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'Total sovereignty still to be won'

By Divya Ramamurthi

Port Blair Aug 15. A delegation of elderly freedom fighters, visiting the infamous cellular jail in Port Blair, said today that India still had some way to go before it could achieve complete sovereignty. "The morals and ideologies we fought for is lost. No longer does the middle class think about the welfare of the nation. They are concerned only with their well being,'' said Rambhao Pore, a freedom fighter from Belgaum, who was in jail for seven years in Dadra and Nagar Haveli. As he walks through the long corridor of the jail with a tightly rolled plastic Indian flag in his bag and his frail hands tracing the jail bars, he said, "I have become weak. I can no longer raise my voice.''

A reason for India's failures, said Arumuga Pandian, is because we opened our doors to economic imperialists instead of strengthening the manufacturing and marketing of indigenous products. With multinational companies doing better business than indigenous products in several sectors such as the soft drink and car industry, he said, "we are now fettered by a different type of shackle.'' Celebrating his 77th birthday today, Mr. Pandian remembered his role in the Quit India movement as a teenager. "I was only 15 years old when I participated in my first protest with my father and brother in Tiruchendur taluk. We were burning clothes and the police came quickly and arrested us. Those days are gone. There no longer is a vociferous campaign against injustice. We take things lying down.''

The delegation of 40 freedom fighters and physically challenged persons from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh were brought down to Port Blair in Andaman and Nicobar Islands as part of the Indian Airlines Golden Jubilee celebrations. All the fighters are first time visitors to Port Blair and most came to the cellular jail only to pay homage to the martyrs. The jail originally had seven wings comprising 698 solitary cells. However, four of them were damaged due to an earthquake and all that remains is three sterile wings with recently painted wooden planks. Some of the freedom fighters were so overwrought with emotions and memories of their own freedom struggle on sight of the jail that they broke down.

S. Thangavelu, a freedom fighter from Chennai, touched his hands to the ground as soon as he got to the jail.

The hardest moment in the trip for him was visiting the solitary cell where Veer Savarkar spent two years. As he stood outside the cell dithering, he said, "Our freedom stems from this place, the land is sacred.''

Kasula Sujata, a 16-year-old polio-afflicted girl, was excited to be part of this team.

She recalls having learnt about the leaders in history books of Class 5. "But I never realised the importance of the struggle, till I came here,'' she said.

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