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Swadeshi Padmanabhan

(1868 – 1937) – (Kerala)

Swadeshi Padmanabha Iyengar (Aged 69) was born in 1868 in Trivandrum, Kerala, India. Padmanabhan earned his B.A. degree by private study during the early years of his first job as a Malayalam Translator at Madras High Court (1888-1898). He joined the Indian National Congress and attended its Madras session in 1898 as a delegate from Ambasamudram. He joined the Lal-Bal-Pal group in the same year and spent two years in Trivandrum and Tirunelveli districts, meeting students and instilling Swadeshi ideals in them. Riots during one such meeting at Trivandrum led to his brief arrest.

Padmanabhan rejoined the High Court in 1901 and worked for five years. He worked as a Sub-Editor at Madras Mail, followed by a stint as an Assistant Editor and Editor at Madras Standard in 1906. The government and British police force periodically interrogated and conducted police surveillance on him for his close association with Chidambaram and Siva during 1905-1911. Finally, in 1911, they foisted a case on him for an editorial he wrote in Madras Standard in 1906, exposing the misdeeds of the notorious Arbuthnot Bank.

The crash of the bank had brought a lot of misery to a large number of innocent depositors in South India, and the case against Padmanabhan for the editorial had to be dropped as it had no sympathizers in Madras. However, the High Court terminated his employment as a Malayalam Translator in 1911. Mr. Wynch, the Collector of Tinnevely district (as Tirunelveli was then called), had banned the three freedom fighters from organizing any public meeting celebrating Bipin Chandra Pal’s release.

They defied the ban and organized a procession and meeting on the banks of the Tamraparni (Tamiravaruni in Tamil) on March 9, 1908, drawing huge crowds. Prior to this, the workers at the British-owned Coral Mills at Tuticorin had gone on strike. Padmanabhan, along with the others, ably supported the workers, advising them and leading them to a successful conclusion in ten days.

All three leaders were arrested on March 12. The riots that followed in Tirunelveli are remembered by the civic authorities annually on March 13 as Tirunelveli Uprising. Padmanabhan joined the Hindu High School, Triplicane, after this event and taught English and History until 1917. Thereafter he freelanced as a writer, mostly for the Hindu, directing his efforts almost entirely to the cause of Indian Independence. In his last years spent with his youngest son, he started translating Rigveda Samhita into English. The book was published in 1935, two years prior to his passing away.

From the time he joined the Indian National Congress and took the Independence Pledge, Padmanabhan had been using his oratorical and writing skills to teach his countrymen, and especially the youth, the need to follow an assertive brand of Nationalism as propounded by the famous Lal-Bal-Pal triumvirate. He passed away in 1937.