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Karnataka’s ‘Conscience’, HS Doreswamy, the Gandhian Who Remained Active Till Last Year, Dies at 103

HS Doreswamy during a protest in February 2020.

HS Doreswamy during a protest in February 2020.

Born in the erstwhile kingdom of Mysore on 10 April 1918, Harohalli Srinivasaiah Doreswamy had participated in protests for the freedom movement of India.

Freedom fighter and activist HS Doreswamy died in Bengaluru on Wednesday following a cardiac arrest. He was 103.

Born in the erstwhile kingdom of Mysore on 10 April 1918, Harohalli Srinivasaiah Doreswamy had agitated for the freedom movement of India, and remained active, participating in protests even until last year against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

He was the conscience of Karnataka, as historian Ramachandra Guha described him. Doreswamy was a living example of Gandhism.

Doreswamy had lost his parents at the age of five. His grandfather Shamanna raised him and his elder brother H.S. Seetharam, who later became the first mayor of Bengaluru.

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In his spartan khadi and dhoti, with shining eyes and an ever-alert mind, Doreswamy made it a point to show his support where necessary. He was a constant at protest venues where he would be as engaged as any youth around him.

He was drawn towards participating in agitations soon after he completed his education and took up teaching. He joined the Quit India Movement, and from then on, he took part in a series of agitations, went to jail, and even sustained police assault.

In a 2016 BBC interview, Doreswamy recalled how he joined the freedom struggle after being inspired by reading one of Mahatma Gandhi’s books ‘My Early Life’.

He was arrested in December 1942 for planting time bombs in post-boxes to burn documents, and protested against the British rule. His name came up during interrogation of one of the suppliers of these bombs.

“Sometimes, we would also tie time bombs and throw them into government record rooms, where they would blow up and destroy documents,” he had said during that interview.

After independence, in 1947 during the political integration of various princely states, Doreswamy established a publishing house and bookstore in Bengaluru, and later moved to Mysore to take over the operation of a newspaper, ‘Pouravani’, after its owner, his friend, died.

A true Satyagrahi

Doreswamy spent 14 months in jail, and used the time to learn new languages from his fellow prison inmates.

Once released along with other political prisoners, Doreswamy adopted non-violence as a policy in every protest he participated — be it raising his voice for the Bhoodan movement or against the Emergency or, more recently, protests against land-grabbing and corruption in Karnataka, or against the CAA.

Staunchly believing that a social worker must embrace ‘voluntary poverty’, he was always spotted in a khadi kurta and white dhoti, often adding on a soft white towel around his neck and wearing an enthusiastic smile on his wrinkled face.

In a 2011 interview with CNN-News18, Doreswamy had said he was disillusioned by the quality of politicians today as this is not what they had all envisaged when they sacrificed so much for the freedom struggle.

Many may have thought him old school, but he was as sharp and modern in keeping himself updated on policies and politics, and the impact any policy has on the common man.

Last year, he was dissed by a BJP MLA as being a “fake freedom fighter”. Undeterred by the taunt, he declared that he was readying his CV — putting down in writing what he had done from youth to now, to record if there was anything anti-national in anything he had done thus far.

His most memorable agitation

Doreswamy had recalled during an interview with CNN-News18 last year how his initiative with local residents of KR Puram near Bengaluru to remove a trash hillock paid off.

“You see near KR Puram, there is a place where the city’s waste, from all over the city, is removed and deposited there. For the past 7 years, they were doing this and a hillock (of trash) has come up there. People were fed up with this, a lot of diseases spread, children were suffering from coughs etc. Such being the case, one day I was going there and I saw the hillock so I asked what it was. They told me that for the past 7 years everyday they’ve been bringing 30 tonnes of debris and they are pouring it here…” Doreswamy had said during the interview.

“I asked where it had come from, they said it had come from Bangalore. So I said that it is me who has to account myself, because it is my city that is causing all this disturbance in the village,” he added.

“Therefore, I asked them whether they were prepared to sit with me in dharna till the government decides the other way. Then we sat for 15 days and particularly women folk came in plenty and they were intimidated and taken away at night in buses and put in police stations and they left them in the morning and they didn’t know where they were and where to go. But somehow they managed to come back. And they took part in the struggle for another 7-10 days.”

“Ultimately, the CM said that from next week onwards, no lorries would go into that place and today of course the debris are there, but no one enters there now. The village is called Mandur and is about 6-7 km from KR Puram. This agitation took place 5 years ago,” he had said.

Nageshwar Rao, a trusted aide who has been with Doreswamy for over ten years, said he would travel with Doreswamy across many districts in the state whenever he needed a companion to help him.

“He was always intolerant towards injustice and always wanted to help the poor get equal rights. No matter how far, he would go by car and tell us stories of his life during our travels. We would get goose-bumps,” Rao told News18 on Wednesday, hours after his death.

Doreswamy had been infected with Covid 19 earlier this month, but had recovered and returned home on May 13. However, his past heart and asthma ailments, coupled with Covid complications, took him back to the hospital the next day. After fighting for life for 11 days, he breathed his last on Wednesday afternoon. Having lost his wife in 2019, he is survived by a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.

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first published:May 26, 2021, 21:13 IST