Wednesday, August 26, 2009
A new book suggests Gadar movement and its roots in Canada
Senior Journalist from Vancouver
A new book on Gadarites by Sohan Singh Pooni suggests that the movement had its roots in Canada. Authored in Punjabi, Canada De Gadri Yodhay (The Gadar combatants of Canada) is the biographies of 41 freedom fighters of India, who were mostly associated with the Gadar Party, a revolutionary group that believed in armed struggle against the British occupation of India.
Though the group was formally established in America in 1913, the Gadar movement had its roots in Canada where the Indian immigrants had to endure racism. It was the discriminatory attitude of the Canadian establishment that partially made these men politically aware of the need to fight against the foreign rule back home.
Most of these men came to Canada in the beginning of the twentieth century as British subjects. Their dreams for better living were shattered as the Canadian government systematically discriminated against them by restricting their immigration, family reunions and disfranchising them. As a result a need for struggle for both social justice and freedom arose. Gadar Party was therefore a byproduct of this abusive environment that motivated about 300 people in Canada alone to become members of this militant group, according to Pooni, who took nine years to complete his work. However, he could only write about 41 participants of the freedom struggle.
His research took him to India and across the border, where he visited the archives and other places to lay hands on rare documents and pictures apart from interviewing the descendants of these men. Most biographies are accompanied by authentic pictures while some with portraits by Sheetal Anmol. Each chapter begins with verses from the revolutionary poetry written by the Gadarites. Niranjan Singh Pandori, Bhagwan Singh Preetam and Munsha Singh Dukhi were among those who had written the radical poems. The book includes their biographies.
Published by the Singh Brothers, Amritsar, India the book explains what shaped the ideology of the Gadar heroes. The common thread between these men was that they were mostly the rural Sikhs from Punjab some of whom had served in the British army. Most of them came to Canada as British subjects and were disillusioned by the fact that the British Empire was not treating all its subjects fairly. They had to pay heavily to travel to the British Canada. Initially, they tried to challenge the continuous journey law, the bar on bringing their families and the institutional racism through petitions and appeals but they realized soon that their slavery was the root of these problems and to end that an armed resistance was necessary. Subsequently, these men became the members of the Gadar Party that was officially launched in San Francisco. Most of them returned in a hope to initiate rebellion that was supposed to be the sequel of the Gadar revolt of 1857 only to face gallows or life imprisonments.
Among them were prominent ideologues like Bhag Singh, Tarak Nath Dass, Hussein Rahim, Harnam Singh Sahri, Balwant Singh Khurdpur, Karam Singh Daulatpur, Bhagwan Singh Dosanjh and Munsha Singh Dukhi. The book reveals their connection with Canada. Apart from leading the Gadar movement to set India free from the British rule these men participated in the community services in British Columbia. They not only established Sikh temples but also joint businesses of their own.
Realizing that the misery of their compatriots in India was to be blamed on lack of education, they had helped in building schools in Punjab. Despite challenges from the orthodox and conservative social environment of India they had resolved to encourage female education. Some of them later turned into Babbar Akalis or communists while others were hanged or got killed otherwise.
Bhag Singh was the first Indo Canadian martyr, who was shot at by Bela Singh, the agent of an infamous immigration officer William Hopkison in 1914. He was the leader of the Khalsa Deewan Society that governed the oldest Sikh temple of Vancouver. He was instrumental in encouraging the former Sikh soldiers to burn their medals and certificates to break loyalties with the British Empire in 1909. This wasn't an easy task as the Sikh preachers in India were pro British and prayed for the long life of their English masters back then. The book begins with his biography, which is followed by the profile of Badan Singh, who had also died with him after being hurt in the shootout. These killings were avenged by Mewa Singh, who assassinated Hopkinson and was hanged for the murder. His profile suggests that he may have done this at the instructions of the Gadar leaders.
The biography of Hari Singh Soond is also a part of the book. Soond had killed Bela Singh in India.
