Musings on the Life & Times of Chinnaswamy Subramania Bharathi Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan 21

Musings on the Life & Times of Chinnaswamy Subramania Bharathi
Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan

(Adhishree Manokaran is truly excelling herself, as a respondent said. This original portrayal of V O Chidamabaranar is stunningly beautiful.I am being challenged to match her skills)

Bharathi back from Surat Congress Session in 1906 was a transformed man. His writings in ‘India’ were fiery. He did not just sit back writing. He became a man of action. He organised meeting after meeting on the sands of famous Marina Beach in Triplicane,then Madras. And Bharathi found the meetings well attended and audience was quite responsive. Chellamma proudly yet fearfully explained one particular meeting called for by Bharathi.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak demanded swaraj as his “birthright,” and his newspaper encouraged the young militants, whose introduction of the cult of the bomb and the gun in Maharashtra and Bengal led to Tilak’s deportation for “sedition” to prison in Mandalay (Burma) from 1908 to 1914. Political violence in Bengal was unleashed to achieve the national goal of Swaraj.

Just to lay out the contours of the Swaraj movement and Swaraj Day celebrated under the leadership of Bharathi in 1907/1908, it may be apt to allude to a paper put together by Dr.V.VENKATRAMAN, Ph.D. Principal and Head Research Centre in History Rajapalayam Rajus’ College Rajapalayam.

Lord Curzon, the then Viceroy of India partitioned Bengal on 16th October 1905 and this move created a strom of protest all over India. The people were aroused by the spirit of nationalism and were determined to fight the British to the end.The nationalists launched the Swadeshi Movement in 1906 and the Indian National Congress declared that year as the “Swadeshi Year”. ‘Swadeshi’, ‘Boycott’. ‘Swaraj’ and ‘National Education’ were the main objects of the Congress. The Swadeshi Movement which originated in Bengal gradually spread to other parts of the nation.

In the Madras Presidency, the Swadeshi nationalists like V.O.Chidambaram Pillai, C.Subramania Bharathi, Dr.Nanjunda Rao, K.Venkatramana Iyengar, Surendranath Arya, Subramania Siva, Neelakanda Bramahchari and others organized meetings to protest against the partition of the Bengal. Finding the Swadeshi Movement gaining momentum, the Government of Madras issued several circulars and ordinances to abrogate the freedom of expression and free criticism. To begin with, the Swadeshi leaders of Madras Presidency under the aegis of Mahajana Sabha were mild in their approach which prompted the British to regard South India as the “benighted Presidency or a slept hollow”.

This trend however changed when Bipin Chandra Pal visited Madras on 1st May 1907. He delivered a series of lectures from 2nd May 1907 at the Marina Beech, Madras. He spoke on concepts like ‘Swaraj’, ‘Swadeshi’ and ‘Boycott’. He made an indelible impression on his listeners. In addition to public meetings B.C.Pal, held private get-togethers wherein only a few trustworthy persons were invited. On receipt of the information regarding the deportation of Lala Lajipat Rai, B.C.Pal cancelled his other engagements in Madras and returned to Calcutta. Thus his lecture tour came to an end abruptly. However, the visit of B.C.Pal infused new vigour into the activities of the nationalists of Madras and whipped up the Swadeshi Movement.

The Swadeshi nationalists inspired by the speeches of B.C.Pal, undertook extensive tours of the districts of Madras Presidency and explained to the public the efficacy of the Swadeshi Movement, such sustained propaganda work, the message of Swadeshi began to reach the grass-roots. And Bharathi came up with his Madras Jan Sangh for the ‘extremists’. The nationalist press of the period responded enthusiastically to the call given by the Swadeshi leaders and published articles infavour of the movement. The impact of the movement was such that the student community of the Madras Presidency involved themselves actively in the programmes launched by the Swadeshi leaders.

