Vikram Sampath

Indian historian

Vikram Sampath is an Indian historian and author of four books.

Quotes edit

Vikram Sampath - Savarkar, Echoes from a Forgotten Past edit

Vikram Sampath - Savarkar, Echoes from a Forgotten Past, 1883–1924 (2019)
  • I was to slowly discover that Savarkar was a bundle of contradictions and a historian’s enigma. He simultaneously means many things to many people. An alleged atheist and a staunch rationalist who strongly opposed orthodox Hindu beliefs and the caste system and dismissed cow worship as mere superstition, Savarkar was also the most vocal political voice for the Hindu community through the entire course of the Indian freedom struggle.... A feted revolutionary who created an intellectual corpus of literature that inspired the revolutionary movement in India for decades, Savarkar was also a passionate and sensitive poet, a prolific writer and playwright, and a fiery orator. ...The social reformer in him strove to dismantle the scourges of untouchability and caste hierarchies, and advocated a unification of Hindu society.
  • Towards the end of 1926, the first English biography of Savarkar titled The Life of Barrister Savarkar was published in Madras under a curious pen name ‘Chitragupta’. In Hindu mythology, Chitragupta is the accountant of Yama, the God of Death, who keeps a meticulous debit and credit account of every soul’s sins and virtues. There have been various allusions about who the author is—from Congress leader C. Rajagopalachari, the revolutionary V.V.S. Aiyar to Savarkar himself writing under a pseudonym. The identity of the author continues to remain a mystery.
  • Right from his childhood, Vinayak found the caste system that plagued Hindu society reprehensible. In his own little way he broke these barriers. Despite being an upper-caste Brahmin, and a landlord at that, all his childhood friends were from poor backgrounds and belonged to the supposed lower castes.
  • The streak of rationality and questioning tradition too came early to him. Once a multicoloured book on the shelf at home caught his attention and he decided to read it, despite it being in Sanskrit, of which he understood very little. When Damodarpant discovered that his young son was reading the Aranyaka s he was enraged. There was a superstition that reading the Aranyaka s at home forebodes evil for the reader’s worldly life and they needed to be read in seclusion in the woods. This left a lasting question in Vinayak’s mind. How could someone as intelligent as his father believe in such superstitions?, he wondered. Mocking the belief, he continued reading the book without anyone’s knowledge and proved to himself that this was just a fanciful and concocted tale.
  • Vinayak and his friends were absorbing from the Kesari , Pune Vaibhav and other newspapers the stories of these bloody riots and the polarized tinderbox that Maharashtra had become. Each time they heard of the attack on Hindus, they would be enraged and wondered why Hindus could not organize themselves and retaliate instead of suffering repression... Vinayak acknowledges in his memoirs that these experiences taught him how poorly organized and disunited the Hindu community was and how easy it was to subjugate them. 11 The Hindus were perpetually divided among themselves along several fault lines, especially caste, and this made them doubly vulnerable to attacks. They were full of self-doubt and suspicion about the other, and seldom committed to the ‘cause’.
  • In a moment of intense emotion, he rushed to the idol of the Ashtabhuja Bhawani in his home town in Bhagur and poured his heart out to her. He made a fervent vow in front of his family goddess that he was committing himself and his life to free the motherland through armed struggle. He declared in her presence: ‘Shatrus maarta maarta mare to jhunjen! ’ (I will wage war against the enemy and slay them till my last breath).
  • Savarkar is widely reviled in Indian history as an apostle of hate; through a reading of Hindutva I argue that he might better be understood as a spurned lover . . . Hindutva in its time was also a reminder to a Hindu community that even if Gandhi had left the political milieu, there was no need to worry. A political Hindu and a true nationalist was back and ready to lead India, even from behind prison walls. Hindutva was a pugilistic punch thrown against Gandhi in the competitive political ring for national leadership.
  • Despite being born in an orthodox and religious Chitpawan Brahmin community, Vinayak despised the caste system right from childhood. This has been illustrated in the kinships he developed with children from various castes and strata of society, and how he dined at their homes. At a time when most members of his community forbade sea travel for fear of a loss of caste, Vinayak was among the few Brahmins who travelled to London for his education. He had no qualms about going non-vegetarian as well, unlike most Brahmins of the time. As his political thoughts matured during his long years of incarceration, he penned essays on the abhorrent practice of the caste system and untouchability and how these sapped the nation of all vitality. Advocating a strong case for their total, complete and unconditional eradication at a time when these ideas were not yet a part of the political discourse popularized by either Gandhi or Ambedkar, he was the first to envision a casteless India.
  • Back in mainland India, a new movement was brewing. It is important to understand this issue because it sets the context in which Vinayak penned his magnum opus on Hindutva and his belief in the need for Hindu society to organize itself politically. The concept of Hindutva continues to be a contentious one in Indian politics even today..... Meanwhile, it was in the dark confines of Ratnagiri prison that Vinayak began writing his magnum opus on his political philosophy—his conception of what constituted a ‘Hindu nationalist identity’. These were distilled from his experiences in the Andaman and Ratnagiri jails with respect to the conversions, his own attempts at shuddhi and sangathan and the raging debates in the country surrounding the Khilafat agitation. The word that he popularized and which holds immense political currency in contemporary India was ‘Hindutva’ or ‘Hindu-ness’.
  • Right from his early days in the Andamans, Vinayak encouraged people to speak in Hindi....Till then, government records were maintained in Urdu, and even Hindi was written in the Persian script. Vinayak strongly advocated the implementation of the Devanagari script as it was the one in which the oldest language of the subcontinent, Sanskrit, was written. During his interactions with local merchants in his capacity as the foreman of oil collections, Vinayak passed this zeal on to them too. Through his influence, a girls’ school that was started in the Andamans began a compulsory teaching of Hindi in the Devanagari script.

