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Historical Sikh Events: History of the Ghadar Movement

History of the Ghadar Movement
by Jaspal Singh

  “Our struggle will continue as long as a handful of men, be they foreign or native, or both in collaboration with each other, continue to exploit the labour and resources of our people. Nothing shall deter us from this path.”
Kartar Singh Sarabha

The British View
“The word Ghadar means mutiny.it is aimed at bringing about a revolution in India in order to secure liberation from British Control. The headquarters of the Ghadar Party were established in San Francisco and the Party published their own paper known as the Ghadar, and founded an institution known as the Yugantar Ashram, the object of the institution being to instill patriotic feelings in young Indians and train them for a rising in India.” – Director of the Intelligence Bureau, Home Department, New Delhi 1934

 “The Ghadar, or Mutiny, conspiracy derived its origin from the Pacific Coast of America, its centre being at San Francisco.the object of the paper (Ghadar) was to bring about a rising in India within few years because the people could no longer bear the oppression and tyranny practiced under English rule. It was stated that the Yugantar Ashram had been founded in San Francisco, and that in this institution books would be compiled, young preachers trained, and preparations for a rising would be taken in hand. The paper amply fulfilled the worst anticipations that could have been formed from such an introduction. It was violently anti-British in nature, playing on every passion that it could possibly excite.and urging all Indians to go to India with the express intention of committing murder, causing revolution and expelling the British Government by any means.” – Account of Ghadr Conspiracy, Punjab Police, Lahore 1919.

“The British government spent $2.5 million on this trial, an enormous sum indicating the degree to which the Empire feared this movement.”
“.That these defendants in the year 1914, about the beginning of the European war, entered into a conspiracy the object of which was to produce mutiny and rebellion and the overthrow of the British Government in India.that in order to produce this rebellion and mutiny in India, these defendants did certain things in the United States of America. that these defendants conspired to recruit men in America, to give them training in the use of arms and explosives in America, to dispatch them to India to places on the border line of the Indian territory, there to be assembled and trained further by officers in part at least sent from America; that likewise in this country funds were provided,.that men were to be dispatched from here to carry these funds that were to be expanded in other places than America; that these men were to go themselves, some of them, and engage in this rebellion; that arms and ammunitions were to be purchased and shipped from our shores and from our borders; that passage was to be engaged in large numbers for returning persons desiring to enter into this military enterprise.” – Prosecution of Gadharites in the US, San Francisco 1917.

The Ghadar Movement

The Ghadar Movement was a movement of patriotic, progressive, democratic, and enlightened Indians living abroad, working for the emancipation of India from the yoke of British colonialism and the birth of a new India based on national and social emancipation. They organized themselves in 1913 among communities throughout the world, adopting the following goals and means:

  • To liberate India with the force of arms from British servitude and to establish a free and independent India with equal rights for all.
  • To establish their headquarters in San Francisco, that would serve as a base to coordinate all the activities for achieving these aims and objectives.
  • To publish a weekly paper, Ghadar, in Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi and in other languages of India.
  • To hold organisational elections every year to elect a coordination committee from the different committees to carry out all the work.
  • To organize cells amongst Indian railway, industrial, and farm workers, as well as students who would be directly linked to the centre.
  • The coordination committee would elect a three-member commission to supervise the political and underground work.
  • Revenue would be drawn from each member through a monthly contribution of one dollar.
  • No discussion or debate was to take place on religion within the organization. Religion was considered a personal matter and that it had no place in the organization.
  • Every member was duty bound to participate in the liberation struggle of that country in which they were resident.

At the initial gathering in Astoria in 1913, Sohan Singh Bhakna was elected President, Kesar Singh Thathgarh, Vice President, Lala Hardayal, General Secretary, Lala Thakur Das Dhuri, Joint Secretary, and Pandit Kanshi Ram Mardauli, Treasurer.