The impact of the Surat split of 1907 was felt in the Madras Presidency. The split gave fillip to the extremist movement. During this period, G.Harshavartom Rao and V.O.Chidambaram Pillai spearheaded the ‘extremist thinking’ respectively in Telugu and Tamil speaking areas of this Presidency. The spirit of nationalism was very vigorous in places like Rajamundry, Masulipatnam and Coconada in Andhra region; and Tinnavelly and Tuticorin in Tamil country.Swadeshi meetings were organized in different parts of Southern districts of the Madras Presidency addressed by leaders like V.O.Chidambaram Pillai, Subramania Siva, Ethiraj Surendranath Arya, Padmanabha Iyyengar etc.

During this period, the vernacular press played a consistent role in supporting the cause of the nationalists. It wrote editorials in support of the nationalists. Tamil papers like the Swadesamitran and the ‘India’ carried articles which referred to the inhuman activities of the British against the Indians. S.Srinivasa Iyengar, editor of the ‘India’ was convicted for publishing certain articles in the issues of the January and June 1908 which were regarded as seditious by the government. To escape official harassment, the ‘India’ paper office shifted its abode to Pondicherry from where it resumed its publications more vigorously with C.Subramania Bharathi and S.Srinivasachari.

G.Subramania Iyer, the editor of the Swedesamitran was arrested on 21st August 1908, for publishing certain articles which were regarded as objectionable by the government. Taking into consideration his health condition, the government released G.Subramania Iyer on getting a bond for good behaviour for a period of one year under section 108 of Cr.P.C. for a sum of Rs.5,000/- with two sureties of Rs.2,000/- each.

The government which entertained the firm view that newspaper and other literature created conditions conducive to revolution in India, Lord Minto II, the then Viceroy passed the Press Act of 1910 on 8th March, 1910 to curb seditious writings. Thus the year 1910 witnessed the enactment of the most vigorous and repressive legislation hitherto unknown to the Indian press. This Act authorised all local governments to declare forfeiture of any printed material which contained anti-Government matter.As a result, the provisions of the Press Act 1910 were invoked against many papers which were critical of the British Government. However, this repressive press measure did not hamper the spirit of the Indian nationalist press in anyway.

And Bharathiyar came into his own self, in defiance, said Chellamma. With the spread of Swaraj movement and spirit Pan India, after the Surat Congress session in 1906-1907, Madras was not immune, as it were. Bharathi’s spirited writings and speeches spread like wildfire, when the ‘Swaraj Day grand celebratory meeting on the Triplicane beach’ was announced with much fanfare and it was meant to be a huge event in the freedom calendar of the nation in chains.

And Chellamma found Bharathiyar working day and night to make a success of it. He literally ‘went door to door to ensure a huge gathering’ and he also mobilised the funds necessary. Bharathi was in a ‘continued sense of anticipation and exhilaration as the day in 1908 approached’. It was decided that people would assemble in their own street corners in Madras. Would join together on Bells Road in Triplicane. And take a detour to the beach through Pycrofts Road. (Incidentally Bharathiyar lived in Thulasingha Perumal Koil for Street, Triplicane.It now houses a Bharathi Memorial Library and conducts annual and other events celebrating Bharathi. Debates, speeches, quizzes and elocutions are organised. And Pycrofts Road is today christened as Bharathi Salai).

It was decided that the procession would wind its way through Triplicane roads led by ‘mela thalam’ – with a clarinet/Nadaswaram and Ta”Thavil/percussion instruments, in true Tamil tradition. Mind you, the hitch was that the organisers needed to take permission from the Police/local administration and Bharathiyar being Bharathiyar ‘did not care’. The exponents of ‘mela thalam’ were reluctant to join in. Bharathi enthused them saying, “Don’t you worry. Kaviraja- King of poetry- is here. I will take care. I will lead. I shall take full responsibility. I have told the police and shall continue to tell them that no one behind me must be held responsible or be harmed. Whatever consequences arise, I shall assume accountability and be ready to face”.

(Author is practising advocate in the Madras High Court)

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