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Gadar is a Punjabi word which means (mutiny or revolution). Many Punjabis, both Sikhs and Hindus, were sent to Canada at the turn of the century to work as labourers. Meeting with the same sort of racism they had grown up in their own homeland, many of them crossed over into the United States where they experienced their first taste of the sort of freedom that the American Revolution had brought to the United states, a century or more before after winning their freedom from India.
Settled along the Western Coast of the USA in cities like Portland, San Francisco, San Jose and Los Angeles, the Sikh Punjabis built Gurdwaras and established societies, but as they had found in Canada, the western United States had established many laws to limit the rights of the earlier Asia communities that had been imported from China and Japan to fill the labor shortages on the west coast during the last half of the previous century, especially after many labourers of European decent had left the west coast to take part in the American Civil War. When the European immigrants returned to the west they enacted laws to limit the number of immigants coming from Asia and enacted new laws to limit the freedoms of the Asians that had come to America under contracts that had included their eventual return passage to China and Japan. Many thousands of Chinese and Japanese who had been brought over to build the new railroad being built to link the east and west coasts of the United States had left their wives and families back home in Asia, no longer needed they discovered that unscrupulus labor contractors had no intentions of paying for their return. Stranded in an America that no longer needed them and had expected their return they now faced new laws that limited their rights in America.
The Hindus and Sikhs who had entered from Canada found themselves subject to these same laws such as not being allowed to marry american woman of European decent.
Ghadr was the name given to a newspaper edited and published for the Hindustani Association of the Pacific Coast which was founded at Portland, United States of America, in 1912. The movement this Association gave rise to, aimed at winning freedom from colonial rule in India also came to be known as the Ghadr Movement.
It is said that by 1908 about 5000 Indians had entered Canada. 99% of which were Punjabis of whom about 90% were Sikhs. Many Indians were also sudying at various universities all over USA. Americans and few Indians established Indo-American National Association. Many students from prominent universities like Berkeley University, Stanford and Harvard joined this association. Lala Har Dayal (later Hardaya) lof Stanford University, Sant Teja Singh of Harvard University, and Bhai Parmanand decided to try to get more students of the poorer families into the Higher educational opportunities available in the USA and Canada.
The Indians coming to the United States and Canada came from rural farming middle class and labour backgrounds, a large number of them being ex-servicemen. In the beginning, the Indians went to San Francisco and Stockton in California, Portland and St. John in Oregon and Washington states. Others ended up in Vancouver and Victoria in British Columbia and Canada. Men such as Amar Singh and Gopal Singh who had gone to America in 1905, and Tarak Nath Das and Ram Nath Puri who followed them, starting speaking out against British rule in India. They also started a paper called Azadi ka circular in Urdu. This paper was distributed among the armed forces in India, in an effort to rouse them against the British. The Canadian government started harassing them. White labourers of European decent were encouraged to harass foreign workers from Asia, but while the Chinese and Japanese governments protested against mis-treatment against their nationals, the British Goernment of Indian did nothing. The Canadian government further tightened the entry of Indians into Canada, passing a new piece of cleverly worded legislation that stated that, newcomers would not be permitted to land on the Canadian soil "unless they came from the country of their birth or citizenship by a continuous journey, by tickets that had to be purchased before leaving the country of their birth or citizenship. They were also required to possess $200 against the previously fixed sum of $25.
In order to fight the unjust immigration laws, the Indians (mostly Sikhs) organized Khalsa Diwan Society in Vancouver in 1907 with branches in Victoria, Abbotsford, New Westminster, Fraser Hill, Duncan Coombs and Ocean falls. The Sikhs built a Gurdwara at Vancouver which was inaugrated in January 1908. In 1909 only 6 Indians were allowed to visit Canada. Same year Indian immigrants organized Hindustan Association under the presidentship of Bhai Bhag Singh Bhikkivind. Its objectives were to establish Indian rule in India, provision of safeguards from loot by foreigners, etc. The association started two newspapers, Pardesi Khalsa in Punjabi and Svedesh Sevak in Urdu. These activities awakened the Indian immigrants. Persons like Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna, Harnam Singh Tundilat, Udham Singh Kasel, Rakha Ram, Ishar Singh Marhana and others would collect on sundays and other holidays and ponder over the problems. St John and Seattle become center of their activities.
