August 10, 1997 in Nation/World

Bombay March Tells Independence Story Children Join Freedom Fighters To Mark 50 Years Of Free India

Ramola Talwar Associated Press

Led by those who fought for India’s freedom 50 years ago, nearly 150,000 children marched through the streets of Bombay on Saturday to celebrate the anniversary of the country’s independence.

Chanting “Long Live Mother India,” children held hands with nearly 2,500 freedom fighters to recreate the 1942 Quit India movement that forced the British to grant independence five years later.

“Revival of these memories is important for the younger generation,” said Pramod Navalkar, state government minister.

Traditional folk melody blended with martial music as warriors astride horses and soldiers in jeeps paid homage to those killed in the struggle.

Horse-driven chariots from the Victorian era pulled up near a stage decorated with brown-and-white tribal paintings and the national tricolor of green, saffron and white.

Bhartesh Verlekar pushed his grandmother’s wheelchair into a room near the Martyrs’ Memorial in the city center.

“I never learned history from the textbook. She (grandmother) taught me everything from Gandhi to the politicians of today,” said Verlekar, 21, who is studying computer engineering.

His grandmother, Mathurabai Lotlikar, 85, recalled that she was arrested in 1930 for hoisting India’s flag in defiance of British law. Today, she rails against endemic corruption.

Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral echoed her views in a speech he gave at the sprawling Kranti Maidan grounds, where Mohandas Gandhi, leader of India’s independence movement, first asked the British rulers to leave the country.

“Corruption has destroyed the common man’s life,” Gujral said. “Corruption is eating up our country.”

He said that caste and religious riots that frequently erupt across the country can be fought with love and understanding.

“The young generation can help us in this,” he said.

Outside the stadium, a handful of demonstrators shouted anti-Gujral slogans and protested his taking part in a meeting attended by a rightist politician critical of Gandhi.

Inside, Vikram Pathe said he was proud to join in the celebrations, but stressed that India still faces huge challenges. “I wish it were true when I sing words like: ‘Let us take a pledge to wipe tears from every eye,”’ said Pathe, one of the 320 artists participating in a dance-drama sequence re-enacting the freedom struggle.

Freedom fighters outside the stadium led torch processions in the suburbs.

“We may not have achieved all our goals since independence, but India has seen a lot of progress. We need another revolution,” said Moreshwar Nachane, who was jailed by the British for two years for conspiring to blow up a rail tunnel near Bombay in 1942.

A 5.3-mile-long banner will be carried today from the city center to the suburbs by a chain of 20,000 people. It is painted with the word “Freedom” and other slogans in 14 of the country’s official languages. The human chain will end with the formation of the map of India.

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