104-year-old freedom fighter, daughter recall days in jail

March 27th, 2009 - 1:03 pm ICT by IANS  

By Madhushree Chatterjee
New Delhi, March 27 (IANS) At 104 Satyavati is the oldest surviving freedom fighter in India. Her 80-year-old daughter, Subhadra Khosla, was the youngest girl to have been arrested in 1942, during the struggle for independence. Recalling the moments that led to their arrest, the mother and daughter say the spirit of sacrifice was then at its peak.

“I was the youngest woman to have been imprisoned by the British. On Aug 26, 1942, barely 12 days after my father Lala Achint Ram was arrested, I was rounded up by the police from Anarkali Chowk in Lahore where I went to attend a Satyagraha rally in response to a nationwide call by Mahatma Gandhi. A few days later, my mother was arrested. Both of us were kept in the Women’s Jail in Lahore,” Subhadra told IANS.

Subhadra was 13 when she was arrested.

Satyavati and Subhadra made a rare appearance Thursday evening when they released “The Illustrated History of the Freedom Struggle”, by Penguin India at the lawns of their residence on Krishna Menon Marg in New Delhi.

The book marked the launch of Penguin India’s Studio Imprint, its archive collection.

Subhadra also spoke on behalf of her mother Satyavati, who found it difficult to recall the chain of events leading to their arrest in Lahore.

“I remember the day. It was Raksha Bandhan. In the morning, former prime minister I.K. Gujral (a native of Lahore), came to our camp at Lajpat Bhavan set up by Lala Lajpat Rai to tie ‘rakhis’. After tying the rakhis, he told my mother (Satyavati) ‘chachi, raat ko roti khane ayenge (I will come for dinner in the evening)’. But by sundown, bulk of the camp was empty as everyone was in custody,” Subhadra recalled.

Most of the Hindu families stayed either at the Lala Lajpat camp or at the DAV College Hostel camp, Subhadra said.

Lahore, she recalled, had three jails - the central jail, the postal jail and the women’s jail.

“We were in the women’s jail. But every night, we piled tables on top of one another and climbed up to shout to the inmates of the postal jail- ‘postal jail walon, October 8 ko kya hoga (postal jail inmates, what will happen to you on October 8?). On most evenings, we would go to the arena where the freedom fighters were hanged and sing patriotic songs to encourage those facing the noose,” she said, breaking into a impromptu rendition, “phasi ke takthte pe chado… (get ready to be hanged).”

Satyavati, her husband Lala Achint Ram and Subhadra were sentenced to three years in jail. But Subhadra was let off early as she was under-age.

“I stayed in jail for only 13 and a half months,” Subhadra said.

“I was not a detainee and neither were my parents. We were just rounded up. We were non-violent protesters and my detention was illegal because I was under-age. My sister, five years younger than me, had to stay in jail because my mother was imprisoned. But I was not scared despite the bad food and constant threats to hang me,” the octogenarian said.

After Independence, Lala Achint Ram was made a member of the Constituent Assembly, the daughter said. “He also contested the polls from Hissar.”

The spirit of Swadeshi and the zeal to lay down the lives for the country was at its peak at that time, both the mother and daughter said.

“Bhagat Singh and Chandrasekhar Azad both sought shelter in our home,” Satyavati said in a faltering voice when asked about her most enduring memory of the struggle.

“We went through a tough time because of high moral values laid down by Gandhiji and the call to give up everything western and lead a simple life. My father, a successful doctor, gave up his practice and all his money. I did not have a sweater to tide over the Lahore chill,” Subhadra said, recalling the spirit of sacrifice.

The cardigan she received as a gift in school was confiscated by her father and burnt. “Our clothes were stitched with the ‘khadi’ thread that we spun at home,” she said.

On the eve of Independence, the family was in Lahore.

“On Aug 14, 1947, Pakistan became free. My father gave us bottle bombs and matchsticks and told us to fight if the Muslims attacked. We were ready to die, but nothing happened,” she said.

The family moved to India in 1948. “First I came back to India and then my parents,” Subhadra said.

The duo is still as passionate about India as they were six decades ago.

“We will vote this time. But I wish the politicians live up to the Gandhian and Nehruvian ideals of the Independence era,” Satyavati said.

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