|Died||17 June 1911(aged 24–25)|
|Cause of death||Suicide|
Vanchinatha Iyer (1886 – 17 June 1911), popularly known as Vanchinathan or Vanchi, was an Indian independence activist. He is best remembered for assassinating Robert Ashe, the Tax Collector of Thirunelveli who was instrumental in closing V.O.Chidambaram Pillai’s Swadeshi Shipping Company and arresting him.
Vanchinathan was born in 1886 in Sengottai to Raghupathy Iyer and Rukmani Ammal in a Tamil Brahmin family. His actual name was Shankaran. He did his schooling in Sengottai. He married Ponnammal and got into a lucrative government job.
On 17 June 1911, Vanchi who was 25, assassinated Robert Ashe, the district collector of Tirunelveli, who was also known as Collector Dorai. He shot Ashe at point-blank range when Ashe's train had stopped at the Maniyachi Station, en route to Madras. He committed suicide thereafter. The railway station has since been renamed Vanchi Maniyachi.
The mastermind behind the assassination was Nilakanta Brahmachari who went around the Madras presidency in 1910 recruiting cadres and hatching plots against the British. In this venture, he was accompanied by Shankar Krishna Iyer, Vanchinathan's brother-in-law, who introduced the men to each other. Along with a few other men, Nilakanta Bramhachari, Vaanchinathan, and Shankar Krishna Aiyar found an organisation called Bharatha Matha Sangam which plots the assassination of influential British men. On 17 June 1911, Ashe boarded the 9:30 am Maniyachi Mail at Tirunelveli Junction. With him was his wife, Mary Lillian Patterson, who had arrived from Ireland only a few days earlier. They had married on 6 April 1898, in Berhampore; Mary was about a year older than Ashe. They were on their way to Kodaikanal where their four children, Molly, Arthur, Sheila, and Herbert, lived in a rented bungalow. At 10:38 am, the train pulled in at Maniyachi. The Ceylon Boat Mail was due to arrive at 10:48 am. As the Ashes sat facing each other in the first class carriage, waiting for the Boat Mail to arrive, a neatly dressed man with tufted hair and another young man wearing a dhoti approached the carriage. The former boarded the carriage and pulled out a Belgian-made Browning automatic pistol. The bullet hit Ashe in the chest and he collapsed. The sound of the pistol shot was absorbed by the howling wind. 
After the shooting, Vanchinathan ran along the platform and took cover in the latrine. Sometime later he was found dead, having shot himself in the mouth. The pistol recovered from him was empty without any bullets as he just planned to kill himself after killing Ashe and had no intention to hurt anyone other than Ashe In his pocket was found the following letter:
I dedicate my life as a small contribution to my motherland. I am alone responsible for this.
The mlechas of England having captured our country, tread over the sanathana dharma of the Hindus and destroy them. Every Indian is trying to drive out the English and get swarajyam and restore sanathana dharma. Our Raman, Sivaji, Krishnan, Guru Govindan, Arjuna ruled our land protecting all dharmas, but in this land, they are making arrangements to crown George V, a mlecha, and one who eats the flesh of cows.
Three thousand Madrasees have taken a vow to kill George V as soon as he lands in our country. In order to make others know our intention, I who am the least in the company, have done this deed this day. This is what everyone in Hindustan should consider it as his duty.
I will kill Ashe, whose arrival here is to celebrate the crowning of cow-eater King George V in this glorious land which was once ruled by great samrats. This I do to make them understand the fate of those who cherish the thought of enslaving this sacred land.
I, as the least of them, wish to warn George by killing Ashe.
Vande Mataram. Vande Mataram. Vande Mataram
— sd/-, R. Vanchi Aiyar, Shencottah
Vanchi was a close collaborator of Varahaneri Venkatesa Subrahmanya Iyer (normally shortened to V.V.S.Aiyar or Va.Ve.Su Iyer), another activist who sought arms to defeat the British. He trained Vanchinathan to execute the plan in all perfection. They belonged to Bharatha Matha Association.
The Tamil Nadu Government built a memorial in Sengottai at his birthplace.
The contents of the letter that was retrieved from Vanchi Iyer post his suicide indicates that the murder was religious and caused great apprehension on the Ashe's activities against social evils. The timing of the assassination indicated a protest against the impending coronation. Many outfits in Tamil Nadu allege that Vanchi Iyer was a casteist and he killed Ashe because he was interfering with the Brahminism. According to M Sivasubramaniam, this has no historic proof as per the official British records and proceedings of the court.
In recent years, the Dalit (traditionally marginalized groups in India) perception of Ashe has been positive and is considered as a hero. Ashe took action to ensure that all people could take a bath in the Courtallam waterfalls, which until then had been reserved exclusively for the upper caste Indians and for the bathing of idols of deities. This action has opened up the waterfalls for the Dalit people. In recent years, Dalit organizations have paid tribute to Ashe on his birthday by offering floral tributes to his memorial and to his grave, which is situated in the English Church, opposite the St. John's College in Palayamkottai. According to K. G. Kalaikannan, Tirunelveli district secretary of Athi Tamilar Peravai, they gave floral tributes to Robert Ashe in order to challenge the common view that Vanchinatha Iyer is a freedom fighter and to help other people know the actual reason for Vanchinatha Iyer's murder of Ashe. In Kalaikannan's version, "Vanchinatha Iyer was frustrated by Ashe's wife, Mary Lillian Patterson, who supported a pregnant outcast woman who needed urgent medical attention to move through agraharam. To secure the Brahminical set-up, he killed Ashe.
The Hindu (Tamil) published an article based, what it said, on an interview with Jayakrishnan, who claimed to be the grandson of Vanchinathan. It was said in the article that Jayakrishnan blamed (his grandfather) Vanchinathan for neglecting his wife who was 8 months pregnant at that time. Jayakrishnan has purportedly said "What he (Vanchinathan) did was wrong". Writer Jayamohan has written an article on his website that the article has given wrong information as there were no descendants to Vanchinathan. The only girl child he had, died as an infant while he was still alive. He has stated in the article that in spite of several representations pointing to the untruths in the article, the paper has not published an apology.The Hindu (Tamil) published an apology admitting that the contents of the (above-mentioned) article on Vanchinathan contained unverified false information and regretted for its publication.
For the first time in the history of independent India, a Dalit group paid floral tributes to Ashe. “Since this great Briton was against untouchability and recognised the Dalits as human beings even when the caste-ridden society took all-out measures to oppress them, we pay floral tributes to the slain Collector,” justified members of Aathi Thamizhar Katchi.