We are constantly told that in one of his books, Veer Savarkar has justified sexual violence on women as a political tool. Here is a thorough investigation into that claim.
On May 28, 2016, the 133rd birth anniversary of Savarkar, Ajaz Ashraf, a freelance journalist wrote an article titled 'Reading Savarkar: How a Hindutva icon justified the idea of rape as a political tool', in a leftist webzine. The article went viral.
The gist of the article is that in his book, 'Six Glorious Epochs of Indian History' (finished in 1963, but started years earlier), Savarkar had made a criticism of the chivalrous attitude of Shivaji towards the captured Muslim women during his victorious expeditions against the Mughals. The passages in question are these:
Even now we proudly refer to the noble acts of Chhatrapati Shivaji and Chimaji Appa, when they honourably sent back the daughter-in-law of the Muslim Governor of Kalyan and the wife of the Portuguese governor of Bassein respectively. But is it not strange that, when they did so neither Shivaji Maharaj nor Chimaji Appa should ever remember, the atrocities and the rapes and the molestation, perpetrated by Mahmud of Ghazni, Muhammad Ghori, Alla-ud-din Khilji and others, on thousands of Hindu ladies and girls … Did not the plaintive screams and pitiful lamentations of the millions of molested Hindu women, which reverberated throughout the length and breadth of the country, reach the ears of Shivaji Maharaj and Chimaji Appa?
Then Savarkar observes:
If they had taken such a fright in the first two or three centuries, millions and millions of luckless Hindu ladies would have been saved all their indignities, loss of their own religion, rapes, ravages and other unimaginable persecutions.
One should note here that Savarkar clearly talks about using such a retaliatory violence in the context of a bygone historical times (‘in the first two or three centuries’ of the Islamist incursions). That said, there is also another aspect to his writings. He had been witness to the communal riots that happened before partition and which reached their zenith during the partition. Till his last days the systematic persecution of Hindus particularly through violence against women was happening in East Pakistan. Five years after his death it would result in the 1971 genocide. In all these there was definitely a theological asymmetry.
Let it be stated at the outset that during the 1947 partition holocaust, Hindus and Sikhs did do shameful, inhuman, unforgivable crimes against helpless Muslim women which included murder, rape and abduction. But in the case of Muslims and Pakistan, the crimes against women were done in a more systematic manner with a clear theological basis to it. While the former, unforgivable as it is, was a spontaneous mob violence, the latter was well-planned, systematic and had theological as well as demographic goals.
The abduction and forced marriages through Islamist nikkah marriages and the subsequent repeated selling of the women were already getting systematized as weapons against the Hindus in the pre-partition riots that would ultimately lead to partition. Savarkar was one of the earliest historians and a political leader to bring out this connection in a blunt way. But by no means was he the only one who noticed.
For example, J M Dutta, an eminent and rigorous mathematician, pointed out that in 1941 the abduction of Hindu women in Bengal alone had reached, on an average, 700 women per annum. In his paper titled, 'Continued Abduction of Hindu Women — its Effect on the Bengali Hindus' he concluded that,
...in any view, abduction of Hindu women by the Muslims and their continued loss to the Hindu community, so far as it affects the growth of the Hindus is a matter which cannot be neglected any longer without serious consequences.J.M.Dutta, ‘Continued Abduction of Hindu Women-its Effect on the Bengali Hindus‘, Modern Review, 1941, pp.358-9 : cited in Rakesh Batabyal, Communalism in Bengal: From Famine To Noakhali, 1943-47, SAGE, 2005 p.287
While it is easy to form a symmetric narrative of Hindu-Muslim violence on women by the rioting mobs including pathological perverts on both sides taking advantage of the situation, not to mention the usual cliches of patriarchy and body-based shame and ingrained notions of pollution etc., today it is hard for anyone not to see the distinct way in which those abducted Hindu women share their destiny with the Yazidi women more recently.
