Q & A

Questions and Answers

This section deals with various aspects of Savarkar’s life, thought, actions and relevance in a question and answer format. Questions are raised regarding Savarkar and his place in Indian history. Some of these questions stem from genuine curiosity and willingness to understand. Some questions take the form of accusations born out of outright ignorance or sheer malice. This section aims to address some of these questions.

What is the significance of Savarkar’s contribution to the social reform movement?

What were Savarkar’s views on the caste system?

According to Savarkar, the Hindu society was bound by seven shackles ( bandi ). What were they?

Did Savarkar advocate  separate  schools  and  temples for ‘ untouchables’ ?

What were the unique features of the Patitpavan temple which came into being in Ratnagiri  under Savarkar’s leadership ?

‘Patitpavan’ means ‘one who raises the degraded’.  Did Savarkar imply that  the untouchables’ were degraded ?

"Savarkar carried out social reform only because his political activities were forbiddenby the British.   After his unconditional release, he forgot social reform and only did Hindu consolidation".  Comment.

"Savarkar carried out social reform not because he had any sympathy for the lower castes but because was politically motivated with a selfish view of winning their support to consolidate Hindus."   Comment.

Was it the Congress, which repealed the restrictions on Savarkar in 1937?

What were the interactions between Savarkar and Dr. Ambedkar? 

 

 

What is the significance of Savarkar’s contribution to the social reform movement?

  During early years of British regime, there used to be two schools of thought, in Maharashtra. One school, led by Tilak believed that the political reforms should precede social reforms. The other school led by Agarkar held just the opposite view. Savarkar reconciled both viewpoints. Although in politics, as he himself once remarked, he belonged to the ‘sappers and miners’ of Tilak, in social problems he concurred with Agarkar. There have been many distinguished social reformers in modern India. Most of them were however aloof from the freedom struggle. Savarkar was a rare exception. As a rule, contemporary society used to be hostile to social reformers but the British Government was not against them. On the other hand, Savarkar had to face hostility of the society as well as the Government. In Ratnagiri, his house was searched by the police several times and his books were banned. People were scared to associate with him. Unlike many ‘reformers’ he practiced what he preached. He was a general as well as a soldier. He had to work with very meagre financial resources.  The year ending balance of 1929 of the Ratnagiri Hindu Sabha, under whose auspices Savarkar worked, was a princely sum of a rupee and a quarter!
    “Forget if you may, my jump into the sea, but do not forget my views on social problems”, spake Savarkar.

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What were Savarkar’s views on the caste system?

Savarkar’s views on the caste system were as follows:

  1. The original system of the four varnas was based on the qualities (guna ) and actions (karma) of individuals. The categories were not supposed to be hereditary.
  2. The caste system based on birth was an experiment of the science of heredity. There are many factors, besides genetic, which determine qualities of an individual. Intermixing has occurred in all castes.
  3. The caste system must have contributed to the stability of Hindu society, in some situations and in some period. While evaluating the caste system, it is unjust to bring out only its harmful effects, which arose in the later period.
  4. Castes should not be linked with special privileges and rights.
  5. It is wrong to assume that an entire caste is either evil or innocent. To do so would amount to accepting the principle of heredity.  The term ‘non-Brahmins’ is wrong, for it includes even the English and Americans.
  6. The current caste system was not a conspiracy of the either the Brahmins or of
  7. Brahmins and Kshatriyas.  It persisted because it enabled every one to dominate someone else. It is impossible for a sociologist to fathom the lowest caste because every caste considers some other caste to be below it in hierarchy. All castes are guilty of caste arrogance.
  8. The current caste system is a mockery of the original system of four varnas (chaturvarnya) and should be abolished.
  9. All Hindus preserved caste distinctions. Hence all Hindus should take the responsibility of abolishing them.

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According to Savarkar, the Hindu society was bound by seven shackles ( bandi ). What were they?

  1. Restrictions on touch (sparshabandi) of certain castes.
  2. Restrictions on inter-dining. (rotibandi)
  3. Restrictions on inter-marriages (betibandi)
  4. Restrictions on pursuing certain occupations (vyavasayabandi)
  5. Restrictions on crossing the sea (sindhubandi)
  6. Restrictions on rites sanctioned by the Vedas (vedoktabandi)
  7. Restrictions on re-conversion (shuddhibandi)

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Did Savarkar advocate  separate  schools  and  temples for ‘ untouchables’ ?