The book gives a detailed account of the activities of Hussein Rahim who was in the forefront of the fight for the right to vote besides the struggle to let the passengers of the Komagata Maru ship set foot on the Canadian soil. The ship was turned back on July 23, 1914 under the racist immigration law. This incident had added fuel to the fire and strengthened the foundation of the Gadar movement.
Harnam Singh Sahri was the cofounder of the Swadesh Sewak, the first Punjabi newspaper to be launched in Canada in 1910. While Pooni has done a good research on his activities, he failed to give the profile of the other cofounder of the publication, Guran Ditta Kumar. Kumar was another important ideologue. Though the book has some passing references about Kumar, but Pooni could have written more about him.
Despite being Sikhs, some devoutly religious the Gadar heroes mentioned in the book were liberal and secular. After all, one of the objectives of the Gadar Party was to keep the politics and the religion apart and promote unity. Some of these men who had returned to India had saved the Muslims from the Hindu and Sikh fundamentalists during the partition of India and Pakistan on religious lines in 1947. Among them were Chanchal Singh Jandiala, Bhagwan Singh Dosanjh and Sher Singh Vein Poin. These men did not buckle under pressure from the religious zealots and had helped the Muslims in reaching safe destinations. These details in the book will help in understanding the secular indoctrination of the Gadarites. The book ends with the biography of Darshan Singh Canadian, a communist leader of Punjab, who was murdered by the Sikh separatists in 1986. He had spent several years in Canada before India's independence and had participated in the struggle for right to vote and different labour movements.
Very little is written about the Gadar movement and its participants by the mainstream historians, who had virtually ignored the contributions of the Gadarites. Perhaps, the perception about America being the breeding ground of the Gadar movement is also an outcome of this ignorance. Whatever little is available is based on oral history and interviews. More needs to be done to dig out credible evidence and documents. Pooni has tried to meet those challenges and his book has a potential to become an accepted document on the Gadar history.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Lala Ganpat Rai General Secretary Nau Jawan Bharat Sabha and close compatriot of Revolutionary Bhagat Singh gives us an intimate view.
A Class-Fellow's Tribute
Ganpat Rai B .A. (National)
Many things crowd my memory when I reflect upon the events of 50 years back that culminated in the martyrdom of Bhagat Singh , Sukh Dev and Raj Guru on the evening of March 23 1931. No body could have ever thought that the Government of the day will stoop so low as to dispose of after executionthe bodies of these martyrs in such a shabby way it did .Bhagat Singh represented the spirit of the resurgent youth. He wanted the Country to wake, arise and fight with a resolute heart. Personal pain and physical persecution could not deter him from the path he had chosen when he was rather raw and young. He wanted to fight the alien rulers with all the might he could muster.
He was no believer in the tricks of worldly casuistry. He felt rather stifling the atmosphere prevailing at the time. Communal riots coupled with arson and murders and their aftermath had plagued the political life of the land he love so much. With view to start a relentless battle against the reactionary forces of communalism. He along with the students and the teachers of the National High School and the National College founded at Lahore a truly secular and revolutionary organisation Which came to be known as Nau Jawan Bharat Sabha The Sabha was non-communal.Its members were forbidden to join any organisation which smacked of communalism.
(The writer was General Secretary when he was arrested on June 14,1930 and convicted under section 124 A).
With view to bringing together members of different communities that inhabit this land , Sabha used to arrange inter communal dinners which were joined by all alike. Besides this , dramatic performances were arranged to awaken the dormant feelings of people. I vividly remember the scene when a drama most probably ''Mewar Patan' (the fall of Mewar) was enacted at Gujranwala at the time of Punjab Provincial Political Conference presided over by S.Sardul Singh Caveesher. Mrs Sarojini Naidu was present at that time. She appreciated the superb acting of Bhagat Singh-as Rana Pratap-so much that when the play ended she got down from the stage and not only patted Bhagat Singh on the back , but gave him a warm , motherly embrace.
After undergoing through many prolonged hardships he had come to realise that his revolt agalnst the Government of the day was destined to get momentum because a strong and honest conscience , having courage to assert itself is a thing which cannot be suppressed . The public opinion and even the opposing forces shall have to reckon with the views he had expressed so daringly with all the courage and emphasis at the command.
