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Sikh Martyrs

Sikh Martyrs Sardar Kartar Singh Saraba


Sardar Kartar Singh Saraba

Sardar Kartar Singh Saraba was born in a village called Sarabha in Ludhiana district in 1896 AD. His fathers name was Sardar Mangal Singh. He passed his matriculation examination from Orissa where he lived with his relatives. When he was fifteen, his parents put him on board a ship for America to work there. That ship landed at the American port of San Francisco in January 1912 AD. The American Immigration officer put Indians through rigourous questioning while people of other countries were allowed to pass after slight checks. Kartar Singh asked one of the passengers about this type of behavior. He told him, "Indians are the citizens of a slave country. As such, they are treated badly." This incident had a great effect on Kartar Singh.

In 1914 AD, two million Indians worked as watchmen or labourers in foreign countries. Out of the eight thousand lived in America and Canada. Ninety percent of those working abroad were soldiers who had fought for the consolidation of British rule or extending the boundaries of their empire. Kartar Singh enroled in the University of California-Berekely and also took up the work of picking fruit in orchards. He frequently talked to other Indians about getting his country freed.

On the 21st April, 1913 AD, Indians assembled and formed the Gadar Party (Revolution Party). The aim of the Gadar Party was to get rid of the slavery of the British by means of an armed struggle and set up a national democratic government. Their slogan was "Put at stake everything for the freedom of the country." On the 1st of November, 1913 AD, the Gadar Party started taking out a paper named ‘Gadar’, which was published in Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Gujrati and Pushto languages. Kartar Singh did all the work for that paper.
This paper was sent to Indians living in all countries throughout the world. The purpose of the paper was to unmask the truth about the British rule to the Indians, in part military training, and explain in details the methods of making and use of weapons and bombs. There were articles and poems which inspired the youth to die for the freedom of the country such as this one from ‘Revolutionary War:’

No purpose will be solved without Martyrdom,
It is imperative to die in the war,
Charge with roar of lions,
It is not for lions to run away in adversity,
Be a lion, do not act like a jackal,
War of independence is raging, be not afraid,
One who runs away from the battlefield is a coward,
It is not for the brave to run away in adversity,
The brave knows no retreat, earn the honour of bravery,
Say with a roar, I bow to the motherland.

This paper filled the minds of Indians, even living abroad with the spirit of independence. Kartar Singh was given training by Bhai Udham Singh Kasel in the form of Baba Jwala Singh. In one year, the Gadar Party became very famous through its organ: ‘The Gadar", and it consisted of all Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims.

The first World War started in 1914 AD. The British became entangled in the war. Thinking it to be a good opportunity, the leaders of the Gadar Party published the Decision of Declaration of War against the British in issue of ‘The Gadar’ dated the 5th of August, 1914 AD. Thousands of copies of that paper were distributed among armed forces, villages and cities. Kartar Singh reached India via Colombo on the 15th of September, 1914 AD. A large number of leaders of the Gadar Party were arrested by the Governments at the ports. In spite of these arrests, a meeting was held by members of the Gadar Party at Ladhouwal near Ludhiana in which it was decided to commit robberies in the houses of rich to meet requirements of finance for armed action. Waryam Singh and Bhai Ram Rakha were killed in a bomb blast in one such raid.

After the arrival of Sri Ras Bihair Bose at Amritsar on the 25th of January, 1915 AD, it was decided on a meeting on the 12th of February that the uprising should be started on the 21st of February. It was planned that after capturing the canonments of Mian Mir and Ferozpur, mutiny should be engineered near Cantt and Delhi. Kirpal Singh, a police informer in the ranks of the Gadar Party had a large number of Gadar Party members arrested on the 19th of February and informed the Government of the planned revolt on the 21st of February. The Government disarmed the native soldiers due to which the plan of the revolt came to a nought.