No. Savarkar emphasized on several occasions that there should not be separate schools or temples for the ex-untouchables. Savarkar and his associates used to visit schools to ensure that ex- untouchable pupils were not discriminated against.  He strove for entry of all Hindus in temples.

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What were the unique features of the Patitpavan temple which came into being in Ratnagiri  under Savarkar’s leadership ?

  1. The trustees of the temple were to be drawn from all four varnas as well as from the ex- untouchables.
  2. Any Hindu conversant with conduction of the worship could be the temple priest.
  3. Any Hindu, irrespective of his or her caste could offer worship.

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‘Patitpavan’ means ‘one who raises the degraded’.  Did Savarkar imply that  the untouchables’ were degraded ?

No. In his articles, speeches and poems, Savarkar had declared that all Hindus were patit (degraded) because of British rule. According to him, Patitpavan is one who liberates these Hindus.  The Gita conceives of God as a liberator –He forgives our sins and gives us salvation. Hence the name ‘Patitpavan’.

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"Savarkar carried out social reform only because his political activities were forbiddenby the British.   After his unconditional release, he forgot social reform and only did Hindu consolidation".  Comment.
 

In a letter written in 1920 from the Andamans, Savarkar wrote, "Just as I feel that I should rebel against foreign rule over Hindusthan, I feel I should rebel against caste discrimination and untouchability."   This letter was written before he had made up his mind to consolidate the Hindus.  Savarkar continued his campaign for social reform after his unconditional release in 1937.   His tours as president of the Hindu Mahasabha were never complete without a visit to the homes of the ex-untouchables.  He used to deliver lectures in the Ganesh festivities only on condition that these lectures would be open to ex-untouchables.   In 1947, he said, "Time and again, I feel that if my health recuperates and I gain enough strength to enter public life, I must devote at least one-two years towards the work of eradicating untouchability and scripture-based caste discrimination and launch a nation-wide campaign against this pernicious practice.   This is the extent to which I feel this work is important not just from the point of view of Hindu consolidation but also of human consolidation as well" (Savarkar, Balarao; Akhand Hindusthan Ladha Parva; Veer Savarkar Prakashan; Mumbai; 1976, p 369). 

To Savarkar, social and political reforms were equally important. They are two wheels of carriage. One cannot progress without the other.  But, unless we have political power we do not have the means to make social changes. Therefore political activities took precedence.

We must also consider the situation in the country. In May 1937 when Savarkar was released unconditionally, the Congress Party had been existence for more than 50 years. It was in power in seven major provinces. But Gandhi’s policy of constant capitulation to Muslim aggression was leading to a disaster and Savarkar firmly stood against that capitulation. He had to start from scratch on the political front. In the Central Legislative Assembly, Bhai Paramanand had raised the question of Hindu women being kidnapped in NW Frontier Province. Some Congress member laughed and said, “Oh, it is just a matter of boys chasing girls.” Dr Khan, a friend of Nehru commented, “Those kidnapped Hindu women should be given away and Government should not take Police action.” Once again Congressmen in the Assembly laughed. Savarkar called them eunuchs.  That was the level to which Hindus in Congress Party had stooped. Only Savarkar condemned them openly. He had a formidable task in front of him indeed. He had to give precedence to political struggle over social reforms.

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"Savarkar carried out social reform not because he had any sympathy for the lower castes but because was politically motivated with a selfish view of winning their support to consolidate Hindus."   Comment.
 
In a letter written in 1920 from the Andamans, Savarkar wrote, "Just as I feel that I should rebel against foreign rule over Hindusthan, I feel I should rebel against caste discrimination and untouchability."   This letter was written before he had made up his mind to consolidate the Hindus.  The following unambiguous statements of Savarkar made in 1927 ( Samagra Savarkar Vangmaya, vol. 3, p 483) debunk the notion that Savarkar had a narrow political reason for doing social reform.  He says, "Untouchability should go mainly because unnecessarily considering our seven crore (seventy million) co-religionists "untouchables" and worse than animals is not only an insult to the human race but also a great insult to our soul.   Eradication of untouchability is in the interests of our Hindu society and hence also it must go, but even if Hindu society were to be partially gain from that custom, we would have opposed it with the same vehemence….From the point of view of justice, dharma and humanism, it (fight against untouchability) is a duty…In the present circumstances, what will our gain in fighting it is a secondary question.   This question of gain is an aapaddharma (duty to be done in certain exceptional circumstances) and eradication of untouchability is the foremost and absolute dharma.