In a conference held in Sacramento, California in December 1913, new members were included in the executive committee: Santokh Singh, Kartar Singh Sarabha, Arur Singh, Pirthi Singh, Pandit Jagat Ram, Karm Singh Cheema, Nidhan Singh Chugha, Sant Vasakha Singh, Pandit Munshi Ram, Harnam Singh Kotla, Nodh Singh. To carry out the secret and underground work of the party, a three-member commission was also constituted by Sohan Singh Bhakhna, Santokh Singh and Pandit Kanshi Ram.
Publication of Ghadar
Publication of Ghadar also began after this conference. On its masthead the paper had inscribed in bold letters – Enemy of the British Rule in India. It included articles on the conditions of the people of India under British hegemony, and it also dealt with the problems that confronted Indians abroad such as racial attacks and discrimination. It called upon the Indian people to unite and rise up against British rule and throw the British out of India. Ghadar was published in Urdu, Punjabi, Hindi and in other languages of India. Besides Ghadar, the Yugantar Ashram, the headquarters of the Ghadar Party, also brought out various publications to raise the consciousness of the people and organize them to revolt against the British. A poster entitled, “Jang Da Hoka” (Declaration of War), which was distributed widely, read as following:

Clarion Call for the Ghadar Army
The British have occupied our dear land. Our commerce and industry has been ruined. They have plundered and looted the wealth of Hindustan and brought famine and plague. More than 90 million Hindustanis do not even have one square meal a day. Thirty million have died due to famine and plague. They are sending all our produce and grains to England. It is due to these conditions of misery that Hindustanis have started going to far off lands such as Australia, Canada, America, and Africa and when they have begun to fill their stomachs, it has poked needles and pins in the heart of the British. Because it has opened the eyes of the Hindustanis and they are understanding all the schemes of the British, these British strangle us in India. And when we come abroad here they also make our lives miserable. They have closed Australia and Canada for us. Our mothers, sisters and children are treated like animals in Africa by the British.
Now the British are pressuring the American government to stop us from coming to the shores of America. The American government has said that if the British government is stopping the Hindus from coming to their own-ruled countries, Australia and Canada, why should we allow them to come here. This bill is in their parliament (Congress). If this bill is passed we will be ruined. Other countries will also make such laws. Now is the time to do something about this condition.
Brave Hindis! Awaken from your sleep. The British are getting you thrown out from everywhere. Let us unite and fight so such laws are not passed here. We should also think about, whether or not these laws pass, what should we do? What is our duty at this time? Our duty at this time is to prepare an army to fight against British rule in India which is the root of all our problems. This is not the time for talk. This is the time for war. How long will you wait? How long will the world keep calling you slaves? On Sunday, February 15, a huge gathering will take place in Stockton. All Hindus and Muslims of America are called upon to join. No more petition to the oppressors. Now we have to take our rights with sword. AN ARMY WILL BE RECRUITED FOR THE GHADAR IN INDIA.
Come brothers, you have earned plenty of dollars! Take the ship back to our motherland! Come let us go back to our motherland and raise the banner of revolt! Come to the gathering in Stockton and take a vow to go back to Hindustan and fight in the Ghadar! Just as this call is written in blood in the same fashion the letter of freedom will be written in ours and the blood of the British on the soil of Hindustan. For this oath, this call is being sent out from the Yugantar Ashram. This is not a paper, but a declaration of war! Stop everything and come! Do not delay! ONLY HE IS A BRAVE FIGHTER WHO FIGHTS FOR HIS COUNTRY. EVEN IF HE IS CUT INTO PIECES, HE DOES NOT LEAVE THE BATTLEFIELD.
Dear Friends,

We do not have to remind you; you all know how much we have suffered under the British rule. We all wish to get rid of this foreign tyrant who has been bleeding us white. The time is coming when our united efforts will be able to throw off the yoke of this aggressor.
Another world war is approaching. We must take advantage of this opportunity. England is sure to get involved in the coming war. Political wisdom demands that we must utilize this rare opportunity for our good. We must put forward our demand for complete independence when our enemy, British imperialism, is engaged in a life and death struggle.
To save her life, Britain will need India’s friendship more than anything else. We must demand complete independence as the price of our friendship.
We must let the British rulers know in clear terms right that if they care for the friendship of India, they must be prepared to give India full independence at once. Otherwise India will resist to limit their effort to get any help from India. It is beside the point how we will resist, but resist we will.
Complete independence means India’s control over treasury, foreign affairs, and military forces. Nothing short of that will do.
We must remember that we can no longer trust any more promises from the British imperialists. To our sorrow, we have found out many times that we can not rely upon their words. We must stand pat on our demands; we must one way or another unite until our demands are met.
The world situation is such that the British will think twice before refusing India’s demand. We must not miss this golden opportunity.
To get full advantage of the situation, we must put up a strong united front. All those Hindustanis who really work for independence must come together in a united front. Personal differences must be forgotten. Unity of purpose is essential for our cause. All of us who hold India’s freedom dear to us, must work to establish a formidable united front. Our demands backed by our united front will have a telling effect.
Our demands must be popularized among our countrymen. Our people must be made to act in case our demands are not met.
Now is the time to educate our people: tomorrow may be too late. During the war, martial law will make things difficult. Unless the masses are made ready to act, our demands will not have much weight. The British imperialists care little for empty resolutions unless they are backed by united might of the masses.
War may start any day. We have not a moment to lose. We must do our best to educate and organize the Indian masses while we have time. Our slogans must be such as:
Complete Independence or Non-cooperation! Freedom or Nothing Else! No Freedom, No Soldiers from India! No Freedom, No Money from India! Freedom or Resistance!
Yours for the cause

