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Kul Bhushan: Kantilal and Urmila Zhaveri
joined the fight for freedom in Tanzania

NEW DELHI -- To pay tribute to an outstanding freedom fighter, Kantilal Zhaveri, his widow, Urmila, returns to Tanzania from India this week to donate his papers and documents to the national archives and also launch her memoirs of the women’s struggle in this East African country, report Kul Bhushan and Sultan Jessa.

After fighting against the British rule in India and Tanzania, a distinguished lawyer Kantilal Jhaveri, made his mark as an elected member of parliament in Tanzania and returned to India.

At the end of a long and illustrious career of public service, Kantilal Jhaveri who was born in Rajkot, Gujarat in 1921, died early this year in Delhi aged 93.
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As a young, daring student Jhaveri joined the Quit India Movement started by Mahatma Gandhi to rid India of the British rule.

He organized a strike in his college.

He was arrested and jailed in Rajkot in 1942.

After his release, he proceeded to obtain his law degree from Poona Law College.

"As a young lawyer, he was always interested in human rights issues and freedom," said Urmila Jhaveri, his widow who worked as a women’s community leader in Tanzania.

"After arriving in Tanganyika to begin a new life, he got involved in the political struggle wholeheartedly."

Her parents, Labhuben and Tarachand Gandhi, migrated to Zanzibar Island in early 1920s where her father joined the Sultan of Zanzibar’s government as a customs officer.

She was born on the nearby Island of Pemba in 1931, grew up in Dar-es-Salaam, the capital of Tanganyika in the harsh Colonial era.

During World War II, she sailed from Dar-es-Salaam to Jamnagar in a traditional Indian boat called a dhow, avoiding German warships and submarines and surviving a severe storm.

"We survived the long treacherous journey and did well in spite of the colonial masters, and many physical and financial constraints," she recalls.

Urmila has just published her memoirs in a fascinating book, 'Dancing with Destiny', in which the chapter of this voyage by dhow makes for exciting reading.

In Rajkot, she was engaged to Kantibhai, got married in 1948 and returned with her husband after the war was over.

When Jhaveri arrived in Tanganyika, the country was starting its freedom struggle and he wasted no time in getting deeply involved in this campaign.

"This opened up a whole new window for me as well," said Urmila.

"After our marriage, we took part together in rallies and meetings in heady pre-independence days in Tanganyika."

Urmila was also deeply committed to social work under the National Women’s Organization.

"My best moments came when I visited remote villages, shared problems, meals and songs, dancing with women, holding hands of almost aked mad men or listening to the witches’ call at night.

I went to these villages with my fellow African women’s leaders and we stayed overnight in many of these villages to know their problems and issues and provided solutions."

"It was scary sometimes as the dancing stopped and loud voices of witches were heard late in the night," she said, "My other problem was vegetarian food which they made especially for me," she said.

After working closely with the most prominent leader, Julius Nyerere, Jhaveri contested and easily won a seat in the country’s Parliament from Dar-es-Salaam Constituency.

He served as an MP before and after the country won its independence.

Jhaveri also served as the President of Tanganyika Law Society for 15 years and chaired many important committees, commissions and social welfare organisations.

Jhaveri was a member of the team of lawyers who defended Nyerere in the libel case of 1958.

 

Kantilal and Urmila Zhaveri | Coastweek

Kantilal and Urmila Zhaveri seen in later life: A couple who had dedicated their working lives to Tanzania.

Urmila Zhaveri talking to Mrs. Indira Gandhi | Coastweek

Urmila Zhaveri talking to Mrs. Indira Gandhi who visited Tanzania as the President of the Congress party; also seen is the first President of Tanzania, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere (with walking stick).

Kantilal Jhaveri with former President of India Dr. Abdul Kalam | Coastweek

Kantilal Jhaveri presents his book, ‘Marching with Nyerere’, to the former President of India, Dr. Abdul Kalam.

Urmila Zhaveri with former President of India Dr. S Radhakrishnan | Coastweek

Smiling Urmila Zhaveri in conversation with the former President of India, Dr. S Radhakrishnan, during his visit to Tanzania.
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He later wrote, "Marching with Nyerere," a book on Tanzania’s founding father and it’s first President.

This book mainly deals with the freedom struggle and challenges faced by the new nation.

In the late 19th century, Imperial Germany conquered the region now called Tanzania.

Following World War II, it became a British Mandate.

After a relatively peaceful struggle, Tanganyika became independent in 1961.

Tanganyika and Zanzibar, after a violent revolution, merged in 1964 to form Tanzania.

In 1967, Nyerere issued the 'Arusha Declaration' which brought in socialism and self-reliance.

Under this Declaration, many private properties and businesses were nationalized.

While in Tanzania, the couple witnessed these dramatic and historic events including the violent revolution in Zanzibar, a mutiny by the army, and the mass nationalization of banks and businesses which compelled many Asians to flee the country in search of better lives in other parts of the globe.

The Jhaveri family owned two homes but lost them during nationalization.

The lawyer never made any effort to recover the seized property.

After he retired from legal practice and active politics due to ill health, the couple decided to move to Delhi in 2009 to be with the rest of family.

And to keep herself mentally busy, Urmila started to write her memoirs, ‘Dancing with Destiny’.
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"I felt that very few women have ventured out in this men’s domain," she said, "I wanted to write my experiences before it gets lost in the sands of time.

"I feel that my story is about all of us who made East Africa our home and deserves to be told.

"This also presents the contribution of the Indians to Tanzania."

She is travelling to Tanzania to present all historical papers and reference materials to the Tanzanian national archives and to launch her book in Dar-es-Salaam.

 

Former Kenya journalist, editor, author, publisher and a media consultant, Kul Bhushan has worked at senior levels in different countries and continents for over 40 years with international and multi-national organizations.

 

Former Kenya journalist, editor, author, publisher and a media consultant Kul Bhushan | Coastweek

 


 

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