The celebrations around the 75th year of India’s Independence seemed devoid of any recall of who and what it was the Indian people fought against to win freedom and Independence. The official (government of India) website dedicated to the subject tells young readers nothing about what colonialism did to this country. Nor was there any debate on who won India its Independence. A bunch of returning Oxbridge elites? Or, as M.K. Gandhi observed, ‘the people themselves’?
The book The Last Heroes: Foot Soldiers of Indian Freedom records the life stories of 15 very ordinary Indians – representative of millions of others like themselves – and how they took on the British Raj. Farmers, labourers, cooks, couriers, homemakers, artisans, students and others played astonishingly courageous roles without ever gaining personally. They came from a diverse social spectrum: Dalits, Adivasis, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, OBCs, Brahmins, atheists…
What motivated these freedom fighters? And why do they tell us that Freedom and Independence are two different things? As the late ‘Captain Bhau’ put it: ‘We fought for two things – Freedom and Independence. We attained Independence.’ In 5-6 years, not a single one of them will be alive. Our younger generations will never get to meet, talk to, listen to, ever engage with anyone who fought for their country’s Independence. How do we address that loss?
Speaker: Palagummi Sainath is founder-editor of the People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI). A journalist and reporter for over four decades, he has covered rural India for over 30 years. His new book, The Last Heroes: Foot Soldiers of Indian Freedom, is about the last fighters in India’s struggle for Independence.