On the 2nd of March, 1915 AD Risaldar Ganda Singh had Kartar Singh, Harman Singh, Tundilat, and Jagit Singh, arrested from Chakk, No. 5, district Layalpur. Judgement in respect of 63 arrested Gadarites was pronounced on the 13th of September 1915 AD in Central Jail, Lahore. In this first conspiracy case of 1914/15 AD, 24 Gadarites were sentenced to death. Kartar Singh was one of them. He stated in his deposition;

"I am a member of the Gadar Party. We had jointly planned a rebellion. I have taken my part in many robberies. I wish that I may be sentenced to death, and not life imprisonment, so that after re-birth, I may endeavour to get rid of the slavery imposed by the whites. If I am born as a female, I shall bear lion hearted sons, and engage them in blowing to bits the British Rulers."

The court observed Kartar Singh as the most dangerous of all the rebels. "He is very proud of the crimes committed by him. He does not deserve mercy and should be sentenced to death". Kartar Singh was hanged in the Central Jail of Lahore on the 16th of November 1915 AD, when he was only 18.
[Jagdev Singh Santokh., Sikh Martyrs, Sikh Missionary Resource Centre, Birmingham, England, 1995.]

Kartar Singh Sarabha
by Bhagat Singh

Originally published in GADAR, a Newsletter of the Gadar Memorial Center, 5 Wood Street, San Francisco, CA 94117 November/December 1992

Revolutionary Kartar Singh, the great devotee of Bellona, the goddess of war, was not even twenty years old when he sacrificed himself on the altar of goddess of freedom. He appeared like a storm from somewhere, ignited the flame of revolution and tried to wake up the sleeping Bellona. He blazed the holy yajna of revolution and became himself an offering for the same. Who was he? From what world did he suddenly appear? And where did he go? We were awestruck. Such courage, self-confidence, and dedication is rarely found. Few persons have been born in India who can be called revolutionary in true sense of the word. Kartar Singh’s name comes at the top among these few. Revolution lived in his veins. There was only one aim of his life, only one desire, only one hope – all that held meaning in his life was revolution.

Kartar Singh was born in Sarabha, a village in district Ludhiana, in 1896. He was the only son of his parents. He was still very young when his father died. His grandfather brought him up with great care. After passing the ninth grade, he went to Orissa to live with his uncle. He completed his high school and began college while there. It was the year 1910-1911, when he had the opportunity to read a lot of books outside the narrow range of school or college text books. This was also the time of nationalist movement. It was this political environment that aroused the feeling of patriotism in him. It was then that he decided that he must travel to America.

The family did not have any opposition to that. He arrived in San Francisco in 1912. Having arrived in the "free nation" his tender heart was subjected to blows and humiliation at every step. He would be very upset when he heard himself being called a damn Hindu or black man by the whites. At every step he felt his country’s dignity and respect in jeopardy. With the constant memory of home, he also visualized India – helpless and in chains. His tender heart began to harden gradually and his determination to sacrifice his life for the freedom of country began to become firm.

It was impossible for him to remain calm. The question began to haunt him. How would the country become free if peaceful means failed. Without wasting much time in thinking, he began to organize Indian laborers. Passion for freedom began to grow in them. He would sit with a worker for hours and explain to him how death is thousand times preferable to life of slavery filled with humiliation. Many persons joined him when the work progressed. A special meeting of these people took place in May 1912. A few selected Indians attended that meeting. All of them took vow to dedicate their mind, body and wealth for the freedom of their country. Meantime the exiled Punjabi patriot Bhagwan Singh reached there. Meetings began to take place in a great number.

Intensive teaching became the name. Work was increased. The file was prepared. Then the need for a paper was felt. A paper named Gadar was launched. Its first issue was published in November 1913. Kartar Singh was also a member of its editorial board. His pen was very powerful. Members of the editorial board printed the paper on a hand press. Kartar Singh was a carefree young man who loved revolution. Whenever he was tired running the press, he would sing:

Serving ones country is very difficult
It is so easy to talk
Anyone who walked on that path
Must endure millions of calamities.

