Saturday, July 2, 2011

BABU GENU: a Swadeshi martyr

by Kashmiri Lal on Friday, 01 July 2011 at 19:37

Monday, December 24, 2007

BABU GENU: a Swadeshi martyr


He was a congress party worker in the pre-independence era. Yet not many congressmen today may know him. Very few even within that party (or for that matter in any other political party in India) today may realise the profound significance of the message contained in his life. Fewer still would be in a position to recall the same. Even old timers within the Congress would be unaware that he was a four-anna member of the party – his registration number being 81941. None from his family benefited by his “joining” politics or the congress party, nor did he did not leave behind a “rich” legacy.

Though he was sad on hearing the news of the death of his mother, he confessed that he was in a way relieved at her death as it gave him the necessary leeway in life to fully devote himself for the cause of the nation. Being a fully dedicated volunteer to the cause of India’s independence; he did not have enough time and leisure to attend his brother’s wedding. Contrast this to the vulgar display of wealth in the marriages of those who are in power in modern times in India!

He was Babu Genu. On this day seventy-seven years ago (12th December 1930) Babu Genu was killed in the most gruesome manner while attempting to stop a speeding truck in Mumbai from carrying imported materials from Britain. Babu Genu lay on the ground before the speeding truck in the New Hanuman Road at Kalba Devi at around 11 AM on that fateful day in an attempt to prevent foreign goods from entering the Indian soil.

Even as the police were physically preventing him and his colleagues from participating in this non-violent protest, Babu Genu never gave up his resolve to stop the trucks. The truck driver - Balbir Singh – an Indian would come close to the protestors and stop for he would not and could not drive over fellow Indians. Seeing this, the police once again intervened and physically removed the protestors from the road to enable the truck pass through.

Freeing himself from the policemen gathered there, Babu Genu once again lay on the road in another attempt to prevent the passing trucks. Seeing the procrastination of the Indian driver the British sergeant lost his temper and took on himself to drive the truck at full speed over Banu Genu crushing his head and leaving behind a pool of blood and mass of flesh. Babu Genu was seriously injured and within hours passed away. He was in his early twenties when he died. Yet his life is a message to every Indian.

A brief life history

Babu Genu was born in 1908 in a poor family in Pune district of Maharasthra – a family that was steeped in abject poverty. The only prized possession of the family was a bullock that was used for farming. His father was a farmer and the other members of his family were his mother, two elder brothers and a sister. His father passed away in 1910 when he was a mere two year old child.

And when the bullock died too – a terrible tragedy for the family given their economic background - his mother unable to continue living in her village migrated to Mumbai to earn her livelihood as a domestic help. She left her sons back in the village in the care of some neighbours

All this meant that Babu was deprived of formal education in his formative years. Yet that did not mean that he was neither ignorant nor unaware of the issues confronting the country. After a spending a few years in the native village Babu Genu joined his mother in Mumbai. As his mother could not support his stay in Mumbai Babu Genu was compelled to seek employment as a casual labourer in the mills of Mumbai.

On many days he would not get employed. This did not deter him and he did not feel left down. Quite the contrary that gave him enough time and space to interact with the leading lights of independence movement in Mumbai and in the process understand it in different perspective.

Babu Genu was highly influenced by the sacrifices of Lala Lajpath Rai and the trio of Bhagath Singh, Rajguru and Sukh Dev. Yet he was wedded to the cause of non-violence and satyagraha as enunciated by Mahatma Gandhi.

The message of his life

As briefly mentioned above Babu Genu was not formally educated. Yet he understood the symbiotic link between geo-politics and geo-economics. He understood that the geo-strategic interests of the British Rule in India. He knew that economics was the driving force of British rule; establishment of the British Raj was merely a ruse to perpetuate the economic dominance of the British over India.

It is in this context Babu Genu understood the socio-economic-politic arguments propounded by Gandhiji and its significance. That meant that should the British rule were to be economically unsustainable it would collapse as there would be hardly any incentive for the British to continue their rule in India.

He knew economic independence of India was interlinked, intertwined and integrated to the political independence – a fact that escapes the attention of our political and the debating class today. He was fully aware that the no price could be less by any yardstick for the economic independence of the country. For there lay the key to political independence of the nation. No wonder he did not hesitate to make the supreme sacrifice of his life for the cause he so dearly believed.

Decades later as the nation is in search of the economic model that is suited for its development (and crucially what that development means) one may be tempted to dismiss Babu Genu’s economic thoughts as primordial, xenophobic or simply anachronistic. Yet one cannot and should not dismiss the message contained in the life of these great men, who literally and physically in broad daylight, gave their life for upholding their beliefs.

Why? Firstly, that is so because the fact of the matter is that we the present generation live in independent India only because of the noble thoughts, selfless actions and supreme sacrifices of these great men. That is the least a nation may do to express its gratitude to such great men.

