After fighting against the British rule six decades ago, Gaur Hari Das, 80, fought with the Indian government for 32 years to get his freedom fighter’s certificate. Now, his struggle to get recognised as a freedom fighter will be caught on celluloid. Ananth Mahadevan, who recently won accolades for his Marathi film Mee Sindhu Tai Sapkal, is all set to release his film titled Gour Hari Dastan.
“It all started with a small incident when Das’ son applied for admission in a polytechnic institute in Matunga. He was told that he could get extra marks if he could produce a certificate indicating that his father was a freedom fighter. He rushed home and told this to his father. Das said that he didn’t participate in the freedom struggle to get a certificate but gave him a release slip of the jail. The principal said even a criminal could get such a document. This changed the life of Das because he was being called a fraud. He took on the State but found it was easier to fight the British than getting his due from his own people.”
Das, who studied under Gandhiji’s nayee taleem or ‘education through craft’ programme, worked for the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) throughout his professional career. He was called by the commission to help develop weaving technology in Maharashtra.
During a move to create records of freedom fighters in Odisha, Das had applied for identification but the endeavour never took off. After moving to Mumbai, he revived efforts for recognition because it would have helped his elder son get an engineering seat at the Veermata Jijabai Technological Institute. Of course, the request was not processed in time and his son later won admission to Indian Institute of Technology Bombay on merit. Still, Das persisted, travelling in turns to the collector’s office and Mantralaya.
The procedure was slowed by a decision of the then Maharashtra government to not support freedom fighters from outside the state. Das had to gather proof that he was not drawing benefits in Odisha and that he had spent more than one month in jail during the struggle. He found support in his neighbour Rajeev Singhal and activist Mohan Krishnan of NGO National Anti-Corruption and Crime Preventive Council (NACCPC). His first letter requesting acknowledgment was dated 1976 and the certificate finally came through in 2009.
And the irony was that his extended tryst for acknowledgment got him more attention than even his participation in the freedom struggle. Describing his first stint as a freedom fighter, he once said in the media that he also went to jail for hoisting the Tricolour in a public place. He added, “I was 14 or 15 then and joined the movement following my father Shri Hari Das, also a freedom fighter.” Once Mahatma Gandhi himself at a meeting in Calcutta praised him. “I was the youngest of the lot, and Mahatma praised my enthusiasm.”
The textile veteran insists he was never interested in the pension (he was already getting from the Khadi Commission), saying the struggle for freedom was selfless. At 84 years, he is now general secretary of NACCPC.
The much sought-after certificate, when it was ultimately awarded, was a bittersweet victory. Instead of an engraved copper plaque issued for such honours, he received a statement on paper. In a rare moment of anger, the patient Das remembers asking Mantralaya officials, “Is the government so strapped for money now?”
He is quite happy that Anant Mahadevan decided to show his struggle on silver screen. “Our film will be based on the true life story of Das. We will take some cinematic liberty, but the theme of the film will not be altered. It is challenge to make such broad canvas film,” said Mahadevan, adding that actor Vinay Phatak will essay the character of Das. “Phatak fits in this because we will show Das’s fight with government for 30 years to get his freedom fighter’s certificate.” he added.