Mohan Shete, an academic and member of the Committee for History at Balbharati and founder of Itihaas Premi Mandal, which attempts at raising awareness on history and heritage in Pune, has organised ‘The Freedom Trail’ on January 26. It is an initiative of India Heritage Walk programme by Sahapedia, which collects and collates material in Pune, and across India, to create an online source for art and culture. ‘The Freedom Trail’ will highlight the contribution of people and places in Pune that impacted the country’s freedom struggle. In a conversation with Dipanita Nath, Shete explains the importance of looking back at history. Excerpts from an interview:
The Preamble to the Constitution has emerged as one of major tools of protest across the country over the past months. Do you see this as a fad or a longer commitment?
The Preamble is not easy to understand. Law students have it as a subject, but apart from them, young people hardly read it. At present, there is talk of the Preamble being read in schools and how pupils should repeat it daily. In schools, where students take the oath everyday, I have noticed that it they simply parrot what the person at the front says. The meaning does not seep in. The Preamble must seep into the consciousness of young people. How can we do this? Maybe, we can have a storytelling or theatre competition on the subject for children, or we can tell them stories of inspiring people. This way, the ideals of justice, liberty, equality, unity and integrity will make an impact on children and they will follow them in their daily lives. Just muttering words will not do.
During this walk, what aspects of Pune’s contribution to the freedom struggle will you focus on?
The walk highlights the contribution of our freedom fighters. Among the places we will visit are Congress Bhavan, where I will tell the story of Narayan Dabhade, a 17-year-old martyr who was trying to hoist the Tricolour here; Bhau Rangari Bhavan and talk about Bhau Rangari’s contribution to the freedom struggle; and Hutatma Chowk, where we will discuss martyrs. The first revolutionary of India was hanged in 1832, much before the Revolt of 1857, and his name was Umaji Naik Khomane. His samadhi is in Pune. While he never went to school and was illiterate, the thought of how India would be as a free country still came to his mind. He created a jahirnama, which I will show display when we visit the samadhi. We will also discuss the role of organisations such as Shaktisodhak Samaj that spread social reform and awareness across India. And let us not forget that Mahatma Gandhi and Dr B R Ambedkar were at Yerwada Jail together when they created the Poona Pact, which talked of reservation of electoral seats for Dalits.
What is your inspiration for conducting heritage walks and other events to draw attention to history?
Human nature is such that we are focused on our own lives, career and growth opportunities. But what if we could link it to the realities of our society and our country? We need to take the help of history. By this, I do not mean that only events from the past should be recalled but also that these should be related to the present. Our ancestors fought and struggled so that we can be free today. They put the cause of the country before selfish needs. When young people listen to stories about them, it is possible that they will be inspired to make a contribution towards the country. We are moving towards the future, no doubt about that, but with knowledge of and from the past. If we have to make our country glorious, we must derive knowledge from our history. The mistakes that have been made in history should not be repeated in the future. Why did we lose to the British? One reason is that they had superior technology in warfare. What is the lesson for today? If we are to become world leaders, our technology should also be of the latest quality.
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