The three years that he spent in the National College were a formative period in the life of Bhagat Singh. Acharya Jugal Kishore, Bhai Parmanand, Prof . A .C Mehta and other professors were instrumental in shaping his life . He was a keen student of history particularly the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution Lives of Garibaldi , Mazzini and Lenin as also the struggle for freedom launched by Irish Republican Army had their impact on him. He somehow got hold of Savarkar's War of Indian Independence which was banned at the time .
During the .annual session of the Congress at Lahore in 1929 the book was published in 2 parts . He read many times "My Fight for Irish Freedom" written by Dar. Breen . Perhaps very few people know that in 1924 or 1925 he wrote an essay on ' The Future of Hindi in Punjab · This essay was adjudged the best at the Simla session of Sahitya Sammelan and he was awarded a prize for it . Incidentally, I may add that some years back, an editor of a Hindi Daily declined to publish this essay in his paper on the round that it could not have been written by Bhagat Singh about 65 years back . So prophetic were the views< expressed therein.
With a view to avenging , Lala Lajpat Rai ' s death , the Hidustant Socialist Republican Party organised meticulously and shot dead the police officer responsible for giving lathi blows to the great leader . At that time and even some time after for the purpose of discrediting the party and its enthusiastic young workers , it was given out that Saunders was shot dead by mistake because the person who gave lathi blows was another police officer named Scott .
To remove the wrong impression, I , in December, 1930 enquired from B .K . Dutt who had been all along with Bhagat Singh and was at that time in the old Central Jail Multan, where I had been transferred , from Attock Camp jail. He told me in no uncertain words that it was Saunders who gave fatal lathi blows to Lala Lajpat Rai and we being certain shot him dead . There could be no question of our mistaking the identity of the police officer concerned ' .
In the words of a famous French Philosopher and thinker Romain Rolland,. Bhagat Singh beckoned his countrymen:
"He cannot know the delight of being free. It is worthwhile paying for it with so much danger, and suffering and even death. To be free, to feel that every mind about you-yes, even the knave's is free, is a delicious pleasure which it is impossible to express: it is as though your soul were soaring the infinite air . It could not live otherwise''. (Joan Christophe In Paris page 274 : Editor)
BRITISH INTELLIGENCE OFFICIALS ( In their report , dated the 26th of March , 1931)
"Bhagat Singh and his companions are bound to provide the test for many fiery sermons in the days to come''. :
Saturday, August 1, 2009
[ This is the copy of the note by Martyr Mohamad Singh Azad ( Udham Singh) When judge did not allowed him to read in full he tore it and threw. It was picked up by British police and rebuilt by putting the pieces together.
After publicly protesting on behalf of Indian people and punishing Sir Michel O'Dwayer ,of Jallianwala Bagh notoriety ,The name announced by the protester was Mohammad Singh Azad . British Imperialists immediately understood the message given by him through his name. British Imperialist bureaucracy noted " This particular name gives out his belief that India's freedom can only be achieved if there is communal unity." It was further noted that ," This name will arose the sympathy of Mussalams too." Hence black out this name as well as the message imbibed in it, censorship was imposed.
Are not we still part of that conspiracy against propogation of His Message which he wrote for us with his blood.
On the change of his name Our great martyr said ,"Don't try to change my name what so ever." Because the name had the message of unity and communal harmony of the time of Jallianwala Bagh Massacare.
Was not the communal harmony and unity which made the imperialists mad?
As a special tribute please find here the original note and its partial text .This is the note which MS AZAD (Udham Singh) wanted the jury and the world to know but judge did not allow him to read in full. The text of the note he last read in Court just before the passing of death Sentence.
