ਸੂਰਬੀਰ ਬਚਨ ਕੇ ਬਲੀ
They are So Brave; The Are the Men of Their word
Centennial commemorations of the 'Gadar Party' are under way. Commemorative functions have been organized in different parts of the world to remember this movement which is of monumental importance in the history of the freedom struggle of India.
India had been ruled by the different foreign powers since eleventh century when the Muslim rule started being established in Indian subcontinent. From the time of Mahmood Ghaznavi, who established his rule in Northern India, in the year 1021, the country has been ruled by Muslim rulers from different dynasties, finally to be ruled by the Mughal dynasty, the last Mughal king being Bahadur Shah II, who was exiled to Burma by the British, where he breathed his last.
British East India Company, which wanted to establish spice trade in India, got permission from the then Mughal emperor Jehangir, to establish a trading center in Surat. Soon afterwards another center was opened in Madras. Bombay, which was a Portuguese colony was gifted to England as dowry in the marriage of Catherine of Braganza, daughter of a senior Portuguese noble, to Charles II; was leased to the East India Company by the British Government. Victory in the battle of Plassey brought Calcutta under East India Company. With all this the company's power was consolidated in India, and Emperor Shah Alam II was reduced to just a puppet in the hands of the British. His son Bahadur Shah II who succeeded him after his death too was no different. After the defeat of Marathas in 1818, practically the whole of India came under British empire.
During this time, Punjab was being ruled by Maharaja Ranjit Singh who had consolidated his empire from Kashmir to Peshawar by the year 1799, after bringing into submission the chiefs of the twelve Sikh Misls (group or troop or sub-unit of armed warriors or soldiers) that had been ruling the area independently since 1735. Maharaja Ranjit Singh expired in 1839. Punjab too was annexed to the British in 1849 after the defeat of the Sikhs in Anglo Sikhs wars. Why and how the Sikhs lost their kingdom is a different story.
In 1857, the religious sentiments of the Indian soldiers in the army were hurt when they came to know that pork and beef fat had been used in cartridges they were being forced to use. They revolted against what they believed was sacrilegious for them. The revolt started in Meerut spread far and wide. Many British soldiers were killed by the mutineers and their families badly manhandled and molested. Enraged mutineers made Bahadur Shah II, the last Mughal king, sit on the throne of Delhi. However the revolt was badly crushed by the British and Bahadur Shah II dethroned and exiled to Burma where he died. Thus the British became the unquestioned rulers of India.
The Sikhs who had been bestowed sovereignty by the Guru and had tasted self rule, could not accept the defeat by the British achieved through devious means and because of the betrayal of the Dogras, who, as a reward, got the kingdom of Kashmir, making Kashmir a princely state.
The Sikhs were yet to recover from the shock of the crumbling defeat, when the 1857 events took place. Watching the events, the dejected Sikhs did not feel inspired to take part, as there was no nationalistic feeling in the 1857 mutiny which could unite the whole of India. It was, at best an extreme reaction of the sepoys over the hurt they had felt over the use of pork and beef fat used in the cartridges. Freedom of the country was not on the agenda of the mutineers. On the other hand, another monarch, the last descendent of the Mughal dynasty was appointed the emperor by the mutineers. It was like getting rid of the one foreign monarch in place of another one, and not a struggle for the independent republic of India.
However the word 'Gadar' used for the 1857 mutiny remained etched in the minds of Indian populace in general and it came to be equated with the freedom of India. When the Sikh farmers from Punjab, who were in majority in foreign lands, where they had migrated in search of better opportunities, faced extreme form of discrimination, they reasoned out that it was because of their subjugated status in their own country, a slave country, that made them third class citizens in the foreign lands. The people from other nations too faced similar problems, but their problems were solved with the interventions of their respective governments. The Indians in USA and Canada could not have this kind of support from the government of their country, a colony of the British raj. Canada being a predominantly white country and a British colony; its interests lay with the British. This compelled immigrant Indians to think of the ways they could lead a self respecting life.
In order to be able to do so, they started organizing themselves. A Khalsa Dewan Society was formed in 1907 with branches in Victoria, Abbotsford, New Westminister and at some other places, to fight unjust discriminatory immigration laws. A Gurudwara was established in Vancouver in 1908 and later at a few more places. These gurudwaras became rallying places not only for the Sikhs but all the nationalists, to whatever religion they owed allegiance to.
In 1909, Hindustan Association was formed under the presidentship of Bhai Bhag Singh Bhikhiwind. The association started two papers Pardesi Khalsa in Punjabi and Swadesh Sewak in Urdu. This instilled among Indians a strong nationalistic feeling. In 1911, this society was replaced by another organization called United India League. Indians in their respective areas would gather in small groups on Sundays to discuss how only freedom of the country could be the answer to all their problems.