The dedication with which Kartar Singh worked gave courage to all others. Whether anyone else knew how to make India free or not, whether anyone else ever thought about it or not, Kartar Singh had given a lot of thought. In the meantime her joined an institute in New York to learn how to fly a plane and began his mission there wholeheartedly.
In September 1914 Kamagata Maru ship had to return without unloading its human cargo after its passenger suffered indescribable tortures at the hand of the imperialist whites. So Kartar Singh along with Kranti Priya Gupta and an American anarchist named Jack went to Japan. He met Baba Gurdit Singh in Kobe and held consultations with him.

From Yugantar Ashram, San Francisco, copies of Gadar, Gadar ki Gunj and many other publications were printed and distributed regularly. Propaganda was increasing every day. Enthusiasm kept in the air. In a public meeting held in Stockton in February 1914, Indian freedom flag was unfurled. Oaths for freedom and equality were taken. Kartar Singh was one of the main speakers in this meeting. All the people present there declared that they would all their had earned money to the struggle for countrys freedom. Suddenly the news from Europe came that the World War I had started. They were overjoyed. In a one voice they sang "Let’s return to wage a war for the country", which became the last words and orders

Kartar Singh forcefully advocated for returning to India. Then he himself sailed for Colombo (Sri Lanka). In those people returning from America and going to Punjab were quite often safely. But Kartar Singh did. He dedicated himself to the Party wholeheartedly. They lacked organization. Somehow that was created. In December young Maratha revolutionary Vishnu Ganesh Pingle also reached India. Through their efforts Shachindra Nath Sanyal and Ras Behari also came to Punjab. Kartar Singh was everywhere – if there was a secret meeting in Moga, he was there, next day, message was to be spread among the students in Lahore, he would be the first to be there. Next, the efforts were being made to have an alliance with Ferozepur Cantonments soldiers or there was a need to go to Calcutta for acquiring the arms. He would go everywhere. But there was no money. For that Kartar Singh suggested armed robbery. Many of his colleagues were dumb-founded at the suggestion. He asked them not to worry, told them that even Bhai Parmanand is in favor of robberies. He was given the job to confirm this assertion. Next day he told his colleagues that he had asked him and had his consent. He could not bear the thought that due to the lack of finances, there should be a delay in launching a revolution.

One day, they went to a village for the purpose of carrying out a robbery. Kartar Singh was their leader. While robbery was in progress, there was a beautiful young woman in the house. Seeing her a heinous thought came in the mind of a sinner. He forcefully grabbed the woman by the hand. The woman shrieked out of fear. Kartar Singh immediately took out his pistol, reach that person, and place the pistol on his forehead, disarmed him and shouted, "You wretched man, your crime is very serious, you should be punished to die for that. But the circumstances force us to forgive you. But you fall on the feet of this woman, ask her forgiveness by saying, my sister, forgive me please. Then forgiveness for this fall of mine, If they forgive you, we will let you remain alive, otherwise you shall be shot dead." He obliged. The matter had not gone too far.

Seeing this, eyes of the mother and her daughter were filled with tears. In an affectionate tone the mother said to Kartar Singh, "Son, you seem in such a heinous work? Kartar Singh was deeply moved. He said, "Mother, we are not doing this because of greed for money. In money for arms. How else can we get that? Mother, we have been forced to do this for the great goal (of Indias freedom)." It was a very painfully moving scene. The mother spoke again, "We have to marry this girl away. It would be nice if you could leave some for that." Kartar Singh placed all the money before the mother and said, "Take whatever you want." The mother took some money, placed the rest in the bag of Kartar Singh and gave him blessings, "Go, my son, may you succeed in your mission." This episode shows that even when Kartar Singh was involved in such a dangerous job as robbery, his heart remained pure filled with pious thoughts and emotions.

