Updated: May 15, 2019
I have the good fortune of sometimes spending time with my aged friends, Vimla and her very modest husband the 92 year old Ramesh Butani. As our friendship grew so did I discover a great and Unsung Indian Hero.
Here are some of his experiences.
On 8th Aug 1942, Mahatma Gandhi launched the 'Quit India' movement, to unite all Indians, in all out effort to oppose British rule of India and become independent.
At that time, Mr. Ramesh Butani aged 17 and three of his other juvenile Sindhi college student friends living in the city of Hyderabad (Sindh) decided to join the freedom struggle. Malkani one of the friends knew the wealthy Indian businessman, Bhai Pratap Dialdas. They went to him to seek counsel. He asked "What do you think you can you do, for our freedom struggle?"
Butani said, "I can write articles and Anand Panjwani here can help me distribute our message" Malkani and Shivdas Sahani said "We know how to make small bombs to create a scare amongst the British authorities."
Bhai Pratap said, "Whatever you need you arrange it. Whatever money you need its yours. Whatever resources you need but can't get it let me know and I will arrange to provide it to you.
The four youngsters working in total secrecy, set up their base in a garage provided by Bhai Pratap. They got hold of a small hand press and other resources, along with various chemicals to make bombs. Every alternate night they would print a couple of hundred copies of some inflammatory message against the British and messages of motivation to Indians. A typical poster had the motto 'Rebellion is my religion, revenge is my oath'.
Every now and then Malkani and Sahani would take the bombs and set them off in public places, to infuse a sense of panic amongst the British. They succeeded in their intent of causing a ruckus without killing anyone.
In November 1942 the British police arrested the four friends. They were kept in jail for several months, beaten up regularly. They were grilled often by the police, to find out who was funding and supporting them. The young men said they were independent and had collected money by begging. The name of Bhai Pratap was never revealed.
The police sought the death penalty for the four but the prosecution could not establish a case and Malkani and Sahani, were found 'not guilty' by the court and set free. Unfortunately Butani and Panjwani were found to be 'guilty' and were sentenced to 20 lashes each.
The punishment was to be meted out in the backrooms one of the Police stations in Hyderabad. A tall and formidable Sikh soldier led Butani to the back, stripped him naked, strapped him down and when they were alone the Sikh wept.
He spoke softly in Hindi to Butani, "Please forgive me for doing this. I feel ashamed that I have to side with the British against my own people, but I dare not leave their service for then I too will be targeted."
He continued, If I give you 20 lashes I am afraid I will kill you, and my officers sitting in the front room want that. However I will give you only 10 lashes and 10 times I will lash the wall. I know you will scream in pain when I lash you, but you must also scream even when I lash the wall"
So harsh was the lashing that Butani was in hospital for 3 months and could walk again only after 5 months.
Butani ji and his friends stopped writing, printing and distributing revolutionary articles, but continued to join agitations wherever they were held.
In 1943 a brave lady, the freedom fighter Aruna Asif Ali arrived in Hyderabad (Sindh) to spur people on in the fight for freedom.
The British had announced an award of Rs 5,000 for her capture, because she was the nationalist who unfurled the Indian flag at the Gowalia Tank maidan, in Mumbai on 9 Aug 1942 which marked the commencement of the 'Quit India' movement.
She took this courageous step, after the British authorities arrested all the Congress leaders.
Bhai Pratap had received information through his spy network that Aruna ji was marked to be arrested the next morning. There was no time to lose. He sent for and arranged for Shri. Jaitley and Shri. Butani to accompany and escort Aruna ji, safely out of Hyderabad. They travelled by foot and 'tonga' in disguise, she as a Muslim woman in a burkha, accompanied by Shri. Jaitley and Butani ji acting as her husband and young son respectively.
With great difficulty they arrived at Kotri railway station where they boarded a train to Shikarpur. Once there Aruna ji secretly met with key people at a safe house arranged by Bhai Pratap.
Butani and Jaitley with great difficulty managed to return to Hyderabad. All the heroes played their part and kept the flame of the freedom struggle burning bright and spirits high.
Soon thereafter young Butani ji, got a job as a reporter at the 'Sindh Observer' newspaper. His outstanding work saw him elevated to the post of assistant editor.
He interviewed several times the future leaders of India, Jinnah, Nehru, Sardar Patil, Maulana Azad, etc.
On 14th August 1947 he quoted from Jinnah's speech as the first Governor General of Pakistan, 'Now that freedom is a reality, we should forget, Muslim animosity to other faiths, and live and build a secular Pakistan."
Unfortunately huge gangs of Muslim fundamentalists and extremists ruled the streets of Pakistan. They took exception to Butani's factual reporting on secularism statements of Jinnah.
They sought to kill him. He took refuge in the home of Muslim well wishers and finally with the assistance of the Indian High Commissioner in Pakistan fled to India on 9th Sept 1947. The small built and frail looking Butani ji shows that courage and strength does not mean only physical strength.
Many Sindhis gave their blood, sweat, tears, money and lives for the freedom struggle. Rarely is their contribution acknowledged. 'Sindh's role in the freedom Struggle' by Baldev Gajra is an excellent reference on this subject.
Drop by drop, the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of such unknown and unsung heroes, created ripples, that grew into waves that eventually turned the tide against British occupation in favour of Indians and our freedom.
To these countless unsung heroes, the people of undivided India owe their gratitude and debt. We salute you.
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