The title is a good alliteration, but it is unique in other respects also. Vanchi is the solitary martyr in the South and his action itself was somewhat different. It was limited to the railway station of Tinnevelly (Tirunelvelli) Station in broad daylight. The victim was clearly visible changing from one train to another along with his wife. Mr. Robert William D'escourt Ashe, the victim, was the embodiment of official oppression in the area from as early as 1908. Vanchi was a clerk in the Forest Department of Travancore. His only associate in the action was Shankar Krishna Iyer, his Brother-in-law.
As the Sedition Committee clearly mentioned; "we do not consider that there was any indigenous revolutionary movement in Madras. But for the influence of Bipin Chandra Pal and the revolutionaries plotting in Paris and Pondicherry, there would have been no trouble in South India". It will be an interesting information to know something about the personal life of Vanchi, who rose from obscurity and passed into immortality as the only martyr from the South of Vindhyas. He was born in a small village, Shenkittai, in 1886. His father was V. Raghupati Aiyer and mother, Rukmini. He started his own life as a clerk and was married to Pannamal who expired in 1967. The only surviving member of the obscure village is one R. Gopalakrishna Iyer who lives in Tinnevelly (Tamilnadu). He is now aged about 90 years.
It would be better to start with Bipin Chandra Pal who had a powerful political influence on Vanchi. As early as 1907, Bipin Chandra Pal, called the "Lion of Swaraj" in the South, delivered a series of lectures in various places in the area. They were highly spirited and inspiring. His three lectures in the city of Madras (now called Chennai), on Swaraj, Swadeshi, and Boycott, culminated in incising the youth to violent anti-government actions.
On 10th May he was to have addressed a meeting in Madras but the organisers learnt about the arrest of Lala Lajpat Rai (of the famous Lal-Bal-Pal) in the North. They whisked him away to Calcutta (Kolkata now) for safety. But on the Kali Pooja Day (early revolutionaries were devotees of Kali, the goddess of prowess) he completed the stirring speech for the youth of Madras. He enjoined them to appease the great goddess, Kali, with the sacrifice of 108 ' white goats' (meaning white men).
A South Indian Chidambaram Pillai had accompanied Bipin Pal to Calcutta. He was already initiated into the revolutionary movement by Dr. Tarakhnath Das when he was hiding as Tarak Bhramachari in Pillai's house before the latter left for Japan, on a voluntary exile. On Pillai returning to Madras, he openly propagated t he Cult of the Bombs with the sole purpose of driving the Britishers out. Alarmed at this open call to armed action by the Indian patriots, the Govt. arrested him along with Subramanium Siva on the 12th March, 1911. A reign of terror was let loose on the people of Tinnevelly. But oppression is never known to have suppressed revolutionary actions. The Collector's Court, Police Barracks were ransacked and set on fire. Only the army could restore order.
Two more revolutionaries of Madras, Neelakantha Brahmachari and Shankar Krishna Iyer were preaching the cult of armed revolution from place to place. The youth of the South had a new militant spirit instilled in them. Shankar's brother-in-law, Vanchi, joined them. And by December, 1910, V.V.S. Iyer, arrived from Paris to Pondicherry and immediately started training a few young men there for revolutionary action. Vanchi took his revolver practice from Iyer. He was on 3 months' leave from the office form January 1911. He belonged to Bharat Mata Association, a revolutionary organisation. In one of the meetings Vanchi publicly held the Britishers responsible for all the ills in India, plague, famine, poverty and ignorance.
This was the background of the daring action of Vanchi on the 17th June 1911. Ashe had been the Collector of Tinnevelly Dist. He had suppressed the disturbance of 1908 with utmost brutality. By his other acts of omissions and commissions, he had already earned the notoriety to head the list of revolutionary revenge in South India.
Vanchi Iyer and a few others in Pondicherry, along with the new arrival from Europe, V.V.S. Iyer, planned the riddance of Ashe.
Vanchi returned to Tinnevelly and closely shadowed the target. The original intention was to kill him on 11th June 1911, synchronising with the Coronation of George the V. But Ashe was no where to be seen on that day. He thus escaped death but just by a week. The fateful day arrived on 17th June, 1911. Ashe and his wife were out on official tour and were at Manyanchi station to change for Kodai Kanal. But at Manyanchi one 'V-Anchi arrived. He was accompanied by his brother-in-law, Shankar. It was 11 a.m. The collector and his wife changed over to the other train. Within a few minutes Ashe was attacked by Vanchi. The injured officer was brought back to Tinnevelly for treatment. But the tyrant of the district succumbed to the injuries. There was commotion, confusion and consternation all over. Vanchi waited for a few minutes to see if his bullet had done the job. People around tried to over-power him but failed against the fear of the loaded revolver. Vanchi managed to go to the end of the platform just to shoot himself with his own revolver through the throat. The long hand of law was cut short and could not catch the Collector's assassin. He became a martyr, the solitary one in the South. It is pertinent, also inspiring, to quote from Madame Cama in her Vande Mataram of July 1911. She wrote:
"When decorated slaves from Hindustan were parading the streets of London as performers in a Royal Circus (a ref. to King George's Coranation) and demonstrated their subservience to the King of England, two young and brave countrymen of ours proved by daring deed that Hindustan is not slumbering. The shots that Vanchi fired did help arouse a slave nation from the century-old slumbering."
Let Independent India remember them with reverence. That is the least we can do. Unfortunately we are not doing it.