Freedom struggle

The man who coined the slogan ‘Quit India’: Remembering Yusuf Meherally

The socialist freedom fighter was Mumbai’s mayor when the Congress intensified the freedom movement 75 years ago on this day.

Who coined the iconic slogan “Quit India”, the rallying cry of a movement for freedom launched this day 75 years ago? Contrary to popular belief, it was not Mohandas Gandhi.

Gandhi kick-started the Quit India movement on August 8, 1942, at the All India Congress Committee meeting in Mumbai’s Gowalia Tank Maidan. He also infused it with the spirit of his phrase “do or die”. Over the following few months, freedom fighters across India responded with waves of civic rebellion, despite the arrest of Gandhi and other leaders, and violent backlash from the British authorities.

But the “Quit India” slogan is credited to another Congress leader, Yusuf Meherally, who is said to have come up with the phrase at a meeting of Gandhi’s close associates in Mumbai some time before the launch of the movement. At the time, 39-year-old Meherally was the mayor of Bombay – the first socialist to be elected to the post. He would be imprisoned eight times during the freedom struggle.

Yusuf Meherally. Photo courtesy: Madhu Dandavate's biography of Yusuf Meherally.
Yusuf Meherally. Photo courtesy: Madhu Dandavate's biography of Yusuf Meherally.

In his book Gandhi and Bombay, K Gopalaswami describes how “Quit India” came to be adopted as the slogan that would dominate the last years of India’s independence movement:

“Shantikumar Morarji has recorded that Gandhi conferred with his colleagues in Bombay on the best slogan for independence – when this was is not stated. One of them suggested ‘Get out’. Gandhi rejected it as being impolite. Rajagopalachari mentioned ‘Retreat’ or ‘Withdraw’. That too did not find favour. Yusuf Meherali presented Gandhi with a bow bearing the inscription ‘Quit India’. Gandhi said in approval, ‘Amen’.”

According to his biographer Madhu Dandavate, Meherally published a booklet titled “Quit India” on the eve of the 1942 movement. It was sold out in a matter of weeks. “He also popularised the slogan by getting over a thousand ‘Quit India’ badges printed before the All India Congress Committee meeting began on August 7,” said GG Parikh, one of the co-founders of Yusuf Meherally Centre, a non-profit organisation set up in Mumbai to honour Meherally’s socialist and Gandhian legacy.

GG Parikh, 94, is co-founder of the Yusuf Meherally Centre in Mumbai. Parikh participated in the Quit India movement as a 17-year-old. Photo credit: Aarefa Johari
GG Parikh, 94, is co-founder of the Yusuf Meherally Centre in Mumbai. Parikh participated in the Quit India movement as a 17-year-old. Photo credit: Aarefa Johari

‘Simon Go Back’

Meherally’s talent for coining catchy slogans had been proven even before the Quit India movement. In 1928, he came up with the catchphrase “Simon Go Back” in protest against the all-British Simon Commission appointed by the imperial government to recommend improvements to British governance in India.

“In February 1928, when the commission arrived at the Bombay port, Meherally had organised a protest,” said GG Parikh. “He and his colleagues had dressed up as coolies to get access, and then greeted the commission with the slogan ‘Simon Go Back’.”

Meherally’s role in the freedom movement was not restricted to just coining slogans. In his book Yusuf Meherally: Quest for New Horizons, Dandavate notes that Meherally was responsible for mobilising his socialist colleagues – including Rammanohar Lohia, Aruna Asaf Ali and Achyut Patwardhan – and ensuring they took the Quit India movement forward while hiding underground after the arrest of the Congress leaders. Meherally was, in fact, one of the senior leaders arrested along with Gandhi and others on August 9, 1942.

He was released from prison in 1946 and went on to become an MLA in Independent India and founder of the Congress Socialist Party. He died in July 1950, in Mumbai.

Meherally (left) along with the socialist leader Jayaprakash Narayan.
Meherally (left) along with the socialist leader Jayaprakash Narayan.
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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.