…contd from the earlier article ‘Trip to Kanyakumari’
Lakshmanji – one of the forgotten heroes
I reached Vivekanandapuram and saw a picture exhibition of Swami Vivekananda. How much ever I had read about him would not fill my stomach. So I went inside to see the exhibition. It was a good one which gave a brief history of Indian Culture and Civilisation as well. After I saw the exhibition, I asked a worker of Vivekanandapuram where Lakshmanji stayed. I had heard from my father and one of the earlier Pracharaks of the Rashtriya Svayamsevak Sangh (RSS) about Lakshmanji and that he had a major role in the initial days of struggle for building the Vivekananda Rock Memorial at Kanyakumari. The worker showed me Lakshmanji’s room.
The door was open. It was a small room, with a smaller space inside (supposed to be another room). “Lakshmanji?”, I called out. An old man came out coughing and looked at me. “Come in”, he said. “Sit down. I’m sorry, I cannot recollect who you are”, he said. I introduced myself giving the reference of Gopi Chettan (Chettan – elder brother in Malayalam) who was a Vibhag Pracharak of RSS in Kerala many years ago. I told Lakshmanji that I have heard about him and wanted to meet him in person. He asked me where I am from, what I do for my living, about my family, etc. After talking to him for some time, I could see a smile on his face. A smile that we could see on a lonely person’s face when somebody has come to meet him after a very long time. I asked him about his role in the Vivekananda Rock Memorial. And the words that will be flowing next are what I heard from the horse’s mouth. For the next 30 minutes or so, different kinds of emotions gushed through me – of pain, anger, sympathy, sorrow, patriotism, and what not.
It was in 1962. There was no Vivekananda Rock Memorial at that time. People knew about the rock but it was just another part of the history. One day, Christian Missionaries who were very active in Kanyakumari, fixed a Cross on the rock. This news spread out to the RSS. A senior Pracharak of RSS, Shri Madhavji, who was one of the earlier dedicated workers of RSS in Kerala came to know about this. He met Lakshmanji (who was just 23 years old then) and explained that there is a situation we are facing. Since the Missionaries have kept a Cross on the rock, very soon they are going to come up with a church there. But it is a place where the great Swami Vivekananda had sat for three days continuous and contemplated on the agony he had seen throughout the country. It was there that he got the idea of going to the West and asking their help for our country. “We need to build a National Monument there, not a religious one”, he told Lakshmanji. “Can you go to Kanyakumari and work for this cause?” he asked. Without any hesitation, Lakshmanji gave an affirmative reply. “Good. Let me go and talk to some more people and seek assistance. But let me warn you, when you are going for this cause, keep in mind that you may have to sacrifice your life in this process. Are you ready for that?” Lakshmanji replied, “I am”.
Very soon, 12 – 13 dedicated workers (more like warriors) came forward from Calicut district (northern Kerala) for this Mission. Four of them went to Kanyakumari and stayed there for a couple of months. They studied the situation. They moved secretly in the town but still the Christian Missionaries came to know about this. They Missionaries even warned them. These guys knew that they were no match in number for the Missionaries so they kept mum and didn’t argue with them. After two months they came back with their team of 12 – 13 members. Soon, the Missionaries again came to know about the plan and were on constant vigil. One night, as the other members kept watch on the shore, four of them swam across the sea to the rock. They couldn’t use a boat lest they would be noticed by the Christian workers. They reached the rock and tried to remove the Cross. But it was deeply rooted on to the rock. They could break its upper part but could not take out the base out of the rock. They realized that they needed some heavy tools to do it and hence swam back to the shore the same night. Next night, they swam to the rock with heavy tools in their hands. (When I heard this, I was imagining, how on earth could anyone swim across the sea that was filled with big rocks, in the darkness of the night and that too with heavy tools in their hands? What must have been their dedication towards their Mission? What a great source of inspiration they must have had that gave them so much of strength? Of what material those fearless lions must have been made of?) They reached the rock and successfully removed the whole Cross. Next day, the Missionaries came to know about this. They started planning their next move. The Svayamsevaks were also alert. They expected attack on them at any moment. And they did face an attack by a mob at night. But lions, they were. How could some weak-hearted cowards try to kill them by a surprise attack? These men were so dedicated for their work that they breathed patriotism every moment. For them, every breath was for the nation. The Svayamsevaks drove those foxes away.
