Centenarian freedom fighter who spoke truth to power
Harohalli Srinivasaiah Doreswamy was 24 years old and just taken up a new job as a schoolteacher when he was first arrested and imprisoned for 17 months for organising strikes against the British government.
His second visit to prison was at the age of 57 when he took on then prime minister Indira Gandhi during the emergency.
Doreswamy has never held any political position and was the driving force behind several people’s movements in the state of Karnataka, often leading from the front, even at the age of 102.
The man, known as the conscience keeper of Karnataka, as someone who always spoke for the people, regardless of the party in power, passed away at the age of 103 on Wednesday following a cardiac arrest, just days after recovering from Covid-19. His mortal remains will be cremated with state honours, said the Karnataka government.
Born on April 10, 1918, in Harohalli village in the then princely state of Mysore, Doreswamy was raised by his grandfather and his mother as his father died when he was five years old.
He was first drawn towards the radical movement against the British government. With help of a friend, he began planting bombs in government offices and postal boxes. “Our aim was not to harm anyone, but we wanted to disrupt the government machinery,” he told HT during an interview on February 18.
His life took a turn in 1936 when Mahatma Gandhi came visiting. Doreswamy met him at Nandi hills where the father of the nation was staying -- a rest cure to recover from a spot of high blood pressure. After the meeting, Doreswamy became a follower of Gandhi.
Six years later, he was at the forefront of the Quit India movement in the state. “During the Quit India Movement, I helped organise a strike by all major cloth mills in the city -- Binny Mills, Minerva Mills and Raja Mills, especially since they were stitching parachute cloth, used by the British in the Air Force during the war,” he recounts in his memoir “Nenapina Suruli Teredaga”, which translates as memories unravelled.
He was jailed for 17 months between December 1942-May 1944 for this, but for Doreswamy, jail was a learning experience.
“I learnt a lot during my time in the jail and it was a university for me. I learnt Hindi and Tamil. I even became good at volleyball during that time. We used to get lectures on politics from great leaders,” he said during the interview.
After his release, he became the editor of “Pouravani” newspaper, which was promptly banned by the Mysore government for its forthright editorials, pushing him to publish and distribute it underground.
From Vinoba Bhave’s Bhoodan movement in the 1950s to Jayaprakash Narayan’s Sampoorna Kranti movement in the 1970s to the India Against Corruption movement in the 2010s, Doreswamy was part of the several movements that followed. He was even jailed during the Emergency for writing a letter against then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
“After the Emergency was announced, I wrote a letter to Indira Gandhi, saying she was a dictator. In the letter, I threatened to go from village to village and mobilise the people against her dictatorship. Soon after that, I held the first meeting in Gandhi Bazar (in Bengaluru). I was arrested. But I was in jail only for four months,”he recounted during the interview.
In recent years, he was part of the protests against the Kaiga nuclear plant in north Karnataka and also part of the movement to get land rights for landless farmers across the state. A vocal critic of the current Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, he came out of the streets to protest the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the new farm laws.
He was convinced that things would change.
“Nothing is permanent,” he said in the interview when asked about the policies of the current BJP government. “There will be ups and downs. During the freedom struggle there was Gandhi, during the emergency there was JP (Jayaprakash Narayan) and then Anna Hazare also came, even though he was misguided later. If not a leader, there will be a movement that takes on what is wrong in our country.”
The centenarian was also a big believer in the young. When asked about the future of the movements he was part of, he had said: “Today’s young people are smart and wise. The young people of the country have always fought for the right causes. They know what should be done and no one can stop them.”
It was almost as if he were passing on the baton.