His struggle for justice
Shrinivas Havanur describes the fight of the ‘Grand Old Man’ against injustice, but all in vain.
M Venkatakrishnaiya (1844-1933) is considered even today as the ‘Grand Old Man’ (Tatayya) of the princely Mysore State, with other titles to his honour such as Dayaasaagara, Bhishmacharya and the like. While serving as the Headmaster of Marimallappa High School Mysore, he also took to social work and journalism. In his long-standing career of 60 years, he started several news magazines including Sampadabhyudaya, Vidyaadaayini, Mysore Patriot and Saadhvi, so much so that he was rightly considered as the ‘Pitamaha of Kannada Journalism’ in the then Mysore State.
His concern for the welfare of the common man, prompted him to write about the maladministration and autocracy of the officials. And that involved British officers as well. Secondly, he firmly believed in the freedom of expression in newspaper writings, but with no malice towards any individual.
He had great respect for the two Maharajas of his period. Although he had not raised his voice against the British rule in the State, he occasionally wrote against them when there were administrative lapses. Due to this stance, he was forced to retire from the Headmastership of the Marimallappa High School (1918). But he continued to write as openly as before. However, at the instance of the Resident Barton, he was cautioned against doing so by his friend Mirza Ismail. The maharaja did have some regard for Venkatakrishnaiya, due to which he sanctioned a pension of Rs 50 per month from his own palace funds (1919).
However, due to a seditious article that appeared in Sampadabhyudaya, the paper was closed down by the government in 1922. Also a quasi-judicial enquiry was held in which Venkatakrishnaiya proved that he had equally appreciated the government actions in several instances. In the end, a warning was issued to him, but his paper was not resumed, again as per the wishes of the Resident! Venkatakrishnaiya was so upright and honest that he had advised the palace officials to withhold his pension until the enquiry was over!
However, the Resident bore a perennial grudge towards Venkatakrishnaiya and compelled the maharaja to squash the pension payment. It is said that Venkatakrishnaiya wrote a stringent article attacking the government’s attitude in this regard. Four years passed and Venkatakrishnaiya had no regular means to maintain his large family. He then wrote a letter (dated July 14, 1926) to his friend, who was by then the Dewan of Mysore State. In the letter, Venkatakrishnaiya had mentioned that his loyalty to the British and Mysore thrones can never be impugned even by his opponents. Expressing displeasure over the fact that his pension was being withheld, he had also stated that he had to sacrifice his ancestral property, his house, land and all that he had acquired to eke out a living. “All that I now possess is the consciousness of having done my duty,” he had said.
It appears there was no response from the Dewan even after a year. So this time Venkatakrishnaiya addressed a letter (dated November 5, 1927) directly to the maharaja, explaining to him the struggle for existence. He then requested the maharaja to issue orders for the arrears of his pension to be paid.
A note (dated November 9, 1927) with regard to this letter is relevant. It says, “I think there are some papers in the confidential box about stopping allowance to Mr Venkatakrishnaiya. I tried to find these letters but in vain.” Obviously this comment was made by the personal secretary to the maharaja named Charles Toddhunter.
Nevertheless, he forwarded the letter to the dewan for opinion and added, “I believe that you have been far from satisfied with the conduct of his newspaper writing even in the last few months.”
By then Venkatakrishnaiya got to know that the papers were with the personal secretary. So he addressed a detailed letter to Toddhunter on November 14, 1927, outlining his cordial relations with British officials and others. He had mentioned in the letter that he was not so anxious about the pension as he was about the removal of stigma which the stoppage of pension had impressed upon him.
“I leave the matter in your hands. Mr Mirza Ismail knows most of these things. He will be the source of correct information,” he had said. The secretary did seek the advice of Mirza Ismail as can be seen from a his note below in his letter to Venkatakrishnaiya.
“Discussed the issue with Dewan on November 26, 1927. The pension may in his opinion be resumed but without arrears.” So a letter was drafted which said that the maharaja was pleased to order the renewal of the payment of his pension with effect from December 1, 1927.
Thus everything seemed to be in his favour! But was the maharaja really consulted before drafting this letter? Doubtful, because the personal secretary has added towards the end of the draft: “Submitted to His Highness. Not approved. The matter may wait for sometime.”
Again in June 1929, Venkatakrishnaiya, probably for the last time appealed to the maharaja. But nothing positive turned out. So that was the end of a genuine fight against injustice. After four years, he died a pauper in November 1933.