India House was an informal Indian nationalist organisation based in London between 1905 and 1910. With the patronage of Shyamji Krishna Varma, its home in a student residence in Highgate, North London was launched to promote nationalist views among Indian students in Britain. The building soon became a hub for political activism and a meeting place for radical Indian nationalists. It ranked among the most prominent centres for revolutionary Indian nationalism outside India. India House published an anti-colonialist newspaper, The Indian Sociologist, which the British Raj banned as "seditious".
A number of prominent Indian revolutionaries and nationalists were associated with India House, most famously Vinayak Damodar Savarkar; others included V.N. Chatterjee, Lala Har Dayal, V.S.S. Aiyer, M.P.T. Acharya and P.M. Bapat. As key members of revolutionary conspiracies in India, they went on to be the founding fathers of Indian communism and Hindu nationalism. In 1909, a member of India House Madan Lal Dhingra assassinated Sir W.H. Curzon Wyllie. Under the light of subsequent investigations by Scotland Yard and the Indian Political Intelligence Office, the organisation fell into decline. A crackdown on India House activities by the Metropolitan Police prompted a number of its members, including Shyamji Krishna Varma and Bhikaji Cama, to leave Britain for Continental Europe, where they continued their activities. Some students, including Har Dayal, moved to the United States. The network created by India House played a key part in the Hindu-German Conspiracy for nationalist revolution in India during World War I.
Krishna Varma admired Swami Dayananda Saraswati's cultural nationalism and believed in Herbert Spencer's dictum that "Resistance to aggression is not simply justified, but imperative". A graduate of Balliol College, he returned to India in the 1880s and served as administrator (divan) of a number of princely states, including Ratlam and Junagadh. He preferred this position to working under what he considered service to the alien rule of Britain. However, a supposed conspiracy of local British officials at Junagadh, compounded by differences between Crown authority and British Political Residents regarding the states, led to Varma's dismissal, He returned to England, where he found freedom of expression more favourable. Varma's views were staunchly anti-colonial, even supporting the Boers during the Second Boer War in 1899.
India House was a large Victorian Mansion at 65 Cromwell Avenue, Highgate, North London, which provided accommodation for up to thirty students. It first housed an organisation called the Indian Home Rule Society (IHRS)> This was founded in February 1905 by Shyamji Krishna Varma along with other notable expatriate Indians such as Bhikaji Cama, S.R. Rana and Lala Lajpat Rai to serve as a rival organisation to the British Committee of Congress.
After founding the IHRS, Krishna Varma used his considerable financial resources to offer scholarships to Indian students in memory of leaders of the 1857 uprising on the condition that the recipients would not accept any paid post or honorary office from The Raj upon their return to India. These were complemented by three additional scholarships worth Rs 2000, endowed by S.R. Rana in memory of Rana Pratap Singh. The IHRS was available "to Indians only", and it garnered significant support from Indians—especially students—living in Britain. Following the model of Victorian public institutions, , it had a constitution which clearly articulated its aim to "secure Home Rule for India, and to carry on a genuine Indian propaganda in this country by all practicable means". It recruited young Indian activists, raised funds, and possibly collected arms and maintained contact with revolutionary movements in India. The group also professed support for causes in sympathy with its own, such as Turkish, Egyptian and Irish republican nationalism. The close relationships established with these movements by Krishna Varma later influenced the activities and alliances of India House, both in Britain and abroad.
The Paris Indian Society, a branch of the IHRS, was also launched in 1905 under the patronage of Madam Cama, Sardar Singh Rana and B.H. Godrej. A number of India House members who later rose to prominence—including V.N. Chatterjee, Har Dayal and Acharya and others—first encountered the IHRS through the Paris Indian Society. Cama herself was at this time deeply involved with the Indian revolutionary cause, and nurtured close links with both French and exiled Russian socialists. In 1907, Cama, along with other IHRS associates, attended the Socialist Congress of the Second International in Stuttgart. There, supported by Henry Hyndman, she demanded recognition of self-rule for India and in a famous gesture unfurled one of the first Flags of India.