Secondly, and the far more important reason is that the context of the life and history of Babu Genu may seemingly differ significantly from what it is prevalent in India today.

Yet, the text does not. Global powers clearly have a well-designed agenda – read global order - in imposing their will, thoughts, ideas and beliefs on others. If it was political domination through religion in the first millennia after Christ, it was done through the army in the second millennia. What is feared is that it could possibly be through economic intervention in the third.

Unfortunately, this brief history of mankind and a grim reminder of how the world looks at others and the manner in which it seeks to engage others – as one of that has to subjugate and ones that need to be subjugated. Surely, it is not how we look at the world or presume as to how the others look at the world – as one of near equals.

As the ideas and ideals of the likes of Babu Genu fade from our collective memory, one is tempted to only quote the oft-repeated cliché: if you forget history you are condemned to repeat it. Obviously, to assume that global economic interests are completely independent of geo-political intentions or devoid of conspiratorial motives in these modern times would be childish to say the least.

Yet this is what we seem to have done for the past several years. And the spectacular growth of our economy in the past few years seems to have made us oblivious to this risk. And that would mean necessarily understanding, redefining and recalibrating our concept of growth and development. Lop sided growth in recent years of our economy, rising disparity of income and crucially lack of genuine economic opportunities point out to a serious systemic imbalance, especially in the manner in which we have engaged the world – politically or otherwise.

And to correct the same we need to get our priorities right. It would be a fitting tribute to the life of Babu Genu if we could get our priorities right in our economic policies and begin afresh the debate on our development and growth and the terms by which we should engage the world, both in global politics and economics. And that in my opinion would be a fitting tribute to Babu Genu on his martyr’s day.

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Bharat Midha, Anupam Srivastava, Aukshay Kambale and 5 others like this.
Rajnish Kant देश के बहुमुखी विकास के लिए स्वदेशी की भावना अत्यंत आव्यश्यक है,प्रंतु आज गुणवत्ता स्वदेशी से अधिक ज़रूरी है|अपने देश के उत्पादों मे विश्वास,अपनी देश की नीतीयों में रोज़गार का आकर्षण कम नज़र आने के कारण बहू राष्ट्रीय कंपनिओ का जाल विस्तृत एवम् सुदृड होता प्रतीत हो रहा है|बाबू गेनु जेसे प्रेरणा दायक लोगों के जीवन आम भारतीयों से छिपे हुए हैं,बड़े स्तर पर उनकी जीवनी का प्रचार हो तो अवश्या जागृति आएगी|
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Rajnish Kant कम से कम जन्म दिन के दिन याद करते रहने से ही स्वदेशी का विचार जीवित रखने का प्रयास बिल्कुल उचित है,मानएवर|
Friday at 20:35 · LikeUnlike
Anupam Srivastava congresee babu kya bapu ko bhi bhul gaye hotey yadi indira,rajiv soniya aur rahul ke nam ke piche FIROZ laga hota
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An unsung martyr
Vasundhara Sanger, TIMESOFINDIA.COM | Aug 14, 2008, 07.06PM IST

A file picture of present day Babu Genu Road on Kalbadevi in South Mumbai.
MUMBAI, August 14, 2008: It's hard to fathom, why the very city of Mumbai that 78-years ago witnessed several scenes of mob violence when a humble freedom movement volunteer Baburao Genu was run over by the ruling British administration truck, reacts with faint recollection of the same man's supreme sacrifice, decades later.

Who was Babu Genu

Baburao Genu was a 22-year old mill hand who lived at the Phoenix mills chawl (tenement), which is today an up market commercial area in Mumbai. He came to the city from his village in Mahalunge in district Pune, Maharashtra. He was not highly educated but harboured a burning love for his country in his heart.

In 1930, he participated in the Civil Disobedience Movement and laid blockade at shops selling foreign cloth. On December 12, 1930 while protesting against a consignment of foreign cloth being shifted from a store house, he was mowed down by a truck loaded with bales of foreign cloth material on Kalbadevi Road in South Mumbai. He was taken to the nearby GT hospital for treatment but soon succumbed to his injuries.

Babu Genu Road now and then

The lane in Kalbadevi where Babu Genu laid down his life has been named after him. These days this busy business district is a narrow congested road cramped with hand carts, cattle and cars. Barely twenty feet wide, the atmosphere in the cramped street is heavy with sound of horns, emanates unsettling whiffs of human waste and strewn rotting garbage. The shops lined on both sides of the lane generally sell surgical instruments.

"We were told that he lay down in the path of a truck and was killed during the Swadeshi Movement. Apart from that, no body talks about him much," uttered one shopkeeper whose forefathers owned the shop when the incident involving Babu Genu happened. On being prodded, he added that nobody discussed Genu's sacrifice as such so he didn't know much about the freedom movement volunteer. Another man selling umbrellas in the adjacent shop informed that on a certain day in the year some locals organised a small function in Genu's memory but couldn't remember the exact day. "It was perhaps the day he died," he responded, disinterestedly. Babu Genu was run over by a truck in the same lane on December 12, 1930. Besides such spaced out information, there were no other signs of any memorial erected in the martyr's memory.

