The upcoming Hindi film “Gour Hari Dastaan: The Freedom File” is a biopic on the 84-year old freedom fighter Gour Hari Das, and is a touching narration of denial, humiliation, apathy of our existing system towards its own people and, the struggle of an ordinary man with extraordinary achievements. Mumbai-based Das, an unsung hero of Bharat’s freedom struggle knocked for 32 years on 321 doors, climbed 66,000 steps, wrote 1,043 letters, pleaded 2,300 times in the post-Independent Bharat just to prove that he was the same Gour Hari Das, whom Mahatma Gandhi had blessed and who was jailed for being a part of the freedom movement against the British Raj. Ahead of the film’s release on August 14, Das in an exclusive interview to Debobrat Ghose speaks about his struggle, the diminishing idea of independent Bharat and his shattered dreams. Excerpts:
- Do you think independent Bharat has come good on the hope that the freedom fighters like you had reposed in it at the time of Independence?
I am a bonafide freedom fighter who had joined the struggle as a 14-year-old from Balasore in Odisha in 1945. But it took me a struggle of 32 years to get the certificate of a freedom fighter (Tamrapatra) from the government. I was even branded a ‘fraud.’ So, instead of getting the benefits due to a freedom fighter, I had to run from pillar to post to prove that I was not a ‘fraud’. Of course, it has turned me into a cynic. Sometimes I wonder if the British Raj was better… because then, at least you knew who the enemy was.
- Could you elaborate?
There is a small mention about this in the film as well. The British were bad because they exploited us to make their paradise. They totally ruined our economy and our indigenous industries. Despite this, there was a certain level of honesty in whatever they did in public life and the works they had undertaken. Like, the construction of roads, bridges, buildings, etc under the British Government continue to be in good shape even today; whereas, we witness damages in no time in the infrastructure that is built today. Honesty and accountability are missing in post-Independent Bharat. Despite the fact that I was jailed for protesting against the British rule, my heart says probably they were better.
- Do you think we need another revolution?
Yes. There is a need for a cultural revolution. Unlike in the past, Bharat’s economy has improved over the decades and it has made its mark globally. Our Bharatiya cultural ethos and values are the driving force behind our nation’s progress, but unfortunately, these are eroding fast. Now, people don’t want to live for others, for the society. Everything is for the self. This is a painful fact. It’s we—the society—who have produced rebels, Naxalites and militants by doing injustice and unleashing atrocities on poor and downtrodden. Phoolan Devi is a case in point. Revolution will come from the roots.
- Who inspired you to join the freedom struggle as a teenager?
Mahatma Gandhi and my father Sri Hari Das were my source of inspiration. Gandhiji blessed me by putting his hand on my head, when I joined his movement as a teenager. Right from my childhood I used to accompany my father, who was a Congress worker and was actively involved in social work. Whatever I’ve learnt in life and the values I have got are from him. But, it was in 1945 that I actively got involved in the freedom movement. Even today, I fight against injustice and corruption. My father used to say, a pending work is corruption, and today, it has become a work rule in government bodies. I was a victim of it. At home, we had daily prayers and after that my father used to advise me on values of life that acted as a tonic for me to face struggle both against the British and after Independence.
- Why is it so that if one talks about Bharatiya values, culture and heritage, one is often dubbed a ‘right-winger’ or ‘saffron or Hindutva ideologist’?
These kind of people, who label others as ‘right-wingers’, etc for following the Bharatn tradition and values – are basically opportunists. If something is in their favour, they appreciate it or else they criticise and abuse. Such type of people is also in large number in our politics, with no stability of mind. They lack nationalistic spirit in themselves. During freedom struggle, irrespective of religion, caste or creed, everyone harboured nationalistic feeling within themselves. But, now it’s the opposite. This is damaging the socio-cultural fabric of Bharat. We can’t make a healthy, prosperous society. Whether you call it Bharat or Bharat, it’s surviving despite so many invasions, attacks and negative forces within, due to its strong traditional and cultural base.
- What do you think of the present day political system?
It’s in bad shape and this is not the Bharat we had dreamt of during our struggle. Today, political parties are no different from each other. When, one is in Opposition, they blame the other in power and vice versa. It has become a standard practice. There is lack of stability. In the name of development, we’re moving towards destruction. Politicians never suffer; it’s the people like us–the middle class, the common man, who suffer.
- Why did you refuse to accept an open piece of land in Mumbai that was being given to you as a freedom fighter?
An open piece of land in Mumbai is very costly. I didn’t accept it, because I have a flat of my own. I told the government to give that land to a needy, a landless. But, some people told me that as I didn’t accept it, I should help them in getting it instead (laughs). This is lust, which leads one to corruption, and it’s rampant at present, like an epidemic.
- How do you keep yourself occupied?
I work as a Special Executive Officer (earlier Magistrate) and attest copies of original documents. I only charge for the ink I use. I’m a life member of an NGO–National Anti-Corruption and Crime Prevention Council (NACCPC). Besides, I’m involved in social work and out of my pension of Rs 10,000, I donate Rs 8,000 for social causes like treatment of children suffering from cancer, old age home, religious & spiritual institutions, etc.