NATIONAL

Freedom fighter protests Savarkar statue in Andamans

NEW DELHI AUG. 10. A statue of V.D. Savarkar in Port Blair's Shaheed (Martyrs) Park, standing alongside eight martyrs of the Andaman Cellular jail, has brought Dinesh Dasgupta, a 92-year-old freedom fighter and Andamans prisoner from Kolkata, to the capital to protest to the President, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

Mr. Dasgupta used the opportunity provided by the President's annual garden party for freedom fighters on Saturday to draw his attention to "this dishonour to the martyrs of the freedom struggle". Mr. Dasgupta said he had accepted the invitation to the President's party only to tell him in person that putting Savarkar, who was released from prison, alongside the men who gave their lives for independence was a travesty of history.

Mr. Dasgupta, who was imprisoned in the cellular jail for five years from 1933 to 1938 for his involvement in the Chittagong Armoury raid, said the eight men commemorated in Port Blair were martyrs of the national movement. They had all been subject to inhuman cruelty and put to death for their political beliefs.

He said Savarkar, like himself, had been released from prison. He could not therefore be a "martyr any more than I can be called a martyr". Placing his statue alongside of those men who had died in the fight for freedom amounted to "dishonouring them and their sacrifice", he said. Besides, there was new documentary evidence, like police records, which showed that although Savarkar had been imprisoned for his part in the freedom struggle he had won his release "after promising to help the British".

The political hoopla when Savarkar's portrait was placed in Parliament's central hall in February this year, and the President's role in this, is something Mr. Dasgupta said he was unconcerned with. It was on a recent visit to Port Blair that he had discovered Savarkar's statue in Shaheed Park and determined that something had to be done about it. Whether Mr. Kalam acts on what he has said or not "is something I cannot control". "I do not have the power to make him do anything, but I have the right to inform him of the facts," he said.

Mr. Dasgupta said that he was saddened that independent India had "no sense of history". It was busy "destroying the things that stand as reminders of the struggles that led to freedom". With Savarkar's statue standing alongside martyrs in a "Martyr's Park" and with Port Blair airport renamed Savarkar Airport "will future generations know the truth about what happened there?" he asked.

There had been a plan to pull down the cellular jail in the 1960s, he said. It had taken intense lobbying and more than 20 years to have the martyrs of Andaman commemorated. In contrast Mr. Dasgupta pointed out that Bastille Day is still commemorated in France every year, although the Bastille prison that marked the beginning of the revolution was burnt to the ground. In India, he said, its "not just buildings that are destroyed, but also the memory of the events and struggles that mark the birth of this country".