NS Bapat, one of Savarkar's associates was an eyewitness when Savarkar composed his poem "Malaa devaache darshan gheu dyaa, dole bharun devas malaa paahu dya " ("Let me have a glimpse of god, let me see god to my heart's content") in 1931.  He writes that Savarkar must have shed at least a handful of tears when he composed this poem (Smritipushpay, author and publisher Bapat, NS, 1979, p 63).  It is worth mentioning that the same Savarkar had remained unmoved when he heard the judge sentencing him to two Transportations for Life!  

In 1924, Savarkar said, "I am confident that I shall live to see the eradication of untouchability.  It is my fervent desire that after I die, my dead body should be lifted by Dhends, Doms (ex-untouchable castes) along with Brahmins and Banias and they should all cremate my body.   Only then will my soul rest in peace" (Savarkar, Balarao; Hindu Samaj Sanrakshak Savarkar (Ratnagiri Parva), Veer Savarkar Prakashan; Mumbai; 1972, p.67).  Savarkar's words and actions confirm, if confirmation is needed, that Savarkar's commitment to social reform stemmed from his humanism and not from any ulterior motive.

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Was it the Congress, which repealed the restrictions on Savarkar in 1937?
No. Savarkar was sentenced in 1911 to Transportaton for Life twice and confiscation of property.  He was released from the Yerawada Jail, Pune in 1924, on the following conditions:

  1. He should live within the Ratnagiri District and
  2. He should not participate in political activities.

The restrictions initially stipulated for five years were extended from time to time to 13 years.

In 1937, the Congress won the elections to the Bombay Legislative Assembly but declined to form a government. In order to resolve this constitutional deadlock, Sir George Lloyd, the then Governor, invited Sir Dhanjishah Cooper, to form the ministry. Barrister Jamnadas Mehta, of Lokashahi Swarajya Paksha, a Tilakite Party, too had been elected as member of the Bombay legislative Assembly. He agreed to join the Cooper Ministry, provided all restrictions on Savarkar were revoked. The Governor accepted this proposal and hence Savarkar was freed from all restrictions in May 1937. The Congress had nothing to do with the ultimate release of Savarkar in 1937. If the Congress Party had agreed to form a government in the first place, one wonders if they had removed restrictions on Savarkar.

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What were the interactions between Savarkar and Dr. Ambedkar?
 

