Indian historians have always had selective memory. To them the Mughals, the British, Nehru and the Gandhi are only the tales need to be told. Many men have lost their place in Indian history due to this political blindness.
One such man is Vanchinathan. He was a man who gave up his life to stop missionaries from carrying out their sinister state sponsored conversions. But even 100 odd years after his death, missionary sponsored historians are trying to discredit his role in freedom struggle, just because he hailed from an upper caste according to them.
Vanchinathan is notable as being one among the first and prominent Tamilian who took part in the struggle for freedom and in some instances initiated the fight against the British Raj.
Vanchinathan was born into a Brahmin family in 1886 to parents Raghupathy Iyer and Rukmani Ammal the southernmost corner of the country. Sengottai of Tamil Nadu, the town in which he was born, literally means ‘Red fort’ in English.
As a child, Vanchinathan was polite and almost shy. He was very studious, graduated with a B.A. from Moolam Thirunal Maharaja College in Thiruvananthapuram and a M.A from Baroda university.
While he was in college, he married Ponnammal with whom he had a daughter. After college, he was offered a clerkship in Travancore forest department which he happily took.
It was in Travancore, Vanchinathan came to know about V.O.Chidambaram Pillai(V. O. C) , who was fighting the British for the rights of fellow Indians.
Vanchinathan even met many nationalists like Neelakanta Brahmachari, Subramaniya Siva and Subramaniya Bharathi. They were his mentors and together they belonged to the Bharatha Matha Assocation (1900).
In 1906, V.O.C had launched the Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company, India’s first shipping enterprise which operated two steamships between Tuticorin and Colombo thus putting a full-stop to British monopoly in shipping in the region.
A year or so later, with the help of Coral mill workers, V. O. C staged a Strike against the management firm A&F Harvey which was paying very low wages to its laborers who were Indians.
On March 12, 1908, V.O. Chidambaram Pillai was arrested under charges of sedition and was locked up in Palayamkottai.
This stirred the emotions of freedom fighters in Tirunelveli and Tuticorin. Both the towns saw unprecedented agitation. British used brute force to quell this agitation.
A couple of months later, the court imposed two life sentences of 40 years each on V. O. Chidambaram.
VOC was sent to Coimbatore central prison where he spent the next two years. In 1911, Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company bankrupted and British took possession of the two steamships.
The Ashe assasination :
Robert William Ashe was the collector and district magistrate of Tirunelvelli district in year 1911.
He was engaged in activities that were largely favourable to the ruling British class , ignoring and ensuring that the interests of the locals are neither addressed nor issues pertaining to them redressed.
He is also instrumental in propagating missionary activities of forcible conversion.
It is said that Ashe did everything in his power to kill Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company. He also fully backed A&F Harvey throughout the protest.
It is also said that Ashe issued a shoot at sight order during the agitations that followed VOC’s arrest.
This sparked a need if revenge among the revolutionaries. And his assasination was plotted.
The mastermind behind the assassination was Nilakanta Bramhachari who went around the Madras presidency in 1910 recruiting cadres and hatching plots against the British.
In this venture, he was accompanied by Vanchinathan and Shankar Krishna Aiyar, Vanchinathan’s brother-in-law.
The preparation for the assasination began in early January 1911 when Vanchinathan took a three month break from his job and visited VVS Aiyar in Pondicherry.
VVS Aiyar who was allegedly involved in many other conspiracies against the British trained Vanchinathan in firing a revolver among other things.
A couple of months later, Ashe was promoted as the acting collector of Tirunelveli.
The stage was set. The date was decided – June 11, 1911. It was to coincide with the coronation of George V. For some reason, no attempt was made that day. The second one was planned for June 17, 1911.
On that day, Ashe with his wife Mary left Tirunelveli for Kodaikanal in a train to visit his childen. Vanchinathan and three others from Bharatha Matha sangam boarded the same train at Tirunelveli.
At 9.30 A.M. the train reached Maniyachi. As soon as the train came to a halt, Vanchinathan boarded the first class in which Ashe and his wife were travelling. He shot Ashe with his head, jumped out of the train and ran into the platform lavoratory.
Vanchinathan wanted to die as a free man, hence he shot himself to death.
By the time police arrived, both Ashe and Vanchinathan were dead. The police discovered a letter in Vanchinathan’s pocket signed “R. Vanchi Aiyar, Sengottai”. It read,
“The mlechas of England having captured our country, tread over the sanathana dharma of the Hindus and destroy them. Every Indian is trying to drive out the English and get swarajyam and restore sanathana dharma. Our Raman, Sivaji, Krishnan, Guru Govindan, Arjuna ruled our land protecting all dharmas and in this land they are making arrangements to crown George V, a mlecha, and one who eats the flesh of cows. Three thousand Madrasees have taken a vow to kill George V as soon as he lands in our country. In order to make others know our intention, I who am the least in the company, have done this deed this day. This is what everyone in Hindustan should consider it as his duty.”
This brave man ignited revolution in many young minds and inspired them to take part in the freedom struggle.
Almost 100 years have passed, since his sacrifice, Vanchinathan never got his due respect. The train station was named after him that’s all.
But now, the same missionaries against whom Vanchinathan had led his protest are trying to defame him. A conspiracy has been plotted by them to defame Vanchi.
Recently, a reverend, one Dr. Ravikumar Stephen (what is the relation of Ravi Kumar to Stephen, God knows!), has proposed a theory on why Ashe was the target of the crime.
He claims that Ashe’s wife Mary was a social worker who helped a pregnant Dalit woman in Sengottai. Allegedly, she arranged a bullock cart for the woman in labour pain and the bullock cart rode through the streets of Agraharam(the housing area of Brahmins) which was not very well received by many Brahmins.
Hence Vanchinathan, being a Brahmin, was severely angered by this and took out his rage on the husband. (However, strangely, he did not kill the wife when she should have been the target if this concocted story was any truth).
Scholars have rejected this as an attempt to discredit the martyrdom of the young man who laid down his life at the age of 25 for freedom. Also, the reverend has not produced any evidence supporting his claim. Nor has anyone stepped forward to stand by him.
Our heroes are being discredited or being defamed by the propaganda driven historians and missionaries. It is our duty to respect and remember the young freedom fighter who played important part in our freedom struggle. We owe them, they have given their life for our future.
Dr Sindhu Prashanth