Swaraj On DD: Renarrativising Indian Freedom Through Unsung Heroes From Across The Country

by Harsha Bhat - Aug 27, 2022 11:38 AM +05:30 IST
Swaraj On DD: Renarrativising Indian Freedom Through Unsung Heroes From Across The CountryRani Abakka in Swaraj on Doordarshan
Snapshot
  • Doordarshan has launched a mega epic serial Swaraj: Bharat Ke Swatantrata Sangram Ki Samagra Gatha.

    It is a 75-episode historical docu-drama dubbed in nine languages, aired on Doordarshan every Sunday from 9pm-10pm.

On the eve of India's 'Azaadi Ka Amrit Mahotsava', Vasco Da Gama set foot in India once again.

Once again began the saga of the arrival of various international forces that set out to capture the 'sone ki chidiya' of the world.

And once again, the battle has begun to safeguard this land, its people and its sovereignty. Only this time, it is on television screens of 1.3 billion Indians.

Our country's public broadcaster Doordarshan, has launched a mega epic serial Swaraj: Bharat Ke Swatantrata Sangram Ki Samagra Gatha, that went on air on 14 August 2022.

And from there has begun a televised retelling of the saga of India's Independence and the struggle for freedom that goes beyond the commonly known aspects or well-known heroes.

Launched on 5 August by Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Swaraj is a 75-episode historical docu-drama dubbed in nine languages, including English. It will be aired on Doordarshan every Sunday from 9pm to 10pm.

While DD National will broadcast the Hindi edition, the regional network of DD will carry the dubbed version in nine regional languages - Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali, Odia, Assamese.

But this is no regular telling of the images that are raked up when one mentions the freedom struggle. On the contrary, the series attempts to bring to the fore those tales that do not make it into any national narrative.

Tales of our battle for freedom led by heroes who until now have only been known in their local regions or celebrated as folk heroes and icons are being told through this mega epic attempt at 'renarrativising' the freedom struggle.

Speaking to Swarajya, some of the minds behind its making share the intention, the effort and the possible impact of undertaking such a mega historical show.

Organiser Editor Prafulla Ketkar who was part of the five member team of researchers, shares the journey of creating the material for the series.

Ketkar says it was a conscious attempt at 'renarrativising' the struggle for Independence in public perception and memory because else until now, it 'is only the post 1857 parts that get highlighted, where we are seen as a nation that didn't really fight but did it only through means like satyagraha'.

After due deliberation, the research team decided to start the series from the European invasions, and Vasco Da Gama's entry would be the starting point.

And the tale from thereon would be told through various unsung heroes and characters from all over India. The five member team, along with three researchers, then penned the events and put the storyline in place.

"Between 1498 - 1757, the Battle of Plassey was when the Europeans faced a lot of resistance. Also, this period is not much discussed, except in local tales, or historical references, our heroes like Rani Abbakka, the Vijayagara Kingdom, Velu Nachiyar are not apart of the national mainstream thought process," says Ketkar.

"So we thought the best way to do this was to tell the story of the freedom struggle through the lives of the unsung heroes," he adds.

Also, the team took effort to portray that the freedom struggle was not just a battle for political Independence. On the contrary, the idea of Swaraj came last, says Ketkar.

He says: "The first form of resistance against the Europeans was more on the idea of Swadharma - the protection of temples, cultural traditions, even in the north east. Then came the economic aspect when swadeshi was added followed by the battle at the intellectual level for nationalistic education and Swabhasha, which came much later as opposed to the new education policy of Travoli and Mccaulay."

"And then in 1908, Tilak articulated 'Swaraj', and by 1928 the Congress also began to talk of purna swaraj. So Swaraj was not just about political Independence - it was about Swadharma, Swadeshi, Swabhasha and Swaraj, which was collectively called Swaraj," Ketkar adds.

But in popular perception, the battle for political Independence alone came to characterise stories of our freedom struggle, while the first three were ignored, he says.

This is why this series attempts to "pick up the narrative right from the beginning and then tells the tale through the heroic deeds of all freedom fighters coming from various places, castes communities and even religions and contributing to the idea of selfhood".