In 1904, Krishna Varma had founded The Indian Sociologist (TIS), a penny monthly (with Spencer's dictum as its motto), as a challenge to the British Committee's Indian. The name was possibly intended to convey Krishna Varma's conviction that the ideological basis of Indian independence was to be the discipline of sociology. TIS itself was critical of the moderate loyalist approach and its appeal to British liberalism, exemplified by the work of G.K. Ghokale; TIS advocated Indian self-rule. It was critical of the British Committee, whose members—as ex-members of the Indian Civil Service—were, in Krishna Varma's view, complicit in the exploitation of India. The Indian Sociologist quoted extensively from the works of British writers, which Krishna Varma interpreted to support colonial exploitation and the Indian right to oppose it, by violence if necessary. It advocated confrontation and demands rather than petition and accomodation. However, Krishna Varma propounded his views and justifications of political violence in nationalist struggle as the last resort, and his support was initially intellectual. Freedom of the press and the liberal approach of the British establishment meant Krishna Varma could air views that would have been rapidly suppressed in India.
Still, the views expressed in TIS drew stinging criticisms from ex-Indian Civil Servants in the British press and Parliament, who suggested intellectual dependence on Britain by highlighting Krishna Varma's citation of British writers and lack of reference to Indian tradition or values. They argued that Krishna Varma was disconnected from the Indian situation and Indian feelings. Most famously, Valentine Chirol, editor of The Times who had close associations with the Raj, accused Krishna Varma of preaching "disloyal sentiments" to Indian students, and demanded his prosecution. Chirol later described India House as "The most dangerous organisation outside India". Krishna Varma, and the messages emanating from TIS, further drew the attention of Edward VII who, greatly concerned, asked John Morley, the liberal Secretary of State for India, to stop the publication of such messages. Although Morley refused to take action at the time, Chirol's tirade against TIS and Krishna Varma forced the Government to investigate. Detectives visited India House and interviewed the printers of its publication. Krishna Varma saw these actions as the start of a crackdown on his work and, fearing arrest, moved to Paris in 1907; he never returned to Britain.
Impressed and influenced by the Italian wars of Independence, Savarkar believed in an armed revolution in India and was prepared to seek assistance from Germany towards this end. He proposed the indoctrination of Indian soldiery in the British army, just as the Young Italy movement had indoctrinated Italians serving in the Austrian forces. In London, Savarkar founded the Free India Society (FIS), and in December 1906 he opened a branch of Abhinav Bharat Society. This organisation drew a number of radical Indian students, including P.M. Bapat, V.V.S. Iyer, Madanlal Dhingra, and Virendranath Chattopadhyaya. Savarkar had lived in Paris for some time, and frequently visited the city after moving to London. By 1908, he had recruited to the organisation a number of Indian businessmen residing in Paris. During one visit, he acquired in the French capital a bomb manual given to Hem Chandra Das—a Bengali revolutionary of the Anushilan Samiti—by the Russian revolutionary Nicholas Safranski . Savarkar met Gandhi again when the latter visited India House in October 1906, and his hardline views may have influenced Gandhi's opinion on nationalist violence.
India House was soon transformed into the headquarters of the Indian revolutionary movement in Britain. Its newest members were young men and women in London who came from all over India. A large number, almost a quarter each, were from Bengal and Punjab, while a significant but smaller group came from Bombay and Maharashtra. The members were predominantly Hindus. Most were students in their mid-twenties, and usually belonged to the Indian social elite, from families of millionaires, mill owners, lawyers and doctors. Nearly seventy people in all attended meetings regularly, including several women. The Sunday night meetings were selected for lectures by Savarkar on topics ranging from the philosophy of revolution to bomb-making and assassination techniques. Only a small proportion of these recruits to the society were known to have previously engaged in political activity or the Swadeshi movement in India.
Abhinav Bharat Society had two goals: to create through propaganda in Europe and North America an Indian public opinion in favour of nationalist revolution; and to raise funds, knowledge and supplies to carry out such a revolution. It emphasised actions of self-sacrifice by its members for the Indian cause. These were revolutionary activities which the masses could emulate, but which did not require a mass movement. The outbuilding of India House was converted to a "war workshop" where chemistry students attempted to produce explosives and manufacture bombs, while the printing press turned out "seditious" literature, including bomb-making manuals and pamphlets promoting violence toward Europeans in India. In the house was an arsenal of small arms that were intermittently dispatched to India through different avenues. Savarkar was at the heart of these, spending a great deal of time in the explosives workshop and emerging on some evenings, according to a fellow revolutionary, "with telltale yellow stains of Picric acid on his hands". The residents of India House and members of Abhinav Bharat practiced shooting at a range in Tottenham Court Road in central London, and rehearsed assassinations they planned to carry out.
