Meet the real before the reel one: Gour Hari Das on his idea of independent India
Ahead of the Gour Hari Dastaan: The Freedom File's release on 14 August, Gour Hari Das spoke exclusively to Firstpost on his struggle, the diminishing idea of independent India and his shattered dreams.
Filmmaker Ananth Mahadevan is clear that his film, Gour Hari Dastaan: The Freedom File, is perhaps only for the 1% of Indian film goers --interested in a good, touching real-life story. Even though the film has won acclaim in the international festival circuit, he is not interested in how much money it would make at the box-office. Because, the film 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 India’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 India 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 14 August, Das spoke exclusively to Firstpost on his struggle, the diminishing idea of independent India and his shattered dreams. Excerpts from the interview:
Do you think independent India 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. Like, the constructions under British government continue to be in good shape even today; whereas, we witness damages in the infrastructure that is built today. Honesty and accountability are missing in the post-Independent India. 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 past, India’s economy has improved over the decades and it has made its mark globally. Our cultural ethos and values are the driving force behind our nation’s progress, but unfortunately, these are eroding fast. 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 are 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 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, 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.
What do you think of the present day political system?
It’s in a bad shape and this is not the India, we had dreamt during our struggle. Today, no political party is different. When, one is in opposition, it would blame the other in power and vice versa. It has become a standard practice. There is a 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 government to give that land to a needy, a landless. But, some people told me that since I didn’t accept it, instead, I should help them in getting it (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), along with Mohan Krishnan. Besides, I’m involved in social work and out of my Rs 10,000 pension amount, I donate Rs 8,000 for social causes like treatment of children suffering from cancer, old age home, religious institution, etc.
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