Balvant Singh Canadian
Prominent Figure of the Ghadr Movement (1882-1917)
Was born on 14 September 1882 at Khurdpur, a village in Jalandhar district of the Punjab. His father, Budh Singh, lived in easy circumstances. For his education, Balvant Singh was sent to the middle school at Adampur. But he left off midway after an early marriage.
As he grew up, he joined the army as a soldier. While serving at Mardan, he, under the influence of Sant Karam Singh, became a devout Sikh. He was promoted a lance naik, but he resigned from the army in 1905.
In April 1906, he migrated to Canada. He played a leading part in establishing the first gurdwara at Vancouver which was opened in a rented house on 22 July 1906. When the new building of the gurdwara was inaugurated, on 19 January 1908, Balvant Singh was appointed granthi i.e. minister. In 1908-09, the Canadian government mooted the idea of transfering all Indian settlers of British Columbia, over 90 per cent of whom were Sikhs, to Honduras, a British colony in the tropical Central America.
Bhai Balvant Singh visited the United States for consultations with Sikh settlers there. He and Sant Teja Singh, one of the leaders of the Sikhs in the Western Hemisphere, advised the immigrants to refuse to move to Honduras. On the formation of the Hindustan Association, in 1909, Balvant Singh was nominated its treasurer.
The Association campaigned against the restrictive immigration laws enforced by the Canadian government with a view to refusing entry to the families of Indian settlers. Early in 1911, Bhai Balvant Singh and Bhai Bhag Singh Bhikkhivind returned to India to take out their families as a test case against these laws. While in India, they toured the country, describing to the people the hardships of Indian immigrants in Canada.
The Canadian immigration rules required that to be eligible for fresh entry into that country, an Indian must travel on a direct passage from India to a Canadian port, but the shipping companies, for fear of displeasure of the government, would refuse to issue direct tickets to Canada. Balvant Singh and Bhag Singh met with similar treatment. From Calcutta, they complained by wire to the Viceroy of India, but to no purpose. The two families then proceeded to Hong Kong, but failed to obtain direct tickets for Vancouver there as well.
Ultimately, they took passage in a ship that was going to San Francisco via Vancouver. But it was only after a hard contest that the Canadian government permitted their wives to land in January 1912 as an act of grace, without establishing a precedent. The struggle against the restriction continued. On 22 February 1913, in a joint meeting of the Khalsa Diwan Society and the United India League, it was decided to send a deputation, comprising Balvant Singh, Narain Singh and Nand Singh, to London to seek the intervention of the British government.
The deputation met an under-secretary in the colonial office on 14 May 1913, but nothing came out of the interview, and all three members sailed for India on 28 May. They addressed a public meeting held in Bradlaugh Hall, Lahore, on 18 August 1913, waited on Sir Michael O’ Dwyer, Lieut-Governor of the Punjab, and presented a memorandum to the Viceroy on 20 December 1913. As Sir Michael recorded in his India as I Knew It, "They were really advance agents- though we did not know this at the time – of the Ghadr Party."
During his return voyage to Canada, Bhai Balvant Singh met, on 19 April 1914 at the Japanese port of Mugi, the famous Komagata Maru, ready with its Indian passengers to set sail for the Canadian shore. He assisted Baba Gurdit Singh, who had hired the ship from a Japanese company, in raising funds to pay off part of the liability.
He is also said to have exhorted the passengers "to rise against the British, if their entry to Canada was prevented," and travelled with them up to Kobe from where he took another ship for Vancouver, where he reached before the arrival of the Komagata Maru on 22 May 1914. Balvant Singh was nominated a member of the Shore Committee set up by immigrants to organize relief for Komagata Maru passengers who were not allowed to land by the Canadian government.
The ship was in the end forced to return on 23 July 1914. This infuriated the Indians in Canada, who now began forming contacts with the Ghadr party, based in the United States of America. The Canadian authorities, on the other hand, resorted to more stringent measures. Bhai Balvant Singh was arrested along with one Meva Singh Lopoke and two others on charge of importing arms from the United States.
Bell Singh, a police stooge, opened fire in the gurdwara at Vancouver on 5 September 1914, as the sangat had assembled for a bhog ceremony, killing two and injuring four persons. In the eyes of the immigrants, the real culprit was William Hopkins, a former sergeant in British Indian police, who had been employed by the Canadian government as immigration inspector in British Columbia because of his knowledge of Hindi and Punjabi.
Meva Singh, on 21 October 1914, killed Hopkins in the corridor of the court house, where the latter was waiting to appear as a defence witness for Bela Singh. The police tried to implicate Bhai Balvant Singh also in this case and took him into custody, but he was let off after two months
for want of any evidence against him. However, he was forced to leave Canada with his family. From Shanghai, he sent his family to India. He himself stayed back to preach revolution among the Indian community.
In July 1915, he went to Thailand to join a group of Ghadrites who had arrived from the United States to work up a rising in Burma. But he fell sick and had to be admitted to hospital, from where he was arrested. He was brought to the Punjab and tried in the third (second supplementary) Lahore conspiracy case. In the court judgement, delivered on 4 January 1917, he was awarded death penalty, with forfeiture of property. He was hanged in Central jail at Lahore on 30 March 1917.