News & Views




  I S C

  Research Projects

  About Us


Gur Panth Parkash

Gur Panth Parkash
by Rattan Singh Bhangoo
Translated by
Prof Kulwant Singh




Another Ghadr

Malwinder Jit Singh Waraich

‘Bugle of War’,in the form of ‘Ailan-e-Jang’ is sounded, — of revolt against slavery by thousands of Indians, mostly Sikhs settled in Canada-U.S.A. in the early years of the twentieth century. They had been girding up their loins for years and formed ‘Ghadr Party’ in March 1913, with the avowed object to stir up a Ghadr in India at the most opportune moment.

Lo! That moment had come as England had declared War on Germany on 4-8-1914: Now the British masters can be cornered.

In the issue of Ghadr, the weekly journal of the party, dated 4-8-1914, War is declared vide Ailan-e-Jung published therein. Thousands respond to the call to sail to India instantly to wage a war of do AND die! The dollar wealth which had in fact initially allured them, earned by their hard labour, had lost its sheen in the flush of love for the Motherland. ‘This “Declaration of War” was not the handiwork of a “paper tiger”. This comes out straight from none else than the Tribunal — the Court with extra-ordinary powers which tried Ghadrites in “Lahore Conspiracy Cases” in 1915-16. It found that the movement had “deve1oped into a FORMIDABLE organization to cause mutiny, resulting in the resolve to go to India when war broke out.1

From Frustration To Ailan-e-jang
The Indian settlers in American continent had to face troubles, travails besides humiliation during their stay abroad. Their predicament is best conveyed in two lines of Punjabi in free verse echoed by all of them:

“Des Pain Dhakke, Bahar Mile Dhoi Naa
Sada Pardesian Da Des Koi Naa”
(Humiliated back home, no solace abroad,
For us aliens no refuge around).

This desperate moaning and self-pity literally through a metamorphosis, is transformed into a clarion call for ‘War’:

Challo challiye desh nun yudh karan,
Eho bachan te farman ho gae
(Let us go to our country to fight,
This is our ultimate compact and command).

Two documents, independent in origin dated 1910, vocalise the line of thinking which was emerging around that time. Although the Indian settlers in American continent had problems galore right since they set their feet there at the dawn of the century, but their woes were becoming more and more acute, besides more acutely felt now. Perhaps the virtual ban on new entrants into Canada, including the families of old settlers imposed in 1908, may have triggered suchlike expressions, foreboding of the impending developments.

Writings like these two were to herald the era of propagation of revolutionary national resurgence which was later institutionalised in weekly publication like Ghadr and revolutionary poetical series — Ghadr-Di-Gunj after the formal launching of Ghadr Party in 1913.

Suchlike writings had a dual function i.e. an expression of sentiments while at the same time stimulating complementary responses like a chain reaction.
A) Khalsa Pamplet

Posted at Highgate, London 17-9-1910.
Vande Matram Khalsa

“He whose soul no slavery fills. He who rides the fiery steed, And to righteous battle speeds, Saves the weak, kills the oppressor. He is of the Khalsa, He alone, and none but he." said Guru Gobind Singh.

 “The insatiable Goddess of Duty”, said he, “demands a bloody sacrifice. Is there any one amongst you who will tear his heart and pour forth his blood instantaneously to propitiate this hungry Goddess?” At this the surging multitude sank into dumb silence!

It was in the year 1699 AD, that one of those historical movements which make or unmake an epoch, dawned its eventful lights on the scenes of Anandpur…

“Great was Plato, when he wrote his ideal ‘Republic’, great was Geurgus when he translated his military ideal into gigantic fact of a Spartan State, but greater by far is the Republic ‘of this great Indian, this Khalsa of Guru Gobind Singh’… so beautifully balanced in its philosophic and practical aspects that philanthropy ceases to be weak and becomes as sharp as a sword….

 “Such was the birth of the great Khalsa. The Guru himself tells us in his autobiography that he was sent to this earth to restore the ‘Glory of God and for the liberation of man’ by extirpating the wicked and the tyrannical. Before death he was asked who was his successor: He took up the Guru Granth Sahib and enthroned it and declared that no human being can succeed him as a leader of the Khalsa, but the Khalsa was to be led and commanded and ruled by Guru Granth Sahib, by PRINCIPLES alone.” “Wherever” said the dying Guru, “five of my disciples assemble, there know ME TO BE PRESENT.”

“My disciples” O, Guru, where are those ‘my disciples’ ?
To be your disciples, to be your true Sikhs is to be a lion, a Singh, to tolerate no oppression, is to be a life-long warrior - not to prostitute the sword in the furtherance of the wrong, but to consecrate it by the propagation of virtue.

“When, Oh, when shall we find “My Sikhs” to the number of five, for there our Guru will be present amongst us, and when Guru Gobind Singh is present amongst us, Good God! Then the woe and degradation and the downfall of our race and soil is gone forever! Indeed such five men as he breathed life into them on that first day of Baisakh are sufficient to ennoble the whole nation.

Over the whole forest, the jackals of famine, tyranny and treachery are stalking, victorious — where is the Singh —- the lion who at his thundering will assert the lordship of his native soil. This Khalsa — the Guru created as a sword in the hand of Mother Bharat — not for Punjab alone. The great Guru and his sons and followers poured forth their blood in unmeasured quantities, destroyed the tyrants and threw back the invaders. At present the whole body of the Motherland from Himalayas to Cape Camorin is dying, her blood sucked off — Punjab where every stone has a tale of some Sikh martyrdom to tell: Bengal where Guru Tegh Bahadur and Guru Nanak lived and preached; the Deccan, where the ashes of the mighty dead are treasured in the Godavari, are groaning under the death disease.

Patna — the very birthplace of the Guru is a weeping slave and Anandpur — the city of Joy is buried under the heap of treachery and shame. The Guru told the Brahmins that to repeat the prayer is no Dharma but to act the prayer is real Dharma. Will he not hurl the same  lance at us, when he sees us repeating the prayer like parrots – unconcerned amidst the wailings and weepings of the three hundred millions – as if that was a music and keeping engaged ourselves in repeating our ‘Japji’ and ‘Shabads’. The sword which he gave to protect Dharm and Desh, has not that very sword traded on treachery.?