In 1912, at Portland Hindustani Association of Pacific coast was formed with Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna as its president and GD kumar as the general secretary, later Mr Kumar fell ill and his place was taken by Lala Hardyal. Aim of the party was explained as "Today, there begins in foreign lands.. a war agaist British raj.. What is your name? Ghadr. What is your work? Ghadr. Where will Ghadr break out? in India. The time will soon come when rifles and blood will take the place of pen and ink." In simple words, their aim was to get rid of the British raj in India through an armed rebellion.
The first issue of the Ghadr, in Urdu, came out in November 1913 and that in Punjabi a weeks later. The paper was distributed to politico- Indian centres in United States, Canada, Phillipines, Fiji, Sumatra, Japan, Shanghai,Hong Kong, Hankow, Java, Singapore, Malaya Siam, Burma, India and East Afria . Occasionally Ghadr published the following advertisement: Wanted: Enthusiastic and heroic soldiers for organizing Ghadr in Hindustan:
Renumeration: Death Reward : Martyrdom Pension : Freedom Field of work : Hindustan.
The Ghadr party president often visited the Indian groups to exhort them to join freedom movement. Lala Hardyal general secretary was arrested on the pretext of a speech delievered by him three years earlier. Baba Sohna Singh now became the general secretary, Bhai Santokh Singh became President, editing of paper was taken over by Bhai Harnam singh of Kotla Naudh singh. The party's plan was to invade Kashmir from China, then go for the Punjab followed by other provinces. The members started getting training in the use of weapons and making of bombs; several got training in flying aircraft also. One of them, Harnam singh, had his hand blown off while in process of bomb making, and he was thence onwrds known as Tundilat, the armless knight.
The party carried out considerable propaganda in Japan where Maulawi Barkat Ullah was professor in Tokyo University. His prescence attracted many muslims to Ghadr Party. The Kamagatu Maru incident added fuel to fire. The first world war broke out in July 1914. On 5 August, leading memers of Ghadr party declared war on the British and decided to take advantage of the involvement of British in the war. The Ghadr party declared war on the British and decided to come to India to carry out armed revolution against the British.
Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna and his companions left for India on 22 August 1914, the first ship with 26 Indians left Vancouver; on 29 August, another ship with 60-70 Indians left San Francisco for India. According to government records, 2312 Indian Ghadr men had entered India between 13 October 1914 and 25 February 1915. Their influx continued till 1916 when their number increased to more than 8,000. But it is likely that the Ghadr men had entered India in greater numbers than the government knew. Government was very active and at least 50% of them were arrested or confined to their villages by state governments.
The Ghadr party established a new press and published small pamphlets such as: Ghadr Sandesh, Ailan-i-Jang, Tilak, Nadar Mauqa, Rikab~gan;, Canada da Duhhra, Naujavan Utho, Sachchz Pukar, and so on. These pamphlets were published in Punjabi, Urdu and Hindi, and were distributed among the public and the soldiers. The party also produced their own flag having red, yellow and green colours. Dr Mathura Singh supervised factories producing armaments.
The party members contacted students. They contacted soldiers stationed especially at Mian Mir (Lahore), Jalandhar, Firozpur, Peshawar, Jehlum, Rawalpindl, Mardan, Kohat, Bannu, Ambala, Meerut, Kanpur and Agra cantonments. The soldiers were generally in sympathy with the movement. Many party workers joined the army with a view to obtaining arms and ammunition. Contacts were also established with Bengal revolutionaries such as Rash Behari Bose whose close companions were Sachin Sanyal and Vishnu Ganesh Pingle. Pingle acted as a link between the Ghadr party and Bengalis.
The movement faced financial difficulties in India. The expenses had increased owing to opening of various branches, travelling, purchase of arms and ammunition and publications. Money was not easily available as it was in foreign countries. To overcome this difficulty, the party had to resort to forcible acquisition of funds by under-taking political dacoities.
All the preparations completed, the party executive met on 12 February 1915, and decided to start the rebellion on 21 February. Their plan was simultaneously to attack and capture Mian Mir and Firozpur cantonments; 128th Pioneer and 12 Cavalry were to capture Meerut Cantonment and then proceed to Delhi. Units in cantonments in northern 21 India were expected to join the rebellion.
