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When Birla joined Bapu to fight British

Members of the Marwari community assembled at Kala Mandir on the occasion of Subhash Chandra Bose’s birth anniversary on Thursday to trace and celebrate their contribution to the freedom struggle.

Several of the city’s top industrialists and businessmen acknowledged that theirs was a community remembered for its business acumen, but it’s an identity that had overshadowed the roles Marwaris played in the fight for independence from British rule.

A search for a parallel identity, distinct from the one as a thriving trading community, was achieved through a theatrical recreation of the struggle of Marwari freedom fighters and by felicitating the descendants of the martyrs.

The event, Aahuti Marwari Vanik Putro Ki, honoured six of them.

Industrialists Ghanshyamdas Birla and Jamnalal Bajaj are known more for the trades they plied than for their roles in the freedom struggle. Birla had a warrant issued against him for aiding Mahatma Gandhi while Bajaj was imprisoned for defying the ban on flying the national flag.

The programme sought to wrest from oblivion forgotten heroes like Amarchand Banthia, Ramjidas Gurwala and Hanuman Prasad Poddar.

It celebrated the leadership and socialist revolutionary fervour of Ram Manohar Lohia, perhaps the best-known Marwari freedom fighter.

“I felt really proud to be a Marwari yesterday and it was an education for me as well because I too was unaware of the extent of the contribution by Marwaris in the struggle,” said R.P. Pansari, senior president, Aditya Birla Group.

Parivar Milan, a charitable organisation celebrating its 40th year, was the organiser of the event. “Many of us have forgotten our national heroes and the fact that hundreds of Marwari sons have laid down their lives for the country. This is an attempt to revive our sense of community pride and follow in their footsteps,” said Ishwari Prasad Tantia, president of Parivar Milan and chairman of Tantia Constructions.

A packed audience of over a thousand people was up on its feet when founder member of Parivar Milan, 80-year-old Dwarka Prasad Ganeriwal, read out the oath. “I solemnly swear to carry out my duties towards my country, my faith and society to the best of my abilities,” chorused the audience.

“This is an oath I used to take during my Boy Scout days. I feel that in our pursuit of accumulating personal wealth, we have forgotten our duties towards society and the nation,” said Ganeriwal.

The attendees included Hari Prasad Kanoria, founder of SREI; Prahlad Ray Agarwala, chairman of Rupa and Co; and social worker Pushkar Lal Kedia.

Descendants of the six freedom fighters were invited from different parts of the country and honoured with uttariyas specially made in Santiniketan.

Among those felicitated were Sudarshan Kumar Birla, grandson of G.D. Birla, and Dileep Bajaj, great grandson of Jamnalal Bajaj, both of whom were close aides of Gandhi.

Rajkumar Banthia, a sixth-generation descendant of Amarchand Banthia, who was hanged for aiding Rani Lakshmi Bai during the 1857 armed struggle, arrived from New Delhi to accept the honour on behalf of his ancestor.

The play recreated scenes from the freedom struggle such as those of Bajaj and his wife, Janki Devi, burning foreign clothes, Lohia being tortured in prison and Birla helping Bipin Behari Ganguly and Gandhi evade the British.

“In recent times, the community has been held in popular perception in a negative way. An event like this will be able to change that perception tell the country that Marwaris have been instrumental in helping the country attain freedom,” said S.K. Birla.