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His experiments with truth

He is probably the last of the true Gandhians, acting on his beliefs and believing in his acts. H.S. Doreswamy has done it all, being arrested during the Freedom Movement as well as fighting against the Kaiga nuclear plant.

GENTLE AND softspoken, Harohalli Srinivas Iyer Doreswamy is a frail, wizened man, bowed by the weight of his 85 years. He belongs to that rare, nearly extinct species — a true Gandhian. He has a steely core, powered by his unshakeable faith in his ideals.

He never met the Mahatma in person, but his admiration for the great man started early in life. "Gandhi was a humble person," he says, "a good man who dreamed of a genuinely democratic India with much more participation from the people. It was Gandhiji's charisma and single-minded devotion to the cause of India's freedom that drew him to the national movement. With nostalgia writ large on his face, Doreswamy reminiscences: "As a student I was moved by the inspiring and invigorating speeches of Gandhiji. In my high school days, I had a textbook entitled My Early Life by Gandhiji. In the Intermediate College, I attended a public lecture by K.F. Nariman, the then Mayor of Bombay, in Bangalore. It was a very powerful speech. While Nariman was speaking, the police dragged him off stage. All hell broke loose, and an enraged crowd resorted to street-fighting. That incident ignited the fire within me. Soon after, the students of the Intermediate College observed a bandh in protest. I was an active participant. We were beaten black and blue by the police and put behind bars. That was the beginning. I haven't looked back since then."

During the Quit India Movement, Doreswamy was a teacher at the Gandhinagar High School. The leaders of the national movement asked him to help those who were working underground by alerting them in the event of a threat to their activities. In due course, he himself was arrested in a bomb blast case foisted on him. During interrogation, Doreswamy was surrounded by 10 policemen, each with lathi in hand, "almost ready to charge if necessary. I was sacred, puzzled and I perspired from head to toe. That was my first experience in a police station in such conditions". He was then taken to Bangalore Central Jail and kept under preventive detention for 16 months.

While in jail, he read books on Mahatma Gandhi, making a conscious effort to study and understand his principles on non-violence and Satyagraha for the achievement of freedom, justice and peace and to rediscover techniques of Satyagraha. "It was Gandhi's boldness in facing challenges head on, his humility, his devotion of duty, his sincerity of purpose, his wit, and his steadfast faith in the common people that strengthened my commitment to his ideals. Gandhi's famous lines of `Do or Die' left me spellbound."

As a young Gandhian and a peace activist, Doreswamy regularly read Harijan, the magazine edited by Gandhi, avidly and with anticipation. "Reading the ideals envisaged in Harijan, I could almost feel the Freedom Movement moving closer to me. I wanted to get involved in the Movement and give my best to it."

"Gandhi was a deeply religious man. He was free from any religious biases. His simplicity of manner was captivating, his prayers rejuvenating, and faith inexplicable. I used to attend his prayer meetings while he was at Nandi Hills and at Kumara Park. He was a crowd-puller, that gave me a lot of impetus." He remembers that among Gandhiji's supporters even in those days "there were many power-hungry people". But those who selflessly served and stood firm by the Mahatma were all ardent Gandhians, prepared to lay down their lives in the cause of the country's freedom.

Doreswamy has led many agitations and protests. In the Forties, he mobilised workers of the Minerva Mills in Bangalore (who were at that time helping the World War efforts of the British) to go on strike for 14 days. The strike inspired mill workers in Kolar Gold Fields (KGF) and Bhadravati to go on strike as well, and was a resounding success. It is said that about 30,000 to 40,000 mill workers from south Karnataka also went on an indefinite strike. Doreswamy was arrested again.

He was still at it in the Eighties, when he, along with 2,000 young men and 500 women, staged a protest Satyagraha against the Kaiga nuclear power plant. They spent five days in the pristine forests of Uttara Kannada. Their struggle went in vain as the authorities concerned failed to respond. But he was not disappointed. "We can only try to persuade them to stop the project; talk to the authorities on its ill effects. We cannot resort to violence and destruction. That's no solution. We had protested and expressed our displeasure to the people concerned. That's what matters.

Winning or losing is secondary. But our silence must not be misunderstood as our weakness," he says gently.

He has also waged a struggle against the Kudremukh Iron Ore Project . "The iron ore is taken away, leaving water containing mud. This water is let into the river Bhadra. It clogs the river and reduces its flow. They say it is for earning foreign exchange but are unconcerned about the immense damage it causes to the environment and the people. The adivasis have been evicted. Multinational companies have been invited, and they are exploiting the forest cover for their narrow selfish gains."

He has worked to foster communal harmony and one such peace initiative was at Malavalli to solve a dispute between the fisherfolk and Vokkaligas in the1980s. Five people had been killed in police firing there to quell the communal violence. "Though (it started with) a frivolous case, it took an ugly turn. They didn't want us to preach peace and friendship when they had lost their dear ones.

It wasn't easy to speak the language of peace and amity to an enraged community. But in the end, we were able to convince the two groups of the need for peace and amity. We were able to avert further bloodshed."

He is sad that free India has not yet been able to solve the problems of poverty, illiteracy, ignorance, and unemployment. He is against inviting MNCs into our country.

The pacifist and nationalist in Doreswamy is critical of nuclear tests and the Bomb. "We gain a false sense of pride by producing stockpiles of bombs. Even if we don't lose our independence, we will certainly lose our economic independence, if we submit unquestioningly to the power of multinational companies."

Did the age of idealism end with Gandhiji? "No. Idealism never dies and will never die. Dreamers are there and will always be there."

For a generation growing up on images of the "simplified Father of the Nation and apostle of non-violence frozen in statues or reduced to a few predictable strokes of an artist's pen", it may be surprising that there are people like Doreswamy who still experiment with Gandhiji's truths.

NINA BENJAMIN

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