The British Government had intelligence men posted at railway stations in cities and in important villages. The lambardars, zaildars and other village functionaries were also alerted to provide information. The government had managed to plant informers in the Ghadr party itself. Before the new leadership came forward and reorganized the movement's plans, the British Government "knew much more about their designs and was in a better position to cope with them." In spite of this, the Ghadrites in the central Punjab murdered policemen and informers and attempted to derail trains and blow up bridges. Factories for preparing bombs were established. All this made the government feel that they were "living over a mine full of explosives . "
When the party learnt that the information about the D-Day had leaked, they advanced the date of rebellion to 19 February, but this information also reached the police through their informer, Kirpal. The police raided the party headquarters at four different places in Lahore and arrested 13 of the "most dangerous revolutionaries." All cantonments were alerted and the Indian troops placed under vigilance; some were even disarmed. Arrests of Ghadr men took place all over the Punjab. Rash Behari Bose, with the help of Kartar Singh Sarabha, escaped from lahore to Varanasi: Vishnu Ganesh Pingle was arrested at Meerut on 23 March 1915. All the leaders were put in the lahore jail.
The government of the Punjab sought and the Government of India passed under the Defence of India Act wide powers to the Punjab Government who formed a special tribunal of three judges, including one Indian, to try the Ghadr men in the Central Jail, Lahore. Thus the rebellion was smashed by the government before it had really taken shape.
The Ghadr men were tried by the Special Tribunal in what are known as Lahore conspiracy cases in batches. The trial of the first batch began on 26 April 1915. In all, 291 persons were tried and sentenced as under: death for 42, 114 were transported for life, 93 awarded varying terms of imprisonment, 42 were acquitted. Confiscation of property was ordered in the case of many. No one appealed against the punishments. Those who were hanged included Kartar Singh Sarabha, Jagat Singh (Sursingh) Vishnu Ganesh Pingle, Harnam Singh Sialkoti, Bakshish Singh (son of Ishar Singh), Bhai Balvant Singh (Khurdpur), Babu Ram, Harnam Singh, Hafiz Abdulla and Rur Singh (Sanghval).
Under the circumstances, the army units which had promised to join the revolution kept quiet. However, some units such as 26 Punjabi, 7 Rajput, 12 Cavalry, 23 Cavalry, 128 Pioneers, Malaya State Guides,23 Mountain Battery, 24Jat Artillery, 15 Cancers, 22 Mountain Battery,130 Baluch and 21 Punjabi did come out in the open. About 700 men of 5 Light Infantry, located in Singapore, mutineed on 15 February and took possession of the fort. The rebellion was subdued by the British troops; 126 men were tried by court martial which sentenced 37 to death, 41 to transportation for life, and the remy ing to varying terms of imprisonment Soldiers from other units were punished as under: Death Transportation 23 Cavalry 12 Cavalry 130 Baluch 128 Pioneers 1 for life
The party workers also went to Iran and Iraq to instigate Indian troops against the British, and to Turkey to exhort Indian prisoners to fight for India's freedom. In Iran, the party was able to raise an Indian Independence Army. The Army advanced towards Baluchistan, and en route capttlred Kirmanshah. Then they advanced along the coast towards Karachl. Meanwhile, Turkey was defeated and the British had occupied Baghdad. The Indian Independence Army thus losing its base was also defeated.
The Ghadr party contacted Germany, Turkey, Afghanistan, China and other countries, but not much help came from any of these. Germany sympathized with the Ghadr party and occasionally tried to render some help in the form of weapons and money, but these often failed to reach the party. For instance, 5,000 revolvers on board Heny S. which sailed from Manila were captured en route by the British. Germany had also formed an Oriental Bureau for translating and disseminating inflammatory literature to the Indian prisoners of war in Germany.
During World War I, revolutionaries from most countries had gone to Switzerland, which was a neutral country. The Indians there formed Indian Revolutionary Society, also known as Berlin-lndia Committee. The Society had formed a provisional government at Kabul, but had no contacts with the Indian public. The Ghadr party established links with the Society and both agreed to help each other. Germany sent financial help to the Society but, on learning that it was being misappropriated, discontinued it. The Society soon collapsed. No sum ever reached the Ghadr party. The Ghadr movement, as says O 'Dwyer, "was by far the most serious attempt to subvert British rule in India." Most of the workers were illiterate-only 25 of them knew Urdu or Punjabi. Still they organized a strong movement which for the time being thrilled the country and made the British panic. Although the movement was suppressed, it provided nucleus for the Akali movement that followed a few years later.The Gadr leaders were especially prominent among the Babar Akalis