A Sikh was hailed as a patriot by the Motherland and as a hero by the world abroad. But Oh Shame! Now Sikh has become a nickname for tiller at home; a synonym for a labourer or Kooli in the coasts of both the Pacific and the Atlantic.

But this cannot last long. The Guru will not leave us. Even as he said, "the sparrows shall kill the hawks". The trumpet call of duty is sounded and it is never too late to mend.

Therefore. Awake, Oh, Khalsa arise. Oh, Khalsa, and never again shall we be fallen. Liberate Bharat Mata from the clutches of Malechchh Frangis, Sat Sri Akal.2
B. Rules And Regulations Of Hindustani Association Of Vancouver (Canada)

(Issued under the signatures of Sunder Singh, the Secretary on 23-10-1910).
(The nomenclature Hindustani Association, and the frame-work delineated in this document emerged as the prototype of “Ghadr Party” which indeed was formalized as “Hindi Association of Pacific Coast in March 1913 at Port1and, U.S.A.”)

Some excerpts from this historic document are reproduced from the original, which sounded an alarm at the highest echelons of the British Empire, i.e., India Office at London.

This association shall be called Hindustani Association.

To establish Liberty, Equality and Fraternity of the Hindustani nation in their relations with the rest of the nations of the world.

Every Hindustani by his birth-right is eligible to become a member of this Association, and on the following conditions:
1. That he must sign an application that he will carry out the objects of the Association to the last of his ability.
2. That he will eliminate prejudice of caste, color and creed for himself.

Managing Committee and Officers

Managing Committee will be chosen by a ballot or vote in general meeting. The Committee will then choose other officers.

Ordinary meetings will be held every week to discuss and promote objects of the association.3

Significant to note that under the innocent looking name of Hindustani Association — (later Hindi Association} a revolutionary outfit was in the offing.

Then the membership criteria and the obligations symbolised a truly national identity transcending the limits of caste, creed and colour.

Finally. the organization was truly democratic wherein all the powers and authority flowed from bottom upwards.

The Churning Scenario

Both U.S.A. and Canada encompass a huge mass of land a lot of which, particularly in case of the latter, is uninhabitable. Of the rest there are industrial centres scattered throughout the lengths and breadths of the two countries. As for the industry, the Indian emigrants being predominantly villagers, semi-literate with a large sprinkling of ex-servicemen who did have some exposure to unfamiliar places and countries were naturally not much attracted to.

Their natural instinct was to go to places, which first of all were climate friendly: As a matter of fact almost all of them voyaged via East Asia, prodding through the Pacific and landing on the Western Coast of the American continent.

Initially almost all of them ventured into the province of British Columbia in Canada because of the Empire link since it too was a Dominion of the Empire. But after 1908 or so, the trend changed in favour of America both for the aforementioned restrictions as well as for the relatively higher wages down south. Again the favoured region in U.S.A. also was the West Coast, or the Pacific Coast because of the friendly climate. Thus in the State of California area around San Francisco, and in the adjoining States of Oregon and Washington, the city centers of Saint John, Portland, Seattle, Astoria were among the prominent cluster concentrations favoured by Indians.

Background wise 80% of them were Punjabi Sikhs from districts of Lahore, Amritsar, Ludhiana. Hoshiarpur. Jullundur and Ferozepur, which till 1947 was considered Central Punjab. They were employed as agricultural labourers, in laying across of new railway lines, in sawmills and in reclaiming forest lands. Meanwhile, some Indian students who could not afford the exhorbitant expenses of education in England were attracted to U.S.A. which afforded inter alia the scope of part-time or seasonal employment to meet their expenses therefrom. Of these two in particular, viz., Kartar Singh from village Sarabha in Ludhiana and Vishnu Ganesh Pingale from Poona, played a stellar role in the saga of freedom struggle ultimately offering themselves at the altar of liberation in Central Jail Lahore, on l6th November 1915.

According to Prof. Jagjit Singh, the author of a pioneer publication on the movement, “Pacific Coast Khalsa Diwan Society was established with the initiative of (Sant) Baba Wasakha Singh (of Dadehar –Amritsar) and Baba Jawala Singh (of Thathian, Amritsar) in their vast potato farm at Stockton; they were known as “potato kings”. Among the socio-cultural service rendered to the Indian community through the famous Gurdwara, which was destined to became a birthplace of the impending revolt, they ran a sort of work centre for the students therearound.4 This social proximity between the students and the lay Indian emigrant emerged as the integrating factor in the movement.

Quite an important part in this movement was played by the rebel intellects in exile, prominent among them being Lala Hardial, who became the founder Secretary of the Party, Prof Teja Singh (later Sant Teja Singh of Mastuana), Bhai Parmanand (Lahore), Sh Tarak Nath Das from Bengal and Shyamji Krishan Verma.

It was then a veritable confluence of brain, brawn and youth with age, a unique synthesis of disparate social segments which seldom really blend in the same spectrum.

Truly enough Baba Sohan Singh (Bhakna, Amritsar), the founder President, got inscribed in the memorial Plaque commemorating the Ghadr Party located adjacent to his village abode which was the First Party that blazed the trail of freedom and equality — THE GHADR PARTY which came into existence in America in March 1913 with the combined  efforts of Indian workmen, patriot intellectuals in exile and students in America (Translated from the Original in Punjabi).5

Much against the too deeply rooted myth among the highbrow, it was a movement of the collectively not originating as a brainwave of a few armchair pseudo-radicals, but in the welter of a transparently vast vortex of mass interaction both at micro as well as at macro levels.

Cascade of Public Gatherings

The flames of sedition began to percolate slowly over California and Oregon, the states where there were a big number of Indian immigrants.

The first result was the establishment in Astoria (Oregon) of a Hindustani Association towards the end of 1912 or in the beginning of l9l3: at a meeting which was addressed by Munshi Ram, Karim Baksh, Nawab Khan, Kesar Singh Thathgarh, Banta Singh Sangowal and Kartar Singh Sarabha. Kesar Singh was elected President and Balwant Singh Secretary.

