The forgotten hero of Freedom Struggle : Vasudev Balwant Phadke - IBTL Tribute

Published: Thursday, Feb 16,2012, 23:50 IST
vasudev balwant phadke, swadeshi movement, british government, Chhatrapati Shivaji. Major Daniel, IBTL

Vasudev Balwant Phadke (4 November 1845 – 17 February 1883) is a personality whose name struck fear in the hearts of the British as well as unfair moneylenders at the beginning of the 19th century. As a leading revolutionary, he led the raid on the houses of the moneylenders who grabbed the hard earned meagre earnings of the poor during the famine, and utilised the loot in shaping an armed revolution.

He was the grandson of Anant Ramchandra Phadke, a sentinel of the Karnala Fort in Shirdhon. In the absence of schooling facilities in Shirdhon at that time, Vasudevrao completed his schooling in Kalyan and later came to Mumbai and Pune for his higher studies. Here, he achieved a command over the English language. But since he wasn’t interested in working, he left high school without appearing for the final examination. Around this time, the mutiny of 1857 began. A number of incidents of this period were to influence Vasudevrao deeply.

Vasudevrao was married in February 1860. He was forced to work due to adverse financial circumstances. He first worked in the Military Accounts department, and later in Grant Medical College. He fell ill during this period and was notified by the doctor that the weather in Mumbai did not suit his constitution. He thus shifted to Pune for work. While here, on learning of his mother’s illness, he applied for leave to visit his mother. In spite of the refusal, he left Pune to visit his mother in Shirdhon only to find that she had passed away. This was the first flint of dissatisfaction that was etched in his mind. The next year too, his leave application to visit his village for his mother’s Shraddha, was refused. Morosely, he decided to seek retribution.

Speeches by Justice Ranade on Swadeshi made a lasting impression on Vasudevrao, kindling the flames of patriotism even more in him. He began travelling to give speeches to promote the Swadeshi movement. At around the same time he also started his spiritual practice. He had the good fortune to be amidst Akalkot Swami for a while.

After realizing that mere speeches were not sufficient media for achieving freedom and that it was necessary to influence students from a tender age, he established the Pune Native Institute in 1874. Later he established the Bhave School in Pune through this and thus set the foundation for the nation’s education.

Meanwhile, famine had struck Maharashtra. All water sources had dried up; villages emptied out; carcasses were simply left behind for the dogs and the vultures for there was no money for the final rites of the dead. To add to this natural calamity was an epidemic of small pox and an endless harassment by the British. All this made Vasudevrao resolve to fight against the existing British government. During the period, he picked up skills like Danpatta, use of arms, wrestling and horse riding from Lahuji Vastad.

He brought together the Ramoshi community around this time. The community was mostly in charge of guarding the forts. But since the British had destroyed the forts, this community had become nomadic. By organising the Ramoshi and the Bhil community (another tribe), he began preparing for an armed assault. He would raid the houses of the moneylenders who became rich by fleecing the poor. As a source of funds for the freedom movement, he would initially request them for the money, promising to return it; but on being refused, he would just loot them. On this basis he unfurled the flag of his crusade for the first time on 23 February 1879, in the village of Dhamari. He continued his crusade systematically for the next four-five years mostly in the districts of Pune and Satara. This crusade made Phadke notorious in London too. During this crusade he also published an anti-British manifesto.

The British Government appointed Major Daniel to handle him. The Major traversed almost half of Maharashtra in his attempt to capture Phadke. Later, he went underground for sometime in the village Ganagapur and worked under the alias KashikarBua. He had continued his spiritual practice. Here he brought together the Rohila tribe, and using their leased army, he tried to continue his fight against the British. The British made many attempts to capture Phadke using every means at hand, taking the help of betrayers or the local police at times. He was finally captured in Kadalgi, between Belgaum and Kolhapur. He was imprisoned in Eden in January 1880 for life.

While in prison, he was given water in a leather container. He raised his voice against this too, as his religion prohibited him to consume anything associated with animals. As punishment, he was given the hard work of pushing the oil mill to filter out 25 pounds of oil. Even in all of this, he attempted to escape. On 12 October 1880, he managed to break free and escape, only to be caught again soon. He was now sent into solitary confinement. Here, he was ravaged by tuberculosis, which finally took his life.

Through the means of armed revolution, and by bringing the social masses together, taking the fight to the British, Vasudevrao’s feats in the freedom struggle seemed almost akin to those of Chhatrapati Shivaji. Innumerable revolutionaries and freedom fighters, inspired by his work and sacrifice, took the freedom struggle ahead in their own right.

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