The deliveries of weapons to India included, among others, a number of Browning Pistols sent through Chaturbhuj Amin, Chanjeri Rao, and through V.V.S. Iyer when he returned to India. Sympathetic Europeans may have served as couriers on several occasions. Revolutionary literature was shipped under false covers and from different addresses to prevent detection by Indian postal authorities. Savarkar's The Indian War of Independence was published (in 1909) and was considered inflammatory enough to be removed from the catalogue of the British Library to prevent Indian students from accessing it.
By 1908, the India House group had overtaken the London Indian Society (LIS), established in 1865 by Dadabhoi Naoroji and till then the largest association of Indians in London. Subsequently, India House took over the control of LIS when, at the annual general meeting that year, members of India House packed the gathering and ousted the old guard of the society.
The activities of India House did not go unnoticed. In addition to questions raised in official Indian and British circles, Savarkar's unrestrained views had been published in newspapers such as the Daily Mail, Manchester Guardian and Dispatch. By 1909, India House was under surveillance from Scotland Yard and Indian intelligence, and its activities were considerably curtailed. Savarkar's elder brother Ganesh was arrested in India in June that year, and was subsequently tried and exiled to the penal colony in Andamans for publication of seditionist literature. Savarkar's speeches grew increasingly strident and called for revolution, widespread violence, and murder of all Englishmen in India. The culmination of these events was the assassination of Sir William H. Curzon Wyllie, the political aide-de-camp to the Secretary of State for India, by Madanlal Dhingra on the evening of 1 July 1909, at a meeting of Indian students in the Imperial Institute in London. Dhingra was arrested and later tried and executed.
In the aftermath of the assassination, India House was rapidly liquidated. Investigations into the killing were expanded to look for broader conspiracies originating from India House; although Scotland Yard stated that none existed, Indian intelligence sources suggested otherwise. These sources further suggested that Dhingra's intended target was John Morley, the Secretary of State for India himself. A number of sources suggested the assassination was in fact Savarkar's brainchild, and that he planned further action in Britain as well as India. In March 1910, Savarkar was arrested upon his return to London from Paris and later deported to India. While he was held at Brixton Prison during the deportation hearing, an attempt was made in May 1910 by the remnant of India House to storm his prison van and rescue Savarkar. This plot was coordinated with help from Irish republicans led by Maud Gonne. However, the plan failed when the ambush stormed an empty decoy van while Savarkar was transported along a different route. In the following year, police and political sources brought pressure on the residents of India House to leave England. While some of its leaders like Krishna Varma had already fled to Europe, others like Chattopadhyaya moved to Germany. Many others moved to Paris. The Paris Indian Society gradually took India House's place as the centre of Indian nationalism on the continent.
The arrival of B.C. Pal and G.S. Khaparde in London in 1908 further stirred the matter, since both were known to have been radical nationalist politicians in India. By September 1908, an agent had been installed within India House who was able to invite detectives to the Sunday night meetings of the Free India Society (attendance for Europeans was by invitation only). The agent passed on some additional information, but was not able to infiltrate Savarkar's inner circle. Savarkar himself did not come under special scrutiny as a dangerous suspect until November 1909, when the agent delivered information about discussions of assassinations at Indian House. The agent may have been a young Maharashtrian by the name of Kirtikar, who had arrived at India House as an acquaintance of V.V.S. Iyer, ostensibly to study Dentistry in London. Kirtikar was discovered after Iyer made enquiries at the London Hospital where he was supposed to be training, and was one night forced by Savarkar to confess at gun-point.
After this incident, Kirtikar's reports were likely screened by Savarkar before they were passed on to Scotland Yard. M.P.T. Acharya was at this time instructed by V.V.S. Iyer and V.D. Savarkar to set himself up as an informer to Scotland Yard; they believed this would provide information to the police and help corroborate the reports sent by Kirtikar. Although it pursued Indian students and shadowed them avidly, Scotland Yard was severely criticised for its inability to penetrate the organisation. The Viceroy's secretary, William Lee-Warner, was assaulted twice in London: he was slapped in the face in his office by a young Bengali Student named Kunjalal Bhattacharji, and subsequently assaulted in a London park by another Indian student. The Yard's inefficiency was blamed for these events.
