The year was 1942. The Quit India movement had been launched by Mahatma Gandhi against the British. Even in laid-back Bangalore, its repercussions were felt, with many youngsters responding to the call. Among them was a 24-year-old student, Harohalli Srinivasaiah Doreswamy, who was present when the police arrested Bombay Provincial Congress Committee president KF Nariman from Banappa Park. Incensed, Doreswamy and his friends organised a protest the very next day in their college against the high-handedness of the government. As the slogans of “Bharat mata ki jai”,’Mahatma Gandhi ki jai’ and “Down with the police” resounded through the college quadrangle, the police rushed in and a lathicharge ensued.
That was HS Doreswamy’s first protest. But even at the venerable age of 99 years, he shows no signs of pausing in the quest for the true freedom he and his contemporaries fought for all those years ago. “We had our dreams. We thought poverty would be eradicated immediately after Independence. We felt there would be no casteism. But, even today, 30% of our population live below the poverty line,” says the deceptively frail-looking figure whom politicians in Karnataka can ignore only at their own peril. Such is Doreswamy’s reputation that state Energy Minister DK Shivakumar, who was raided by the I-T department last week, was initially kept out of Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s Cabinet reportedly at his recommendation. “Mr Doreswamy is someone of unimpeachable integrity, who has fought for the freedom of this country, and was a prisoner during the Independence struggle.
Whatever he says is for the benefit of society, not for himself. So naturally his views carry a lot of weight when it comes to public affairs,” says Santosh Hegde, former Supreme Court judge and Karnataka Lokayukta.
Doreswamy’s last major protest took place as recently as November, when he travelled all the way to Belagavi, 500 km away, when the Assembly was in session there, to pressure the government into distributing land to the poor. Siddaramaiah had then met him and assured him of action. But with no further progress after this, the indefatigable nonagenarian is now getting ready for his next protest. On September 20, there will be protests in all the district headquarters against this,” he says. Would he be going? “Of course! There will be one in Bengaluru, too.” The question, it would seem, was redundant.
He considers a protest by itself to be insufficient. It is not enough for the papers to publish my picture the next day X that is self-aggrandisement. We need to find a solution, and I take up only those problems for which we can find solutions.”These include redistributing government land for the poor and ending indiscriminate dumping of Bengaluru’s garbage in nearby Mandur. “When I was told the garbage was from Bengaluru and that we had been dumping 300 tonnes of it every day for the last seven years, I felt I too had to atone,” he says.
That protest ended when the authorities submitted a written agreement to the protesting villagers that the dumping would cease and the waste removed over three years. These methods are markedly different from the days when he used to put time bombs in postboxes outside government offices to disrupt the Colonial regime, which earned him a 14-month prison term.
At the Stroke of Midnight Doreswamy is currently recovering after a few days of hospitalisation brought on by breathing trouble, which is why he has cut down his activities, the khadi-clad Gandhian explains, while declining an invitation for a school’s Independence Day celebration. But he assures the visitors he will come by later to talk to the high school students about the freedom struggle. Once they have left, he explains with a conspiratorial smile, “It will be a gala day for the children. I will be an intruder.”
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