Preparation was made for revolt to take place in February 1915. In the first week (of Feb. 1915) he along with Pingle and some other friends went to Agra, Kanpur, Allahabad, Lucknow, Meerut and other places to meet people and consult them about the coming revolt. Finally the day for which they waited so long was drawing near. February 21, 1915 was the day fixed for launching the revolt all over India. All preparations were being made according to that. But at the same time a rat was sitting at the root of the tree of their hopes branches was nibbling at it. Four or five days before (the appointed date) it was suspected that every thing would be ruined because of the betrayal by Kirpal Singh. Because of that suspicion Kartar Singh asked Rash Behari Bose to change the date of the revolt to February 19 instead of 21. Even after doing that Kirpal Singh came to know this. The result of the presence of one traitor within the revolutionary group was dangerous and grave. Ras Behari Bose and Kartar Singh had no real way to keep their plans secret. The misfortune of India can be the only reason for all this.
Kartar Singh reached Ferozepur with his fifty or sixty colleagues according to the place. He met with his friend soldier Havaldar and talked to him about the revolt. But Kirpal Singh had already spoiled everything. Indian soldiers were disarmed. Arrests were made on a mass scale. Havaldar refused to help. Efforts of Kartar Singh were unsuccessful. He went to Lahore disappointed. The pace of arrests all over Punjab was quickened. Friends began to leave them. In this situation Ras Behari Bose lay in a house in Lahore in depression. Kartar Singh too came there and lay down on another cot with his back toward Ras Behari Bose. They did not say a word to each other, but silently understood that agony of each others heart. How can we even imagine what they were going through. Our destiny remained to hit out heads against the gate. But we could not have the means to try our destiny.
Their only desire was that the way would prolong and they arrived in barrack number 5 near Sargodha and talked about the revolt again. There they were caught. They were chained. Fearless revolutionary Kartar Singh was brought to Lahore (police) Station. He told the police chief there, "Mr. Tomkin, how about some food??" He was so full of life. Friends and foes were equally impressed with his mesmerizing personality – happy to see him. He was happy at the time of his arrest. He often said, "Let me be given a title of revolutionary after I die bravely with courage. Let people remember me as revolutionary Kartar Singh." The trial proceeded. He was only eighteen and a half at that time. He was the youngest defendant. But the judge wrote about him, "he is one of the most dangerous among the defendants. During his stay in America and then in India there is not a single part of this conspiracy in which he has not played an important role."

One day his turn came to testify. He admitted everything. He kept delivering his revolutionary testimony. The judge kept looking at him pressing his pen between his teeth. He did not write a single word. Later he said only this much, "Kartar Singh, as yet your testimony has now been recorded. Please give your testimony lead to? Eye-witnesses tell us that Kartar Singh replied to the judge in a carefree tone, "you can only hang me, what more can you do? We are not afraid of that." That concluded the court proceedings for the day. The next day again began with the testimony of Kartar Singh. Many judges thought the day before that Kartar Singh was speaking on the instructions of Bhai Permanent. They were unable to reach the depth of revolutionary Kartar Singhs heart. Kartar Singhs testimony was more forceful, more vigorous and like the previous day it admitted everything. In the end he said, "What sentence will I receive for my crime? Life-sentence or death/. I would prefer death, so that I could be born again – as long as the India does not become free I would be born again and again – and would be hanged for my country. This is the only last wish I have."

Judges were very impressed by his bravery. But like an enemy with big heart they did not call his bravery as bravery but remembered him with shameless words. Not only they showered abuses on Kartar Singh, but gave him the sentence to be hanged. He smiled and thanked the judges.
Kartar Singh was locked in his death cell. His grandfather came to see him. He said, "Kartar Singh, people for whom you are giving your life use abusive language for your. It does no also seem that the country will benefit from death. Kartar Singh asked him very softly, "Dadaji, where is (such and such) relative of ours?"
"He died in plague."
"And the other one?"
"He died of cholera."
"So you want that Kartar Singh should be lying on his bed for months suffering with some sickness and die! Is this death not thousand times better than that?" His grandfather was speechless.
Today, again the question arises. What good did his sacrifice do? For what did he give his life? The answer to that is very clear. He died for the country. His ideal was simple to die fighting in the service of his nation. He wanted nothing more. He wanted to remain unknown even in his death.
The case lasted for a year and a half. On November 16, 1915 he was hanged. That day too he was happy as always. His weight too increased. He embraced the hanging rope with the words, "Victory to Mother India."


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