He entered his 100th year, but veteran freedom fighter and activist Harohalli Srinivasaiah Doreswamy has not lost the zeal to fight for equality and oppose injustice and corruption in society
He is Karnataka’s precious centurian. He is the most prominent face even now on any issue concerning the citizens of Bengaluru or Karnataka. Be it an agitation against bad roads, corruption in high places, environment issues, anything that worries the people of the state will see him leading from the front.
Yet, it is difficult to believe that HS Doreswamy has just celebrated his 100th birthday on 10th April, 2018. He is mentally as well as physically very alert and often walks without any help.
Harohalli Srinivasaiah Doreswamy hails from Mysuru and has seen the rule of the British Empire, the rule of the Wodeyars and Independent India under democratically elected governments-- both at the Centre and the state of Karnataka.
He studied in the famous Central College, Bangalore and had been an active participant in not only the independence movement, but also the anti-corruption movement launched by Anna Hazare in 2011.
The centenarian is today very bitter about the way politics is managed in the country, about the shallow promises of political parties and the dismal quality of politicians.
But his fight goes on –and the recent one was when he joined hands with the citizens to strongly oppose the construction of a steel bridge connecting the city centre to the Bengaluru International Airport.
Doreswamy was raised by his grandfather after the death of his father, Srinivasa Iyer, who died when he was five years old. After completing the primary school education, he came to Bangalore. The book “My Early Life” by Mahatma Gandhi, which he read through when he was in 9th standard, influenced him to join the Indian Freedom Movement.
Doreswamy was keen on spreading the activities of national movement across the masses. He started publishing a newspaper that used to come up with a series of articles against British Government. He even started a Bookstore where literary stalwarts like R K Narayan and KS Narasim has wamy used to spend time. British Government was closely monitoring the activities of this book house and eventually seized it in the year 1947.
During the pre-independence days, many leaders were coming to Bangalore. By 1942, he had completed his B.Sc and had joined a college as a lecturer. In August, the Quit India freedom movement began and students participated in large numbers.
On completion of graduation, HS Doreswamy started teaching physics and maths for high school students. The freedom movement was gaining momentum and in August 1942 Gandhiji started Quit India Movement. Doreswamy along with brother HS Seetharam and two friends, Sardar Venkataramaiah and AG Ramachandra Rao, joined the freedom struggle. Their mode of operation was innovative. They used to prepare Time Bombs and drop these Time Bombs in Post Boxes and British Government Offices, These bombs were effective in destroying the official documents maintained by the British.
A brief jail term brought about a change in their approach. When he was jailed for the first time for 14 months, Doreswamy decided to follow Gandhi’s ideals of non-violence and Satyagraha.
According to him, the jail was like a university where he mastered the two principles of Gandhi –non-violence and Satyagraha-- and also he was able to learn Hindi and Tamil languages. The jail term gave a new dimension to his hunger for freedom struggle.
Once he was released, there was no going back to throwing bombs. He was instead guided by the powerful tools of non-violence and satyagraha.
Doreswamy has witnessed all the elections in Independent India, and even contested the election in 1951 for the corporation polls. Unfortunately, he lost by just one vote. And, that was the first and last time he contested.
“I have not kept count of the number of elections I have voted in, but I never missed an election. During the pre-Independence movement, the then Dewan of Mysuru CV Rungacharlu had called for the election for Mysuru Representative Assembly. After Independence, in 1951, we were allowed to vote for the Lok Sabha election, which was followed by Mysuru state Assembly election in 1952. I was 32 years old then and I went to a government school in Hanumanth Nagar with pride to cast my vote in a democratic India,” he recalls.
“Those days’ people used to travel two to three km in buses and carts in Bengaluru to vote. Those days, people contesting the elections were popular faces and they would go door-to-door campaigning. They even knew their voters by name. These leaders would appeal to the voters without money or liquor. They were the real Jana Nayakas (people’s leader),” he says.
Now, he says, elections are fought on caste basis and money power. There are promoters for each caste - be it a politician or a seer.
Those days, the winners would come back to visit the voters, thank them and get down implementing various promises made by them. These days also they come back, but only to grab civil works so that they can get their commissions from contractors, he says.
Doreswamy had contested the Bengaluru City Corporation election in 1951. According to his wife Lalithamma, who is in her late eighties, “We got married in 1950, the next year he contested the election from Kalasipalya ward. He would campaign door-to-door from morning till night. His brother H S Sitharam had contested from VV Puram. While Doreswamy lost by one vote, his brother became the Mayor. He realised that contesting elections is not that easy without money power. After this, he did not bother to contest any election,” she adds.
Only a few freedom fighters stuck to Mahatma Gandhi’s idea of staying away from power politics. Doreswamy is one of them.
After independence, Doreswamy fully engaged himself in fighting for the downtrodden people like the slum dwellers, homeless and poor landless farmers, cobblers and porters. It was at the same time Acharya Vinoba Bhave had started Bhoodan Movement to persuade landlords to donate a piece of their land to the landless people of the country.
He travelled extensively from village to village to create awareness about Bhoodan Movement. He used to travel 24 days in a month to make this a big success. He used to get an honorarium of 100 Rupees which he used to give to his wife to run the family.
HS Doreswamy, who was part of the freedom movement in Bengaluru, still remembers the thrill he received on seeing Mahatma Gandhi for the first time at the National High School grounds, Basavanagudi, and climbing the Nandi Hills twice a day to get a glimpse of him. But his favourite leader was the country’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, who was a bigger crowd- puller than even Gandhiji, he says.
