Indian veteran who fought the British in freedom struggle dies in Dubai aged 98

Indian veteran who fought the British in freedom struggle dies in Dubai aged 98

Dubai: Harichandrai Jasumal Sahityani, an Indian freedom fighter, who was believed to be 98, has passed away in Dubai, where he had been living with his grandchildren since 2008.

The cremation of Harichandrai will be held in Jebel Ali on Friday.

He was reportedly born in 1923 in Kumbleema village of Sindh in undivided India, two of his grandchildren Vinod and Vimal Sahityani told Gulf News.

Gulf News could not independently verify the participation of Harichandrai in the freedom struggle. However, the family possesses a certificate acknowledging Harichandrai as a freedom fighter by the government of Madhya Pradesh in 1997. They also have photos and videos of him being honoured by the villagers during India’s Independence Day celebrations.

The brothers run Duke International in Jebel Ali Free Zone, which supplies structural steel and building material in the region.

Since their grandfather did not remember his exact date of birth, the family celebrated his birthday on every January 1, said the duo, who, along with their cousins Naresh, Prem and Bharat, grew up listening to how their grandfather had taken part in India’s freedom struggle.

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A certificate from Madhya Pradesh honouring Harichandrai Sahityani for his involvement in India';s freedom struggle. Image Credit: Supplied

Documented interview

Vinod, who documented the life of his grandfather as part of a project, compiling stories on India’s partition, said he learned more details about his grandfather after doing his interviews for the project, which he has recorded on video. “Though I couldn’t get the full story of his entire life, I had managed to record the stories related to his childhood and freedom struggle and some important milestones in his life,” said Vinod.

Harichandrai lost his father six months after being born as the youngest of five children. Apparently, Harichandrai had lost eyesight in his right eye when he was six or seven years old after he was pushed into a well by a naughty child. “The villagers rescued him. However, the pulley injured his head, due to which he lost eyesight in his right eye. He also remembered being bitten by a snake in his later years, but luckily escaped death.

“His mother used to stitch Sindhi caps with golden zari and sell them. She passed away when he was ten or 11 years old. Since his older brothers were unable to pay, he moved alone to Nawabshah at the age of 12 to pursue education in English,” Vinod added.

He initially made a living by selling newspapers at one paisa per copy, as well as by making and selling kites. Later on, his high school principal helped him by making him take up a book-binding job at the school library. The compensation from this task gave him enough money to live comfortably.

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Harichandrai Sahityani with his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren in 2019. Image Credit: Supplied

Revolutionary activities

He led activities in his school to promote the leaders of the freedom movement by organising speeches and events on their birthdays.

“Following his participation in revolutionary activities against the British regime, he was arrested by the British soldiers and jailed on several occasions,” Vinod added.

During the 1942 Quit India movement, he had come in contact with Hemu Kalani, the young revolutionary who was jailed and hanged for his attempt to derail a British military train coming from Lahore. Vinod said the authorities arrested Harichandrai along with 11 others on suspicion of conspiring with Kalani. “Since Hemu did not reveal any name of his accomplices, the group of 12 were whipped and jailed.”

After his release from the jail, Vinod said, his grandfather went on to complete his matriculation. He would then give tuitions to students in his village.

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Harichandrai Jasumal Sahityani with his wife Kamla Devi. Image Credit: Supplied

Post-Partition life

Amidst the violence during the Partition, the Sahityani family managed to get out of Nawabshah by train to the Indian border and lived in different refugee camps.

Until his retirement in 1984, Harichandrai worked as a telephone engineer with the telecom department.

“After his retirement, he used his savings to set up a couple of schools for tribal students in the border areas. He used to oversee the projects even after coming over here following the death of our grandmother,” said Vinod.

The grandchildren now aim to carry forward the legacy of their grandfather.

Vimal said his grandfather was a man of principle and discipline. “He followed yoga, meditation and an Ayurveda-based lifestyle. We believe that was the secret of his good health.”