The avowed objects of the Association were:
a. Receipt of vernacular papers from India.
b. Importation of youth from India to America for education with a view to prepare them for ‘national’ work in India.
c. Weekly meetings to discuss politics — the result of which in the words of Nawab Khan (approver), was that the ‘members began to feel for their country’.

Nawab Khan also stated that the ‘Hindustani Association’ had much the same ideas as the subsequent Hindi Association…... “That it aimed at the unity of India of all creeds, education and opposition to the British Government.”[Judgment of Lahore Conspiracy Case]6

In this series; scores of meetings continued to be held at important centres where Indians had a sizeable presence on the West Pacific Coast. A blow by blow account of such meetings occupies as many as 8 printed pages of the said judgment. This chain of meetings reached the climax in August l9l4, i.e. after “Declaration of War” on 4th August I914. Of these the last but one was held at Fresno (California) on 9th August which was addressed among others by Barkatullah (later the Vice President) and Ram Chand. “The audience was exhorted to leave for India at once; arms would be supplied in India on arrival and the time had come at last, while England was at war, to expel the British from India. Subscriptions were collected and a list of volunteers prepared in which 200 or 300 Sikhs promised to go to India at once.”7

The aggregate figures of those who beckoned the call of “do and die” ran into “some thousands” as per the said judgments.8

The Komagata Maru Episode

This episode with no apparent nexus with Ghadr Party per se, forms a vital link in the cause-effect cycle of developments in the denouement of the movement: It was purported to be an attempt, plain and simple, to circumvent the covert ban on the entry of Indians into Canada since 1907 in a big way. This ban itself had something to do with the Intelligence reports about seditious activities of Indian emigrants in Canada which was a part of British Empire despite its autonomous status as a Dominion.

To start with, a Japanese ship, “Komagata Maru” was hired by ‘Baba’ Gurdit Singh of Sarhali, Amritsar, an enterprising businessman of the day. He floated a concern in the name and style of “Guru Nanak Steamship Company” for the purpose of the voyage. The modus operandi proposed for the purpose was to book the passengers direct from India to Canada to meet the crucial precondition of “direct sailing” imposed by authorities to exclude the Indians from entry into Canada since no such facility was in fact available, thereby safeguarding themselves against the blemish of racial discrimination.

There are reasons to believe that the organisers of the voyage, as also most of the passengers, had not expected a smooth landing at their destination point (Vancouver port) where it arrived in last week of May 1914. The ship was detained by Canadian authorities off the coast followed by hostile confrontations between passengers and the local Indians on one hand and the Canadian authorities on the other, often reaching the brink. Ultimately, the ship was sent back along with its passengers with small mercies in the form of rations, coal, provisions etc.

This nightmare inflamed the passions of already restless emigrant Indians even before the passengers faced a bloody reception on its return to Calcutta in last week of September 1914. The Ghadr Party expectedly took steps to rope in the passengers in its plan of insurrection and deputed Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna, the Party President, for a tie up. He proceeded to Japan carrying with him 200 pistols and 2000 rounds, besides Ghadrite publications, for delivery to the passengers at Yokohama port of Japan, which he did.

Interestingly, while Baba Bhakna was on his way to Japan, war between Germany and England broke out on 4.8.1914, which was also the moment of launching of Ghadr in India.

The British intelligence got the wind of all this and they made full and thorough preparations for the ‘reception’ of the ship at Calcutta, at the Budge Budge Ghat. It culminated in an indiscriminate firing by police on the totally unarmed peaceful passengers, some with their families and children killing at least 20 and injuring as many in the process. The passengers refused to comply with the patently arbitrary command of police to ‘board’ the train which was only a ploy to place them under arrest.9

Expectedly the impact was tremendous on Indian national psyche, both inside the country as well as abroad.

The Return Voyage of Ghadrites

“Before the departure of the main body of men from America, it appears that a certain number had been sent on in advance.”10 

They travelled back in a number of ships like “Nippon Maru”, “Mexico Maru” and a few others, each making its scheduled stop at various ports en route, each of these stops being eventful.

One of these (only to illustrate the nature of journey) left U.S.A. for Hongkong on 29th August 1914 with 60 or 70 such passengers. The passengers spent most of the time on board committing the songs/poems of “Ghadr-di-Gunj” to memory and several meetings were held at which the British government in India was reviled. At Yokohama, Ram Rakha and Amar Singh are said to have left the ship in order to obtain arms and a new passenger came on board, namely, Pandit Parmanand of Jhansi (U.P.). The next stop was Kobe where a ship was met with a number of Indians on board from Vancouver. At Nagasaki, Nidhan Singh (Chugha, Ferozepur) and Piara Singh (Langeri, Hoshiarpur) and three others left the ship with the intention of proceeding directly to Shanghai.

“The next stop was at Manila and there the passengers were met by Hafiz Abdulla, president of the local Ghadr Society and two others. A meeting of Indians was held on shore which was addressed by Nawab Khan and Jaggat Ram (of Hariana, Hoshiarpur). The latter is said to have delivered the following message:

“For sometime past we have been sending you the Ghadr newspaper in order to prepare you for the mutiny and now the time for mutiny has arrived. England is engaged in life and death struggle with Germany. With her attention thus occupied we can, without difficulty, drive the English out of India. Don’t let this opportunity slip by you, for you will never get another such for centuries. Join us now and be ready to kill or to be killed on arrival in India.” A good quantity of seditious literature was also distributed in the meeting.

“While the ship was at Manila a telegram was received from Nidhan Singh from Shanghai giving warning that a strict search would be instituted on arrival at Hong Kong both for arms and seditious literature. Consequently the passengers collected all the seditious papers on board and threw that in the sea. All revolvers and ammunition in the possession of passengers had been collected previously by the leaders.”11

Publications: The “Ghadr” and “Ghadr Gunjan”

The legendary Babas, as the Ghadrites came to be venerated, improvised most apt media of propagating and inculcating the revolutionary ethos among the vast mass of Indians both back home as well as among those living abroad.

The Ghadr was launched on 1st November l9l3 from party head-quarters – ‘The Yugantar Ashram’, adopted from the name of party office of Yugantar (the new era) a  revolutionary outfit bearing that name,  which was located at Calcutta.

