Vanchinathan: A Powerful Symbol Of Tamil Assertion During India’s Freedom Movement

by Sudarshan Ramabadran - Jun 18, 2018 03:59 PM +05:30 IST
Vanchinathan: A Powerful Symbol Of Tamil Assertion During India’s Freedom MovementAnniversary tributes to freedom fighter Vanchinathan. (tamil.oneindia.com)
Snapshot
  • Vanchinathan’s sacrifice is an inspiring symbol of Tamil assertion in the interest of our motherland. Several lessons can be learned from his short life.

    One among them is that the youth of Tamil Nadu should begin to assert and start shaping their destiny at national and international levels.

A couple of years ago, I was presented an exciting opportunity to script a sound and light show for Chinmaya Yuva Kendra, Global Youth Wing of Chinmaya Mission, titled India 2047. The task was to envision how transformed India would look after 100 years of her Independence. During the research for the script, the team came up with an idea to take inspiration from Vanchinathan, the fabled freedom fighter from Tamil Nadu, in one of the scenes. The team, though born, bred and brought up in Tamil Nadu, had no inkling of who Vanchinathan was, nor knew anything about his struggle, contribution or family. We knew nothing about him until we decided to showcase him to the youth through this sound and light show.

Tamil Nadu and India marked Vanchinathan’s 107th death anniversary yesterday (17 June). If there is one young revolutionary, who epitomised Babasaheb Ambedkar’s quote, “Life should be great rather than long,” then Vanchinathan it is.

Tamil Nadu’s unique contribution to the Indian freedom movement can never be missed. It is a fact that detailed aspects of it have never been captured and that is why it fails to occupy the mind space of the youth of Tamil Nadu today. While we know of certain names and certain events, we are otherwise ignorant of the significance of the state’s efforts.

While I was reading up some archival material available on the contribution of Tamilians towards the Indian freedom movement, the date 11 February 1802, stood out. It is on this day that 73 freedom fighters from Tamil Nadu, who were deported to Penang on charges of assisting the heroic Veerapandiya Kattabomman and the Marudu Brothers, were hanged by the British.

I do not think there will be a chapter on this supreme sacrifice in school text books today; a grim reminder that there are several facets which concern the relentless contribution of Tamil Nadu in the building of our country right from the Independence struggles that have been ignored, to date.

Historians have not been kind either. I was perusing through an article on Madan Mohan Malviya. The author successfully argued how Malviya is a forgotten visionary and that the Indian historians have not given him his due. This is undoubtedly true and if this is the case for ‘Mahamana’ then just take a moment to pause and imagine the state of so many other forgotten heroes, who have silently made history not just in north India but beyond the Vindhyas too.

One such heroic figure, who has largely disappeared into oblivion, is Vanchinathan. Without any doubt, he is a youth icon for Tamil Nadu and south India. He is best remembered as the 25-year-old, who shot dead Robert William D’ Escourt Ashe, the tax collector of Thirunelveli and later committed suicide in order to evade arrest.

Vanchinathan shot Ashe at point blank range at the prime of his youth. Vanchi and Ashe share the same death anniversary. Ashe had cruelly taken Vanchi’s inspiration V O Chidambaram Pillai and Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company to task, and later paid for it. A media report commemorating the 100th death anniversary of Vanchi, said this of the company and reasons for Vanchi to shoot Ashe:

“Started by V O Chidambaram Pillai (VOC), the Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company was started to take on the British India Steam Navigation Company that had for long monopolised trade in the southern part of the Bay of Bengal. Ashe was responsible for charging VOC and a colleague Subramanya Siva with sedition — for which they were convicted.”

Vanchi, like Udham Singh, did not flee the spot. In fact, a letter was found on his body which read: “Every Indian is at the present time endeavouring to drive out the Englishman who is the enemy of our country and to establish Dharma and liberty. We 3,000 Madrasis have taken a vow. Make it known, I, the least of them, did this day commit this act.” The single-minded objective of young revolutionaries like Vanchinathan was that through such strikes the conscience of people should be aroused. It is as a result of such sacrifices that the British were overthrown.

It is only in 2013 that a memorial in Vanchinathan’s hometown was unveiled by the then chief minister J Jayalalithaa’s regime, a promise that was made by the erstwhile Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) regime. In fact, rarely has Vanchinathan or his contribution ever been referred to by any chief minister of Tamil Nadu in their Independence Day speeches, barring Jayalalithaa, who during her speech on 15 August 2016, said the following lines: “35 years before India got her freedom; Veerar Vanchinathan had drawn a portrait of Bharat Mata in Senkottai”. In fact, in 2016, there was also a demand which came to light of a memorial to be built at the Vanchi Maniyachi railway station.

Like Vanchinathan, Tamil Nadu is replete with several instances and anecdotes which prove the worthy contribution of the state towards the freedom movement. In all certainty, Vanchinathan stands out amongst them and deservedly so. Vanchinathan’s sacrifice is an inspiring symbol of Tamil assertion in the interest of our motherland. Several lessons can be learned from Vanchi’s short life. One among them is that the youth of Tamil Nadu should begin to assert and start shaping their destiny at national and international levels. Vanchinathan and his contribution should never be forgotten in India. Let his legacy lead to a roaring revolution for the youth of Tamil Nadu to wear their culture on their sleeves. Let his sacrifice ensure that not one of us, especially not the youth, tolerate anything against the best interests of Tamil Nadu and India.

At every breath henceforth and especially since Tamil Nadu will be celebrating its golden jubilee next year, let us remember Vanchi’s supreme sacrifice, showcase it to 'gen next' and reflect on whether we are truly and really contributing to nation building. Like how Vanchi channelised his aspirations, the youth can take inspiration and channelise their aspirations in contributing to the nation’s growth, peace and amity. If historians of the foreseeable and unforeseeable future trace back the assertion of the youth of Tamil Nadu, let Vanchinathan and his life be their focal point of reference.

Sudarshan Ramabadran is Senior Research Fellow & Administrative Head at India Foundation’s Centre for Soft Power Studies and Member, Tamil Nadu Young Thinkers Forum)

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