  • In pursuance of the resolution of the Mahad municipality, which in 1924 had declared to have its water tank open to the Depressed Classes, Ambedkar decided to lead a satyagraha with his followers to take water from the tank and establish the rights of the ex-untouchables.  The one leader who fearlessly and whole-heartedly supported Ambedkar's struggle was Savarkar.   Savarkar said that untouchability must be condemned and abolished not only as the need of the hour but also as the command of the true religion; not only as a matter of policy or as an act of expediency but also as a matter of justice; not only as a matter of obligation but also as a service to humanity.   Savarkar said that the notion of purifying oneself with animal urine was more ridiculous and despicable than the notion of defilement at the human touch.   Savarkar, therefore upheld the satyagraha of the ex-Untouchables at Mahad and declared that the pious and bounden duty of the Hindu world at large was to restore full human rights to their co-religionists (Keer, Dhananjay; Dr. Ambedkar: Life and Mission; Popular Prakashan, Mumbai, 1954, p.75)
  • In the month of September 1929, Ambedkar went to Ratnagiri in connection with a murder trial at the Sessions Court.   Savarkar who was in internment in Ratnagiri, seized this opportunity and extended to Ambedkar an invitation signed by hundreds of citizens to address a meeting at the Vithoba temple, a very important centre where battles for social reforms had been fought and won by Savarkarites.   The reactionaries ran for an injunction.  The question became the talk of the town.  Just then, Ambedkar received a wire from Bombay demanding his presence, and Ratnagiri lost an opportunity of vitriolic and valuable speeches on one platform by India's two great revolutionaries (Keer, ibid, p. 128).
  • On 13 October 1935, at a depressed Classes Conference in Yeola (near Nashik), Ambedkar exhorted the Depressed Classes to sever their connections with Hinduism and seek solace and self-respect in another religion, but warned them to be very careful in choosing the new faith and to see that equality of treatment, status and opportunities were guaranteed to them unreservedly.   It was at this Conference that Ambedkar thundered, "I solemnly assure you that I will not die a Hindu."  Savarkar who was interned in Ratnagiri warned the Depressed Classes against changing their religion.   Savarkar observed that there was no possibility of their receiving treatment of equality under Christianity or Islam in India.  He pointed to the prevailing riots between touchable Christians and untouchable Christians in Travancore.   Turning to the rationalistic side of the problem, Savarkar said in a bold and fervent appeal, "Truly speaking, any ism in the sense of religion contains something which is not amenable to reason and which is based on belief.   Those who hold that the existing religious opinions are not amenable to reason or logic should not hug irrational prejudices to their bosoms.  Ambedkar, therefore should embrace a religion which is based on principles that are not averse to logic and reason."  Savarkar, then fervently appealed to Ambedkar to wait for some time more; for according to Savarkar, untouchability was on its wane.   Savarkar also warned that they (Depressed Classes) would add to their sorrows and disabilities, for all of them would not renounce the Hindu faith and those who do so would not get riches, position or posts simply for the asking.   What the Moghul emperors could not do for the converts, others would not even dream of achieving.  What they should do, Savarkar concluded, was to fight out valiantly for equality by the side of the progressive Hindus and rise in the scale of life ( Keer, ibid, 243, 244, 247).
  • Ambedkar's thesis Annihilation of Caste was originally prepared in 1936.  Almost all leaders of thought and action replied to Ambedkar in their own way.  A reply also came from Savarkar who held much the same views in respect of the annihilation of caste.   But he objected to Ambedkar's remark that the Hindu's life had been a life of continuous defeat and pointed to some of the glorious chapters in history (Keer, ibid, p 273).
  • When World War II broke out in 1939, different Indian leaders viewed the global war differently.   Gandhi broke down before the British Viceroy at the very thought of destruction of the British House of Parliament and the Westminster Abbey.  He claimed that the Congress was an all-representative body.  On 14 September 1939, Congress leaders declared that a free democratic India would gladly associate herself with the free nations for mutual defence and asked the British Government to declare their war aims in regard to democracy and imperialism, and particularly to India.   A few days later, a joint statement was issued by seven leaders Savarkar, NC Kelkar, Jamnadas Mehta, Ambedkar, Sir Chimanlal Setalvad, Sir Cowasji Jehangir and Sir VN Chandavarkar declaring that Gandhi's claim that the Congress was an all-representative body, was a fascist one and would prove a death-blow to Indian democracy (Keer, ibid, pp 313-314).
  • During the first quarter of 1941, Ambedkar was busy with the problem of recruitment of the Untouchables, especially the Mahars who are famous for their fighting qualities.   Ambedkar saw the Governor of Bombay and voiced his grievances against the militarization policy of the Government which excluded the Mahars on the basis of a senseless distinction between martial and non-martial classes.   Thereupon, the Government decided to raise a Mahar battalion and Ambedkar issued an appeal to the Mahars to seize the opportunity both for their sake and for the sake of their country.   Savarkar, who wished the Hindus to be reborn into a martial race, expressed the hope that under the able guidance of Ambedkar, the Mahar brethren would be re-animated with the military qualities and their military uplift would contribute to the consolidation of the Hindus (Keer, ibid, p 325).