The earlier issues of the paper were brought out in a hand machine operated by Kartar Singh Sarabha and one Raghbir Dyal from UP. Chief Editor Lala Hardial used to write in Urdu which was then translated into Gurmukhi (Punjabi) by Kartar Singh. It aimed at combining a mass upsurge with a military revolt. It was based on the presumption that unless military joins the uprising it cannot succeed. (Hail the foresight of those who proved right since the British quit India in 1946-47 only when Navy revolted in the wake of l.N.A. trials in the Red Fort, and people of Bombay came out in thousands in their support facing bullets coupled with the reports of this revolt spreading to Army and Air Force). The bold “Ghadr” headline carried with it a white inscription “Angrezi raj da dushman, Urdu, Gurmukhi Akhbar.” (Enemy of British rule, Urdu Gurmukhi paper).

On top of “Ghadr” a citation from Guru Granth Sahib was reproduced:
"ਜਉ ਤਉ ਪ੍ਰੇਮ ਖੇਲਣ ਕਾ ਚਾਉ ॥
ਸਿਰੁ ਧਰਿ ਤਲੀ ਗਲੀ ਮੇਰੀ ਆਉ ॥"
If ye desireth playing game of love,
enter herein sporting your head on your palm.
On both top corners, Vande (on left) and Matram (on right) were highlighted.

Vande Matram (Mother! I bow to thee) was the title of a song in a Bengali Novel “Anand Math” by Bankim Chander Chatterjee portraying a Sanyasi revolt against Malechh rule.

This novel was a like a scripture for the later revolutionaries like legendary Sardar Bhagat Singh too. “VANDE MATRAM” continued to be the war cry of the freedom struggle till it was substituted by INQLAB ZINDABAD after April 1929, i.e., the throwing of a bomb in Central Assembly by Sardar Bhagat Singh and Sh B.K. Dutt while chanting the latter slogan.

The contents of the paper “Ghadr” covered a wide spectrum like:–
a) Ways of economic exploitation by British rulers in India.
b) Exposure of “true character” of political moves of British government in India.
c) Reproductions from Vir Savarkar treatise on 1857 Ghadr.
d) Guidelines for Indians living in America.
e) Exposure of British intervention in International affairs.
f) A few revolutionary poems — later published in separate volume serialized as “Ghadr-di-Gunj”.

Language employed here was of down to earth hue, colloquial. The poems written by warriors for warriors presumably lacked the literary finesse but had an electrifying effect [This writer once met a contemporary of Baba (Shahid) Bhan Singh (of village Sunet) in 1968. He, in a nostalgic mood started reciting those lines, with a zeal and passion “beyond description, with his face burning like red hot coals.”]

Based on writer’s interviews with the surviving Ghadri Babas during l960’s, 70’s and 80’s, it came out that every Ghadrite martyr spent his “last night” chanting these poems. Legendary Kartar Singh, a young man yet under twenty, after the fizzling out of the projected rising on 19.2.1915 had left India for Kabul along with (Shahid) Jagat Singh (Sursingh, Amritsar) and (Baba) Harnam Singh Tundilat (Kotla Naudh Singh, Hoshiarpur). Somewhere near the border, they had all gone to sleep. Around mid-night Kartar Singh all of a sudden got up and exhorted his comrades to return instantly to galvanise the remnant resources. It was learnt that the impetus for this ‘u-turn’ was the recollection of one of his favorite lines from “Ghadr di Gunj”:–

Banee Sir Sheran
Kee Janaa Bhajj Ke.
(Lions confronted, Flee not).

The spread of Ghadr spirit even among the most coveted fortress of the Empire viz: the army and geographically transcending even continental barriers was mostly due to the electrifying impact of these “echoes of mutiny.”


In Ludhiana, the students in the boarding houses, age-mates of Kartar Singh replicated Ghadrite literature with a cyclostyling machine to fill up the void created by import constraints.

Arrival Back “Home”

Not surprisingly the British authorities had anticipated the implications of this influx of Ghadrities. Arrangements had been made for arrest and detention of all of them at the Indian ports. Some of these, like Kartar Singh, chose to land in Colombo (Ceylon) to evade arrest. ‘Zail Ghar’ at Ludhiana (near the clock tower) was the screening cum interrogation centre (Ironically this historic building was demolished in 1970s for constructing a shopping centre instead). The leaders were kept under detention, while the rest were ordered to be interned i.e. confined to their respective villages. Consequently all the top leaders, including the President (Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna) and the Vice-president (Baba Kesar Singh Thatgarh), were sent to jails, thus depriving the movement of its seasoned leadership — one of the important causes of its eventual failure.

Weakened as it was thereby but not paralysed, being a true inheritor of the traditions of a Sangat — the holy congregation.

To fill in this void, efforts were initiated to contact the Bengal revolutionary group based at Varanasi. Ultimately Rash Bihari Bose of Hardinge Bomb Case fame (l9l2) assisted by his aide Sachindra Sanyal were entrusted with the responsibility of top most leadership. Consequently, a movement built brick by brick by thousands of nameless workers was handed over to a new leadership at the most crucial stage. Leaving aside the merits and demerits or the repercussions of the aforesaid choice, it is a most befitting testimony to the spirit of self-denial and absolute lack of craving to be star performers in the movement. There was not even a remote suggestion of dissent in the matter. An added attraction for the choice in favour of inviting Bengali leaders was the revolutionary fervent in Bengal; although concentrated mostly on individual acts of terrorism, they could very well be expected to provide pistols and bombs so badly needed for the success of the proposed uprising.

