Actor Mona Ambegaonkar sparked controversy on Twitter, by first tweeting and then deleting the post claiming that VD Savarkar was first convicted in 1908, for attempted rape of an English woman called Margaret Lawrence. He was sentenced to 50 years in prison by the British in 1911 for revolting against the Morley-Minto reforms (Indian Councils Act 1909), but was released in 1924 reportedly following several mercy petitions. Ambegaonkar alleged that Savarkar had confessed to the charge of attempted rape in 1908 and was sentenced to four months in jail.
Linking the claim to the remission ordered by the SC in the 2002 Bilkis Bano rape case, Ambegaonkar wrote, “This ‘sanskari’ low criminal, is the Sangh Parivar’s role model today. No wonder most of them are rapists #BilkisBetrayed” . The tweet, which has since been deleted, comes close on the heels of the widespread criticism against the ruling BJP government in the Centre and in Gujarat for the controversial release of 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano gang-rape case. Archived versions of similar tweets can be seen here and here. An archived version of her tweet can be seen here.
Newschecker first did a keyword search for the terms “Savarkar rape”, “Savarkar Margaret Lawrence”, which did not throw up any official records nor reports of an arrest of Savarkar for the alleged crime.
What we did find though were one or two mentions of Margaret Lawrence in the context of Savarkar. According to historian Vikram Sampath’s book, ‘Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past, 1883-1924’, “There have been other insinuations too, of him having fallen prey to a honey-trap, Lawrence Margaret, that the British agencies had set up for him. The insinuation has no basis and there has been no reference or details available about the lady.”
Sampath also slammed Ambegaonkar’s tweet, saying, “Fake news completely. No British records or the case files running into thousands of pages on the Nasik Murder case & conspiracy case has any mention of such an incident. Figments of vile imagination! @RanjitSavarkar”
Vaibhav Purandare, historian and author of “Savarkar: The true story of the Father of Hindutva”, tweeted in response to Ambegaonkar’s claim. “As Savarkar’s biographer, I can confirm this is a lie. The #British kept voluminous records against #Savarkar. No way they wouldn’t mention such a thing if it ever happened. People can disagree with Savarkar on every topic but why spread outright lies & fakery in history’s name?” he tweeted.
We reached out to Purandare, who reiterated that the claim was completely untrue. “There is nothing to suggest that Savarkar ever faced any such charges and was ever booked for such an offence. The British were tailing him from his teenage years and they saw him as a particularly dangerous threat when he moved to London in 1906 and shadowed him continuously. They put together fat dossiers to incriminate him in all sorts of cases. There’s no way they wouldn’t mention such a thing if it had ever happened. In fact, they would have gone to town about it. They would have destroyed his reputation, something they were looking to do. People are free to disagree with Savarkar on everything under the sun but it’s unfair and a great disservice to history to spread lies and falsehoods in the name of history,” he said.
On the Margaret Lawrence link, Purandare said the name came about during Savarkar’s return to London and questions arose as to why he had returned. “One of the theories floated then was love and that is where someone called by that name was mentioned,” Purandare said.
We also found a Telegraph article, which stated, “In December, his younger brother, Narayanrao, was arrested on suspicion of being associated with an attempt on the life of Lord Minto, the Viceroy (he was cleared later). On 21 December, A.M.T. Jackson, collector of Nasik, was murdered in a theatre. Savarkar was found to have sent the pistols used by his assassins. A special magistrate in Nasik issued a warrant for his arrest on 17 January 1910. Savarkar ran away to Paris, but then unaccountably returned to London on 13 March. There is a story that he was missing Margaret Lawrence, his girlfriend, but his supporters consider it slander.”
While trying to find similar tweets to Ambegaonkar’s claim, we came across journalist Niranjan Takle’s tweet from 2017, which stated, “Savarkar was first jailed in 1908 for 4 months for offending the modesty of a British woman in London. (In the modest words to describe it).”
Newschecker then contacted Takle via email and enquired about Ambegaonkar’s claim. He said the claim “was absolutely correct” and that “former chief justice of Bombay high court RA Jahagirdar” wrote about it. But a quick check revealed that he never held the post of Chief Justice of the Bombay high court, but was one of the judges. Here’s his bio on the Bombay high court website. According to the bio, he was appointed permanent judge on 24-11-1977 and retired on 15-8-1990. The judge, who was born on August 15, 1928, reportedly passed away on February 23, 2011.
A Google search for “justice RA Jahagirdar Savarkar” led us to a book “Memoirs of a Rationalist” by Justice RA Jahagirdar (Retd). The book was described as an anthology of articles on rationalism, humanism and secularism.
“With the help of one Pandit Shyamji Krishna Verma, a strong believer in Hinduism, then resident of London, Savarkar went to England for education. An activist of “Abhinav Bharat”, a revolutionary organization for freedom of India, Savarkar took part in several activities. Dhananjay Keer mentions that he was, in 1908, convicted for outraging the modesty of an English girl and spent four months in jail as a consequence,” read page 139 of the book from the chapter titled, “Was Veer Savarkar Really ‘Veer’?”.
We then looked up Dhananjay Keer’s biography of Savarkar, titled “Veer Savarkar”, which was first published in 1950. The book described Savarkar’s encounter with one Agamya Guru in Poona. According to page 24 of the book, “The Agamya Guru was as abstruse as his name. But more ridiculous was the invention of the detectives that traced Savarkar’s inborn spring of inspiration to the mystic…Nobody knows what happened to this mystic except that early in 1908 he was found guilty of outraging the modesty of an English girl in London and released after undergoing a term of four months in British jail.”
We then ran a search for the keywords “Agamya Guru Savarkar”, which led us to a book written by Savarkar himself, titled “Inside the Enemy Camp”. Savarkar had a subchapter on Agamya Guru, where he wrote on page 62-63, “My contact with the Guru was very short …When I was interned in Ratnagiri, I met Dadarao Karandikar, a follower of Tilak. This is what he said about Agamya Guru. ‘I met Agamya Guru in London in 1908 and later he was sent to prison for trying to molest an English girl.’ This information is contained in Mr Karandikar’s book ‘Letters from England.’ He adds, ‘I met Agamya Guru after he had served his sentence and that was the end of it.’”
We then reached out to Purandare for a comment on these findings. We will update this article once a response is received.
Newschecker also found a New York Times article, from the edition dated July 12, 1908, which reported about Agamya Guru’s arrest.
There are no official reports of VD Savarkar’s arrest for the attempted rape of an English woman called Margaret Lawrence in 1908. Savarkar’s biographers confirmed that there have not been any records of such cases against him, while our research found that the alleged incident was committed by one Agamya Guru.
Tweet by Vikram Sampath, historian and biographer
Conversation with Vaibhav Purandare, historian and biographer
Telegraph report, October 2004
Veer Savarkar, book by Dhananjay Keer
Memoirs of a Rationalist, book by Justice RA Jahagirdar (Retd)
Inside the Enemy Camp, book by VD Savarkar
New York Times report, July 12, 1908
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