A few days ago, on the occasion of the 111th birth anniversary of Chandra Shekhar Azad, India’s immortal martyr, I wrote here how Savarkar, the icon of Hindutva, had offered Rs. 50,000 to Azad through Yashpal to kill Jinnah and other Muslim leaders.
Azad needed money to fight the case of Bhagat Singh and other revolutionary leaders belonging to Hindustan Socialist Republican Army (HSRA), imprisoned by the British.
An appalled Azad rejected the offer, saying emphatically, that “revolutionaries are not hired killers. Our fight is against the British not Muslims.”
But this was not the only betrayal by Savarkar and his clan.
On 8 October, 1930, Durga Devi, known in popular lore as ‘Durga Bhabhi’, the wife of HSRA leader Bhagwati Charan Vohra, shot at a British police sergeant and his wife in Bombay.
Durga Devi was part of a significant number of women who participated in HSRA and the revolutionary wing of the Indian freedom movement.
These women were not extensions of patriarchal influences in the revolutionary struggle.
As Durga Devi, a mother by then, herself revealed in an interview immediately after Bhagwati Charan Vohra died when a bomb he was testing exploded in hands (28 May 1930): “I fled after that. I sent the boy to someone in Allahabad. There was a warrant against me so I threw myself fully into my work. I was not a born revolutionary, but one who becomes a revolutionary with the maturity of ideas. More and more, an individual thinks, understands, reads and writes, his ideas change, they become stronger, it’s not about being emotional. The first phase is emotional. And I believe that 99 per cent of our comrades were those who had come from an emotional phase, educated themselves, and then became genuine revolutionaries. Of course there are exceptions, such as my husband. Such as Chandra Shekhar Azad. I told Azad that I wanted my full share of revolutionary work.”
Even before breaking stereotypes as a Hindu widow, Durga Devi broke stereotypes of a Hindu married woman.
Without the knowledge of her husband, immediately following Saunders’ assassination, she agreed to accompany Bhagat Singh as the latter’s ‘wife’ during that famous escape trip from Lahore to Calcutta undertaken by revolutionaries in disguise.
This was a time when ‘respectable’ women did not travel with men other than their husbands, fathers or brothers.
Before the trip, again without her husband’s knowledge (Vohra was in Calcutta), Durga Devi gave a substantial sum of money (her revolutionary husband came from a rich family) to Bhagat Singh and other comrades when they came looking for help after killing Saunders in Lahore.
The 8 October 1930 plan was to kill the British Governor of Punjab who was visiting Bombay.
HSRA comrades wanted to avenge Bhagat Singh’s hanging. Unable to break the encirclement, they decided to shoot a British sergeant at Lamington Road in South Bombay. The sergeant’s wife was accompanying him. She too got hit.
Now I shall quote directly from “Revolutionary History of Interwar India: Violence, Image, Voice and Text.”
Written by Kama Maclean, published by Penguin in 2015, the extract reads, “On the day of the Lamington Road attack, she had left Sachi with Babarao Savarkar — the brother of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar — with instructions that if anything untoward happened he should be sent to an HSRA member in Punjab, Dhanvantari. When Savarkar read about the action in the newspapers the following day, he panicked. He sent Sachi to the home of Bapat, the driver in the action, who had already been arrested. The boy was then redirected to Vaishampayan’s residence; he too had been arrested. Durga Devi began to frantically search for her son, and ‘by fate or whatever you want to call it’, she finally found him on the street near Prithvi Singh’s akhara [gymnasium], holding the hand of one of Prithvi Singh’s friends. Durga Devi gratefully swept him up and caught a train.”
Had it not been for her sheer luck, Durga Devi had lost her son forever, and it’s all because of Savarkar.
This incident is also mentioned by Yashpal in Singhvalokan, part 3, pg 41/42.
The writing is on the wall. Meanwhile, Savarkar’s portrait adorns India’s Parliament hall with the present ruling class and its supporters trying to legitimise his cowardice with adjective such as veer (brave).
(Amaresh Misra is an author and views expressed here are his own. Janta Ka Reporter doesn’t necessarily endorse his views)