The activities undertaken by revolutionists thereafter were comprehensive in scope, encompassing the whole of North Western India where most of the British Indian army was stationed. The judges of the Tribunal listed as many as 17 such activities. To enumerate, only a few would suffice:—
a) The seduction of students — the main focus centred around students of Khalsa and Islamia High Schools at Ludhiana which contributed a sizeable number of active revolutionists, some of them having been assigned most sensitive jobs, like maintaining active link with troops.
b) The seduction of villagers —Dhudike village (then in Ferozepur, now in Moga District) was the meeting point of Ghadrites of Malwa belt. This is what the judges called ‘Dhudike Gang’. Sangowal in Jullundur was the centre of revolutionists of Doaba region, spreading the tentacles of the movement in that region. Sursingh-Dadehar-Marhana villages in District Amritsar and Lahore District covered the Majha zone. Besides in a significant development, the Jatha of (Bhai Sahib) Randhir Singh got affiliated with the movement. Initially outraged at the desecration of Gurdwara Rikab Ganj at Delhi by the Government for extending the precincts of (then) Viceroy House (now Rashtarpati Bhavan) in 1911 i.e. during the construction of new capital at New Delhi (which till 1913 remained at Calcutta), the protest became part and parcel of the movement, playing a stellar role in the proposed rising on 19th February 1915 at Ferozepur Cantonment. Most of its members belonged to Narangwal-Gujjarwal-Sarabha belt of Ludhiana District.
c) The seduction of troops — What disturbed the government most was the degree of success of the
       Ghadrites in winning over the British Indian troops. The magnitude and sweep of this impact lies buried in secret chambers of the government under the glaze of indifference to this glorious saga of those who faced bullets after summary trials in Court Martials. There were rebellions ‘en masse’ not only among troops stationed in India but also those in Malaya and Singapore.                                                        Around Lahore the Mian-Mir cantonment where 23rd Cavalry was posted and Ferozepur where 26th PUNJABIS was stationed became active centres of Ghadrite activities. From 23 Cavalry alone as many as 12 servicemen were sentenced to death in one go at DAGSHAI and hanged in Ambala Centre Jail on 3.9.1915.
d) The use of revolutionary literature alluded to above.

e) The looting of treasuries — proposed but not accomplished.
f) Collection of arms and manufacture of bombs.

The ‘D’ Day — 19th February 1915

On the basis of feedback from army units and the public in general the all important decision of an uprising on 21st February was taken on l2.2.15 in the Lahore headquarters of the Party under the stewardship of Rash Bihari Bose.

Accordingly messages were relayed to the various centres, also signifying the opening signal for insurrection. But in the meantime police had been able to penetrate into the innermost circle courtesy Kirpal Singh, a spy planted for the purpose. Somehow, the leaders came to know about the leakage of the date of 21st to the police. So on 16th or 17th February, the date of revolt was advanced to 19th February to pre-empt the government strike. But the wily Kirpal again got a hint to this effect also on 19th morning and engineered a police raid on party headquarters, which materialized the same afternoon.

The Ghadrites in general, however, being unaware of the aforesaid raid by police at Lahore went ahead as per their plans. A sizeable number assembled on the outskirts of Ferozepur Cantonment under the overall coordinator Kartar Singh. He went into the army lines but learnt of the sea-change in the wake of the date-leakage and came back dejected to declare a dispersal. Interestingly, the “Jatha” of Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh consisting of 60 or 65 members, all dressed in dark blue wear, carrying a harmonium to give the look of a “Kirtani Jatha” had boarded the train for Ferozepur from Mullanpur (Dakha), (on 19.2.15) about 10 miles from Ludhiana; nearest to Gujjarwal, Narangwal. (Many of them identified later were put on trial in the Supplementary Lahore Conspiracy Case)

The “Price”

The wheels of government machinery swung into top gear after having “nipped the evil in the bud.”

Sir Michael O’Dwyer, the Punjab Governor (later notorious for having authored Jallianwala Massacre of 1919 and who was ultimately assassinated by Shahid Udham Singh in 1940), bared his fangs in manipulating a notification by British Parliament establishing a TRIBUNAL of one Chief and two special Commissioners (not judges) with untrammeled powers both procedural and substantive. “Na vakil, na daleel na appeal”(Sans Counsel, Sans Argument, Sans Appeal)

a) Lahore Conspiracy Cases

This “blank cheque” put at the disposal of the Tribunal, over-shadowed by a rabid Anti Indian Punjab Governor was exploited to a hilt. Of the 61 accused before it in the Lahore Conspiracy Case, as many as 24 were sentenced to death, 27 to transportation for life with forfeiture of property, 6 to lesser sentences and only four were acquitted.

Most of the judgments passed on the accused were quite casually worded, verging on the cryptic; they could not (possibly) have been able to bear the scrutiny of any appellate court. Be as it may, the question of award of death sentence to as many accused as 24 at one go attracted the attention of the highest authorities in India i.e., the Governor General. As for the legal formalities, the Punjab Governor being the statutory authority “duly confirmed” the sentences.

There was of course a provision for petition of mercy which was availed of by one or two out of 24. So more on pragmatic rather than legal considerations the matter went to the Governor General’s Council.

The judgment had been pronounced on 13.9.1915. These 24 prisoners were put in the “death cells.” The date of their execution was fixed in course of time as 5.10.1915. The “last night” was spent by them in shouting greetings with each other from their individual cells, reciting poems expressing the vindication of their resolve to die at the altar of liberty. Early morning of 5th October they were waiting for the parting knock of the warder with a bucket full of water for the “last bath” when instead, they were informed of the deferment of the executions.

What actually prompted the Governor General to intervene is thus explained by Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna in his autobiography “Jeewan Sangram”, he himself being one among these 24. “We learnt that Sh. Raghunath Sahai and other well wishers of the national cause who had, on their own been following the course of ‘trial’ constituted a Committee of Lawyers which went along with the relevant documents to Pandit Moti Lal Nehru, father of Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru at Allahabad. Pandit Nehru opined that of these 24 there were as many as 17 who had been arrested before they set their feet on the Indian soil. They then met the Indian Legal Members of Viceroy Council, like Sir Ali Imam, who were persuaded to reason with the Governor General resulting in the said screening of the case.”12

When the case evidence was reviewed from a legal angle, the lacunae were too glaring to be ignored. The Tribunal had proceeded on the simplistic presumption that the acts of all the conspirators (accused) done “upto July August 1914 were acts of conspiracy to wage war acts thereafter when once the war started, acts in furtherance of war, and in abetment of such war.”13

Under the Indian Penal Code, the conspiracy charge attracts life sentence whereas waging war itself may be visited even by death sentence. Prima facie the Tribunal regarded the “Declaration of War” (Ailan-e-Jang) of 4-8-l9l5 as the clinching proof of Waging of War since all the subsequent criminal acts of conspirators would ipso facto fall in the category of acts of war per se by virtue of this unequivocal assertion lending these acts the complexion of War.

