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Chapter 3 Going Underground Sunderlal Bahuguna speaks to this day of Sri Dev Suman as his guru.1 There is no precise equivalent to this term in the English language. The guru is certainly a teacher. In that sense the term can apply in modern Hindi to a teacher in a public or private school. But the Sanskrit term comes from two syllables: gu, (darkness) and ru (dispel). The connotation refers both to the subject matter that is taught and to the person who teaches. The subject matter is not mundane. It is knowledge that enlightens , that liberates. The guru is a person who represents that enlightenment and who exemplifies in his life the meaning of this teaching. Sri Dev Suman was a political activist who not only taught Mahatma Gandhi’s doctrine of swaraj, but he also embodied it. Born in a Garhwali village, he was an organizer of opposition against the government of the princely state. When Sunderlal came to know him, Sri Dev Suman was perhaps the most famous freedom fighter in Garhwal. His work was centered in the Tehri Rajya Praja Mandal (the Tehri State Peoples’ Forum), located in Dehra Dun. From there he traveled to various towns in the region to organize branches of the Praja Mandal (Citizens’ Forum). His goal was to set up an organizational forum to mediate between the raja and the praja (the people). He wanted an agreement with the king and his officials under which the Praja Mandal could undertake constructive work with the support of the raja. It was in the context of travels through the towns and villages of Garhwal that he came to Tehri where he first encountered the young Sunderlal. Sri Dev Suman promoted swadeshi (self-reliance) by means of the development of economically independent villages. He was committed to Gandhi’s constructive program. Sri Dev Suman was arrested somewhere in Garhwal in 1942. Expelled from the state, he continued his work in British India and was 29 30 Ecology is Permanent Economy later arrested and jailed in Agra, then under direct British rule. Eventually released from the Agra Central Jail, he made his way back to Tehri. After a period of productive work, he was again arrested and then incarcerated in the Tehri jail. When Sunderlal returned from Mussoorie, he found lodging in a quarter of the local hospital with the brother of his sisterin -law, a pharmacist in the hospital. This pharmacist was married to Sri Dev Suman’s sister. Because of an amiable relationship with the warden of the jail Sunderlal was permitted to forward newspapers to Sri Dev Suman, and with the papers, correspondence. Among the correspondence that crossed between them, Suman gave Sunderlal a copy of the statement he had made at his summary trial in the Tehri jail, an explicit defense of Gandhi’s doctrine of swaraj through self-reliance. Sunderlal explained to me that in those days all provisions for the hills—food, clothing, everything that was sold in the shops in Tehri—came on the backs of mules from Rishikesh. By a strategy of cunning and courage, Sunderlal managed to hide this statement under the saddle of one of the mules. He arranged for an accomplice in Rishikesh to retrieve it and forward it to friends in Delhi, where it eventually appeared in the Hindi language edition of the nationalist paper the Hindustan Times. News of Suman’s arrest and treatment in jail quickly turned public opinion against the princely state and its policy of repression of the local people. The local police were angered by the publicity. How did the word about the arrest of this opponent of the state make its way to a newspaper in Delhi? A search for the source of this information led them to one young man who had contact with him in prison. Sunderlal was immediately arrested. But they had no specific evidence against him, and the principal of the school he was then attending attested that he was a student in good standing and should be permitted to finish the school term and take his exams. Reluctantly, the authorities permitted him to return to school but stationed a police guard where Sunderlal was living . When the time came for the school exams, a police guard delivered Sunderlal to the principal at the examination hall. There he sat for his exams. When he was finished, the police guard returned him to his home. This routine continued through the duration of the...


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