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Lone Wolf in Cyberia @GabbarSanghi
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Today is the Jayanti of V.O.Chidambaram Pillai, freedom fighter, who started India's first ever shipping service. While we celebrate today in honor of Dr.S.Radhakrishnan, not many know about VOC Pillai, except in TN. A truly selfless patriot, who gave his all.
Also called as Kapalottiya Tamizhan( The Tamil Helsman), one of the foremost freedom fighters of Tamil Nadu, V.O.Chidambaram Pillai, was also a sucessful entrepreneur, who challenged the British monopoly in shipping sector, and paid a rather heavy price for it too.
VOC Pillai, was born in Ottapidaram, a small town in Thoothukodi district of TN, the legendary Veera Pandya Kattabomman's fort too is located nearby just 3 km away at Panchalankurichi. His parents were Olaganerohathan Pillai and Paramayee Annal.
He grew up learning about Shiva from his grandmother, and the Ramayana from his grandfather. Another teacher of his Subramanya Pillai, taught him on the Mahabharat. Like any other child of his age, he loved playing games in the outdoor. #VOChidambaramPillai
At the age of 14 he went to Thoothukudi to continue his studies at the Caldwell High School and later at Hindu College High School in Tirunelveli. He worked as a clerk for some time, before his father sent him to Trichy to study law. #VOChidambaramPillai
He passed his law exam in 1894 and returned to Ottapidaram the next year to practice as a pleader. He was influenced by the ideology of Swami Vivekananda to do something for India, and at Ramakrishna Math, met the great poet Bharatiyar, who became his very close friend. #VOC
Plunging into the freedom struggle, he became one of Tilak’s ardent followers, influenced by his ideology. Along with Subramanya Siva and Bharatiyar, he emerged as one of the prominent faces of the freedom movement in Madras Presidency. #VOChidambaramPillai
Following the partition of Bengal in 1905, he joined the Indian National Congress, and was part of the extremist faction headed by the Lal, Bal, Pal trio. A succesful entrepreneur he set up many institutions like the Madras Anglo Industrial Society Ltd. #VOChidambaramPillai
His biggest achievement though would be setting up India’s first ever indigenous shipping service. Those days the British had a monopoly over the shipping services, specifically the British India Steam Navigation Company, that ran all the services from India. #VOCPillai
He started India’s first ever swadeshi shipping company in 1906, to break the stranglehold of the British on India’s shipping sector. With a capital of 10 lakh rupees, VOC registered the Swadeshi Shipping in October 1906. #VOChidambaramPilai
The director of Swadeshi Shipping was Pandi Thurai Thevar, an influential Zamindar of the area and founder of Madurai Tamil Sangam. The company initially did not have any ships of it’s own, and had to take them on lease from Shawline Steamers. #VOChidambaramPillai
When British India Steam pressurized Shawline to cancel the lease, VOC realized the need of having their own fleet.Travelling across India, he raised money for the ships, by selling the company’s shares. “I will come back with ships, else I will perish in the sea” he swore. #VOC
He finally managed to purchase SS Gallia and later the SS Lavo both from France. British India Steam tried to undercut his firm, by offering fares of Rs 1 per head, however VOC struck back by offering fare of 50p( 8 Annas). #VOChidambaramPillai
The British tried to buy his company out, however he flatly refused the deal, and soon the first ever Indian shipping service commenced between Tuticorin and Colombo. When workers at the Coral Mill in Thoothukudi struck work on February 23, 1908, VOC gave em all the support.
