Shining the light on the unseen heroes of Indian freedom

Despite living in the age of revisionist and invented histories, these stories will remain long after statues come and go, believes P. Sainath.

Updated - March 20, 2023 07:51 pm IST

Published - February 10, 2023 06:09 pm IST

Venue TTK Auditorium, Music Academy, Chennai SEE MAP

Time & DateFeb 25 , 2023 , 03:35 pm - 04:25 pm

Multi-award-winning journalist, and author, P. Sainath, did what he usually does best at The Hindu Lit for Life 2023 - bringing to life the stories of those who’re left in the dire darkness of our collective Indian psyche.

Highlighting stories from his latest book ‘The Last Heroes: Foot Soldiers of Indian Freedom’, Sainath shared stirring anecdotes and witty quips from freedom fighters, who many of us are yet to discover, and revere.

Asked why he wrote this book, Sainath says, “Their stories need to be told. And, we need their stories to better script our own.”

Nudged to publish this book, by the fragile mortality of the elderly freedom fighters, Sainath says, “In 5-7 years’ time, there will not be a single person who fought for India’s freedom still alive.”

Among many stories he shares about the freedom fighters, he speaks of Demathi Dei Sabar, an Adivasi woman from Orissa, who led a fierce revolt in 1930. Upon discovering her father shot down by British officers, she armed herself with lathis, and attacked the occupiers.

He also speaks of Mallu Swarajyam, a freedom fighter from Telengana who had had a bounty of ₹10,000 by the then Nizam of Hyderabad in 1946. Her fight was against the Nizam of Hyderabad’s armed militia and police officers. Her weapon? The slingshot.

“ My weapon was the slingshot, your weapon is the laptop and the mobile,” beams Swarajyam from the video P. Sainath shares with a packed auditorium. Swarajyam passed away in March 2022.

Convinced beyond doubt that the young generation “continues to be robbed of its history”, Sainath cites the ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’ website which aims to celebrate India’s 75 years of independence. “It doesn’t have a single story, a single photograph, a single quote - by or about - a living freedom fighter.” Filled with lots of photos of the Indian Prime Minister, “a teenager would be forgiven for thinking of Modi as a freedom fighter, although he was not even born then,” says Sainath.

With an expansive body of work focused on poverty in rural India, the book was somewhat of an organic swivel for Sainath. He says, “All the great battles of freedom struggle were launched from rural India and all the people featured in this book came from rural India.”

This is P. Sainath’s second book, after Everybody Loves a Good Drought, a hard-hitting account of poverty in rural India, released 25 years ago in 1996.

Witty, sprightly, and cuttingly insightful throughout his talk, P. Sainath closes with a rousing request to the audience to “embrace your freedom struggle… perhaps the most romantic chapter in the history of India.”

The Hindu Lit for Life 2023 is powered by Life Insurance Corporation of India in association with Ajay Toothbrushes. The Associate Partners are NITTE Education Trust, Hindustan Group of Institutions, State Bank of India, Sai University, and Vivek’s. Jewellery Partner: Joyalukkas. The Mobility Partner is Hyundai, Banking Partner is Indian Bank Realty, the Author Lounge Partner is VFS Global, the Realty Partner is Casagrand, the Knowledge Partner is SSVM Institutions, the Bookstore Partner is Higginbothams, the Gift Partner is Anand Prakash, and the Water Partner is Repute.

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