We find, in the report of the Liasion Officer, the remark that, ‘at Mansera and some other places (N.W.F.P.) there are regular camps where Hindu girls are being sold.’ (Krapala Singh, Select documents on Partition of Punjab-1947: India and Pakistan : Punjab, Haryana, and Himachal-India and Punjab-Pakistan, National Book Shop, 1991, p.639)
The Hindu and Sikh girls were not just distributed among rioters but were married to Muslims and then again sold in markets inside Pakistan. No such equivalent of markets for abducted women seemed to have existed anywhere in India. And even if it had existed, (which it did not), if at all in the rarest of rare circumstances, Hindus themselves would not have tolerated it. But in Pakistan such markets always came up whenever there was access to Hindu women by rioters (in 1947 partition) or marauders (in Kashmir) or the Pakistan army (in East Pakistan, 1971). Here are a few memories of the events gathered by Dr. D’Costa:
At the height of the riots, during August and September, when the majority of rapes and abductions occurred, there was almost no limit to the vehemence of the mobs. Throughout the chaos, both planned and random abductions of women and girls were carried out, particularly in situations in which large number of refugees — disoriented and inadequately protected — had assembled or were on the move. For example, Kirpal Singh records that two trains crossed on the Kamoke railway line, one carrying 260 refugees and the other carrying Pakistan Army soldiers. After the latter realized that the former was carrying Hindu refugees, it was attacked. Most of the men were killed and 50 women and girls were forcibly taken by the soldiers. Similarly, in East Bengal, the Ansars, a paramilitary force responsible for the safety of the citizens also perpetrated attacks and abducted Hindu women. One of my respondents was on one of the trains leaving Pakistan and recalled how she hid in a toilet. ... In the confusion that followed, while she was fortunate enough to avoid being abducted, she witnessed many girls and women being taken from the trains. ... Describing the massacres of refugees in Kamoke, Gujranwala district, an Indian official wrote, the most ignoble feature of the tragedy was the distribution of young girls amongst the members of the Police Force, the National Guards (an Islamo-fascist organization-AN) and the local goondas. The Station House Officer Dilder Hussain collected the victims in an open space near Kamoke Railway Station and gave a free hand to the mob. After the massacre was over, the girls were distributed like sweets ... Later on as a result of the efforts of the Liasion Agency and the East Punjab Police some girls were recovered from Kamoke, Eminabad and some surrounding villages ... A list of at least 70 untraced girls abducted from the Kamoke train was handed over [to] the Police by District Liasion Officer ... It is feared that most of these girls had been sold or taken underground.Bina D’Costa, Nation building, Gender and War Crimes in South Asia, Routledge, 2011, pp.57-60
One 13-year-old girl named Shrimati Chander Kanta recalled to Dr. D'Costa how the Muslim Military surrounded the people of Mirpur and she was captured by one Abdur Rahman and was forced into marrying him. She remained with him for one month.She was rescued along with 48 girls. She recounted how when she was in the camp the Muslims who had married them came there and tried to lure them back:
The Muslims who visited the camp to meet the girls to whom they are married usually threatened them that if they go to India they would be killed by the Sikhs and Hindus and thus warned them that they should not express their willingness to be evacuated.
Similarly when the Jihadist tribal Mujahidin raided Kashmir in 1947, the girls abducted by the Jihadists 'were exhibited in the bazaars of Peshawar and Bannu, thereby enticing Pathans towards Kashmir. Many were subjected to unmentionable indignities.' (Shanta Kumari, President, National Women's Conference of J&K, Hindustan Times, 30-Dec-1947). Nehru himself had stated that the reports of Hindu women from Kashmir being auctioned at ‘150 rupees apiece’ had reached him. (Diary of Lt-Gen. Roy Bucher dated 6-Dec-1947 and in Bucher Papers, National Army Museum 7901–87)
In 1971 when the West Pakistan Army started indulging in systematic abduction and rape of Bengali women, the abduction was justified because they still were Hindus while being Muslim only in their names.
Governor and Martial Law Administrator, Tikka Khan, considered this as a legitimate strategy — the rape of Bengali Muslim women which to him was impregnation by ‘proper’ Muslim men (i.e. West Pakistanis) to elevate the genetic nature of East Pakistan and bring it under Pakistani control. The unconverted Hindu women were mostly raped and killed.
After the liberation of Bangladesh, even the new government was not very enthusiastic about recovering the abducted Hindu women. Hindu activists had complained about this attitude. Contrary to the popular picture of Muslims and Hindus fighting together in Mukti Bahini, on the ground, particularly in rural districts the Muslims did not hesitate to plunder the deserted houses of Hindus. It was not just greed. They 'also tracked them to their hiding places in the jungle for blackmail, robbery and rape.' (Christian Gerlach, Extremely Violent Societies: Mass Violence in the Twentieth-Century World, Cambridge University Press, 2010,pp.155-61)
So when Savarkar was writing those lines, even as he was not prescribing the same horrendous treatment in the contemporary conditions, the abduction of Hindu and Sikh women during the riots would have definitely agonized him.
Again, Savarkar was not alone in that agony. The stories of systematic abduction and conversion of Hindu women had reached Mahatma Gandhi as well. In his speech made to Indian Muslims in New Delhi on 18 September 1947, he told them that Sardar Patel had informed him that he had reasons to suspect that a vast majority of the Muslims in India were not loyal to India. For Gandhi himself, the Muslims who wished to be citizens of the Indian Union, their loyalty to the Union must come before everything else. Muslims in Delhi had assured through their written declaration that they were loyal to the Indian Union.