Soldiers of Independence
(Bilan, Complete Rendu, Translated from the Hindustan Ghadar)

  1. Englishmen drain from India and take to England every year 50 crore rupees ($167 million); consequently the Hindus have become so poor that the daily average income per capita is only 5 paise (2.5 cents).
  2. The land tax is more than 65% of the net produce.
  3. The expenditure on the education of 240 million persons is about 0.02 percent per head per annum,about $40,000,000 on sanitation $6,000,000 but on the army $330,000,000
  4. Under the British rule, the famines are ever on the increase and in the last ten years 20 million men, women, and children have died of starvation.
  5. From the plagues that have occurred, during the sixteen years past, 8 million deaths have resulted. And the death rate during the last thirty years has steadily increased from 24 per mile to 34 per mile.
  6. Means are employed to spread disunion and disorder in the native states and to increase British influence there.
  7. Englishmen are not punished for murdering Hindus or for insulting Hindu women.
  8. With money taken form the Hindus, aid is given to English Christian priests.
  9. Attempt is always made to create enmity between people of different religious denominations.
  10. The arts and crafts (Industries) of India have been destroyed for England’s benefit.
    Employing India’s money, and sacrificing the lives of the Hindus as soldiers, China, Afghanistan, Burma, Egypt and Persia have been conquered.
  11. For the sake of the almighty dollar, the British government has forced poppy cultivation in India, thereby creating the drug menace for India and the world.

The Ghadarites wanted to establish a Democratic Republic of India in which all peoples, irrespective of their race, religion, gender, language, or national origin, would have equal rights. They envisioned a United States of India as a federation of all the nations, nationalities and tribal people of Hindustan. This was illustrated by the poster of United States of India issued by the Ghadar Party (see illustration). According to Bhagat Singh Bilga one of the few Ghadarites still alive, Ghadarites were influenced by the First War of India’s Independence of 1857 (the oiriginal Great Ghadar), and the American, French, and Bolshevik Revolutions. They wanted a completely independent, secular, and democratic India in which there would be no exploitation of man by man.
A precursor of Ghadar, The Talvar, which was printed in Berlin, had on its front page in a April-May 1910 issue a couplet from Bhadur Shah Zafar, one of the leaders of the Ghadar of 1857, and the lead article was dedicated to May 10, 1857, the date of the uprising. The article concludes:

In memory of

Rani Lakshmi Bai and her comrades
Mandar and Kashi
Rana Kunwar Singh
Maulvi Ahmad Shah
Tantia Tope
Kuar Khuda Baksh
Ghulam Ghose Khan
Mangal Pandey

and of those tens of thousand men and women who perished in 1857 in the sacred attempt to wrench the mother from the hands of the Faranghi.

