Vinayak Damodar Savarkar: An Icon of the Indian Right
May 15, 2019
Written by veteran journalist and author Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, The RSS: Icons of the Indian Right, lays bare the fascinating, unique and perhaps startling world of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh—or RSS—the largest cadre-based organisation in the world. Through individual stories of the organisation’s tallest leaders, Mukhopadhyay chronicles the personal and political journeys of the most important men (and a woman) of the Hindu Right-wing, digging up little-known but revealing facts about them.
The following is an excerpt from the chapter "Vinayak Damodar Savarkar" of the book.
Over the years, Savarkar’s hostility towards Muslims was amplified while he was in Cellular Jail, but it started to be overtly visible and acquired a virulent dimension after he shifted to Ratnagiri, and Yerawada jail. (The Moplah uprising of 1921 was one of main reasons for his antagonism.) His antipathy towards Muslims was at par with his loathing for the weak Hindu prototype. Once out of jail, and at home in Ratnagiri, Savarkar wrote his next book in 1925 titled, Hindu Pad-Padashahi, in which he presented the Maratha empire as the eventual avenger of Hindu honour. He wrote that the ‘successful struggle of a military race against the powerful Moghul Empire’ was ‘a noble and inspiring ideal… (for) the establishment of an independent Hindu Empire.’ In the Foreword of the book, Savarkar warned the Hindus as follows:
Before you make out a case for unity (between Hindus and Muslims), you must make out a case for survival as a national or a social human unit. It was this fierce test that the Hindus were called upon to pass in their deadly struggle with the Muhammadan power. There could not be an honourable unity between a slave and his master.
He was often subsumed by the thought of Indians’ proclivity to be dominated by foreigners, and by the time he was released from jail, he concluded that the primary reason for Hindus’ repeated subjugation was a deep-seated psychological shortcoming. He believed that this anomaly could only be rectified by unifying Hindus under the aegis of a sangathan or organisation. Over time, this opinion reflected in his writings and played a decisive role in K.B. Hedgewar’s eventual decision to establish the RSS.
At the core of Savarkar’s argument was the postulation that Aryan settlers chose India and organically adapted to the superior Hindu religion, while the other communities who retained their original religion, or agreed to be converted to Islam or Christianity, remained foreigners.31 Even while campaigning amongst Sikhs in the Cellular Jail to enlist as Hindus, he had submitted that Hindutva was not identical to Hinduism and that followers of other faiths could also be termed as Hindus (later named as Indian Religionists or IRs). He further convinced his fellow-inmates that Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism could be treated as IRs because their sacred places (punyabhoomi) lay within the geographical boundaries of India.
Interestingly, as Savarkar was debarred from participating in any kind of political activity during his stay in Ratnagiri, he opted to write fiction—a kind of veneer to conceal its political content from law enforcers. His readers lost no time in inferring the real intent of their favourite author, but the British authorities took the book at its face value and did little else. In January 1927, he also launched a weekly called Shraddhanand and began writing about socio-political issues. The following extract from an article that he wrote on 27 January 1927 was cited in the judgement in the case filed in Bombay High Court by Gopal Godse, the brother of Gandhi’s assassin, Nathuram Godse, against an order of forfeiture of his book titled Gandhi Hatya Ani Mee (Gandhi’s Assassination And I):
The truth is that the majority of Muslims do not consider India as their own country and the existence of Hindus therein pricks them like a thorn. This feeling is at the root of the conflict. Except for some sensible Muslims, the others appear to be anxious that like Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan, Hindustan should also become an Islam nation and if that happens, they would love the country as their own.
The British did not act despite the obvious incendiary content of the piece. His 1926 novel titled, What Do I Care, or The Revolt of the Moplahs gave graphic details of Muslims attacking Hindus, including the ‘defilement of Hindu women.’33 Savarkar also took a shot at writing plays—for instance, Sangeet Unshraap (1927) which was a sharp critical social commentary around the issues of untouchability, conversion, and sexual violence against Hindu women. In one particular scene, a character called Bangash Khan delivers a monologue as follows:
The more I abduct Hindu girls and include them in my zenana, the more my respect among Muslims enhances…enjoyment of temporal pleasures clears the way to other worldly benefits. I have corrupted so many Hindu girls and made them my mistresses that hundreds of Muslims consider me a true missionary and preacher of Islam; this is because I have produced progeny through these women who are Muslims….
On closer inspection, it becomes evident that most of Savarkar’s fictional work was focussed on examining three kinds of relationships: between Hindu men and Muslim men; Hindu women and Muslim men; and finally, between Muslim men and Muslim women. He also alluded to the relationship between Hindu men and Hindu women, presented as equal, but with women being progenitors and carers of men. In Savarkar’s representation, the relationship between Muslim men and Hindu women was based on sexual violence against the latter, represented as ‘fields’ to wage a demographic battle. Finally, the relationship between Muslim men and Muslim women was seen as one where men were polygamous and exerted unquestionable authority over their women.
Savarkar’s use of sexual violence in his fictional works displayed a deep-seated misogyny coupled with communal hatred. It may be recalled that projecting Muslim men as sexual marauders with the objective of siring Muslim children from Hindu wombs and reverse the population ratio, was the motivating spirit behind sangh parivar’s ‘love jihad’ campaign in 2013–2014. The theory that Muslim men are polygamous and treat women unfairly is also the basis of the campaign against triple talaaq and nikah halala.
This is an excerpt from The RSS: Icons of the Indian Right, written by Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay and published by Tranquebar, a literary imprint of Westland Books. Republished here with permission from the publisher.
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