The few who shaped our today

ERNAKULAM WAS a small town then. More than six decades ago, when Mahatma Gandhi gave the call of "Do or Die", it created repercussions in the farthest corners of the country. Two heroes of that period, M. V. Joseph and T. Sivasankara Menon, who participated in the historic hunger strike at the Maharaja's College during the `Quit India' movement speak of those times.

"When Gandhiji inspired the nation with his powerful call to action, we had but one thought. Independence for India even at the cost of our very lives," says M. V. Joseph whose activities led to his being banished from Cochin by the then government. "The quality of selflessness that existed then has all but disappeared in the India of today." Indeed, the story of that period does not throb to the tinkle of advertisements or the ghostly flicker of the television screen.

So there is a real story to tell. Of the twelve who participated in the historic hunger strike at Maharaja's College and the subsequent rebellion during `Quit India', there are just two here today- M. V. Joseph and T. Sivasankara Menon.

Ernakulam was a veritable Malgudi then. When we recall the events of those days, the pioneering nature of the struggle must be borne in mind for this was a place where time proverbially stood still and a drowsy order prevailed. "On the morning of August 9, students came out of their classes having heard the call of Mahatma Gandhi. The principal of Maharaja's College, Karunakaran Nair, shouted at us from the bridge - no slogans!, no slogans!" says T. Sivasankara Menon. "But I plucked up courage to say Mahatma Gandhi ki jai!" Students poured out from almost all educational institutions and a massive procession wound its way to the then Rajendra Maidan where a resolution was passed against the government. There was a strike the next day, but after a few days students began to trickle in to the classes once again.

"The authorities decided to get a pledge from the guardians that the wards would abide by the rules." Karimpatta Achutha Menon, one of the most prominent members of Ernakulam society then, presided over the meeting of the guardians and the initial decision was that it was unfair to sign the pledge. However, as the days passed, more and more of the guardians gave in and finally, only about 20 of the 400 or so students continued to boycott classes.

"We decided on a hunger strike to inspire everyone once again and sat together under a tree in the quadrangle at Maharajas College," recalls Mr. Menon. Dr. Syed Mohammed, who was later to become Minister for Law and High commissioner to U.K was among the hunger strikers. Students came out forming a milling crowd and soon the police and the Nair Brigade surrounded the strikers. A.F.W.Dixon, who was the Diwan of Cochin said, "We must teach them a lesson" and ordered the college to be closed down.

Roshan Saheb, the Commissioner of Police and Srinivas, the Deputy Commissioner tried to persuade the students to abandon their charted course. "Apart from being bad for your family, these measures are not going to bring freedom," they said. The students refused to budge and the inevitable followed. "I was taken to the Anchal office and told by the Police Commissioner, `you are under arrest'. We were lodged in the sub-jail for 20 days, says Sivasankara Menon.''

The young heroes were later taken to the Viyyur jail where others like Panampilly Govinda Menon, C. Achutha Menon, K. Karunakaran, P. Bhaskaran and A. K. Damodaran were all detained. "We were there for nearly 3 months and when we returned to Maharaja's College, we were expelled for indiscipline since we had been arrested under the Defence of India rules.''

`'We were all in a quandary as we had become outcastes with no college willing to admit us. Later, the D. A. V. College in Lahore said that it was proud to give admission to those who had participated in the struggle.''

`'Many of us kept up the tempo of the movement (which was now being led by Jayaprakash Narayan) through underground and clandestine activities under the guidance of Mathai Manjooran, one of the earliest members of the Socialist party and K. B. Menon, Secretary of the All India States' Peoples' Congress," reminisces Mr. Menon.

`'Some of our meetings were held at Professor Chandrahasan's house at Valanjambalam where future strategy was planned. I did not even tell my brothers and guardians where I would be going and would casually saunter out at dusk for my rendezvous." "Most professors were passive about the entire struggle while the parents in general were fearful. Principal Karunakaran Nair of Maharaja's College peevishly cut off the tree under which we had started out hunger strike," adds Mr. Menon.

Mr. Joseph says, "After our expulsion from college, we continued with our struggle. I hoisted the national flag at the Collectorate and was soon after served with an order expelling me from Cochin."

"I was admitted at the American College in Madurai on the undertaking that I would not indulge in politics. But I attended the meeting of the National Student Organisation in Chennai and was taken into the executive committee. When I returned to Madurai, I found the Principal asking me to leave immediately since the police were after me. Once again, I had to withdraw temporarily from college.''

During all those years, these heroes were totally involved in a truly just and heroic cause and their suffering was all the more glorious because their lives and futures truly hung in the balance. And all that, these protagonists hope for today, is that the country for which they pledged their all, lives up to that spirit of selflessness.