Note on documents brought into Court by Udham Singh alias Mohammed Singh Azad
(We are thankful to Dr Navtej Singh and Mr. Avtar Singh Johal to make these documents available) editor ]
This sheet is written entirely in English and reads as follows:
British terrorism in India. What the Indians got from Britain going to India. If we help the British we get the same thing what they gave as after last war. Modern guns and bombs will be used against the Innocent people of India and we know thousands will be killed merciless by the British beast Lion. India has been made a slaughterhouse, is brutality - beastly, bullying, fraudulent plunder and cunning. Many blood - thirsty English mad dogs in India. India had seen no British Kindness, only the (?) slavering, English beast, killing, mutilating, destroying. The violent and brutal English interfere in India public, cultural, economic and social life, accompanied by the most brutal and incredible, physical persecution. Our way is not war with Germany and Russia but with Britain. They will be ruthless and merciless to the Indians. These miserable, misguided youth who will see no evil in the British TYRANNY, who will close their ears to the death cries of the slaughtered Indians. The British convert our country into prison and a hell. Many political prisoners in India are beaten, tortured and humiliated. Many women had their hair violently pulled and brought into the street where they were insulted and sharp instrument inserted into their bodies. Many went mad at the sight. Many died under the torture blow of the English blood bath, many had their faces mutilated, even their eyes taken out. We must see to it that this time English history of Barbarism is ended.
A 150 years English terrorism in India has shown it is impossible for the British to crush the Indian people. I did this to protest and uphold my country right even though I die. My greatest wish has not been fulfilled to see my country free again.
I would rather die for the cause of my people than live in misery under the British terrorism. I nor my people was not born in this world to be ruled by the English Imperialism. India will rise again.
We are up against a creed of the Devils. Down with British Bandits and their dirty Chamberlain govt. Give him hell. He is nothing but a mad dog. (Invited in India - a tradesman - Not to look after us).
I as a son of India and a tiller of the soil of my native home has looked upon British Rule as something that is cruel and detrimental to the lives of the Indian people.
The (?) practices of the big Linowners (Landowners) and owners of India which own and control the industry of my country is vital and distasteful to me and my countrymen in so far as they take the products of my country for to satisfy their own just and greed at the same time depriving the workers of the right to live and enjoy the wealth of their lands.
These same ruler of India enjoy the very highest standard of life at the expense of the people of India, not caring to help the country in any way, for example in the building 0f schools or the raising of the education amongst my people.
Requests and appeals by the Indian people as a whole has been sent to the King Emperor of India and his government and have had no effect upon them. Therefore the time has come when the people of India must stand up and show those vultures of British Imperialism that no longest (sic) must they bleed and deprive the people of my beloved land but use and utilise the products and profits of the country for the benefit of the peoples without class or creed prejudice.
[ This is a medley of English , Gurmukhi and Urdu . It concludes with the words used by Udham Singh when he addressed the Court and which were interrupted by the Judge.
The first few lines consist of a poem in Urdu, which is signed 'Bawa', this being the name by which he was commonly known to his associates. The following words of this
poem have been deciphered.]
पंजाबी कविता बाद विच दिति जावे गी
O God! into what hardships have the people of India fallon!
Our guests have begun to exercise oppression over us Let the enemies sland on our heads, the dagger be poised at our throats_.
The times are all gone wrong and oppression has appeared before our sight!
Further down appears the following in Urdu:
Hither to God has not changed the condition of that nation which has no idea of (impending) change.
There follows a stanza of a Gurmukhi poem on Indian martyrs. The words 'Bhagat Singh', 'Dutt', 'Tilak' and 'Lajpat', all well known figures in Indian national struggle, appear in this poem.
Next come a few words in English :
I am not afraid to die. I am proud to die for such a glorious cause to help to free my native land and I hope when I am gone that in my place will come thousands of my countrymen to drive you vultures until you not only free our country but also clear to hell out of it.
The first few words of this tirado the prisoner shouted from the dock when sentence of death was about to be Passed.
Sheet ''B'' concludes with the following violent attack on British rule in India:
I anticipate and hope for the downfall of Brltish imperialism by which India would automatically be freed, for Hitler and Stalin would not take India even if given to them.
