Glimpses from the book launch — The Last Heroes: Foot Soldiers of Indian Freedom by noted journalist P. Sainath
New Delhi: The Last Heroes: Foot Soldiers of Indian Freedom by noted journalist P. Sainath was launched at the India International Centre, New Delhi, yesterday. The book documents the country’s last living freedom fighters. It narrates life stories of 15 people and in one case, of a village, which the British called Badmash Gaon.
The book opens with one statement by ‘Captain Bhau’, Ramchandra Sripati Lad, Leader of Toofan Sena, in Kundal Sangli of Maharashtra, whose story is also covered in the book. He is quoted as saying, “We fought for two things—For Freedom and Independence. We attained Independence.” This statement gives the readers an insight into the thought processes of India’s freedom fighters and tells us why almost all of them continued their fight for freedoms even after 1947.
Professor Jagmohan, the nephew of legendary Bhagat Singh wrote the foreword of the book. He travelled from Ludhiana to attend the launch. He writes, “It is a matter of concern that our current generations are fast losing their links to the culture of freedom struggle.” This book is to remind the relatively younger people of the spirit of freedom struggles. Prof Jagmohan searched for Hari Singh Usman, of the Ghadar Party, who later served in establishing the Indian national Army (INA). He found him at the construction site of a village school.
Prof asked him how he was out at the school site in such hot weather at his advanced age? He replied: “It was the conviction of our party that the important revolutionary work is to ensure education of the younger generation.” This book does precisely that. This is an attempt to educate the college-going, school-going and office-going people about who really spearheaded India’s Freedom struggles.
The book tells us that they were millions of ordinary people — farmers, labourers, homemakers, forest produce gatherers, artisans, hail from different regions, speak different languages and include atheists and believers, Leftists, Gandhians and Ambedkarites — who stood against the British and their opposition to Empire was uncompromising.”
It turned out to be a very emotional moment when historian Romila Thapar was thanked by P. Sainath for coming in for the launch. It was a student paying respect to his teacher and the tradition of the Indian subcontinent was felt alive in her gracious presence. She wrote about the book, “The role of ordinary people in the defeat of colonialism must be remembered, their contribution applauded. This is what this book does so effectively and with such sensitive understanding.”
Sainath narrated the story of Hausabai Patil—who was beaten by her fake husband in front of a police station in Bhavani Nagar in Sangli. The drama was staged to get the officials in the station out so that her other comrades could loot the police station. Nearly 74 years later, she is still annoyed with the fake husband for beating her so hard to make their fight appear genuine. Her 74 years are recorded in the 14 pages of the book.
He also narrated the story of Demati Dei ‘Salihan’ who took on the Raj with her lathis when the British official was shot in her father’s leg.
This is the second lathi which needs to become legendary in our minds as a story. The story of the first lathi was that when Prophet Moses would put it on the ground, it would turn out to be a snake. I am not sure about the authenticity of Moses’ lathi-story but this book tells us that Salihan’s lathi took on the Raj and there is no doubt about it.
Also, Sainath spoke about Bhagat Singh Jhuggian — (not to be confused with the legendary Bhagat Singh) — to whom The Wire paid its tribute upon his passing away in March this year. The noted journalist also talked about H. S. Doreswamy of Bengaluru, Karnataka who ran one newspaper with many names. He is quoted as saying, “The Collector did enquire why I was registering so many newspapers. The point is, when they shut one title, I could relaunch under another. So, when they shut Pauravani, I started Pauraveera.”
He also talked about Shobharam Gehervar — a Gandhian who made bombs — of Jadugar Basti of Ajmer in Rajasthan whose family members would tell the comrades, “It is okay if you die. You are anyway doing all this only for freedom.”
But there were a few who the far-right adhere to till date, who did not do anything for freedom, rather became collaborators with the Empire. They are projected as freedom fighters by the current ruling dispensation. A student journalist asked Sainath, why not keep “people from the other side of the ideological spectrum who contributed to the freedom struggle” together?
Sainath replied, “I can’t invent a history for those who have none. I can’t invent a heroism for those who showed cowardice.”
Amir Malik is a JNU alumnus and an ACJ graduate.