Recollections and recriminations of a precious generation

Harsha Raj Gatty re-connected with 3 freedom fighters and one from among India’s post-independence generation to gain an insight into the contours of Indian independence…

It was the league of extraordinary gentlemen, women and children who lived no ordinary lives; away from homes, hounded by colonial outfits, tortured, prosecuted, imprisoned, transported or even facing capital sentences. Call them Moderates, Extremists or Revolutionaries, these people had no qualms about dedicating the prime years of their lives to the effort to secure India’s freedom – a struggle that went on till the stroke of the midnight of 15th of August 1947, when India was truly able to liberate itself from the clutches of the British Empire.

As of March 2018, 37,356 freedom fighters and their dependants were recipients of Swatantrata Samman Pension Scheme. However, the list is not reflective of all the freedom-fighters as many while receiving ‘Freedom-fighters’ pension from their respective state governments are yet to be officially endorsed by the Central government’s record. Cases filed by applicants or their kin are still being heard by courts for the denial of pension by the government. Repeated High Court judgements have rapped both Central and State government on denial of pension on flimsy grounds. ‘Freedom Fighter’s pension is not charity but an honour for their immeasurable services to the country’ the court orders have held.

But interestingly, Post-Independence not many of the freedom fighters who had sacrificed a great deal made any claims or showed much interest in occupying positions of eminence or governance in independent India.

With their job done, most freedom-fighters took a back-seat or returned to their regular lives, while others continued to fight-off the social-evils that plagued the nation post-Independence. There were also those who remained silent observers witnessing the transformation of society, time, people and ideas. Karnataka too has contributed its due share of freedom fighters to the independence movement – Karnad Sadashiva Rao, N. S. Hardikar, K.G Gohkale, R.S. Hukkerikar, S. Nijalingappa, Nittoor Srinivasa Rau, G.R. Pandeshwar, Muduvidu Krishnarao, Umabai Kundapur, Krishnabai Panjekar, Kamaladevi Chattopadhaya, Yashodhara Dasappa being among the prominent names.

HS Doreswamy

Among the centenarians who have witnessed both the Pre-Independence British India and change of power to Republic of India is veteran Freedom fighter HS Doreswamy. He says the mere conversation of freedom struggle gives him a nostalgic recollection of a nation up that was infectiously patriotic in the first-half of the 20th century. “Irrespective of religion, caste, creed, emotions ran high among the people. They wanted to liberate the country from foreign rulers,” Doreswamy says.

In fact the 100-year old vividly remembers that at least a dozen British officers deserting their Army wanting to join Indian National Army (INA) under Subhash Chandra Bose’s command. “In connection with my role in the Quit India movement I was jailed at a Central Jail in Bengaluru in 1944. Few days later 12 British officers were transferred from Military prison to our facility. They told other inmates that they wanted to join the INA, but before they could join they were captured, court-martialled and sentenced to death. A few days later we heard that they were taken to Jalahalli and executed,” he says while asserting how the feeling of nationalism had gripped the entire nation sparing none. “Can you imagine this kind of unison of thoughts and ideas in your present era, among the people today?” he challenges.

On the contrary, Doreswamy says that today the country is faced with multi-layered socio-economic issues, red-tapism and corruption are plaguing the country and its government machinery, even the legal fraternity and system is no exception to it and has crumbled. According the Doreswamy in the past 72-years, the exploitation of the poor has not reduced but turned complex. “It is just the rich who have become richer. The five-year-plans should have focused on the upliftment of the poor; but none of the subsequent governments neither at the Central or the State level have considered the plight of the downtrodden seriously,” he says.

He adds that even in the present, the pro-capitalist government bodies which entice foreign companies for investment with sops, subsidies, schemes and even tax break, the poor continues to be burdened and remain in a state of neglect. “We did not fight for this kind of freedom. Freedom is not just end of domination from colonial rulers but also the social evils, degradation and uncivilised practices that come along with it. But here the practice of exploitation of the socially-economically weaker section continues to exist; if this continues then what is the meaning for the word freedom,” he says.

Doreswamy elaborates that in a nation which is truly ‘Swarajya’, there must not be any kind of discrimination or inequality be it racial, political, economic, religious or social. “It must always be ‘Nation First’ for the people. When we fought for our freedom we all felt it is a cause to cherish as everyone would enjoy the toil of same labour. Atleast out of respect for the selfless sacrifices or the great Martyrs, we must change our perspective and try to establish a socially, communally harmonious society,” he says.

