Savarkar’s Veerta – a case in point.


Extract: Heroes of Cellular Jail, by S N Aggarwal

In February 1917, in Cellular Jail of Andaman, a prisoner, Baba Bhan Singh was showing his day’s work to the jail officials. He was insulted and abused by the British constable in English. Baba Bhan Singh too, replied in abuses. He was produced before the jail superintendent who without giving him a hearing awarded him fetters and confinement for six months. He was given reduced diet, standing handcuffs and also locked in the cell. Reacting to such an unjust punishment, Bhan Singh stopped standing up for the jailor which was customary and obligatory in the jail for the prisoner as a matter of respect for the jailor. Barrie rebuked Baba Bhan Singh on a couple of occasions under one pretext or the other, but Bhan Singh ignored it. One day in June 1917, Baba Bhan Singh who was locked in his cell was singing with full devotion and loudly. He was also banging his handcuffs. Barrie (the cruel British Jailor) passed by and abused him. Bhan Singh responded with equal fervour. At that time the jail was locked up and all was calm and quiet. The prisoners could listen to this exchange of abuses. When Barrie realised that the loud abuses by Baba Bhan Singh were being heard all over the jail and it would lower his self-esteem, he decided to teach him a lesson. He called the jamadars and asked them to give Baba Bhan Singh such a severe beating so that he would not utter a single word. A number of convict warders entered his cell and thrashed Baba Bhan Singh mercilessly in Barrie’s presence. Baba Bhan Singh cried, on which Baba Wasakha Singh, Kehar Singh Marhana, Udham Singh Kasel, Lal Singh Bhure, Gurmukh Singh Lalton and Parmanand Jhansi ran towards his cell to save him. Barrie escaped. By now Bhan Singh had already been thrashed severely and had virtually become unconscious. It was an outrage! It was a challenge! It was something which the prisoners could not take lying down.

Savarkar writes in his book: “Barrie cast all the blame on Bhan Singh and added that he had bitten him. I said, ‘maybe, it is true, but, then you could punish him in the proper way by proceeding against him. But you have hammered him so much that he has vomitted blood, and this was borne out by all the prisoners here; and it was a fact that he could not deny’. The next day a deputation of political prisoners waited on the superintendent and demanded full investigation and punishment of Barrie. Instead, the superintendent threatened those who rescued Bhan Singh”.

The number of political prisoners was about ninety, out of which half belonged to the Punjab. They decided that the only way open to them was a non-cooperative resistance through strike. And, the bugle was blown. Other political prisoners also joined the strike. Each of the strikers was penalised with bar fetters, and standing handcuffs, and solitary confinement for six months with reduced ration for a week.

Savarkar lent moral support to the strike; he had chalked out its details. He also took upon himself the task of publicising the strike outside the jail to win moral support and raise an agitation that it might come to a successful termination. However, Savarkar and some other political prisoners, who were in the Cellular Jail earlier, did not join the strike.

Savarkar did NOT join a strike of the inmates. He justified the action in his book, “The Story of My Transportation for Life

— Reason 1 for not supporting Hunger Strike of fellow inmates:

//If I were openly to lead yhem, Mr. Barrie and the authorities over him would get the opportunity to take off all the concessions they had given to me and old political prisoners according to jail rules and would put me back in solitary confinement.

— Reason 2:

//Up to that time we seniors had borne the brunt of the struggle which had undermined our health. And now, to be put again in chains and solitary confinement, to go back to bad food and expose ourselves to caning, was to expect too much of us, for it was to risk our very life and that sacrifice on our part was not due to an occasional resistance like strike. To risk one’s life for such a petty object was to kill the national movement itself, and if I was to plunge in the strike I must not withdraw from it, whatever the cost of such a strike. Hence, it was for the young and the energetic among us to shoulder the burden, and these hundred and odd persons must by turns keep up the agitation and all the activities connected with it. //

— Reason 3:

//The last and the most important reason for my abstaining from it was that I would have forfeited thereby my right of sending a letter to India. It was a rule that a letter was allowed to be sent annually by one whose record during the year was clear of any punishment. If I were punished or went on strike, my right would go along with it and to be deprived of my right was not only to harm the strike, but, more important than that, to lose the chance of working for the freedom of the political prisoners themselves”.//

Baba Bhan Singh, who in the meanwhile had been admitted to hospital, did not recover and expired within a month. He joined the ranks of those martyrs who had sacrificed their lives in the Cellular Jail for the cause of their motherland. He attained martyrdom in the jail within a year and a half of his imprisonment.

Source: – “Heroes of Cellular Jail” by S.N.Agarwal


When Bhagat Singh was on the death roll, sentenced by the British Tribunal to hang by the neck, his father, Kishan Singh, who was a Gandhian, wrote a mercy petition to the British seeking clemency for his son. Gandhiji too wrote a letter to the Viceroy seeking mercy for Bhagat Singh.

Bhagat Singh came to know of it in jail. He wrote a letter to his father, which can be checked online at , in which he wrote as under

//”Inspite of all the sentiments and feelings of a father, I don’t think you were at all entitled to make such a move on my behalf without even consulting me…..….. Father, I am quite perplexed. I FEAR I MIGHT OVERLOOK THE ORDINARY PRINCIPLE OF ETIQUETTE AND MY LANGUAGE MAY BECOME A LITTLE HARSH while criticizing or rather censoring this move on your part. Let me be candid. I FEEL AS THOUGH I HAVE BEEN STABBED IN TEH BACK. Had any other person done it, I would have considered it to be NOTHING SHORT OF TREACHERY. But in your case, let me say that it has been a weakness – a weakness of the worst type.//

People, who really want to analyse the recent brouhaha over Savarkar, need to contrast the above response of Bhagat Singh with the FIVE letters of mercy written by Savarkar, begging Britishers for mercy. They are available all across the net, one doesn’t need to be a scholar to access them.

If one reads Savarkar’s mercy letters, one should compare them with Bhagat Singh’s response to his father and comparing his father’s mercy petition as “nothing short of treachery”.

QUESTION: What is the difference between Pygmies and Giants?

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