The Indians in Canada started migrating to USA thinking that since America was not a British colony, they might not have to face the discrimination to the extent they were facing in Canada However, there, the economic reasons came to the fore. Initially they were welcomed as they were hardworking, tough and provided cheaper labor than their American counterparts. The competitive rates offered by them brought many problems. The local labor would ridicule them to discourage them from coming to their country. They would often address them with derogatory named saying they belonged to a slave country. So here too they had to ready for the struggle to maintain their self respect. They started organizing themselves. Since gurudwara was the only public place where Indians from all religious communities could meet, they decided to build a gurudwara.
A gurudwara came into existence in 1912, in Stockton in California, with the efforts of S. Jawala Singh and Baba Visakha Singh. Baba Vasakha singh took upon himself the duties of the Granthi. The gurudwara became the rallying point for the Indians from all communities aspiring for the freedom of the country. Gurudwara Stockton even today is called 'Gadari Babeian da Gurdwara'. Speeches were delivered to instill patriotic fervor among the not so aware about the causes of their problem of injustice in the foreign lands. One Gulab Kaur used to be so fired with the spirit of patriotism that she would take off her bangles and throw them at reluctant men, calling them weaklings and that they deserved to wear bangles and sit at home like ladies, if they didn't have the courage to fight the usurpers of their motherland.
However, it was decided that religion should not be allowed to come in the way of any activity to be undertaken, lest it cause cleavage between members of different communities fighting for a national cause. As members of the Hindustan Association only nationalism was to be their religion. Bande Matram became the party slogan. So even when all the activity was being carried on by the devout Sikhs in the gurudwaras to give the idea a practical shape and to make it a collective effort, the members of the association preferred themselves to be called by their collective name 'Gadri Babas' and not by any other name. This speaks of their utmost sincerity to the cause to which they had devoted themselves.
In 1912, Hindustani Association of Pacific coast was formed with Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna as its president and G D Kumar as its general secretary. The association later came to be called 'Gadar Party' and the paper brought out was given the name Gadar di Gunj published in Urdu and Punjabi. Lala Hardyal, Sh. Ram Chander and Kartar Singh Srabha were associated with the publication of Gadar di Gunj as editors. The paper played a significant role in bringing about freedom consciousness in the Indian community.
Articles published in the Gadar di Gunj ingnited the fire of freedom in the hearts of Indians and soon the whole environment was charged with the word 'Gadar'. Advertisements published in the paper would read like this: "Wanted: Enthusiastic and heroic soldiers for organizing Gadar in Hindustan, Remuneration: Death, Reward: Martyrdom, Pension: Freedom, Field of Work: Hindustan."
Ready to lay down their lives for the freedom of the country, a shipful of Gadarites started for India with the message to throw out the foreign rulers by armed rebellion. The 'gadar' failed because of the betrayal of certain people who had infiltrated as members of the party. Many Gadarites were caught and sentenced to life imprisonment, others were exiled to Kalapani and a good number of them were hanged. Once again the British government succeeded in crushing the movement. But the spirit was intact. The Gadaris continued their activities till the achievement of their goal, i.e., complete independence for their beloved motherland.
Though on the surface it appears that the Gadar Party failed in achieving the desired freedom, one positive outcome of the movement was that it became a harbinger of freedom consciousness among the masses in India, who till them were either not conscious of their subordinate status and even those who were aware could not think beyond achieving dominion status. With these martyrdoms, the whole environment started reverberating with the spirit of complete freedom. The martyrdoms of Gadari babas in 1915, woke up the whole of nation to the demand of complete Swaraj, complete independence, the resolution to which was later passed for the first time by Indian National Congress at a conference in Lahore, on 31st Dec, 1928.
Indians all over the world are commemorating the centenary of this event which "was a luminous spark of support in distant California for the struggle of Independence". Unmindful of the consequences, these migrants from India settled in foreign lands rose up in the love of their motherland, ready to make any sacrifice. An indomitable spirit indeed.
We, at the Institute of Sikh Studies, join the whole nation in paying homage to these great men who sacrificed their all so that we could breathe the fresh air of freedom. Abstracts of Sikh Studies offers its tribute to the sacrifices made by these heroes, who patiently suffered untold atrocities to keep the spark of freedom alive. Two introductory essays about the Gadar movement have been included in this issue of the Abstracts. We hope to bring many more in our forthcoming issues. I am sure readers would like to be acquainted with such an important milestone in the history of the freedom struggle.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2015, All