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Oldest living Gandhian looks back in awe

K Giriprakash | Updated on October 01, 2019 Published on October 01, 2019

Harohalli Srinivasaiah Doreswamy freedom fighter at his reisdence   -  G R N Somashekar

Inspired by the Mahatma, Harohalli Srinivasaiah Doreswamy joined the freedom struggle, and, at age 100, still abides by those lofty values

Age has been kind to Harohalli Srinivasaiah Doreswamy, who turned 100 this April. Except for a slight hunch, the tall and wiry Doreswamy, widely considred the oldest living Gandhian, looks quite fit and recalls almost every bit of the freedom struggle that he was part of.

His eyes sparkle as he narrates one episode after another, leading up to Independence in August 1947. “The Quit India movement in 1942 was momentous and inspirational, and we wanted to be part of the struggle to gain Independence,” says the Gandhian.

Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s book My Early Life, Doreswamy plunged into public life soon after he completed his Bachelor of Science degree in the 1930s. “There was a sentence in the book, which said that a social worker should voluntarily embrace poverty. It caught my attention even though I could not immediately understand what exactly it meant. But later, it was my guiding spirit when I decided to enter public life.”

 

One of his first tasks, after he started participating in the freedom movement, was to help some of the freedom fighters, who had gone underground, move from one hideout to another. It was risky, since sleuths employed by the British Government kept a close watch on everyone’s movements. “But we managed to evade the police successfully,” says Doreswamy, who lives in the same south Bangalore neighbourhood as another famous Bangalorean: Infosys co-founder NR Narayana Murthy.

When the Quit India movement gathered momentum across the country in 1942, Doreswamy and a few others defied authorities by holding protests across Old Mysore region (consisting of districts in south Karnataka). One such protest was to force textile mills to close down their operations by getting the workers to strike work. But the workers owed their allegiance to a trade union controlled by the Communist party, and would not cooperate until they heard from their leader.

Harohalli Srinivasaiah Doreswamy freedom fighter at his reisdence   -  BL

 

The Communist leader was in jail in connection with a case, and the entire protest rally had to be put on hold till he was released. “Once he was released, he told me that as the erstwhile Soviet Union was on the side of Allied forces (during World War II), which included the British, he would not be able to join the protest movement,” recalls Doreswamy.

It took a lot of convincing on Doreswamy’s part to get the Communist leader to see reason; eventually, he resigned from his party and gave a call for the workers to boycott work. For 14 continuous days, about 8,000 workers refused to go to work holding protests outside their respective mills. It resulted in a lathi-charge of the protesters, among whom was a young Doreswamy.

Doreswamy was involved in other edgy episodes as well. He and a few of his friends had developed a hand-made bomb of sorts: it did not have much firepower but was good for a scare, which meant they could still be said to be abiding by Gandhi’s principle of non-violence. However, the police nabbed one of the conspirators, who apparently implicated Doreswamy too in the case.

Doreswamy was immediately detained and questioned about his involvement, but he stuck to stout denial. “During my period of detention, I contacted my associate in prison and told him to confess to the crime so that the enterprise to bomb some targets could proceed.” But the cops kept him under detention without trial for 14 months at the Bangalore Central Jail.

Doreswamy says he got a chance to meet Mahatma Gandhi on several occasions. “I always wondered how a rich barrister like him could sacrifice everything for the cause of the nation.” He recalls that during the freedom movement, Gandhi had become so widely known around the world that letters addressed only to “MK Gandhi, India” would reach him, regardless of where he was stationed.

During the freedom movement, Doreswamy launched a publication, Sahitya Mandira, which he says was the only source of income for his family. “I never asked for a loan from anyone even though we were going through difficult times. I reckoned that if you seek help, people might sympathise with you but will never respect you.”

He believes that no one other than Jawaharlal Nehru could have become India’s first Prime Minister as he was quite well-known among international leaders and the country needed someone of his stature at that time. He believes that Nehru’s call to “industrialise or perish”, which went against the Gandhian vision of an economy centred around villages, was deeply flawed. “It did spur industrialisation, but it also robbed people of employment,” says the diehard Gandhian.

Undeterred by age, Doreswamy leads an active public life and gets invited to speak at public rallies even now. “I tell people that I have been able to live this long because I embraced poverty, but the truth is that a sense of detachment is important to lead a healthy life,” says the centenarian.

Published on October 01, 2019
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