In contrast, the scenario was completely different at the same spot on the day in 1930 when Babu Genu died for the country. Crowds of people streamed in at the congested place where he was killed paying tribute to his memory. They laid flowers and burnt incense at the spot still fresh with marks of his blood stains on the ground. Overwhelmed with grief, the crowd even forced the passers by to go bare-headed as a mark of respect to the dead. The rampaging mob also burnt bonfires of clothes at various thoroughfares in the city. Major newspapers such as The Times of India, Navakal, Bombay Chronicle and Bombay Samachar reported extensively on Babu Genu over the next two days.

Babu Genu's death

The story goes that a foreign cloth dealer was unloading some cloth from his shop. In the wake of the Swadeshi Movement, the shopkeeper had asked for police protection to shield himself from the wrath of the protestors. When a motor lorry was passing a lane with a bale of cloth, some protestors lay down in front of its wheels. One of them was Babu Genu who refused to move from the path. The Indian driver of the vehicle, Vithal Dhondu, refused to drive it over the protestors. Out of fury a British sergeant then took hold of the vehicle and drove it over Genu.

The official statement later mentioned that the driver was hurt and fell unconscious inside his vehicle. A British sergeant then took hold of the lorry and tried to stop it but the vehicle went out of control and ran over the protesting man. The British said there was no intention to cause any harm to the volunteer. Other protestors who were lying in front of the lorry were being removed one by one. However, it was too late for Genu, as before being pushed out of the lorry's path, he was crushed under the wheels of the heavy vehicle.

Babu Genu's death caused massive unrest within the city. On the next day, thousands participated in his funeral. The funeral procession was taken through the heart of the city and the crowd wanted to take his body to the Girgaum Chowpatty beach and cremate it on the sands there. The legendary Freedom Movement leader Bal Gangadhar Tilak was the only person to have been cremated there. The angry mourners wanted Genu to receive the same respect. The British administration disallowed it following which a pitched battle was fought between the demonstrators and the British police. Some were even injured as bayonets were used. Later, senior Indian leaders pacified the crowd and Genu was finally cremated at the crematorium assigned by the British.

The inquest revealed the cause of Babu Genu's death due to fracture of the skull and laceration of the brain. No evidence was recorded because the principal witnesses were lying injured in the same hospital.

His body was claimed by the Congress party and taken to its office. The next day, stalwarts such as Jamnadas Dwarkadas, Lilawati Munshi, Perin Captain and Jamnadas Mehta carried the pall to the crematorium on Queen's road. Addressing the crowd Mrs Lilawati Munshi and Jamnadas Dwarkadas said that the best tribute to Babu Genu would be an absolute boycott of foreign goods that was an economic strategy to remove the British Empire from power and improve economic conditions in India by following principles of Swadeshi.

Immediately after Genu's gruesome death, the Director of Information of British administration issued a press note describing the incident as an "accident".

Vestiges of the martyr's memory

At the Parel's Kamgar Maidan in Mumbai (where Genu lived), a statue of the martyr was installed and it still stands there. Even here it seems lost because in this vast city many such pieces of sculptures stand forlornly, and who nobody so much as gives a second look.

The people in Genu's village named an institution after him and in Pune there is a trust and a road named after him. There is also a Mandal in Pune that celebrates Ganesh Utsav. Besides such routine initiatives, Babu Genu, whom once Indians wanted to be cremated at the same spot as Tilak, does not find mention in most of the country's history books.

Genu's father had died when he was still a child. Reportedly, after Genu's death, his mother moved to Mumbai and worked as a domestic help. Years later, her grandson (son of Genu's brother) found a job in the Maharashtra State Public Road Transport as an accountant. He retired last year and moved to his home town in Satara in West Maharashtra. Genu was single at the time of his death. Hence, apart from his nephew's family, there is no immediate kin that one knows about.

Supposedly, the family received a paltry sum of money as recognition of Babu Genu's patriotism. And as long as the family lived in Mumbai, they hardly mentioned Babu Genu's name to anybody as nobody would remember him.

Every shop on the Babu Genu lane in Mumbai dutifully announces on its signboard the martyr's name, as if the unsung patriot owned the street. But the fact of the matter is in present times, in Mumbai and much of India, Babu Genu is just a street name with a pin code assigned to it.

As India prepares to celebrate its 61st Independence Day, it's ironic the manner in which most Indians have forgotten the sacrifices of ordinary freedom movement volunteers who made extraordinary contributions to the Indian Independence Movement and by singular acts of bravery epitomised patriotism.

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