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98-year-old Indian freedom fighter recalls arrest, and 75 years of India’s independence 

As the anger set in, we marched to protest Gandhiji’s arrest, and began to picket at the Churchgate Station. We shut down the college and stopped local trains, but I got arrested shortly after it started. The police believed me to be the leader of the group. I felt terrified. During my time in prison, I kept thinking every day would be my last. 

  • 12 months ago
  • May 9, 2023
6 min read
From 1757 to 1947, India endured 200 years of British occupation before gaining their independence and become a democracy. From 1757 to 1947, India endured 200 years of British occupation before gaining their independence and become a democracy. | Photo courtesy of G. G. Parekh
INTERVIEW SUBJECT
Dr G. G. Parekh is a 98-year-old freedom fighter from Mumbai, who was arrested for his active participation in India’s freedom struggle during British occupancy. He was part of the student congress in Mumbai and was fascinated by Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation. On August 9, Parekh participated in a flag hoisting ceremony in Gowalia Tank, where he was the victim of the hostility of the police forces and was sent to prison for picketing for 10 months. He survived without food and braved physical torture in prison while longing for freedom each day.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION
The Quit India movement in India was launched on August 8, 1942, by the people of India as the decisive final phase of the struggle for independence. The three-year movement had people joining India’s freedom struggle across the country. This was the most serious rebellion by Indians against the British. During this movement, thousands of participants were sent to prison and tortured. The movement ultimately led the British to leave India, with India and Pakistan partitioned on August 15, 1947. 

MUMBAI, India — Back in 1942, at just 17-years-old, police officers arrested me for picketing at Churchgate Station in Mumbai. I became a student volunteer to participate in the Quit India movement launched by Mahatma Gandhi on August 8. I never would have imagined what came next.

Read more stories from India at Orato World Media 

The start of something powerful 

I grew up in Wadwan camp, in Gujarat. My family members instilled a strong sense of nationalism in me from a young age. I used to sit down with my uncle in a dark gloomy warehouse and speak passionately about India’s independence. At only seven years old, I met Gandhiji [Mahatma Gandhi] for the first time in his hut house. I felt so fascinated by his personality. He put his hand on my head and blessed me. I often sat with my uncle, meeting freedom fighters and listenting to them speak about India for hours. They motivated me, and shortly after my encounter with Gandhiji, I went to Kanpur to study. 

At 10 years old, I attended the All India Student Congress meeting while traveling in a fully packed train. We carried with us the influence of revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh and his comrades Rajguru and Sukhdev. They died fighting for India’s freedom struggle. Ganesh Shankar Vidhyarthi‘s leadership and his fight for secularism in India moved us deeply. He died amidst Hindu-Muslim riots, stabbed in the back.

The older I got, the more my passion for my country grew. At that time, communism remained strong, and they focused on St Xavier’s College and its students. I got in touch with some of them and would sell their Imperialist War magazine. When they decided to make it a People’s War rather than an Imperial War after Hitler attacked the Soviet Union, I felt disheartened, and moved out of the group. 

Life in prison felt terrifying, and I was certain I would never leave

On August 8, Mahatma Gandhi launched the Quit India movement. The event garnered a huge crowd at Gowalia Tank Maidan, the park which later became known as August Kranti Maidan. People came to attend the All India Student Congress meeting where leaders gave speeches, including Mahatma Gandhi. His speech deeply moved me, and I felt inspired by the idea of a free independent India. The next day, we heard that Gandhiji’s wife, Kasturba Gandhi, would hoist the national flag to officially announce the Quit India Movement.

None of these events happened without repercussions. The event turned out to be a historic one – the first-ever usage of tear gas on a crowd in India. The hostility of the police force that day proved the most brutal to date. Tears filled our eyes as they burned from the gas. We attempted to cover our faces and ran away from the cops heading toward us. I ran from Opera House to Prachar Sabha to reach my hostel. We soon received the news that Gandhiji was arrested at his house at 5:00 a.m. before the flag hoisting.

I could not believe it. As the anger set in, we marched to protest Gandhiji’s arrest, and began to picket at the Churchgate Station. We shut down the college and stopped local trains, but I got arrested shortly after it started. The police believed me to be the leader of the group. I felt terrified. During my time in prison, I kept thinking every day would be my last. 

Starting our own revolution from our prison cells

After my arrest, they sent me to Worli Temporary Prison, a chawl-style building. Authorities brought protesters and students in every morning and set them free in the evenings. Every time I saw them leaving, I hoped they would free me too. Yet, months passed, and I remained. I spent my days reading books and talking to fellow inmates. They did not allow us to speak to our family members. My entire world revolved around prison duties. We had no food for days, and they often left us to starve. We learned tricks to help minimize the pain from the beatings. 

One day, the cops brought some people from Arthur Road Jail, also known as the Mumbai Central Prison. When they joined us, we all started shouting “Inquilab Zindabad,” which meant “long live the revolution.” Police came running in and beat us badly, before putting us back in our cells. At that moment, I lost all hope of ever getting out.

I longed for my freedom more than anything, and to be back on the streets fighting for what’s right. I started utilizing my time in prison to learn new things. As prisoners, we lacked basic necessities. We formed a dedicated team of protesters, and went on strike, asking for books and notebooks. I started learning anything I could from the other inmates, like Indian and Western philosophy and literature. It was in prison that I perfected my English, though I still prefer speaking Hindi. 

Celebrating India’s long awaited freedom 

After 10 long months, the authorities released from prison along with many of my prison mates. We called ourselves the 42 Augusters. When we learned about India’s freedom date on August 15, we all decided to walk and gather at a beach in Mumbai from our hostel to celebrate. For those of us who lived during India’s independence struggle, hearing the broadcast that we finally won our independence proved the best day of our lives. The British were finally leaving the country after invading and commanding it for 200 years. 

We experienced the pain of parting with a part of the country that became Pakistan, and the immense happiness that ensued after. It felt incredible to know we finally had our freedom. On the night of August 14, I joined a crowd of students who walked from the Mumbai University campus in Fort to Girgaon Chowpatty. Thousands of people joined that march. You could feel the passion all around you. Patriotic pride filled the air that night. I still remember the way we all embraced, crying in the streets, and yelling in celebration. Nehru made a beautiful speech that day. I knew I would never forget it the moment I heard it. 

While fighting for India’s freedom, we all had a different vision of a free India. We failed to make it the country we initially wanted it to be. The ideas back then and the time we live in today are two different worlds. When they first announced the constitution and hailed India as a democracy, they promised power to the laborers and farmers. That never happened. When the power shift happened, we thought leaders would become servants of the people, but they became rulers instead.

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Translations provided by Orato World Media are intended to result in the end translated document being understandable in the end language. Although every effort is made to ensure our translations are accurate we cannot guarantee the translation will be without errors.

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