Tamil Helmsman- Part-2

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Vulaganathan Othapidaram Chidambaram Pillai or V.O.C was born on 05 September 1872 to an eminent lawyer Vulaganathan Pillai and Paramyee in Ottapidaram, Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu state in India. After completing schooling in Othapidaram and Tirunelveli he worked for a few years in the Othapidaram district administrative office. Later following his father’s footsteps he completed law.

As a lawyer he often pleaded for the poor, at times appearing against his father, who appeared for the affluent. Among his notable cases, he proved corruption charges on three sub-magistrates. In the Kulasekaranallur Asari case he proved innocence for the accused.

V.O.C., drawing inspiration from Ramakrishnananda, a disciple of Swami Vivekannanda, resorted to Swadeshi work. Following requests by local citizens, he initiated steps to break the monopoly of British shipping in the coastal trade with Ceylon.

On 12 November 1905, V.O.C. formed the Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company, by purchasing two steamships ‘S.S. Gaelia’ and ‘S.S. Lawoe’, thanks to the assistance and support of Lokamanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Aurobindo Ghose. The ships commenced regular service between Turicorin and Colombo (Srilanka), against the opposition of the British traders and the Imperial Governmetn. V.O.C. was thus laying the foundation for a comprehensive shipping industry in the country, more than just a commercial venture.

Until then the commerce between Tuticorin and Colombo was a monopoly enjoyed by the British India Steam Navigation Company (BISN). This was later to be merged with P&O lines and its Tuticorin agents, A & F. Harvey.

His efforts to widen the base of the Swadeshi movement, by mobilizing the workers of the Coral Mills (also managed by A. F. Harvey) brought him into increasing conflict with the British Raj. On 12 March 1908, he was arrested on charges of sedition and for two days, Tirunelveli and Tuticorin witnesses’ unprecedented violence, quelled only by the stationing of a punitive police force. But newspapers had taken note of VOC. Autobindo Ghosh, acclaimed him in Bande Mataram (March 27, 1908)

“Well Done, Chidambaram! A true feeling of comradeship is the salt of political life; it binds men together and is the cement of all associated action. When a political leader is prepared to suffer for the sake of his followers, when a man, famous and adored by the public, is ready to remain in jail rather than leave his friends and fellow workers behind, it is a gign theat political life in India is becoming a reality. Srijut Chidambaram Pillai has shown throughout the Turicorin affair a loftiness of character, a practical energy united with high moral idealism which show that the is a true Nationalist. His refusal to accept release on bail if his fellow-workers were left behind is one more count in the reckoning. Nationalism is or ought to be not merely a political creed but a religious aspiration and a moral attitude. Its business is to build up Indian character by educating it to heroic self-sacrifice and magnificent ambitions, to restore the tone of nobility which it has lost and bring back the ideals of the ancient Aryan gentleman. The qualities of courage, frankness, love and justice are the stuff of which a Nationalist should be made. All honor to Chidambaram Pillai for having shown us the first complete example of an Aryan reborn, and all honor to Madras which has produced such a man”.

The British had assumed the Indian venture would collapse like a house of cards, but soon found the Indian company to be a formidable challenge. To thwart the new Indian company they resorted to the monopolistic trade practice of reducing the fare per trip to Re.1 (16 annas) per head. Swadeshi company responded by offering a fare of Re. 0.5 (eight annas). The British company went further by offering a free trip to the passengers plus a free umbrella, which had ‘S.S. Gaelia’ and ‘S.S. Lawoe’ running nearly empty. By 1909 the company was heading towards bankruptcy.

To widen the Swadeshi base and to create awareness of British Imperialism V.O.C. became instrumental in mobilizing the workers of Coral Mills (also managed by A. & F. Harvey) (now part of Madura Coats) in Tirunelveli. This brought him into increasing conflict with the British Raj. On 12 March, 1908, he was arrested on charges of sedition and for two days, Tirunelveli and Tuticorin witnessed unprecedented violence, quelled only by shooting four people to deah (a Muslim, a Dalit, a baker and a Hindu temple priest). Punitive police forces were brought in from neighboring districts.

But newspapers had taken not of V.O.C. Sri Aurobindo’s nationalist Bengali newspaper Bande Mataram (splet and pronounced as Bonde Matorom in the Bengali language) acclaimed him (March 27, 1908) with “Well Done, Chidambaram”. Apart from the Madras press, Ananad Bazaar Patrika from Koldata (Calcutta) carried reports of his prosecution every day. Funds were raised for his defence not only in India but also by the Indians in South Africa.

Apart from the Madras press, Ananad Bazaar Patrika from Koldata (Calcutta) carried reports of his prosecution every day. Funds were raised for his defence not only in India but also by the Indians in South Africa. Bharathy gave evidence in the case which had been instituted against him. V.O.C was confined in the Central Prison, Coimbatore from 9 July 1908 to 1 December 1910.

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