Within a few days, the Missionaries planned that they would fix up a Cross again on the rock on one night and the next day they would bring the Police to the rock at 7 am, show the Cross and once the Cross is there on the rock, the matter would go to the Court to decide whether the Missionaries can get a permission to build a Church (which they normally do get with this modus operandi). If the Svayamsevaks were spotted there, the Police would arrest them under Section 144 of the Indian Constitution. The Missionaries had sought the help of the present Police Commissioner who also happened to be a Christian. Somehow; their plan was leaked by a senior Govt. official to the Svayamsevaks. The Svayamsevaks knew that it was the final call. The day had come for them to fulfill their purpose. That night they went to the beach and were about to go to the rock. But suddenly they saw some white clothes in the sea. They understood that people were guarding the rock in boats. They waited till early morning on the shore. When it was 6 am, Lakshmanji said, “We should not wait any longer. It’s a do or die situation. I’m going in. Those who wish to join me can come with me”. Three others went with him on a boat towards the rock. The others waited on the shore for giving them signals.
They reached the rock at 6:30 am. To their luck, when they reached the rock, the guards went to the nearby waters for fishing (since most of them were fishermen by occupation) thinking that they guys will not turn up since they didn’t come all night. Lakshmanji’s task was to remove the Cross as soon as possible and the others’ duty was to protect him from anybody who would prevent him from doing so. It was 6:45 am and the comrades on the shore signaled them about the time. Lakshmanji took the name of the Lord and swung a heavy tool with full force. In one shot the Cross came out. They threw it into the sea and shouted with joy on top of their volume, “Bharat Mata ki Jai!”. Together they sang one of the patriotic songs of RSS, in Malayalam. The fisherman realized their stupidity and turned their boats towards the rock. Around one thousand supporters of Christian Missionaries arrived on the shore and came towards the rock in boats. Now, these guys were only four in number. Surrounded by water on all sides, there is nowhere to go. The sight before them is of a huge angry army coming towards them with weapons in their hands. Lakshmanji gave the command, “Svayameva Mrugendrata! We all stay together like lions. We will not run away. If we are attacked, we will kill as many as possible and die”. They had their danda (big bamboo stick used for self defense) in their hands and stood still – Fearlessly. The boat reached the rock. Seeing these four youngsters, standing in such a way that they have not known what fear is, scared the army. They all stood at a distance of fifteen feet. Nobody had the courage and go forward. They stood in the same posture for a few minutes and it was as if time stood still. By that time, the police arrived and gave a call using the speaker to avoid violence and return back. But the Father who was on the rock said, “No, we will not go back unless we kill these people. Kill them!” Still nobody moved. After a few moments, the attackers decided to throw stones Lakshmanji and others. The warning from the police came out again, “If you don’t start returning in 10 seconds, we will open fire.” They knew that nothing could be done now and they started getting back to their boats. Lakshmanji’s and his comrades’ faces were shined with smiles, smiles of having won a war, of having achieved their aim, of having done a great thing for their Motherland, of a great sense of fulfillment.
For many days to come ahead, they stayed in Kanyakumari under the risk of attacks. Very soon, the great Visionary – Shri Eknathji Ranade, came up with the plan of building a National Memorial on the rock and the work began. The rest is history. How he collected one rupee from every individual to build the Vivekananda Rock Memorial, how he fought against but finally got the Govt. support in building the Memorial is known to us. Eknathji had requested Lakshmanji, Balanji (another comrade) and others not to leave Kanyakumari till they die and to safeguard it all the time. For he knew, these were a few lions amongst the ones who are getting extinct. And it is only these few people who could lay down their life happily, who knew no fear, who were inspired from their role models – Guruji and Doctorji of RSS, they are the ones who could protect the Memorial. All of them agreed to Eknathji’s request and stayed there till their last breath. Some of them took seva work in the Rock Memorial and some worked in the boats that ferried people across the sea to the rock. Lakshmanji took up the job of driving the boat taking people across the sea to the Great Rock. And he is still doing that job at the age of 72. He has appealed for retirement and pension so that he can take rest now, for his health is failing. However, his appeal has fallen on deaf ears and he still has to work for a living. With his meager salary, he got his daughter married off and his son is doing a small job. Since he couldn’t make a good amount of savings from his small income, he still has to work from 7:30 am to 6:30 or 6:45 pm six days a week. He is the last one in the batch of those 12 – 13 men who served the cause.
For reasons unknown, in the pages of history, Lakshmanji’s and his companions’ names got disappeared. How many Lakshmans and how many Balans must have fought for such noble causes? This is one of the stories that luckily we came to know. How many stories like these disappeared without getting any notice? With such questions in my mind, I went to bed.
Next day morning he asked me for my name and number again saying that he might forget it due to his old age. I gave him my card. He put me on to a bus and bid me farewell with a silent smile. I could read a lot of feelings in that smile. With tears in my eyes, I left.
The purpose of this article is not to show any dislike or hatred towards Christian Missionaries. What is said herein above is a fact and even Christian Missionaries know about it. So, there is no need to be mute about it. The intention of this article is to inspire the readers with stories of such men who lived their lives like Lions, who created History, who didn’t wish for any recognition or fame, who loved their Motherland like their own Mother. All our country needs is a few men like these, who can make a big difference. The question is – “Are you one of them?”