Vikram Sampath - Savarkar, A Contested Legacy, 1924-1966 edit

Vikram Sampath - Savarkar, A Contested Legacy, 1924-1966 (2021)
  • Hence, even more than five decades after his death, Savarkar intrudes contemporary political debates like a few characters of our recent past have. Conferment of the country’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, still becomes the topic of intense contention, necessitating its inclusion even in the election manifestos of political parties. From being called a cowardly stooge who wrote groveling apologies, a casteist and Islamophobic bigot who allegedly pioneered the two-nation theory, a British-collaborator who drew pension from the government to personal slurs of a megalomaniac who penned his own biography in a pseudonym and someone who justified rapes—the basket of toxic allegations is mind bogglingly wide-ranging. The demonization is so absolutist in nature that there hardly seems to be any trace of positive virtue that his opponents can find in him.
  • These two volumes however are in no way an apology for Savarkar. They do not take on themselves the lofty goal of correcting historical wrongs done to a national figure. If these do happen, they would be purely coincidental and not intended to be so. Stripping off any personal biases, the records must be allowed to speak for themselves. This, to me is more a historian’s burden and a duty—to illuminate the extant records and on the basis of that let the discerning reader make up her own mind. While all the above-stated allegations have been dealt with in this two-volume biography, the intent is not for me to become Savarkar’s mouthpiece or his lawyer, as I am sure he deserves better. As a historian committed to my profession of an unending quest for the truth, bringing to light the evidences and documents in a conscientious manner is what I have honestly tried to attempt. The jury is of course out there to decide if I have succeeded in what truly seemed like a herculean task.
  • What is noteworthy is that unlike in the past decades, there is at least space for a debate and discussion around Savarkar to happen in our public realm now. The persona-non-grata that he had become and the heavy price that anyone invoking his name with any modicum of positivity had to bear, are luckily not as pronounced. The idea of these two volumes is not to create an army of Savarkar fans who have an answer to every allegation hurled against him by any loony or vested quarter. I myself disagree vastly with several of his stances and I am deeply critical of his actions at various stages of his life, as seen from the happy comfort of a retrospective review. One may hate or love him as much as one might want. But then to blackout even a discussion and debate around him, based on facts and documents, rather than rhetoric and politics (as has been the case till now) is deeply prejudicial to the tenets of liberalism and democracy, where every opposing view needs to find a platform. In his own life, Savarkar welcomed those who were opposed to his ideas and even kept a record of critical assessments of him by the press or his contemporaries.
  • Down south, communal riots broke out in the Nizam’s domain in the town of Gulbarga in 1924. Nearly fifteen Hindu temples were attacked, idols broken and the famous Sharana Vishweshwara temple plundered and attempted to be set on fire. Police firing resulted in many deaths. On 14 August 1924 more than fifty Hindu temples in and around the town were completely desecrated.

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