Long live Mahatma Gandhi and Subash Base. Down with the British democracies, VIVA INDIA. Down with Britain. Down with the British democracies, Indians do not have peace. What we have got is slavery. Greedy British English. For generation your so called civilization has brought forth everything (?) fifihy and degenerate known to the human race. It's not for me to point out or debate on any one particular point. All you have to do is to read your history and if you have any human decency about you – you would die with shock. The brutality and blood-thirsty way in which the so-called inteIlectuals which call themselves the rulers of civilisations. in other words the bastard blood bound class (?)which have in the past and do at present torture the unprivileged classes is
.............. These are the so-called rulers who have...... the machine guns on the streets of India and without hesitation or the least sign of mercy mowed down thousands of poor women and children. In any part of the world wherever your rotton so called flag of democracy and Christianity files you will find only guns, blood, starvation. and filth of the lowest grade. The day has come when the murderous blood-thirsty dogs of Britain must not Interview with Indians .......... but no pay - India Office - told me to enlist - Anglo-French Ambulance Unit and thousands of similar tricks in India.
At this point the following is inserted.
Saw several men dying in Lahore .......... and men behind them were beaten to death - a real hell - British prison (The diary is here resumed)
14.(i.e. 1914).......... 117 men still in prison and firing at Budge Budge.
21.(i.e.1921) Nanakana Sahib 200 men killed.
30. (i.e. 1930)..........
33. (i.e. 1933) .......... women outraged and shots fired.
Note : Budge Budge was the scene of a riot near Calcutta in which members of the Ghadr Party were involved in 1914.
At this point the following is interpolated in Eng|ish.
Just telling Britain to mind her own business and get out of India.
Then in Gurmukhi:
really protest _ Indians are being .......... thousands Of Indians will again be killed as in
the Iast war.
........... 1938 in England a false case was brought against me. It cost me £900. MY motor car was confiscated. I was removed from my employment, and after five months the case was stopped. Jury stop the case.
In the left-hand bottom corner appears the following:
1 .My name changed
5.The Old Bdiley
Note : The above points apparently represent his grievances.
On the back of Sheet ''C'' the diary is resumed :
37. (' e. 1937) _.~.~ Interview .„._.~30r 4 weeks _._..
(took me outside in the month of ..........)
38. (i.e. 1938) Met Moola through Col. Appleby, Cheltenham took Moola and ..... to Brighton and Bognor .... and at 90* clock..
39. (i.e. 1939) Moola's (?) letter arrived and I met .......... Windsor Staines and (?) Calif of England - to go to America
.......... he and his son .......... Commissioner - San Francisco if you are keen on Government service .......... game me his address and said that I shall go to Devon on the 13th June .......... called me
....... king's bodyguards.
On the 5th I met .......... asked for help, and on the 5th went to a meeting but met nobody. If anybody had met me perhaps things would never have reached this pass. I did not know that he was going to the meeting, so on the 13th I did not go to the meeting specially for this purpose.
Note : In the margin this is marked 'important'.
Col. Appleby .......... Glasgow and Blackpool .......... and every evening went for a walk, and Weston-Super-Marc Atlantic Hotel, Cheltenham - Queens Hotel .......... Mary Hotel - everyday used to take (me) for a walk.
Sheet ''C'' concludes with the following words in English:
Black Englishman .......... Indian the some for the foreign Govt. Downtrodden and the oppressed people of India (some words then crossed out) we are fighting for our Iives and our liberties and we could not allow the British vultures. Indians are tired of living under British tyranny. Death or freedom – within a year after end of the war.
Sheet ''D'' Page 502
This sheet is headed "National Hymns". It begins as follows:
The motherland cannot remain fore over a slave chamber: she will be free: the time has come.
In the margin is the following:
Dear Gandhi, star of the Nation, free the motherland; Old man, young men and infants are weeping; do you free them.
What follows is a succession of compositions, mostly political written at various times, in Urdu and Gurmukhi. One of them appears to be a transcript of the famous poem
"Hindustan Hamara'' by the late Punjabi poet Iqbal.