Be as it may, there was no limit to the dismay of men like Sir Michael O’ Dwyer to see persons like Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna, the “arch conspirator and war-monger” escaping the gallows whereas those unknown persons like three local collaborators from village Gilwali (Amritsar), namely Sardar Bakshish Singh. Sardar Surain Singh s/o Sardar Bur Singh and Sardar Surain Singh s/o Sardar lshar Singh were sent to gallows (besides 4 leading revolutionists viz. Sardar Kartar Singh Satabha, Sh Vishnu Ganesh Pingle, Sardar Harnam Singh (Sialkot) and Sardar Jagat Singh of Sursingh (Amritsar).

The lessons of the post-judgement developments were ‘duly’ learnt by the Tribunal. This was visible even to the naked eye when they gave their verdict in the Supplementary Lahore Conspiracy Case.
b) Supplementary Lahore Conspiracy Case

In sharp and glaring contrast, the overall trend of sentences awarded was towards moderation, perhaps partly because most of the luminaries of the movement had already been dealt with in the former case. Of the 74 tried 5 (actually 4) were sentenced to death, 18 to transportation for life, as many as 36 awarded lesser sentences, whereas the number of acquittals was 15.

Later, there were subsequent trials in the series extending up to 4th Supplementary case. These cases dealt with a few odd accused who were arrested later (had been ‘absconding’).

Besides, there were a chain of related cases such as Mandi (H.P.) Conspiracy Case, Burma Conspiracy Cases (I and II), Banaras Conspiracy Cases I and II, Ferozeshahr Murder Case, Anarkali Murder Case, Jagatpur Murder Case, Nangal Kalan Murder Case, Padri Murder Case, Walla Bridge Assault Case and in U.S.A. — Chicago Conspiracy and San Francisco Conspiracy Cases.

c) Court Martials

However, as mentioned earlier the extent and magnitude of sentences imposed on army men, who responded to the call of Ghadrites to rise in revolt, forty-one were shot dead in public at Singapore and three of them hanged there, twelve hanged at Ambala, while hundreds of them were transported for life to Andamans.

This writer has recently authored a book sub-titled Soldiers’ in Revolt, portraying a gamut of revolts in British Indian Army.14

It needs be mentioned that the Ghadrites while returning to India for Ghadr had been halting at the ports on the way and had openly approached the Indian troops stationed there for joining the movement.
d) Was This all a “Conspiracy”?

Conspiracy is always hidden, secret, and covert; otherwise it ceases to be one. From the accounts relating to the origin and development of the movement, vividly portrayed in the Judgement of (First) Lahore Conspiracy Case, this dimension was wholly missing in this case. From day one, all was open, rather too open. The only exception which proverbially, proves the rule, was the choice of the date of uprising — 21st February, later 19th February 1915.

Presumably the conspirational dimension had something to do with the suspected “German connection” which had been dealt with under the heading “The connection of the revolutionists with Germany.”

Unable to cite any evidence (which is quite understandable) the Tribunal found indications which point to the suggestion that there was some understanding that some assistance was rendered by individual Germans, and that the revolutionists considered themselves in league with the German enemies of the King Emperor.15

Now, of course, it is ‘history’ and there are on record quite a few instances to justify this suspicion. Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna, describing the Komagata Maru episode says, “while it was on its way back, while it was anchored in Japanese port, since the war had started German submarine “Edmen” was feared to have damaged the ship. The Baba managed to secretly contact the German Council and settle a secret code to be employed to ward off such an eventuality.16

The second instance relates to Baba Hari Singh ‘Usman’. He was among those who had been left behind in U.S.A. to manage Yugantar Ashram. The Ghadrites struck an arms deal with a German firm to provide on cash a shipload of arms and ammunition. He was made incharge of the operation and started from USA on 15-4-1915 but due to unforeseen developments landed in Indonesia in September 1915 without accomplishing the task. (There he settled under the assumed name of Usman Khan, which ultimately gave him the identity of Hari Singh Usman. He played a vital role in forming Indian Independence League and I.N.A. during the Second World War. He returned to India in October 1948 and died ‘unnoticed’ on 15-8-1969.)17

e) “Waging of War”

Stung by the suo moto review of the death sentences by the Viceroy in the First Case, the Tribunal by hindsight became “wiser” in the Second Case. While in the former it dealt with question of applicability of Section 121 of Indian Penal Code concerning WAGING OF WAR (admittedly a core issue), just in less than 3 pages18 in the latter case they dwelt on the issue quite extensively vide “Editorial Note on the issue”, pp. 392-411: Ghadr Documents, Vol. I, Unistar.19

It may be surmised that the actual reason was the “rebuff”, which was lying buried in the secret files, but the net outcome that only 7 out of 24 initially awarded death sentence were hanged, was well known. In the 17 page exposition, it was stated that since “in the present Case it has been argued by (defence) Counsel that even if the facts alleged are found to be established, they do not amount to acts of war, or attempts at war or abetment of war, but to a lesser offence, such as the conspiracy or preparation as the case may be” dwelt upon in length by present writer.20

To those familiar with criminal trial, the said argument which is attributed to the defence counsel in this (second) case is a most common argument seldom missed in criminal trials — that the specified alleged acts even if proved, do not prove, per se, the grave (say murder) charge but a lesser offence (say culpable homicide). In any case, it is inconceivable that as many as 7 defence lawyers would not have put this argument in relation to not even once for any one accused out of as many as 61.

The inference is obvious, that by its very nature, that charge “Waging of War” is a class by itself as it has political ramifications since it strikes at the roots of a political system by challenging its very legitimacy.

That is why the ‘Rule of Law’ of which the Anglo-Saxon world is so proud, is given a go by while dealing with the revolutionists.

