Lokmanya Bal Ganagadhar Tilak was born in Ratnagiri on July 23 1856, a year before the first war of Independence fought in 1857. Lokmanya was a title conferred on him by the public. As the British put it, he was the “father of Indian unrest”. He was a freedom fighter, teacher, journalist, editor, Sanskrit scholar, authority on Vedas and mathematician. “Swaraj ha maza janmasidha adhikar aahe ani to mi milavinach” “Swaraj (self rule) is my birthright and I shall have it.” His statement made in the court addressing the judge is still remembered today.
Bal Gangadhar Tilak was a bright child and very good at mathematics. The problems the teacher gave to work our on paper, Bal would do them mentally and give the answer. He also had a sense of fairness and justice from very early age. He was very independent minded and did not falter at expressing his opinions.
One day the teacher came to class and found peanut shells on the ground. “Who ate peanuts in the class and create this mess?” asked the teacher. No one came forward. “Well, if no one wants to come forward, the whole class gets the punishment.” The teacher began to give two cuts with cane to each child on the hand. This was a common form punishment at schools. “I did not eat those peanuts, I will not take the punishment” said Bal. “Well, if you do not want the punishment, tell me the name of the boy who did eat” said the angry teacher. “I am taught not to tell tales and I cannot tell you the name of the boy. However, I did not make that mess and I will not be punished for it.” Bal was not afraid to stand up against injustice from a very young age. He loved to hear the stories from his grandfather. His grandfather lived in Kashi during the 1857 Revolution and told him the stories of Nana Saheb, Tatya Tope and Jhansi Rani LakshmiBai.
When Bal was ten years of age, the family moved from Ratnagiri to Poona (modern day Pune). The move was very good for Bal’s education. He joined the Anglo-Vernacular School which had renowned teachers. Within a few months, his mother passed away. When Bal was 16 years old, his father passed away. Bal was married to a girl named Satyabhama who was 10 years old.
He graduated with B.A and LLB degrees. When he joined college, he was weak in health. The desire to serve his country was instilled in him by the stories his grandfather told him. A weak man cannot make any sacrifices, so he exercised regularly and by the end of his first year in college, he developed a well muscled body. He believed that “Religion and practical life are not different. To take to Sanyasa (renunciation) is not to abandon life. The real spirit is to make the country your family instead of working only for your own. The step beyond is to serve humanity and the next step is to serve God.” The concept of “swaraj” was unfamiliar and Tilak thought a good education could promote patriotism. With his classmate Gopal Ganesh Agarkar and Vishnushastry Chiplunkar, Tilak founded the New English School. It soon blossomed and transformed into the “Deccan Education Society”. This society founded the Fergusson College in Pune and today runs Fergusson College and the Greater Maharashtra Commerce and Economics College in Pune, the Willington College in Sangli and the Bombay College in Bombay as well as a number of high schools. The trio also started two newspapers “Kesari” in Marathi and “Maratha” in English.
In 1890, due to differences with the board of Deccan Education Society, Tilak was forced to resign. With a heavy heart, he bid farewell to the very institutes he founded and worked for ten years. He then became active politically.
From 1890 to 1897, he waged his war against the British rulers through his columns in his newspapers. He also used his newspaper columns for social reforms and called for a ban on child marriages and promoted widow remarriages. He transformed local celebrations of Ganapathi Festival and the birthday of the Shivaji into national festivals to organize people. He was a member of the Municipal Council of Pune, a member of the Bombay Legislature, and an elected 'Fellow' of the Bombay University, he was also taking a leading part in the Congress sessions. Added to these, he wrote and published his maiden work 'Orion'.
In 1896, famine and plague spread from Mumbai to Pune. The assistant collector of Pune, Mr. Rand mishandled the humanitarian catastrophe with brutal methods. His methods included destroying houses, transporting healthy people to hospitals, burning all the belongings and sending military men with guns into the houses. At the same time, the Government continued with the celebrations for Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria’s reign. Tilak wrote a scathing article in his newspaper and quoted Gita “no blame could be attached to anyone who killed an oppressor without any thought of reward”. Mr. Rand and his assistant were killed and Tilak was arrested and charged with inciting the murder. In the court he made his most famous statement, “Swaraj is my birthright and I shall have it.” In the jail he wrote “The Arctic home in the Vedas”.
In 1905, Lord Curzon divided Bengal on communal lines. Tilak called for the boycott of English goods and the movement came to be known as the Swadeshi Movment. He opposed the moderate views of Gopal Krishna Gokhale and his nationalist views were supported by Lala Lajpat Rai and Bipin Chandra Pal. The trio became Lal-Bal-Pal. In the annual Congress meeting in 1907 at Surat, Congress split into the Jahal Matavadi (“hot faction’ or the extremist) and the ‘Maval Matavadi’ (Soft Faction or the moderates).
On April 30, 1908 two youths Prafulla Chaki and Khudiram Bose, threw a bomb on a carriage with the intentions to kill District Judge Douglass Kenford . Instead they killed some women traveling in the carriage. Tilak, in his paper Kesari, defended the two and reiterated his demand for Swaraj. He was charged with sedition and arrested. Tilak asked a young Muhammed Ali Jinnah to represent him. Tilak was sentenced to Mandalay Burma from 1908-1914. Tilak was 52 years old then and had diabetes. The masses were not sure he would last his prison term. His rigorous imprisonment was reduced to simple imprisonment which enabled him to read and write. During this time he wrote “Geeta Rahasya” in Marathi. He also learnt German and French through the “teach yourself” books. Meanwhile, in India, his wife passed away while Tilak was serving his term in Mandalay.
After completing his term, Tilak rejoined the Congress in 1916. From 1916-1918 he also helped in founding the All India Home Rule League with Joseph Baptista, Annie Besant and Muhammed Ali Jinnah. A journalist named Chirol who was visiting India, charged Tilak as “leader of violent revolution in India”. Tilak took him to the courts in England and had to travel and spend 13 months there. During his stay in England, he addressed hundreds of meetings and intensified the Home Rule movement. He also built good relationships with leaders of the labor party. “Jalianwala Bagh Massacre” made Tilak to rush back to India.He issued a call to the Indians not to stop their movement no matter what happened, till their demands were met. The jail term at Mandalay, Burma ravaged his old body. Tilak was feeling very weak but would not stop his efforts of awakening the spirit for freedom in the masses. He visited Sangli, Hyderabad, Karachi, Solapur and Kashi where he addressed large crowds. He arrived in Bombay. In the early hours of August 1 1920, his old body gave up and the Kesari (lion) of India breathed his last.
Two Lakh people witnessed his last journey. Mahatma Gandhi, Lala Lajpat Rai, Shaukat Ali and others shouldered the bier by turns.
He led a simple life, and offered himself, body and soul, to the service of his country. Tilak had no property. His clothes were very simple. A dhoti, a shirt, a shawl on the shoulder and a red 'Pagadi' (a marathi cap) on his head. In many ways he was the architect of India’s Freedom Struggle. His ideas and efforts were carried on by equally worthy next generation of leaders Gandhiji, Patel, Nehru and others.