Harohalli Srinivasaiah Doreswamy was 23-years-old and had joined a new job as a school teacher when he was first arrested and imprisoned for 14 months for organizing strikes against the British government. His second visit to the prison was at the age of 57 when he took on then prime minister Indira Gandhi during the emergency.
In an interview with Arun Dev, the 102-year-old draws parallels between the times he has lived through and the present state of affairs in the country. He says that a leader or a movement has always emerged whenever democracy was threatened in the country. He also has a message for 22-year-old activist Disha Ravi, who was recently arrested on charges of sedition in connection with the toolkit case you have to stay strong. Edited excerpts:
How do you look at the government using sedition against voices of dissent?
Isnt it clear? Those who do not support or speak up against the government are called traitors. What is even more concerning is that most of them have not been given a trial. Even the British had done the same (registered sedition cases) but when cases were filed against Gandhiji and (Bal Gangadhar) Tilak, they were produced before the court. By not producing them before the court, their (governments) intention is to harass and create an environment of fear for the others. They want to see people silenced.
How old were you when you were arrested during the freedom movement?
I was 23-years-old when I was arrested. I had just got a new job as a teacher in a high school then. I started working in June but by then, the Quit India Movement has begun. I helped organise a 14-day strike at the mills across Mysore state and also blew up government record rooms and postboxes with very small time-bombs. Our intention was to disrupt the British governments daily functioning.
By December, I was arrested, and I lost my job as well.
Was the jail term a difficult experience?
Not at all, it was a learning experience. I had a purpose in life, to fight the British rule. I was not worried at all; in fact, it was like a university for me. The other leaders in jail used to give lectures. I learnt new languages when I was there.
You lived through the Emergency also
Oh yes, there was an interesting incident from the time of Emergency. After the Emergency was announced, I wrote a letter to Indira Gandhi (then prime minister), saying she was a dictator. In the letter, I threatened to go village to village and mobilise the people against her dictatorship. Soon after that, I held the first meeting in Gandhi Bazar (in Bengaluru). I was arrested. But I was in jail only for four months.
During the trial, the prosecution said that I had criticised the prime minister and that I was an enemy of the state. But that judge who was hearing my case said that I had every right to criticise the government and there is no proof to say that I am an enemy of the state. The judge then told the prosecution to ask the government under what charge should I be booked and released me.
I hope our current judiciary will stand up for justice as that judge did then.
What are your views on the recent arrest of 21-year-old Disha Ravi by Delhi Police?
The police took a woman from Bengaluru to Delhi without informing the local magistrate it is very harsh on their part. But she has braved it. It is very brave of her.
If you could tell her anything, what would you say?
You have to be strong. We are facing a dictatorial regime that is merciless, you need to stay strong.
There are reports of parents telling their children not to take part in protests in the wake of the arrests of young activists. What are your views on it?
You dont worry about it. Todays youngsters are smart and wiser. The youngsters of the country have always fought for the right causes. They know what should be done and no one can stop them.
As someone who has seen the freedom struggle and emergency, what do you think of our countrys future?
Nothing is permanent. There will be ups and downs. During the freedom struggle there was Gandhi, during the emergency there was JP (Jayaprakash Narayan) and then Anna Hazare also came, even though he was misguided later. If not a leader, there will be a movement that takes on what is wrong in our country.
I see hope in the farmers protests, this has the power to unite people against this dictatorial government. The longer they stay on the streets, the stronger the resistance becomes.
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