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V.O. Chidambaram Pillai (VOC) | 21-Apr-2016 17:01

V.O.Chidambarampillai (VOC) was born on 5 September 1872 in Ottapidaram, Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu (the same District which a hundred years earlier given birth to Veerapandiya Kattabomman).

Chidambarampillai was the eldest son of Ulaganathan Pillai and Paramayi Ammai. His early education was in Tuticorin. He passed a pleadership examination in 1894 and this enabled him to practise law at the local sub-magistrate's court. He then went on to practise at the nearby port town of Tuticorin. 

The partition of Bengal in 1905, the rise of militancy evidenced by  Swadeshi (boycott of foreign goods) movement, saw Chidambarampillai taking a direct interest in the political struggle. These were the years before the arrival of Gandhi on the Indian political landscape. 

Chidambarapillai supported Bal Gangadhar Tilak and the militant wing of the Indian National Congress. He participated in the 1907 Surat Congress together with Subramania Bharati. He was one of the earliest to start the 'Dharmasangha Nesavuchalai' for hand-loom industry and the 'Swadeshi Stores' for the sale of India made things to the people. He played a lead role in many institutions, like the  "National Godown," "Madras Agro-Industrial Society Ltd.," and "The Desabimana Sangam".

Commerce between Tuticorin and Colombo was the monopoly of the British India Steam Navigation Company (BISN) and its Tuticorin agents, A. & F. Harvey.

Inspired by the Swadeshi movement, V.O.C. mobilised the support of local merchants, and launched the first indigenous Indian shipping enterprise, the Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company, thus earning for himself the name - "Kappalottiya Tamilan கப்பலோட்டிய தமிழன்".  

The Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company was registered on the 12th of November 1906. He purchased two steamships, S.S. Gallia and S.S. Lawoe for the company and commenced regular services between Tuticorin and Colombo against the opposition of the British traders and the Imperial Government.

His efforts to widen the base of the Swadeshi movement, by mobilising the workers of the Coral Mills (also managed by A. & F. Harvey) brought him into increasing conflict with the British Raj. On 12 March1908, he was arrested on charges of sedition and for two days, Tirunelveli and Tuticorin witnessed unprecedented violence, quelled only by the stationing of a punitive police force. But newspapers had taken note of VOC.