Then, in the concluding part of his speech, Gandhi,
...advised them that, as a token of their loyalty to the Indian Union, they should issue a public statement that all Hindu women abducted by the Muslims in Pakistan should be restored to their families.M K Gandhi, ‘Speech to Muslims’ (Harijan, 28-09-2947), CWMG Vol.96, pp.385-6
In other words, Gandhi tied the loyalty of Muslims in India to their public denouncement of abduction and forcible conversion of Hindu women done by their co-religionists in Pakistan.
Coming back to Savarkar, a careful reading of Savarkar also shows that more important than his ‘what-if’ scenario for the bygone centuries, is the fact that he was concentrating more on battling the social taboos that Hindus had in accepting the abducted women who returned. Savarkar gives the example of Ravana, the Rakshasa king of Sri Lanka who pooh-poohed the suggestion of his well-wishers to return Sita. Ravana considered the abduction not as irreligious but as ‘the greatest duty’. He then draws a parallel to this attitude and that of ‘Muslims of those times’:
With this same shameless religious fanaticism the aggressive Muslims of those times considered it their highly religious duty to carry away forcibly the women of the enemy side, as if they were commonplace property to ravish them, to pollute them and to distribute them to all and sundry, from the Sultan to the common soldier and to absorb them completely in their fold. This was considered a noble act which increased their number.V D Savarkar, 1963:1971, p.176
Then Savarkar moves on to the Puranic example of Sri Krishna fighting against Narakasura. Savarkar gives historicity to the episode. So Narakasura becomes an Assyrian war lord of ancient times who had raided and carried away ‘Aryan women’ of India. Krishna defeated Narakasura and killed him. But he did not stop with the military victory:
Shree Krishna’s army did not forsake their kinswomen, simply because they were forcibly polluted and violated — a dastardly thought which he never entertained for a minute. On the contrary Shree Krishna as the Bhoopati, the Lord of the whole Earth, brought all those sixteen thousand or more women to his kingdom, rehabilitated them honourably and took upon himself the responsibility of feeding and protecting them. This very act of Krishna, as the Bhoopati, has been fantastically construed by the writers of the Puranas as to describe him the husband of those thousands of women. He was later thought to have married all of them’.V D Savarkar, 1963:1971, p.182
With respect to the present context the only things he advocates are very clearly the rehabilitation of women abducted by Islamists and a willingness to convert and welcome back into the Hindu fold those Muslim women who were ready to return to their original faith.
In this discourse, Savarkar considers Johar, though an inspiring unparalleled sacrifice, the result of the restrictions which made it impossible for the violated, abducted and converted men and women to return to Hindu Dharma:
Under the illusion of preserving the purity of their own caste and religion the Hindu Society of the Islamic era began to enforce as their religious duty, the bans on exchange of food, on inter-caste marriage and other bans, even when they were harmful to the society. ... Neither any single Hindu who was converted under coercion, nor even his progeny could ever come back to Hinduism: their sin (?) had no redemption, no salvation. For generations together the Hindus believed this to be their inviolable religious injunction; ... On account of these very bans, thousands of our Hindu ladies kindled the fires of johar, century after century, in order to avoid violation at the hands of the Muslims. To save themselves from this humiliation of violation by enemies millions others leapt into rivers, lakes and wells, all over the country and destroyed themselves along with their small children at their breasts.
So for Savarkar, the conversion of captured Muslim women and their distribution to Hindus was only a ‘what-if’ scenario of a bygone era. His insistence was more on the absorption and rehabilitation of abducted and abused women back into Hindu society against the then prevalent patriarchal social stagnation. While the despicable inhuman violence against women, either Hindu or Muslim, during the riots in India had happened long before Savarkar had written and published his book, the systematic abduction, sexual slavery, auctioning and conversion of women has always been a part of the pan-Islamist movement against Hindus in India and has also been used against the Yazidis in Iraq.
Even this ‘criticism’ of Shivaji by Savarkar was not accepted by the Hindutvaites at large. This is attested in a letter written by Hindutva intellectual Sita Ram Goel. When a fellow Hindu activist was not ready to believe that Savarkar was the author of those words, Goel wrote to him:
Savarkar’s statement about Shivaji’s failure to distribute captured Muslim women among Hindu soldiers has been read by me with my own eyes in one of the chapters in Six Periods, published by an RSS set-up in Lucknow with a footnote, ‘We do not agree with this.’ … But a single statement does not undo his vision on India’s history.’ (12-March-1997)Shreerang Godbole, Sita Ram Goel: some reminiscences in ‘India’s Only Communalist in Commemoration of Sita Ram Goel’ (Ed. Dr. Koenraad Elst), Voice of India, 2005, pp.103-4
That an RSS publication found it important to say that it differed with Savarkar himself is important.
Clearly there are stands in mainstream Hindutva process which can defy and differ with even a Savarkar.
Clearly there are forces operating in the larger Indian land mass which use abduction and conversion of women to further the religious war they are waging against theo-diversity of this society. But Hindutvaites are clearly not among them.
And the historiography of Savarkar does not support such a view.