The long-felt demand of people of the State, particularly those of southern districts, for a memorial dedicated to freedom fighter R. Vanchinathan (1886-1911) was fulfilled on Monday with Chief Minister Jayalalithaa declaring open the memorial in Shencottah, a place from which the freedom fighter hailed.

Like many other youngsters of his time, Vanchinathan was fired by the national movement for freedom. Hailing from the composite Tirunelveli district, he had observed the region experiencing violent scenes in 1908 in the wake of the arrest of V.O. Chidambaram Pillai, popularly known as VOC, and Subramania Siva. According to a publication of the Crime Branch - Criminal Investigation Department (CB-CID) released in 2011, Vanchinathan and other revolutionaries had a grudge against the then Tirunelveli Collector and District Magistrate Robert William D' Escourt Ashe for his role in scuttling the Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company, established by VOC in 1906.

It was for this reason and Vanchinathan and some others had decided to kill the Collector. On June 17, 1911, Ashe and his wife Mary were on their way to Kodaikanal when their train made a halt at the Maniyachi railway junction, now in Tuticorin district. As they were waiting for their first-class coach to be attached to the Boat Mail that was to arrive shortly, Vanchinathan along with his accomplice, Madasamy, entered the compartment and fired at the Collector, using an automatic Belgian-made Browning pistol, the police document says. An hour later (11-30 a.m.), the Collector died of internal haemorrhage. In the meantime, a crowd at the railway junction chased them. While Madasamy could never be traced, Vanchinathan entered a toilet and shot himself dead.

To perpetuate the memory of the freedom fighter, the previous Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam regime had announced that a memorial would be built in Shencottah. It was left to the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam to translate the plan into a reality. An amount of Rs. 50 lakh was sanctioned for the memorial, which had a bust of the martyr.

Describing Vanchinathan as one among those idealist youths who were willing to sacrifice their lives, A. R.Venkatachalapathy, Professor of the Madras Institute of Development Studies who has carried out research in the subject, says that the aim of such rebels was to resort to spectacular strikes so that consciousness of people was aroused and the then British regime was overthrown. “But, that backfired spectacularly as the repulse of the British was severe,” Prof. Venkatachalapathy says.

Dheeran memorial

The Chief Minister also inaugurated a memorial built at the site in Sankagiri of the Salem district where another freedom fighter, Dheeran Chinnamalai, was hanged by the British on July 31, 1805. Chinnamalai, who was born on April 17, 1756 in Melapalayam of the Erode district, had revolted against the British East India Company.

The inauguration of the Rs.60-lakh memorial was a sequel to Ms Jayalalithaa’s announcement in the Assembly in April 2012. A release also recalled the statue of Chinnamalai in Guindy here, which was in a shambles, was renovated at a cost of Rs. 10 lakh and the Chief Minister then declared open the renovated statue and released materials on the biography of the freedom fighter.

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