Social reforms by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar

Context

136th anniversary of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was celebrated recently on 28 May.

About

V D Savarkar:

  • Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was commonly known as Veer Savarkar. He was a fearless freedom fighter, social reformer, writer, dramatist, poet, historian, political leader and philosopher.
  • He was born in 1883 in Bhagur, a tiny village in district Nasik, Maharashtra.
  • He went through 15 years of torturous imprisonment in Cellular jail of Andaman and Nicobar Islands for organising an armed revolt against the Morley-Minto reforms of 1909. After release from the jail, he focused on social reforms.

Social reforms:

  • According to him, the Hindu society was bound by seven shackles ( bandi ) viz. prohibition of touch (sparshabandi) of certain castes, prohibition of inter-dining (rotibandi) with certain castes, prohibition of inter-caste marriages (betibandi), prohibition of pursuing certain occupations(vyavasayabandi), prohibition of seafaring (sindhubandi), prohibition of rites sanctioned by the Vedas (vedoktabandi), prohibition of reconversion (shuddhibandi) to the Hindu fold. He appealed to society to break these shackles.
  • He was a strong critic of the caste system. He worked to ensure that children of lower castes attend school. He gave monetary incentives to their parents and distributed slate and chalk to children from these castes.
  • He asked the government to abandon the title ‘special schools for low caste children’ as this title creates a feeling of inferiority among children attending the school.
  • He would visit houses on festivals (like Dussehra and Makar Sakranti), accompanied by people from different castes, and distribute traditional sweets. He himself brought up a girl child from a former untouchable community and taught people from untouchable communities to read, write and recite the Gayatri mantra.
  • He started the first pan-Hindu Ganeshotsav in 1930. The festival was marked by “kirtans” by the untouchables. Listeners from the higher castes would garland those who rendered these devotional songs. Public lectures by women and inter-caste dining by women were special features of these festivities.
  • He wrote a song related to the entry of erstwhile untouchables into temples in 1931. It can be translated as “Let me see the idol of God, let me worship God.”
  • He supported many temple movements of Maharashtra, where the untouchables were encouraged to pray, recite Sanskrit hymns and conduct “abhishek” of the Vishnu idol.
  • He started a café in 1933 for Hindus of all castes, including untouchables. He had employed a person from the Mahar caste to serve food there.

Political views on Hindu nationalism:

  • In the brief period he spent at the Ratnagiri jail, Savarkar wrote his ideological treatise – Hindutva: Who is a Hindu?
  • In this work, he promotes a farsighted new vision of Hindu social and political consciousness. He began describing a "Hindu" as a patriotic inhabitant of Bharatavarsha, venturing beyond a religious identity.
  • He defined Hindus as being neither Aryan nor Dravidian but as "People who live as children of a common motherland, adoring a common holyland."
  • He described Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism as one and the same. He outlined his vision of a "Hindu Rashtra" (Hindu Nation) as "Akhand Bharat" (United India), purportedly stretching across the entire Indian subcontinent.
  • He argued that the holiest sites of Islam and Christianity are in the Middle East and not India, hence he stressed social and community unity between Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists, to the exclusion of Muslims and Christians. He saw Muslims and Christians as "misfits" in the Indian civilization who could not truly be a part of the nation.

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