Let us remember patriot V.O. Chidambaram, first Indian to own ships during the Raj!!

V.O. Chidambaram Pillai, freedom fighter  you tube,.google.com

The 148th birth anniversary of great freedom fighter and patriot from Tamil Nadu V.O. Chidambaram Pillai came up on the 5th September. Because of Corona pandemic, his birthday celebration was a low-key affair. Though it is a belated post, let us, with gratitude, remember this great soul of India, the first Indian to run a shipping company during the British Raj. This month also  marks the birth anniversary of yet another freedom fighter Shaheed  Bhagat Singh (from Punjab)  who was put to death at the young age of 23 by the British rulers.

Born on September 5, 1872 V.O Chidambaram  Pillai, a lawyer by profession was a distinguished freedom fighter from Tamil Nadu who was constantly in touch with the National leaders across India. He was first one in India to have launched a  shipping company  called Swadesi Steam Navigation Company in 1906  to get rid of  British monopoly.   Cargo  and Passenger shipping  business was dominated by the British shipping companies in India and there were no Indian companies.  A & F  Harvey Co. which also had textile mills in  the southern India ran the shipping services between Thoothukoodi and Colombo. VOC's  company had two ships that operated  between Tuticorin (Thoothukudi)  and Colombo and as the fare was competitive, the people preferred his shipping services. Obviously, VOC got the appellation ‘Kappalottiya Tamilan’. Thus VOC gave an early start of Swadesi Movement  in India  proposed by three highly spirited national leaders  Lala Lajpat Rai, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bipin Chandra Pal

Being service-minded, Chidambaram  was more inclined to serve the poor and  took the cases of the poor for free and took up labor union cases. .The companies owned by the British treated the employees poorly and  never took safety precautions for those who handled heavy machinery. He had a row with the Coral Textile Company's ( (a part of Madura Coats under A& F Harvey Co) management over labor issues. In 1908 he led a major strike against the company for poor wages and poor working conditions for the employees.  The company management that  was controlled by A & F Harvey company, in collusion with  Tirunelveli  District Collector Ashe,  gave him frequent troubles.

Old oil press pulled by a bull sampspeak.in

With unabated spirit, VOC  and his supporters like Subramanya Siva  and others organized several protest marches in Tirunelveli district. In the same year when Bipin Chadra Pal was released from prison, VOC  and Subramaniya Siva celebrated it and,  for this reason, both were sent to jail by the British. Following this, there was a widespread  riot in Tirunelveli town that lasted 3 days. VOC who was charged under  sections 123-A and 153-A of the Indian Penal Code for speaking against the British and giving shelter to Siva  had to spend 40  years  in jail and later reduced to a few years at various places. It happened to be rigorous imprisonment ordered by the Raj to suppress the freedom spirit in him. Consequently, he was forced to take up hard labor like breaking hard stones, manually  pulling oil press daily (instead of bulls (see the image posted here) for certain time in the central prisons at Coimbatore and Kannanore (Kerala). By the time he came out of prison, his shipping company was sold to the British companies after liquidation. 

 Patriot V.O. Chidambaram ilavaluthy.blogspot.com

A rich and reputed lawyer underwent untold miseries losing everything he had to free India from the foreign power. When released in 1912, his life was ruined and he managed to survive with meager
income; he moved over to different places and did odd jobs  He got the licence to practice in 1927 at Kovilpatti, TN and in 1932 he moved back to Thoothukoodi and spent much of his time writing books, etc. His disillusionment with the INC led him to keep  away from politics. He died  on November 18, 1936 unsung in the twilight of his life as the British warned the Indian leaders not to deal with him while in exile as part of punishment issued by the court.