  • The fiftieth birthday of Ambedkar fell on 14 April 1942.  The main function in the series of the Golden Jubilee Celebrations was held at Chowpatty, Bombay on 19 April.  Glorious tributes were paid to Ambedkar on his golden jubilee.   The most important tribute full of appreciation and estimation came from Savarkar.  Offering his hearty felicitations to Ambedkar on his Golden Jubilee, Savarkar observed, "I heartily join you all in offering my felicitations to Dr. BR Ambedkar on the occasion of his Golden Jubilee.   His personality, erudition and capacity to lead and organize would have by themselves marked him out as an outstanding asset to our nation. But in addition to that, the inestimable services he has rendered to our motherland in trying to stamp out untouchability and the results he has achieved in instilling a manly spirit of self-confidence in millions of the depressed classes constitute an abiding patriotic as well as humanitarian achievement.   The very fact of the birth of such a towering personality among the so-called untouchable castes could not but liberate their souls from self-depression and animate them to challenge the super-arrogative claims of the so-called touchables.   My own persistent efforts for the last thirty years or so on my own lines to uproot untouchability and the response I had been receiving throughout India on the part of the Hindus of all castes, touchables and untouchables, convince me that untouchability, at any rate in the public sphere and the civic life of our nation, is bound to be swept away within a couple of decades whether it is found amongst the untouchables, castes themselves in relation to each other and this uprooting of untouchability is bound to contribute inevitably to the solidarity and strength of the Pan-Hindu cause even if some may not be aiming at this ultimate effect.   That is why I appreciate the Herculean efforts of Dr. Ambedkar to raise the depressed classes to the level of full citizenship and am confident that even his occasional anti-Hindu utterances and attitude cannot but lead ultimately to the strengthening of the Hindu Sanghatan movement.   With great admiration for the man and his work I wish Dr. Ambedkar a long, healthy and eventful life.   VD Savarkar, 15 April 1942" (quoted partially in Keer, ibid, p 333, quoted in full by Bhide Guruji in Free Hindustan dated 14 April 1946).
  • On 02 June 1942, the Viceroy appointed Ambedkar as a Member of his Executive Council.   Almost never before in the history of India, a member of the Depressed Classes held such a high office in the governance of the country.  Ambedkar received hundreds of congratulatory letters and wires.   Among those who congratulated Ambedkar was Savarkar (Keer, ibid, p 335).
  • In 1948, Savarkar was arrested and charged with conspiracy to murder Gandhi.   The Nehru government was hell-bent on implicating Savarkar.  Ambedkar was then Law Minister in the Nehru government.  He secretly met Savarkar's counsel LB Bhopatkar and expressed his sympathies and anxiety for Savarkar's well being.   Ambedkar opined that there was not an iota of evidence against Savarkar.  The whole cabinet had to bow down to the whims of one man (meaning Nehru) in implicating Savarkar, said Ambedkar.  He warned Bhopatkar that Nehru was prepared to go to any lengths to implicate Savarkar.   
  • In 1952, Ambedkar declared that as there was no untouchability in Buddhism he would convert to that religion.   Savarkar replied to Ambedkar's statement in his "Six Glorious Epochs in Indian History". Quoting descriptions of contemporary Chinese travelers, Savarkar said that those castes (like Chandals) that did not stop killing animals, no matter what punishments were meted to them by Buddhist rulers, fled their villages and had to announce their arrival with bells or drums.   On 01 August 1956, Savarkar wrote an article, "You will be worse off by embracing Buddhism."  He questioned whether the Mahars (the caste to which Ambedkar belonged) could honestly say that when they became Buddhists, their feelings towards Chamars, Maangs and Dhors whom they regarded as untouchables would change overnight?   He also questioned why Ambedkar who was showering abuses on Hindu Dharma and accusing it of superstition kept mum on the numerous superstitions in Islam and Christianity.   Savarkar had made a deep study of Buddhism.  He debunked Ambedkar's contention that Buddhism was free of superstition.  "You make fun of tree-worship by Hindus, then how come you worship the Bodhi tree"; you criticize the offerings made to Brahmins; but the burden imposed society by lakhs of alms-seeking Buddhist monks was at least a hundred times more; you say that Buddhism does not believe in God, deities, soul and re-incarnation but from Manchuria to Indo-China millions of Buddhists have raised the Buddha to the status of God and they believe in Indra, Varun, Laksmi, Saraswati, Yakshas and Kinnars and narrate stories of the Buddha's numerous past lives" was his pointed counter to Ambedkar and his followers.   When Ambedkar finally embraced Buddhism, Savarkar termed it as a change of sect rather than a change of religion.   He said that so long as Ambedkar remained an Indian Buddhist, he continued to remain in the ambit of Hindutva as his fatherland and holy land continued to be Bharat.

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