The untold story of freedom

February 02, 2017 11:58 pm | Updated 11:58 pm IST - Mumbai:

“The British... found novel ways to torture Indians.” So begins a paragraph in the preface to Licy Bharucha’s book, Oral History of the Indian Freedom Movement, which was released in Mumbai on Wednesday. Ms. Bharucha, former executive secretary of Mani Bhavan, Gandhi Museum, Mumbai, and scholar of peace studies and Gandhian studies, has recorded stories of India’s freedom fighters, a “fast vanishing community”, in the book. She chronicles the unrecorded history of inhuman treatment at the hand of the British, and the involvement of many families in the city in the freedom struggle.

She spent seven years from 2005 to 2011 travelling around the country and speaking to 200 freedom fighters. The book is a collection of 60 of those stories. One story is particularly gruelling. Kisan Mehta, who was interviewed in 2005, said he was imprisoned in 1943 and when he protested the discriminatory treatment of Indian prisoners, he was “punished by painting a Swasthik on my head, after removing my complete hair. I was put into a full jacket of jute, without cloth, and made to stand in the hot sun for two days without food.”

Ms. Bharucha is working on recording the oral histories of the freedom fighters and present it as an audio museum. The audio files, recorded on CDs, are being converted into audio-visual formats to be presented at schools and into the digital format for the audio museum. The recorded histories are spread across Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Punjab and Gujarat.

Of family and friends

Twenty five stories are of Gandhian freedom fighters in Maharashtra. “I must tell you, the whole atmosphere was so enchanting that at the age of 14 or 15, none of us thought of running away from the place,” said Justice C.S. Dharmadikari in the book. His whole family was involved in the Gandhian freedom struggle. He details how he and his friends worked underground for the freedom movement by typing bulletins. “I must tell you, about 16 members of the Dharmadikari family were in jail in the 1942 Quit India Movement,” he said. “The whole family suffered a lot.”

The importance of oral history is essential for understanding the human experience of history. “If we have people among us who have lived a certain history, it is important to have that recorded because it humanises the otherwise fairly arid terrain of history, which tends to be told focusing on politics and leaders, and reminds us that it is lived and experienced by human beings,” said publisher and author Urvashi Butalia. She has authored a book of meticulously collected oral histories of women who experienced violence during Partition. “Oral history has to be done right, but when it is, it is a deeply important archive.”

For Ms. Bharucha, some of the audio recordings were an unforgettable revelation. The book details Rajavelu’s account as a prisoner. “He told me that when the British arrested Indians, they were brought into jails in batches of hundreds at a time,” she said. “That figure always stayed with me — hundreds of people at one time.” Also indelible for her was the account of the difficulty the Chennaiite went through. The jail authorities would sharpen coconut leaf stems and dip them in chilly powder before using them on the inmates.

Archive on the anvil

Ms. Bharucha is also the managing trustee of the Museum Trust, which aims to set up an archive and make the audio recordings available to the public. They are in the process of procuring land and resources for the museum. Freedom fighter Jyotirmoyee Ghosh and members of the National Museum of Indian Freedom Movement Trust such as history educator M.D. David and chairman of the trust, S. N. Subba Rao, a former Gandhian freedom fighter, were present at the book launch.

For a copy of the book contact Licy Bharucha at freedommuseum1998; 9930112893; 28708198

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