To a question on Gandhi and Nehru, he says “Gandhiji and Nehru visited Bengaluru on many occasions. Gandhiji visited the National High School, Yeshwanthpur, and stayed for a long time at Kumara Krupa and the Nandi Hills. Nehru visited Dharmabuddhi Kare and hoisted the national flag, which was brought down and the flag post removed by the then administrators. But the Binny Mill workers pooled in money, built a new flag post at the same place and Nehru once again came down to hoist the flag.
“We did not have social media or smartphones for quick dissemination of information those days. The major tool of information was the Press. We spent a lot of our time reading magazines and newspapers and it was from them that we received information about the freedom struggle and meetings that were to be held.
When was the first time you saw Mahatma Gandhi?
I saw Mahatma Gandhi for the first time when he came to the National High School in 1927. When he was unwell, he camped at Nandi Hills for treatment and it was then that I stayed at my relative’s place at Chikkaballapur and climbed up the hill twice, once in the morning and again in the evening, to take part in Gandhi’s Prarthana Sabha, admiring him and deriving inspiration from him.
But, I like Nehru for many reasons. He was my favourite. He was well educated and a great orator. People used to go crazy just to have a glimpse of him passing by in his car. He was a bigger crowd puller than Mahatma Gandhi.
He never met the Mahatma in person, but his admiration for the great man started early in life. “Gandhi was a humble person,” he says, “a good man who dreamed of a genuinely democratic India with much more participation from the people. It was Gandhiji’s charisma and single-minded devotion to the cause of India’s freedom that drew him to the national movement.
“As a student, I was moved by the inspiring and invigorating speeches of Gandhiji. In the Intermediate College, I attended a public lecture by KF Nariman, the then Mayor of Bombay, in Bangalore. It was a very powerful speech. While Nariman was speaking, the police dragged him off stage. All hell broke loose, and an enraged crowd resorted to street-fighting. That incident ignited the fire within me. Soon after, the students of the Intermediate College observed a bandh in protest. I was an active participant. We were beaten black and blue by the police and put behind bars. That was the beginning. I haven’t looked back since then.”
As a young Gandhian and a peace activist, Doreswamy regularly read Harijan, the magazine edited by Gandhi, avidly and with anticipation. “Reading the ideals envisaged in Harijan, I could almost feel the Freedom Movement moving closer to me. I wanted to get involved in the Movement and give my best to it.”
“Gandhi was a deeply religious man. He was free from any religious biases. His simplicity of manner was captivating, his prayers rejuvenating, and faith inexplicable. I used to attend his prayer meetings while he was at Nandi Hills and at Kumara Park. He was a crowd-puller that gave me a lot of impetus.”
During Emergency, Doreswamy couldn’t remain a silent spectator and strongly opposed the ‘dictatorial attitude’ of the prime minister. He wrote a strong letter to Indira Gandhi demanding that she end the emergency and even warned her that he would take the issue to every village mobilizing the public against this dictatorial attitude.
She promptly arrested him citing the draconian Defence of India rule. Doreswamy spent four months in jail. Finally, the court ruled that a citizen has every right to question prime minister in a democracy and ordered his release.
Agitations, Fights & Rallies
Today, Doreswamy even at the age of 100, joins hands with agitators in all types of fights against the misrule of governments.
Doreswamy has led many agitations and protests. In the Eighties, he, along with 2,000 young men and 500 women, staged a Satyagraha against the Kaiga nuclear power plant. They spent five days in the forests of Uttara Kannada. Their struggle went in vain as the authorities concerned failed to respond. But he was not disappointed. “We can only try to persuade them to stop the project; talk to the authorities on its ill effects. We cannot resort to violence and destruction. That’s no solution. We had protested and expressed our displeasure to the people concerned. That’s what matters.
He also waged a struggle against the Kudremukh Iron Ore Project. “The iron ore is taken away, leaving water containing mud. This water is let into the river Bhadra. It clogs the river and reduces its flow. They say it is for earning foreign exchange but are unconcerned about the immense damage it causes to the environment and the people. The Adivasis have been evicted. Multinational companies have been invited, and they are exploiting the forest cover for their narrow selfish gains.” In 2016, he travelled more than 500 km from Bengaluru to Belagavi to stage a satyagraha at the Suvarna Vidhana Soudha, demanding land for landless people. In 2017, he was an active participant in the fight to save the lakes of Bengaluru. In September, he also fought against the encroachment of land, calling on the government to pass an ordinance to acquire encroached land.
He, along with MLAAT Ramaswamy, Justice Santosh Hegde and the AAP party, led a rigorous fight against land grabbers and persuaded Government to bring in legislation. He also joined hands with common citizen groups to fight against proposed Steel-Flyover in Bangalore, and the protest succeeded in making the government to step back from the decision of building steel bridge thus saving thousands of trees.
He said in an interview to a newspaper that he takes up only those problems for which solutions can be found; one such issue was the dumping of Bengaluru’s garbage in the nearby town of Mandur. An eventual protest yielded a written agreement from authorities that pledged to end the dumping and the removal of the garbage within three years
In a recent interview to BBC, he clearly mentioned that age-related problems were haunting him but his zeal to fight for the needy has not diminished.
His life motto, as he puts it, is “A social worker should embrace voluntary poverty”.
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