Veer Savarkar, touted by many as the greatest freedom fighter of India, continues to court controversy and incite fear 49 years after his death. Perhaps this is the reason why organisations in Ahmedabad are hesitating to lend their halls to release the Gujarati translation of Akathit Savarkar, a Marathi book by author Madan Patil that shows the freedom fighter as not so brave, as he sought clemency from the British from behind bars in Port Blair.
Shahpur cobbler Ashok Bhavanbhai Parmar, or Ashok Mochi, who became the face of communal bigotry in the 2002 post-Godhra riots, has translated the book, Akathya Savarkar, in Gujarati.
"The book is based on the Dalit movement in Maharashtra of how the Brahmins oppressed Dalits and other minorities and the negative role of the Hindu Mahasabha during the freedom struggle. Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, a Hindu Mahasabha leader then and an RSS hero today, is praised for his bravery and patriotism. But, this is just one side of the story," said Parmar. "The book has documentary evidence to prove that Savarkar is not as brave and patriotic as everyone is being told. Once they read the book, people can interpret the truth for themselves."
'I AM A COMMON MAN'
Parmar, a Dalit, is also a victim of saffron terror. While the image of Qutubuddin Ansari pleading for help became the face of victims during the Gujarat riots, Parmar's image represented the rioters. Wearing a saffron headband, his eyes flashing hatred, he wields an iron rod as a large fire burns behind.
"Born and brought up in Gujarat, I know the poor and daily wage labourers are the ones affected by riots. I was angry with those who perpetuated the Sabarmati Express carnage as well as with those who failed to contain the violence. I lost my head and jumped into the fray. After my photograph was published, people portrayed me as a Bajrang Dal leader. I was just reacting as a common angry man," said Parmar.
Although arrested, he got a clean chit. "Political and religious leaders have always ill-treated Dalits. So, I translated the book. I am not against Savarkar but I wanted to portray his true character."
After the translation, Parmar approached several publishers. "No one was ready to publish it. Finally, I approached my writer-activist friend Mohammed Kaleem Siddique. He started Key-Note Publications and got 750 copies printed. We also received support from several Gujarati writers."
NO ONE CALLED BACK
For the past one month, however, they have been struggling to get the 365-page book released. "Nobody is ready to give us a place for the launch. We gave an application on June 1 to book Mehendi Nawaz Jung Hall for June 6. First, I was asked to give a summary of the book, then I was told that they would call me to confirm the booking. But they never called," said Siddique.
Next, he approached Gujarat Sahitya Parishad. "We gave an application on June 1 to book the hall for June 8. They promised to get back. But no luck so far. While they are not refusing to host the event outright, they are not agreeing to do so either."
Recently, Mufti Abdul Qayyum, the cleric who spent 11 years in jail before being acquitted by the Supreme Court last year in the Akshardham temple attack case, faced a similar problem when he wanted to launch his book, Gyarah Saal Salakhon Ke Peeche. Police told Qayyum that neither could the book be released nor any direct reference be made to the Akshardham attack as it would create a law and order problem. Finally, his book was released at St Xavier's College on May 21. "In this case, the subject and the writer are both Hindus. Yet, we cannot release the book," sighed Siddique.
Interestingly, there were no protests during the book release in Maharashtra. Manishi Jani, president of Gujarati Lekhak Mandal, said, "I have read the book. It is not controversial. A document in the book shows Savarkar seeking clemency from the British from his jail in Port Blair."
SAVARKAR'S CLEMENCY PLEA
In his letter seeking forgiveness, dated November 14, 1913, Savarkar wrote that his release would recast the faith of many Indians in British rule. "Moreover, my conversion to the constitutional line would bring back all those misled young men in India and abroad who were once looking up to me as their guide. I am ready to serve the government in any capacity, for as my conversion is conscientious so I hope my future conduct would be. By keeping me in jail, nothing can be got in comparison to what would be otherwise," he said.
FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
When contacted, administrator of Mehendi Nawaz Jung Hall, Gautam Thakkar, refused to comment. Repeated attempts to contact Parishad secretary Praful Raval were unsuccessful, too.
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