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Monday, September 6, 2010

Remembering 5th Sept - the South Indian Marine connection {VOC}

More than 100 years back, this man made a speech at Thai Poosa Mantapam in the bed of river Thamirabarani at Tirunelveli [on the night of 9th March 1907] and was convicted under sections 124A & 153A of Indian Penal Code by the Bench consisting of CA White & Miller. In that famous speech, he had thundered “"As soon as the English people set foot in India, poverty also made its appearance in the country. So long as the foreign Government exists we shall not prosper. So long as we continue to be the servants and slaves of foreigners we shall have to endure hardships.”

One of the primitive implements for extracting oil is bullock powered oil press. It is no engineering marvel – it has a large wooden mortar with a groove encircling its tucked-in waist, into which a broad plank with open semicircular end fits. A wooden pestle of a size proportionate to the mortar rests on it; the other end is connected to the broad plank. The power required to move, rotate and crush the ingredients is supplied by oxen – which generally is a retired old animal no longer capable of pulling cart or ploughing.

To ever imagine replacing the animal with a man would send chill on the nerves. But for the cruel British Govt, that was one way of punishing the young and brave who dared to openly challenge them.

VOC Otttapidaram house

Vandanam Olaganathan Chidambaram Pillai (VOC) was born on 5th Sept 1872. His father was the eminent lawyer Ulaganathan Pillai in Ottapidaram, Tuticorin Dist. Like his father, he also became an advocate and often pleaded for the poor. He was attracted by the Swadeshi movement by tne Bal Lal Pal, a time when Gandhi was not at the National scene. The fight was against the Imperial policies of British which were threatening the very existence of trade, commerce and the communities that were dependent on them. In Madras Presidency this was championed by the likes of Subramanya Siva, Subrahmanya Bharathi, Aurobindo Ghosh. VOC also presided the Salem Congress Session.

His exemplary fighting qualities made him establish the “Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company” during Nov 1906 by purchasing two steamships ‘S.S.Gaelia’ and ‘S.S.Lawoe’. This indeed is an exemplary act when somebody can imagine the stringent measures and imperialistic attitude of the Britishers who crushed any such activity by brutal force. By running ships, he challenged the monopoly enjoyed by the British India Steam Navigation Company, formed in 1856. In 1913 the company later became part of P&O Group.

In trying circumstances where British wanted the venture to collapse in no time, VOC posed formidable challenge. Undercutting and offering freebies is not something new to Indian market, the British in those days itself resorted to reducing the fare trip and offered free trips plus a free umbrella and ensured that the trading of the Indian shipping company was affected.

VOC did everything to create awareness of imperialism and mobilised the workers of textile mills in that area. On 12th Mar 1908 he was arrested on charges of sedition. Mahakavi Bharathiyar and Subramanya Siva appeared in the Court in the case and VOC was sentenced to double life imprisonment tantamount to 40 years ad confined to prison. He was treated badly as a convict and subjected to inhuman torture. History has it that he was yoked in place of bull in the oil press and made to work cruelly. He was later released in Dec 1912.

Upon release, he was not permitted to return to Tirunelveli, his bar license had been stripped, his Company had been liquidated and ships auctioned. VOC died on 18th Nov. 1936 in chill penury. One of his sons contested from Ottapidaram in 1967 TN Assembly but lost. He was also an erudite scholar. The 1961 tamil movie ‘Kappal ottiya Thamizhan’ (the Tamil who ran a ship) with Sivaji in lead role is a legendary film in tamil tinseldom.

5th Sept marks his 138th Birth day. I for one is against celebrating birth days of those persons who are no more. Still, it would remain a day worthy of remembering and recalling his commitment, strong will and sacrifice. The young generations of India should read his life as an example of resistance, strife, struggle, suffering and sacrifice.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar 


  1. Sampath!
    Great .

    Where did u get this Foto from ?


  2. Did u know that more than 1000 cars loaded with VOC clan was in Nellai VOC manimandapam on 18th of November to celebrate his Guru Pooja ?

    Editor Muthalkural

  3. Grand article on a great man of India, especially of Thoothukudi - Jacob

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