A March 19,1917 issue of Ghadar proclaimed in bold letters “RUSSIA HAS BECOME FREE, SOON INDIA WILL BE FREE”, following the fall of the Czarist regime in Russia and the beginning of the revolution there.
False Movements

In their publications, the Ghadarites dealt with the problems and issues of the day. In Nia Zamana, they urged all Indians to unite and fight for a new India and spare no sacrifice for the freedom of their land and work tirelessly for liberty and the rights of all. They also engaged in polemics against various organisations and tendencies that they regarded as diversions from the most important task at hand, namely revolution:
It is the duty of all to use every endeavor to improve the condition of India, but it is also necessary to act intelligently.there are several wrong movements in the country which are of no value upon which money, time and moral power are being wasted. The founders of these movements are fools or selfish men, who hope to obtain a reward from Government by misleading the young men of the country.The following are some of the movements:

The Congress: All wise men know that the Congress is an official assembly. The founder of this assembly of ignorant persons was an Englishman named Mr. Hume. Almost every year an Englishman is appointed as its president. Mr. Gokhale, who takes a great part in it, is a titled man and member of the Imperial Legislative Council. Messrs. Mehta and Nauroji are also titled men.In short, all its members are flatterers and timid men. They do not think of measures for the prevention of famine and plague. They have learnt certain sentences which they repeat every year.They beg government to give them their rights merely by begging.These empty shows can not result in preventing famines, reducing taxes, spreading industry, introducing administration of real justice, filling the stomachs of cultivators and removing plague. The appointment of a few young men to Legislative councils can not result in any good to the country, even though they may be able to deliver very eloquent speeches. The acceptance of government service by able Indians only causes great harm to the nation.This is not the way to free country from the calamities which are devastating it.great courage and wisdom are required to awaken the country. The flattery of Englishmen can be of no avail.Congress is in the hands of Englishmen and conducted by them from London.Avoid it.

Religious Movements--Several new creeds and religious associations are coming into existence in India, everyone of which boasts of liberating India from Slavery.Religious disputes among different sections are considered by some as signs of the activity and energy of the Hindu nation.They think that when there is one religion throughout India no foreign nation can aspire to become her ruler. But this is not borne out by history and is opposed to common sense. Every person can have his/her own philosophical or religious principles. Nobody should be compelled to act upon a particular principle and thought.Social organisations should not be based upon religion.India has produced patriots like Ram Singh, Nana Sahib, Tantia, The Rani of Jhansi, Mr. Tilak, Amba Prasad Sufi, and Ajit Singh, but the religion of these men was not the same. So it is not necessary that there should be one religion throughout the country.It is foolish to think that a single religious association would be sufficient for all purposes. Education and social reform should not be based on religion.The prosperity and happiness of a people does not depend on a particular creed.To abandon efforts for liberty and equality and to devote one’s entire zeal to religion is to degrade one’s self below the status of man. Duty, knowledge and happiness depend on liberty and equality and upon these also depends the deliverance of a country, and in fact of the whole world.

Hindu Sabha--An association called by this name exists in Northern India. Its business is to celebrate certain festivals and to send congratulatory messages to the Lieutenant Governor. The members of this society are rich and titled sycophants.As the supporters of this movement are mostly flatterers and sycophants who have no idea of liberty it can not be conducive to any good to the country.
Temperance–This movement is also unnecessary, for a very low percentage of Hindus drink liquor. It is a foolish movement, for drink is not ruining India. It is not the cause of famine or plague. It does not rob people of their money, nor is it the cause of injustice being done to them. If you really want to do some work, you should work against the British Government: otherwise do not make useless noise.
Protection of Cows–This also is a useless movement, for the Hindus do not kill cows and they have no control over the Muhammadans or the Christians who do so.To obtain liberty should be the first aim of every person and one must have a greater regard for the rights and interests of human beings than for those of the cow.

Education–When the Hindus have nothing else to do they turn their attention to establishing colleges and universities.True education can not be imparted in any country before it has acquired liberty, for in such country all schools of the people possess no rights, their education will be wholly under the control of the government.

Social Reforms--Some Hindus lay great stress upon such minor matters as the age of marriage, the re-marriage of widows, the raising of the depressed classes and so on. These reforms are good but do not limit great movements to these objects.It is not due to any social custom that 75 Lakhs of men have died and that plague and famine visit the country so frequently.Try to include liberty and equality in the politics of your country and then you will find true knowledge and happiness everywhere.

Spread of Hindi Language–The Urdu-Hindi controversy misleads many lovers of the nation. As regards such movements it should be remembered that the proper time for them will be when we have obtained our goal.It is childish to ask government to introduce Hindi in courts or to have Hindi inscriptions on coins and currency notes. Do you consider government courts permanent that we ask government to introduce Hindi there?.whilst there is so much clamour against Urdu, why is there none against English, which is a foreign language?”

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