• 02-Jun-2023

HARGOVIND PANT "The Jannayak of Uttarakhand"

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Hargovind Pant was a freedom fighter, a changemaker, and the spokesperson for the Kumaon Hills (present-day Uttarakhand) region. He was born in the village Chittai in Almora, United Province in British India on 19 May 1885. Pant completed his LLB from the School of Law in Allahabad in 1909 and started practising law in Ranikhet in 1910. This was the time when the ideals of nationalism and freedom were spreading like wildfire amongst the educated Indians.

Pant effectively utilized his proficient academic background and familiarity with the people of the Kumaon Hills to educate and raise awareness about the political awakening in the country. He began to instil in them the spirit of nationalism. Hargovind Pant along with other leaders from the Kumaon region laid the foundation of the Kumaon Parishad (KP) in 1916. KP aimed to address the local issues of people and organised them to work towards the eradication of those problems. As the Chairman of the Annual Session of KP held in Kashipur, Pant called out the Coolie Begar practice. Coolie Begar referred to the law, whereby the locals residing in the hilly areas of Kumaon had to ensure the free transportation of the luggage belonging to the travelling British officials, soldiers, surveyors, etc. This exploitative practice was forced labour without any payment. The village head was expected to provide several coolies for a particular period. On 14 January 1921, during the Uttarayani festival, the Coolie Begar movement began on the field at the confluence of the Saryu and Gomati rivers. People from many communities came to the festival grounds to take part in the movement, thereby turning it into a massive spectacle. Hargovind Pant led the locals in a demonstration wearing khadi caps shouting Gandhiji ki Jai and Vande Mataram. He galvanized the villagers to disobey the village head thus rebelling against the Coolie Begar practice. He proclaimed, “We shall not be coolies even if they cut us up into a thousand pieces”. The pressure was thus exerted on the British, and the deplorable tradition of Coolie Begar came to an end.

In 1925, Pant was elected as the President of the Zilla Parishad of Almora for 3 years. During this tenure, Pant focused on social reforms in the region. The Brahmins of Uttaranchal did not themselves plough the land, instead of using labour from villages. Pant, a Brahmin, challenged the evil practice by ploughing the land in Bageshwar himself in 1928, which kick-started the beginning of a social change in the Hills. Village reforms being his top priority, he opened schools for primary and middle school-going children. He also insisted that the students be taught patriotic songs.

Pant is credited with initiating and propagating the Salt Satyagraha and Bharat Chhodo Andolan (Quit India movement) in 1942, in Almora. During the Quit India Movement, Pant was under house arrest in Almora and was later imprisoned for six years. He was elected to the Provincial Assembly in 1946. He was a crucial member of the Legislative Council till 1950 and represented the interests of the people of the hilly region of the United Province. On 04 January 1951, he was elected as the Deputy Speaker of the United Province Legislature. Despite all his education and the fact that he was erudite, Hargovind was the epitome of simplicity and humility. In 1957, he was elected to the Lok Sabha with an overwhelming majority, and later became the Deputy Speaker of the Lok Sabha. He passed away in the same year, supposedly under suspicious circumstances.