However, the agent's first reports in early 1909 were of little value. Only in the months immediately preceding the Curzon Wyllie assassination did they prove useful. In June, he described the shooting practice at Tottenham Court range and rifle practice in the back of India House. This was followed by reports of V.V.S. Iyer and Savarkar's advice to M.P.T. Acharya on acts of martyrdom. Following the arrest and subsequent transportation of Savarkar's elder brother Ganesh Savarkar in India on 9 June 1909, C's reports note that Savarkar's speeches grew increasingly strident and called for revolution, widespread violence, and murder of all Englishmen in India. In the following weeks, Savarkar was barred from joining the bar due to his political activity. These events led to the assassination of Sir Curzon Wyllie. Although it was believed that Savarkar may have personally instructed or trained Dhingra, Metropolitan police were unable to bring a prosecution against the former, since he had an alibi for the night.
The police brought strong pressure on India House and began gathering intelligence on Indian students in London. These, along with threats to their careers, robbed India House of its student support base. It slowly began to disassemble, and—as Thirumal Acharya described bitterly—the residence was treated akin to a "leper's home" by the Indian students in the city. In addition, although student political activism could not be curtailed too heavily for fear of accusations of repression, the British Government successfully implemented laws to curtail the publication and distribution of nationalist or seditious material from Britain. Among these was Bipin Pal's Swaraj, which was forced to close, an event which ultimately drove Pal to penury and mental collapse in London. India House gradually ceased to be an influence in Britain.
Under Savarkar, the organisation became the focus of the Indian revolutionary movement abroad and one of the most important links between revolutionary violence in India and Britain. Although the organisation welcomed those with extremist views as well as moderates, the former outnumbered the latter. Significantly, a number of the residents, especially those who agreed with Savarkar's views, did not have any history of nationalist movement in India, suggesting they were indoctrinated during their stay at India House.
More significantly, India House was a source of arms and seditious literature that was rapidly distributed in India. In addition to The Indian Sociologist, pamphlets like Bande Mataram and Oh Martyrs! by Savarkar extolled revolutionary violence. Direct influences and incitements from India House were noted in several incidences of political violence and assassinations in India at the time. One of the two charges against Savarkar during his trial in Bombay was for abetting of the murder of the District Magistrate of Nasik A.T.M. Jackson by Anant Kanhere in December 1909. The arms used were directly traced through an Italian courier to India House. Other activists such as M.P.T. Acharya and V.V.S. Iyer were also noted in the Rowlatt report to have aided and influenced other political assassinations, including the murder of Robert D'escourt Ashe at the hands of Vanchi Iyer. The Paris-Safranski link was strongly suggested by French police to be involved in the 1907 attempt in Bengal to derail the train carrying the Lieutenant-Governor Sir Andrew Fraser. The activities of nationalists abroad is believed to have quite strongly shaken the loyalty of a number of native regiments of the British Indian Army.
India House and its activities had some influence on the subsequent nonviolent philosophy adopted by Gandhi. He had met some members of India House, including Savarkar, in London as well as in India, and disagreed with the adoption of nationalist and political philosophies from the west. Gandhi dismissively labelled this revolutionary violence as anarchist and its practitioners as "The Modernists". Some of his subsequent writings, including Hind Swaraj, were opposed to the activities of Savarkar and Dhingra, and disputed the argument that violence was innocent if perpetrated under a nationalist identity or while under Colonial victimhood. It was against this strategy of revolutionary violence—and in recognition of its consequences—that the formative background of Gandhian nonviolence was framed.
Following the example laid by the original India House, India Houses were opened in the United States and in Japan. Krishna Varma had built close contacts with the Irish Republican movement. As a result, articles from The Indian Sociologist were reprinted in the United States in the Gaelic American. In addition, with the efforts of the growing Indian student population, other organisations mirroring India House emerged. The first of these was the Pan-Aryan Association, modelled after the Indian Home Rule Society, opened in 1906 through the joint Indo-Irish efforts of Mohammed Barkatullah, S.L. Joshi and George Freeman. Barkatullah himself had been closely associated with Krishna Varma during his earlier stay in London, and his subsequent career in Japan put Barkatullah at the heart of Indian political activities there.
