed among them too (and hence establishing that conversion was no panacea for untouchability); and finally, lead by example through simple, practical steps that led to social harmony, removal of caste barriers, and unity of Hindu society.
Savarkar as a Social Reformer :
On 17 April 1924, Savarkar strategically chose the Vitthal temple in the village of Parashuram to launch his experiments with social reforms. The temple was significant for multiple reasons. It was considered the most sacred spot for the Chitpawan Brahmins. Savarkar’s first major speech after being released was at such a spiritually and politically prominent place. He chose to speak on ‘Shuddhikaran aani Asprushyoddhar’ (Shuddhi movement and uplift of untouchables). This invited a barrage of criticism from orthodox Hindus, but Savarkar was determined not to let himself be affected by their denunciation. Savarkar’s first obstacle was creating mass awareness. During the Ganeshotsav of 1925, he organized lectures and public discussions and published articles on how untouchability was unjust and harmful to Hindu society. He admitted that while people might be convinced with some of his arguments in principle, implementing them practically was challenging, given the long-term social conditioning one was born with. His colleagues accompanied him grudgingly. After these visits to the localities of untouchables, they often went home and took a purification bath.
The situation was so bad that it was considered that even the shadow of a Mahar was enough to pollute a high-caste Hindu, and the latter often took a bath with his clothes on to purify the garment too. Even uttering the word ‘Mahar’ was considered anathema and caused pollution to one’s caste. In a society ridden with such complex prejudices that had come down through centuries, one can imagine the backlash and difficulties Savarkar might have faced while trying to dislodge this edifice. Upper-caste Hindus threatened him and his colleagues with a social boycott. Yet the members of the Ratnagiri Hindu Sabha remained undeterred. They kept visiting the ghettos of the untouchable communities, cleaned their premises, planted the sacred tulsi or basil plants, sang devotional songs with them, distributed soaps and urged them to bath and remain clean, and even offered to wash their clothes.
Slowly the untouchable community started reposing their faith and gave up their inhibitions. During the Ganeshotsav in Ratnagiri in 1925, a unique idol named the ‘untouchables’ Ganapati’ was set up, and many Brahmins went there to receive their blessings and offer greetings. One Shivu of the Bhangi community undertook the worship of the Ganesh idol. More than 5000 people took part in the festivities. This was indeed a revolutionary act for a community steeped in tradition. In 1925, the Ratnagiri Hindu Sabha undertook the most challenging work of admitting children of untouchables to schools along with other children. This was to strike at the very root of the system by encouraging behavioural changes from childhood. Hence, starting in 1925, Savarkar decided to tackle this problem head-on.
In Dapoli, Khed, Chiplun, Devarukh, Sangameshwar, Kharepatan, and other places, he conducted a series of lectures, public debates, and tours to convince and urge people to let children study together. He ensured that the so-called lower castes, such as Mahars, Chamars, and Bhangis or Valmikis, as they were now compulsorily required to attend school by giving monetary incentives to their parents by distributing chalk and slates. He exposed the schools that continued the caste-based segregation policy but sent false reports to the higher authorities. Savarkar visited many homes during Hindu festivals, such as Dussehra and Makar Sankranti, to ensure that untouchability disappeared from schools and homes to distribute traditional sweets to people of different castes. He believed that social and political reforms were necessary for the progress of the Hindu nation; They were politics the sword and social reform the shield, one ineffective without the other. It must be remembered that Ratnagiri was a bastion of conservatism. As Savarkar himself said, social reforms are not for the faint of heart; One must always be prepared for a tough fight.
He organized mass haldi-kumkum gatherings of Hindu women and ensured that women from untouchable castes applied kumkum to upper-caste women. He gave free passes to his plays to the untouchables so that they could mix freely with people of other castes. Ratnagiri Hindu Sabha workers will take the Mahars on complimentary tours of Ratnagiri town and port. Savarkar provided financial assistance to reform many untouchables and formed a music band of former untouchables. He started hotels open to Hindus of all castes. In protest against social exclusion, they organized mass interracial meals. He supported Dr. Ambedkar in his Mahad and Nashik campaigns against untouchability. Even after his release from Ratnagiri, he continued his fight for social reform. There are references to the abolition of untouchability in his presidential speech at the Hindu Mahasabha. As president of the Hindu Mahasabha, he often visited the homes of former untouchables. The Patitapavan Temple in Ratnagiri is an enduring testimony to his tireless commitment to social reform.

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