Along with Subramanya Siva he led the strike in demanding higher wages, better working conditions. The management finally agreed to the demands, and Aurobindo praised both VOC and Shiva in his Vande Mataram daily for their courage. #VOChidambaramPillai
By now the British were concerned about VOC’s growing popularity, and a British official Winch asked him to give assurance that he would not take part in any political revolt. When VOC refused, he was arrested with Shiva on March 12, 1908 and placed in detention. #VOCPillai
Thirunelveli erupted in protest against VOC’s arrest, with schools, shops and colleges shut down, while a massive strike was observed in Thoothukudi. Four people were killed in police firing, and rallies were taken out denouncing VOC’s arrest. #VOCPillai
Charged with sedition, he was confined in the Central Prison at Coimbatore from July 1908 to December 1910. The judgement was widely denounced, with even the British media claiming it was unjust. #VOChidambaramPillai
On subsequent appeal, the sentence was commuted to 4 years in prison and 6 years in exile.Interned in Coimbatore and later Kannanur, VOC was not treated as a political prisoner, he was subjected to harsh treatment like a convict. #VOCPillai
In prison, V.O.Chidambaram Pillai was treated not like a political prisoner, but as a common convict. Yoked to an oil press, he was made to work in the hot sun. Just imagine being tied up to this. He suffered greatly under the torture he was subjected to.
One of the titles given to V.O.C.Pillai was Chekkiluththa Chemmal, loosely translated to- The great man who pulled the oil press for the sake of his people. It was in reference to his stay in prison, where he was yoked to the oil press and made to pull it.
Released on December 1912, VOC’s life however was totally ruined. His shipping company was liquidated by the British, who also acquired his shipping fleet. His law licence was stripped from him, and he was not permitted to return to Tirunelveli. #VOChidambaramPillai
Almost in penury, he moved to Chennai with his wife and two young sons, where he ran a small provisions store just to survive. It was around that time he had that long winded exchange with Gandhiji regarding the money that was a dire necessity for him. #VOChidambaramPillai
Apparently when VOC was in total debts, some of his well wishers in the Indian community in South Africa, raised funds for him, and then sent that via Gandhiji. When Gandhi came to Chennai, VOC met him in private and asked him regarding that amount #VOChidambaramPillai
However Gandhi kept on delaying the matter on some pretext or another, stating he had not yet received the funds. Finally after one year, that amount did reach VOC, who managed to clear all his funds. It involved a very long exchange with Gandhiji on this. #VOChidambaramPillai.
That very long exchange between V.O.Chidambaram Pillai and Gandhiji over the money that was due to him, is a separate chapter by itself. It also gave rise to a term in Tamil Gandhi Kanakku to refer to any incident, where it becomes difficult to recover the debts back.
Resigning from the Congress in 1920, over ideological differences with Gandhiji, he put in more time in writing and establishing labor unions. With meager income, he petitioned the court to give him permission to practice law again,which was finally granted. #VOChidambaramPillai
He once again began his law practice at Kovilpatti in 1927, and also rejoined the Congress at Salem. However once again he quit the party disillusioned by their approach. He moved back to Thoothukudi in 1932, where he spent the rest of his time in writing. #VOChidambaramPillai
He was a brilliant writer in Tamil , wrote commentaries on the classic works Thirukural and Tolkapiyam. Another well known book of his was Meyyaram, where he laid down the conduct of a righteous life and his own autobiography too. A very prolific writer. #VOChidambaramPillai
Finally on November 18, 1936, V.O.Chidambaram Pillai passed away in relative obscurity. The man who defied the British, launched India’s first shipping service was no more. However he lives on in the hearts of Tamil people as Kapalottiya Thamizan and Chekkiluththa Chemmal.
The port at Tuticorin( Thoothukudi) has been named as V.O. Chidambaranar Port Trust in honor of #VOChidambaramPillai. Also there are statues to him at Marina Beach, Chennai, Tuticorin Port, Tirunelveli and in Theni too.
M.P.Sivagnanam popularly known as MaPoSi, was the one who bought VOC into limelight with his biography Kappalottiya Tamizhan, and there was a movie made on that too starring Shivaji Ganesan as VOC himself. #VOChidambaramPillai
Freedom fighter, thinker, nationalist, writer, entrepreneur V.O.Chidambaram Pillai was indeeed one of the great leaders of the Independence movement. A legend in his lifetime who challenged British monopoly in shipping sector. On his Jayanti my #Naman to a great son of Bharat.
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