But it isn't like the series only talks of our various victories, he clarifies.

"While European invasions across the world reduced the indigenous population to artefacts in the museums, it is only in India that we have survived as a civilisation, even after fighting for nearly 450 years," explains Ketkar.

So, this idea that we may have lost many battles, but we fought needs to be told. The nation needs to know that we never accepted foreign rule, that our tribals, whom we today call marginalised, were the ones who resisted them the most and successfully often, he adds.

That the peasant uprising (as portrayed by the communists, unfortunately) was, in reality, an outcome of a land crisis and employment crisis after most princely states got annexed and an act of standing up against the British policies and the land crisis, needs to be told.

That there was a movement against the Bengal partition called the Vande Mataram movement, which was not seen as the partition of Bengal but that of India.

"Because unlike what Rahul Gandhi would like us to believe, there was an idea of India. Our states may have been different also our models of governance but the idea of nationhood was there and it was the same across the country."

The overarching intention was to give a comprehensive idea of our freedom struggle, says Ketkar.

"What was the nature, the character and the ideological basis of our freedom struggle, what was the intent of the colonisers, and what was our response to it - all this should come forward at a larger conceptual level," he adds.

"When it comes to us as a society as a nation, we see comprehensive struggle post 1857 because by then the expanse of British rule was nationwide. But prior to that, for instance, the first defeat of any European power in Asia was in India."

"The Dutch had a powerful army and navy yet Martanda Varama defeated them. Which is why I have called it renarrativising the freedom struggle," he explains.

Speaking about the series, Prasar Bharati CEO Mayank Agarwal said this is an attempt to tell the hitherto untold tales.

"While on one hand we have the new generation and youth who aren't aware of our struggle for Independence. But a lot of the older generation too isn't aware of a lot of aspects of the struggle, for which there has been no attempt made either," says Agarwal.

"There were those who fought and died but didn't surrender -way before even the battle for Swaraj began. And these stories should reach 1.3 billion people so that they can take pride on their nation, their heritage - this is the sole motivation behind this series," he adds.

He explains that it is a well-researched series to bring the glorious past of our country in front of people to inspire the present generation, especially about this 'vishwaguru' ness that Prime Minister Narendra Modi keeps mentioning.

"We say 'Bharat sone ki chidiya thi (India was a golden bird)', but most portrayals of India in popular tales have been about our poverty and people dying due to famines. Because the imperialist forces could loot us, taking undue advantage of our idea of Vasudaiv kutumbhakam (the world is one family)."

"We were 'vishwaguru' before the imperialists plundered our nation - And in our conscience, we still are - and heading towards emerging as a global leader again. But not through conquest or powerful domination over another but by inclusive growth empowered by this very idea of vasudaiva kutumbhakam" he explains.

This oneness aspect, this cultural rootedness, and our civilisational connect, all of it defines our idea of Swaraj and not political rule alone, and this series is an attempt to bring this to the fore, explains Agarwal.

Manoj Joshi as the narrator in Swaraj
Manoj Joshi as the narrator in Swaraj
A still from Swaraj
A still from Swaraj
A still from Swaraj
A still from Swaraj
A still from Swaraj
A still from Swaraj

Two episodes of the series have already been aired. Prime Minister Narendra Modi also attended a special screening of the serial last week.

The third episode that will be aired tomorrow (Sunday) showcases the life of Rani Abakka of Ullala, who fought the Portuguese. Popular actor Manoj Joshi plays the sutradhar (narrator) and takes the audience on this sojourn.

While it is too early to know how the nation has taken to this effort, a positive marker, as shared by the channel, has been the response that it received to the quiz held after the first episode - almost 20,000 people took part and sent in their replies.

The serial, intending to reach as many people as possible, will also be repeat telecasted on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, and the audio version will be broadcast on the All India Radio network from 11am on Saturdays.

Also Read: Those Reading Caste Conflict In Chhatrapati Shivaji's Coronation Have Got It Completely Wrong, Again

Harsha is an Associate Editor at Swarajya. She tweets @bhatinmaai.
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