Accordingly, there is some “sense” in the jibe hurled at the Punjab Governor by Sardar Bhagat Singh that... “since they were guilty of waging a war, they should not be hanged and be handed over to the firing squad of the army instead.” (Letter addressed to him on 20-3-l931, i.e. 3 or 4 days before their execution).21

At the end of the day, it goes to the credit of the Tribunal — that they characterised the Ghadrites as revolutionists and not terrorists or anarchists which were the words used world wide while trying such like cases involving charges of treason or insurrection against the government of the day. It is a different matter, however, in essence this was a revolutionary movement since it sought to change the system as such and was not directed against same specified individual ruling the country.

Significantly, in the appeal before Lahore Court in Assembly bomb case, against the life sentence awarded to Bhagat Singh and Dutt, the judge observed.

“Bhagat Singh is a sincere revolutionary. I have no doubt, that is to say, he is sincere in the illusion that the world can be improved by destroying the social structure as it now stands and instituting for rule of law the unrestrained will of the individual.”22

Saga of Jails

End of the trials was the end for only those who attained martyrdom, but not for the rest, most of whom were sentenced to transportation for life, which was only a euphemism for spending the best part of life in the inhuman conditions in Cellular Jail in Andamans. The latter often envied the former who had ‘passed’ the test of patriotism, whereas they themselves were yet ‘on probation’. Aptly put by Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna “that a revolutionary, whether he be in jail or outside, faces challenges continuously since his struggle is basically against oppression and injustice.”23 It shall be worthwhile to touch upon briefly on this jail interlude but in two separate phases viz. (a) relating to those convicted in the first case (Andaman) and (b) concerning the rest (Indian Jails).

This bifurcation is essential since the former were actually “transported” i.e. sent to Andamans, while the later were not, despite their too having been awarded similar sentences. The change in policy in the matter was not incidental. The former had, notwithstanding the brutal treatment, and the “iron curtain” of secrecy, had put sense in the heads of jail authorities, though at the cost of lives of at least 8 of them in addition to the unimaginable punishments, deprivations and humiliations hurled on the survivors. The net result, however, was that the Andaman jailors literally ‘raised their hands’ in despair and flatly refused to accommodate Ghadrite convicts of the subsequent cases. (A tribute!) .

(a) Travails in Andamans

Parodying the famous Urdu verse in praise of Kashmir being the only heaven on this earth, without exaggeration or ‘poetic license’, it can well be said “if there were a veritable hell on earth — it was this, this and (only) this.”

The very initial step of neither getting the prisoners medically examined, nor caring for the advanced age, as stipulated, all those sentenced to transportation were transported there. Reaching there, they were briefed by political prisoners like Ganesh Savarkar, and Vinayak Savarkar (the Savarkar Brothers from Maharashtra) that both the Jail Superintendent and the Jailor were barbaric. They were allotted inhuman quantity of labour work. Unable to cope up with the same, some of (even political) prisoners committed suicide.

“Ghadrites gathered to ponder and resolved that they would do labour but only that which is within human capacity. To start with, the kohlu (oil processing) labour was held as inhuman and was to be declined.

Secondly, no disrespect be shown towards jail officials, but if they insult us, we shall retaliate in unison.”

BHAN SlNGH’S CASE — is an apt one to show what transpired later. He knew some English. He used to be meticulous in performing the prescribed labour. One day while he was waiting for his turn to hand over his labour product, a British guard said something in English, which was derogatory to  (our) national honour. Bhan Singh paid him back in the same currency (in English). Thereupon the guard arrayed him before the jailor. The jailor, ignoring the plea of Bhan Singh, slammed 6 months of solitary confinement, fetters, reduced diet and standing hand-cuffing all combined for the said period. One day while standing under the constraint of standing hand-cuffed, he was chanting “Je tau prem khelan ka chao, sir dhar talee gali mori ao” in a state of ecstasy, Berry, the ill-famed jailor, happened to pass nearby and started abusing him. Bhan Singh, in protest, refused to submit himself to standing handcuffed on the following day. The jailor arrived with a posse of 3 “Lambardars” and started belabouring Bhan Singh. Down below on ground floor, his fellow prisoners were sitting in the enclosure for food. When they learnt, they all rushed above to rescue him. But the jailor had already closed the gate. They could not, therefore, enter but compelled the jailor to leave him alone. Though saved at that the moment, the jailor got him thrashed the next day so much that he fell unconscious. Fellow prisoners resorted to work strike. He was shifted to jail hospital where his condition deteriorated.

“Seeing this, his fellow prisoners, including myself (Sohan Singh Bhakna), started hunger strike, besides work strike. In the meantime our comrades who had been convicted in Burma Conspiracy Case, also came and they too joined us in work strike. It was winter: jailor started torturing us by forcibly getting us removed to the water ‘ tank and got cold water thrown on us. Having got removed our blankets from our cells, we would thereby sleep on bare cold wooden planks. Pandit Ram Rakha (of Sasoli, Hoshiarpur) died in the process.... Ultimately Bhan Singh succumbed to the brutal ordeal.”24

It was narrated by Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna to the writer that Pandit Ram Rakha learnt on the way to Andaman from Burma that the jail authorities in Andaman do not allow the sporting of any religious symbol. He, despite being a Brahmin, had long time back eschewed the sacred ‘janeu’ — the sacred thread. But he on purpose improvised one and on arrival in the jail resisted its removal leading to this fateful end to the episode.

Sometime in 1921 these Ghadrites were repatriated to Indian jails, some of them landing after a while in Yervada (Poona). There, as per jail rules, they were made to sport caps instead of turbans. When they resisted, they were forcibly disrobed. The prisoners went on hunger strike. Pandit Parmanand (Jhansi) and Sh. Hirde Ram {Mandi (H.P.) and their fellow Ghardites also joined it. Much as they were dissuaded by us that it was a matter of turban/cap which did not affect them, they did not budge. This symbolised the principled love and affection amongst us Ghadrites, who viewed even the religious distinctions from the angle of a shared identity.25

So much for the veritable hell, the Andaman Cellular Jail !

b) Subsequent Cases - Indian Jails

The judgment of the Supplementary Lahore Conspiracy Case (Second Case) was pronounced on 30-03-1916. They were shifted to Multan Jail on 3rd April, 1916. “But before their transfer, the religious symbols (Kakars) of the (Sikh) prisoners had been removed in Lahore jail itself.”26

Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh, a life convict in the case, gave a first hand account of the ordeal in Multan jail where they were kept till July 1917. He had to resort to hunger strike as a protest against inhuman treatment extending to 40 days, during which he denied himself not only all kind of food but also water!27

They were then shifted to Hazari Bagh (Bihar). While on way to Hazari Bagh, they were to pass through Ludhiana, the native district of many of them. Baba Sajjan Singh (of Narangwal, Ludhiana) has narrated a telling anecdote of their train’s stoppage at Ludhiana station, in his brief autobiography. “My district was there at hand and I looked all around to pin point some familiar face. But so much was the dread in the air that none would venture near about our train. None would share a look with us even from a distance, nor exchange a greeting. We learnt later that the government and its lackeys had spread the word around that these persons who fight with the government had ceased to be Sikhs!"28

Hazari Bagh was chosen as the most remote spot to imprison these convicts. There too the jail atrocities continued. Ultimately Ghadrites planned a jail break and on the intervening night of 8/9 March 1918, 18 of them succeeded in breaking loose from the jail. Two anecdotes depicting the scenario of that all-important jail-escape are quite revealing of the awe in which they were held by the jail staff.

First one — when jail alarm was sounded. The jail guards were ordered to deposit the firearms in the armoury lest the fleeing Ghadrites take away their rifles!

Second One — The Ghadrites in their plan of successful jail breaking had planned a loud chanting of ‘Shabads’ so as to drown any sound of shouting etc. from either side. Once, after this escape, one evening jail warden felt that their shabad recitation was a bit louder than usual. He at once ran to the jailor telling him that once again those Sikhs are chanting the “run away Mantra”!

Of these Ghadrites one Baba Harnam Singh (Kala Sangian, Kapurthala), an ex-soldier,  remained in prison for 21 years continuously, and his property remained confiscated till 2011 when the writer succeeded in getting it compensated at its present market  price through a P.I.L. (Public Interest Litigation) in Punjab and Haryana High Court, Chandigarh.

The Rich Legacy

The indefatigable Babas, proverbial for their low profile and all encompassing pursuits serving spiritual, economic, educational causes, and endearing manners, had to be seen and observed first hand to be truly understood. Each in his own way left the life much richer wherever he lived and endeavored. It had something to do with their world outlook or what is called ‘Weltanchauung’ in German. Transcending their rustic roots, they evolved an all encompassing outlook personified in their activities in general but perhaps in one of the cardinal principles of Ghadr Party — that if any member of the Party is living in a country and a struggle for freedom of that country is launched, it shall be his bounden duty to join it.29 Practical illustration of the same is provided by involvement of Baba Hari Singh Usman in freedom struggle of Indonesia against Dutch imperialism for which he was sentenced to be kicked to death.30 Baba’s both Indonesian sons were not ‘far behind’: They joined Indian National Army — and the elder one died fighting for the liberation of his Father-land!31



   1. Ghadr Movement Original Documents, Vol. I, Lahore Conspiracy Cases I and II, p. 124, Malwinder Jit Singh Waraich, Harinder Singh, 2008, Unistar Publishers, Chandigarh.
2. Ibid, Appendix XIX, p. 489.
3. Ibid., Appendix XXI, p. 500.
4. Ghadr Party Lehar (Punjabi), Jagjit Singh, Navyug Publishers, Chandni Chowk, Delhi  1956.

5. Jeewan Sangram (Punjabi), Autobiography of Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna, Ed. Malwinder Jit Singh Waraich, Tarak Bharti Prakashan, Barnala, 2003, p. 79.
6. Ghadr Documents, Vol. I, p. 112.
7. Ibid., p. 123.
8. Ibid., p. 151.
9. Komagata Maru : A Challenge to Colonialism — Key Documents, Malwinder Jit Singh Waraich, Gurdev Singh Sidhu, Unistar Publishers, Chandigarh, 2005, pp. 15-16.

10. Ghadr Documents, Vol. I, p. 141.

11. Ibid., pp.  141-142.
12. Ibid.,  Vol. II : First Lahore Conspiracy Case — Mercy Petition, Malwinder Jit Singh Warich, Harish Jain, Unistar Publishers, Chandigarh, 2010, pp.  7-8.
13. Ibid., Vol. I, p. 340.
14. Ghadr Documents: Soldiers in Revolt, Malwinder Jit Singh Waraich, Harish Jain, Unistar Publishers (Preface), Under publication.

15. Ghadr Documents, Vol. I, p. 336.

16. Ghadr Party Lehar, p. 72.
17. Diary Baba Hari Singh Usman (Autobiography) in Punjabi, Ed. Malwinder Jit Singh Waraich, Trak Bharti Parkashan Barnala — 2006, pp. 9-11.

18. Ghadr Documents, Vol. I, pp. 350-354.

19. Ibid, pp. 355-391.
20. Ibid.,  pp. 392-411.

21. Bhagat Singh — The Eternal Rebel,Malwinder Jit Singh Waraich, Publication Division,  Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Govt. of India, Soochna Bhawan, C.G.O. Complex, Lodhi Road, New Delhi 110003, 2007, p. 163.

22. Hanging of Bhagat Singh, Vol. I, Complete Judgement and other Documents, Malwinder Jit Singh Waraich, Gurdev Singh Sidhu, Unistar Publishers, Chandigarh, 2005, p. 55.
23. Jeewan Sangram, p. 48.
24. Ibid., pp. 51-52.
25. Ibid., pp. 56-57.
26. Atam Katha: Ghadri Baba Harnam Singh Kala Sanghian (Kapurthala), Ed. Malwinder Jit Singh Waraich, Sita Ram Bansal, Lokgeet Parkashan, Chandigarh 2011, p. 35.
27. Ibid., p. 36.

28. Atam Katha: Baba Sajjan Singh Narangwal, Ed. Malwinder Jit Singh Waraich, Sita Ram Bansal, Lokgeet Parkashan, Chandigarh, 2011, p. 33.
29. Jeewan Sangram, p. 32.
30. Diary Baba Hari Singh Usman, p. 99.
31. Ibid.




ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2015, All rights reserved.