Doreswamy who had once famously inspired mill-workers of Bengaluru to quit working in British production mills and aligned them with the freedom movement, says encouraging people to participate in public causes is not difficult.

Be it his protest against waste dumping at Mandur landfills or successfully contesting illegal land encroachment of 40,000 acres of land in Bengaluru, or his demand for the distribution of agricultural land to distressed farmers, Doreswamy continues to lead many pro-people’ agitations.

According to him unlike during pre-independence days, at least people are not prosecuted on frivolous charges and now one can question government almost fearlessly. “You have so many tools like Public Interest Litigation (PIL), Right to Information (RTI), Lokayukta, Sakala and so on. If the tech-savvy youngsters rightly use these devices, of couse they can lead a social change or a movement. But someone has to motivate them” he says.

HM Shivanna

On the other hand, a man of few words and more action, 87-year-old Hassan based freedom fighter H.M Shivanna feels that independence is greatly misused by the younger generation today. He feels that the youngsters lack dedication and commitment to build a nation and standby societal values. “Unlike the youth during the pre-Independence era, who strived hard to attain independence and fought against any wrong-doing, today the youngsters are self-centred and only speak of their own individual right and liberty. Except a few not many think or feel for the breakdown in the society. With barely any experience of hardship and struggle, I have seen many people simply submitting to corrupt practices or trying to look away without raising their voice against it, he says. Shivanna says this kind of callous attitude can set a dangerous precedence, if people do not fight off white-collar crimes both at government and private undertakings it will be detrimental to nation building,” he says.

Post-Independence, H.M. Shivanna has been leading several citizen agitations and is a pioneer among anti-corruption crusaders in the Hassan district. Shivanna who says he personally witnessed the selflessness of Mahatma Gandhi at Sabarmati Ashram for 12 years, feels that the freedom fighters have paid a huge price for the sake of freedom, but looking at the present state of the generation he feels the outcome of the Independence movement has been wasted.

MG Krishna Murthy

At Mysuru, 87-year-old Freedom fighter Dr. M G Krishna Murthy born to late M N Ganapathy Iyer and late Seetha Lakshmi is the proud recipient of the Tamara Patra for his active participation in the freedom struggle. It was the effort of Murthy along with his contemporaries in the famed Mysore Chalo movement that ensured that the princely state of Mysore Maharaja JayachamarajaWadiyar would capitulate to the protester’s demands and assure the installation of a responsible and democratically elected government in the state.

According to Dr. M G Krishna Murthy, in the good old days, corruption was a relatively unknown term. He feels that, earlier the elected representatives were endowed with great humility. “They used to reach out to houses of the ordinary people and make a personal effort to resolve their problems. The leaders did not did not roam around in cars and they were sincere in their efforts to represent people and their concern rather bow down to their party dikat’s, unlike what we see today,” he says.

A true Gandhian, Murthy laments that despite the constitutional provision for free and compulsory education upto the age of 14, the law makers could not ensure that the basic right is stringently put to practice. “If we are sincere about bringing change in our country, then we must first ensure that all are educated, then we need leaders who are educated – not just the bureaucrats but political leaders too; they are the visionaries who can lead the nation.” he says.

Stella P Pinto

Meanwhile 70-year old Stella P Pinto recollects that post-Independence, people took time to come to terms with concepts like Constitution, Ministers, officials, Reservation, Subsidy, Ration and so on, but over time they have realised that laws and rights are for the common good. “Yes, for instance basic awareness of formal education of women was neglected but later-on it became an accepted norm of society. If you ask people around my age, you will get to hear things like food scarcity, government-rationing etc. There was a lack of communication, no clarity on public announcements and people were expected to run from pillar to post for menial works. But at least since 2005, I have been noticing things have picked up pace especially I think it is because of the deployment of technology,” she says. Stella sympathises with the government and says that they alone cannot be blamed. She says irrespective of the party in power it is a difficult affair to suddenly lead a population of a billion. “However it is true that the legislature, executive and judiciary are neither proportionate to the population nor are they completely meeting people’s aspiration. While the internet and communication era has relatively enhanced people’s access to the government schemes and programs. It is important that well trained and able administrators are employed for service so that they can bring innovative solutions to complex problems,” she says. While the primary cause that the freedom fighters have championed has long been achieved, and we the generation next enjoy the fruits of their labour the question remains, are we frittering it all away?

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