The American branch also invited Madame Cama—who at the time was close to the works of Krishna Varma—to give a series of lectures in the United States. An India House, although not officially allied to the London organisation, was founded in Manhattan in New York in January 1908 with funds from a wealthy lawyer of Irish descent called Myron Phelps. Phelps admired Swami Vivekananda, and the Vedanta Society (established by the Swami) in New York was at the time under Swami Abhedananda, who was considered "seditionist" by the British. In New York, Indian students and ex-residents of London India House took advantage of liberal press laws to circulate The Indian Sociologist and other nationalist literature. New York increasingly became an important centre for the global Indian movement, such that Free Hindustan, a political revolutionary journal published by Taraknath Das closely mirroring The Indian Sociologist, moved from Vancouver and Seattle to New York in 1908. Das collaborated extensively with the Gaelic American with help from George Freeman before Free Hindustan was proscribed in 1910 under British diplomatic pressure. After 1910, the American east coast activities began to decline and gradually shifted to San Francisco. The arrival of Har Dayal around this time bridged the gap between the intellectual agitators and the predominantly Punjabi labour workers and migrants, laying the foundations of the Ghadar movement.
An India House was opened in Tokyo in 1907. The city—like London and New York—had by the end of the 19th century a steadily growing Indian student population, with whom Krishna Varma kept in close contact. However, Krishna Varma was initially concerned about spreading his resources thin, especially since the Japanese centre lacked a strong leadership. He further feared interference from Japan, which was on friendly terms with Britain. Nonetheless, the presence of revolutionaries from Bengal and close correspondence between London and Tokyo houses allowed the latter to gain prominence in The Indian Sociologist. The India House in Tokyo was a residence for sixteen Indian students in 1908 and accepted students from other Asian countries including Ceylon, aiming to build a broad foundation for Indian nationalism based on pan-Asiatic values. The movement gained new momentum after Barkatullah, on the directions from Krishna Varma and George Freeman, moved from New York to Tokyo in 1909. Taking up the post of Professor of Urdu at Tokyo University, Barkatullah was responsible for East Asian distribution of The Indian Sociologist and other nationalist literature from London. His work at the time also included the publication of Islamic Fraternity, which was financed by the Ottoman Empire. Barkatullah transformed it into an anti-British mouthpiece, invited contributions from Krishna Varma, and advocated Hindu-Muslim unity in India. He published other nationalist pamphlets which found their way to the Pacific coast and East Asian settlements. Further, Barkatullah established links with prominent Japanese politicians including Okawa Shumei, whom he won over to the Indian cause. British CID, concerned about the threat that Barkatullah's work posed to the empire, exerted diplomatic pressure to have Islamic Fraternity closed down in 1912. Barkatullah was denied tenure and was forced to leave Japan in 1914.
The liquidation of India House in 1909 and 1910 gradually disseminated its members to different countries in Europe, including France and Germany, as well as the United States. The network that India House founded was to be key in the efforts by the Indian revolutionary movement against the British Raj through World War I. During the war, the Berlin Committee in Germany, Ghadar Party in North America, and the Indian revolutionary underground attempted to transport men and arms from United States and East Asia into India, intended for a revolution and mutiny in the British Indian Army. During the conspiracy, the revolutionaries collaborated extensively with the Irish Republican Brotherhood, Sinn Féin, Japanese patriotic societies, Ottoman Turkey and most prominently the German Foreign Office. The conspiracy has since been called the Hindu-German conspiracy. Among other efforts, the alliance attempted to rally Afghanistan against British India.
A number of failed mutinies were made in India through 1914-1915, of which the Ghadar Conspiracy, the Singapore Mutiny, and the Christmas Day Plot were the most notable. The threat posed by the conspiracy was key in the passage of the Defence of India Act 1915, and suppression of the movement necessitated an international counter-intelligence operation on the part of the British empire lasting nearly ten years. Following the end of World War I, ex-members of India House and erstwhile members of Berlin Committee and the Indian revolutionary movement increasingly turned to the young Soviet Union, becoming closely associated with communism. When the Communist Party of India was founded in Tashkent, in October 1920, a number of its founding members including M.P.T. Acharya, Virendranath Chattopadyaya, Champakaraman Pillai and Abdul Rab had been associated with India House or the Paris Indian Society.