Biography of Chempakaraman Pillai

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Indian Personality Chempakaraman Pillai Biography

Chempakaraman Pillai (born September 15, 1891–May 26, 1934), was an Indian revolutionary during the Indian Independence Movement, who went abroad to organise an army to declare war against the British for India’s freedom.

Chempakaraman Pillai Early Life

Chempakaraman Pillai was born of Tamil descent in Thiruvananthapuram(Trivandrum), capital of the erstwhile “native” State of Travancore in southernmost India.

Chempakaraman Pillai father, Chinnaswami Pillai, who was a police head constable in Travancore State Government Service, and mother, Nagammal,lived in Thiruvananthapuram. Chempakaraman had his primary and high school education in the Model School, Thycaud, Thiruvananthapuram city.

As a school boy he happened to meet Sir Walter Strickland, a British biologist, who visited Thiruvananthapuram in search of botanical specimens; Chempakaraman and another boy, a cousin of Chempakaraman by the name of Padmanabha Pillai, became close friends of Strickland, who on his return voyage, took the two boys with him.

But Padmanabha Pillai ran away at Colombo and came back to Thiruvananthapuram. Chempakaraman, then fifteen years old, continued the journey with Strickland and landed in Europe. Strickland got him admitted to a school in Austria from where he completed his high school education.

Chempakaraman Pillai In Europe
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Pillai later joined a Technical Institute and took a Diploma in Engineering. On the outbreak of the First World War, Pillai formed the International Pro-India Committee with Zurich as its headquarters in September 1914 and himself as its President.

Around this time the Indian Independence Committee was formed in Berlin by a group of Indian expatriates in Germany with Virendranath Chattopadhyaya, eldest brother of Sarojini Naidu, Indian National Congress leader under Mahatma Gandhi and a well-known poet in English,as its President and including Bhupendranath Dutta (brother of Swami Vivekananda, [(Punnackal A. Raman Pillai)]. a student in the University Göttingen, Taraknath Das, Barkatullah, Chandrakant Chakravarty, M. Prabhakar, Birendra Sarkar, and Herambalal Gupta.

Chempakaraman Pillai moved to Berlin in October 1914 and joined the Committee. The International Pro-India Committee formed by Chempakaraman Pillai in Zurich was merged in the Berlin Committee, which continued as the guiding and controlling institution for all the Pro-Indian revolutionary activities in Europe.

Lala Har Dayal was also persuaded to join the movement. Soon the Committee’s branches sprang up in Amsterdam, Stockholm, Washington, and in many other parts of Europe and America.

Chempakaraman Pillai War Activities

Main articles: Berlin Committee and Hindu-German Conspiracy
The Indian Independence Committee ultimately became involved in the so called Hindu-German Conspiracy along with the Ghadar Party in the United States of America.

The German Foreign Office under Kaiser paid for the anti-British activities of the Committee. Chempakaraman Pillai and A. Raman Pillai, both belonging to Travancore, and both students in German Universities used to carry on correspondence with each other on the Committee’s activities.

Quite a few of Chempakaraman’s letters to A. Raman Pillai. then a student in the University of Goettingen, are in the safe custody of Raman Pillai’s son, Rosscote Krishna Pillai, an author, science writer, media person and social activist in Thiruvananthapuram.

The letters reveal some aspects of Chempakaraman’s life in Germany during 1914-1920. In July 1914, Chempakaraman Pillai from Berlin called upon Indian soldiers in the British Indian Army to rise in revolt and fight against the British.

After the end of World war and Germany’s defeat, Chempakaraman stayed back in Germany; he was working as a technician in a factory in Berlin; when Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose visited Vienna, Chempakaraman met him and explained his plan of action to him.

Foreign Minister of Provisional Government of India

Pillai had the privilege of being the Foreign Minister of the Provisional Government of India set up in Afghanistan in December 1915, with Raja Mahendra Pratap of Kabul as President. Maulana Barkatulla as Prime Minister. However, the defeat of the Germans in the war shattered the hopes of the revolutionaries.
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The Germans were all along helping the Indian revolutionaries with a selfish motive. Though the Indian patriots made it clear to the Germans that they were equal partners in their fight against the common enemy – British imperialism – and what was expected of them was help by way of funds, arms, and ammunition, to the revolutionaries who were abroad and at home fighting the British, the Germans wanted to exploit the revolutionaries for their propaganda work and gathering military intelligence.

When they started losing the battle, the Germans lost their interest in the revolutionaries and even started looking upon many with suspicion. This strained the relationship between the Indian revolutionaries and the Germans.

Pillai raised his voice against the view of Adolf Hitler that Indians were still incapable of ruling themselves, and he even forced Hitler to apologise in writing. But he fell a victim to the wrath of the Nazis. In 1931 Pillai had married Lakshmibai of Manipur, whom he had met in Berlin. It is reported that the Nazis under orders from Hitler killed Chempakaraman by food poisoning on May 26, 1934[citation needed].

Chempakaraman Pillai Last Wish

Pillai’s last wish was that his ashes be carried to his homeland, and his wife fulfilled this thirty-three years after his death. She underwent indescribable sufferings and hardships during this period, and the Nazis made her life miserable.

However, to fulfill her mission of preserving his ashes, his diary, and secret documents, she faced all hardships and lived in Berlin, Italy, and Spain and later reached Mumbai. The Indian Navy’s warship, I.N.S. Delhi, flying the flag of Free India, brought Pillai’s ashes to Cochin on September 16, 1966.

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