Pooja Patel speaks to 90-year-old freedom fighter Champaklal Chattrapati on his experiences during the freedom struggle.
What was your role in the struggle for freedom?
In August 1942, Gandhiji initiated the Quit India Movement. In response to the call for independence, I addressed a meeting in my hometown in Jambusar, Gujarat. Thereafter, I participated in many Prabhat Pheris (morning processions) and frequented Sabarmati Ashram.
How did it feel to participate in these movements?
I felt proud as I was given an opportunity to serve my motherland. Though I was imprisoned for 18 months for participating in the Prabhat Pheris, I was truly happy as I had participated in the freedom struggle.
Tell us about your life in prison. Was it very difficult?
It was a completely different experience. I was sentenced to 18 months of imprisonment at the Jambusar Jail from where I was transferred to four different jails. The Sabarmati Central Jail had thousands of inmates and they were allowed to move freely in any ward. I was in ward number 4 with Bahalbhai Mehta and Ravishankar Maharaj. For our meals, we were served jowar rotla and dal and on Sundays, we were given roti with jaggery. When I was in Yerwada Jail, I played tennis with the other jail inmates. Due to my good behaviour, I was released early and ended up spending only 16 months behind bars.
Were people completely dedicated to the cause of independence?
Yes, absolutely. People were ready to sacrifice their lives for the sake of their motherland. Even women actively took part in the struggle. They were as fearless as men were and even accepted prison sentences without a second thought about their family and children.
Did you meet Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel? Was he really an 'Iron Man'?
He was a man with great will and character. With his statesmanship, he successfully merged 500 Princely States of India. His witty approach towards the problems of Junagadh and Hyderabad helped resolve stressful issues. The name given to him matches his personality completely.
Did you participate in any public speeches?
I participated in many prayer sessions conducted by Gandhiji at Birla Bhavan and at Chowpatty. It was always great to listen to Bapu.
How did people react when Partition took place?
Partition was a huge tragedy for people on both sides of the border. Thousands of Sindhi people and Hindus had to move to India, leaving behind their homes, property and belongings in Pakistan. They were in a state of shock. Riots erupted in various parts of India. It was a tough time for people on both sides of the newly formed border.
What was your first reaction to the hoisting on the Indian flag on August 15, 1947?
It was a moment of great joy when Jawaharlal Nehru declared India a free republic. I was in Bombay, now called Mumbai, on that day and the entire city was rejoicing on the streets. The city did not sleep that night and I was celebrating too. People were thrilled and everyone was filled with zeal and enthusiasm. The mood was sombre, moral and religious.