In June 1916, an Indian living in California wrote a letter to The New York Times emphasizing how profoundly Indians in the United States had been influenced by the political values of their adoptive country.
“Residence in the U.S. has not made [Indians]…who returned home ‘imbued with revolutionary ideas’ but it has made them republicans.” He added, “The whole country has been stirred by their vision of a United States of India.”
The writer of the letter was Ram Chandra, the editor of Hindustan Gadar, the newspaper of the San Francisco-based Gadar Party. The party took its name from the Urdu word for “mutiny” or “revolt.” (The word is sometimes transliterated as “Ghadar.”) In its inaugural issue in November 1913, the newspaper had stated the party’s intentions clearly: “To bring about a rising…because the people can no longer bear the oppression and tyranny practiced under English rule.”
Most of the members of the Gadar Party were Punjabi, though their sympathizers were drawn from across India. Many of them had served in the British army or police services in places like Hong Kong and Shanghai and had moved to the United States to work as farm laborers or on building the railroads. A few were students at U.S. universities.
As India celebrates the 65th anniversary of its independence from Britain, the role of the Gadar Party and other Indians in the United States in helping the cause is garnering increased attention. Some of the new work is the result of African-American scholars examining the influence of the Indian struggle for freedom on the U.S. civil rights movement. Long before Martin Luther King began to study Gandhi’s works, African-American groups had established links with visiting Indian freedom fighters. Among them was Lala Lajpat Rai, who spent five years starting in 1915 as a political exile in the United States. He counted W.E.B. Du Bois among his friends, and also met with Booker T. Washington.
Other research into the subject represents the growing Indian-American community’s attempt to prove that its history in the United States is longer and more nuanced than is commonly known. These include a recent book by the historian Maia Ramnath, “Haj to Utopia: How the Ghadar Movement Charted Global Radicalism and Attempted to Overthrow the British Empire.”
Another initiative in this direction is the South Asian American Digital Archive, which was founded in Philadelphia in 2008 “to document and provide access to the diverse and relatively unknown stories of South Asian Americans.” Its collections chronicle a wide range of community experiences, and include several documents and photographs that throw light on the links between Indian-Americans and the Indian independence struggle.
“Historians will undoubtedly debate the legacy of the Gadar Party’s contributions to the overall freedom struggle for years to come,” said Samip Mallick, 31, the archive’s executive director, in an e-mail interview with India Ink. “But, symbolically, it is a really unique, extraordinary and inspiring story. The story of the Gadar Party is the story of a new immigrant population advocating for their own political enfranchisement, both through their support for decolonization around the world as well as through their fight for civil rights in their new home country.”
Here are excerpts from that interview:
How did the Gadar Party influence India’s freedom struggle?
The Hindustan Gadar Party started off as a San Francisco-based anti-colonial political organization, which advocated the complete independence of India from British rule. The specifics of its founding are slightly murky, but it’s clear that in 1913, a group of activists based on the Pacific Coast, including Har Dayal and Sohan Singh Bhakna, were organizing migrant laborers (most of whom were Punjabi Sikhs) and helped found what would later be known as the Gadar Party, its aim being the overthrow of British colonial rule of India through revolutionary means. The Gadar Party published a newspaper titled Gadr in Urdu, followed by a Gurmukhi editions and apparently Gujarati editions. Copies of the newspaper as well as the party’s pamphlets were disseminated throughout the world, including Japan, China, Hong Kong, Burma and the Philippines, and eventually Gadar bases sprung up in those areas, as well. Gadar leaders also often wrote of the mistreatment of Indian immigrants in the U.S., which tells us that this was more than simply a nationalist organization.
The Gadar Party received considerable support from the German Foreign Office, which arranged funds and armaments in a plot to incite a pan-Indian revolution (later known as the “Annie Larsen affair”) in 1915. The conspiracy was discovered by British and American intelligence, and led to the Hindu-German Conspiracy Trial of 1917, in which 29 party members were convicted in the District Court in San Francisco.
The Gadar Party continued to exist after the trial, and in 1920 began to publish the Independent Hindustan, a journal containing editorials, essays and news items relating to the global movement for Indian independence. In 1923, the party began to publish The United States of India, for several years. The full runs of these publications are available online through our Web site.
Which other organizations in the U.S. supported Indian independence?
Alongside the Gadar Party was the India Home Rule League based in New York, founded by Lala Lajpat Rai, which advocated “home rule” for India. The I.H.R.L. produced a monthly journal from 1918 onward titled Young India. When Lajpat Rai left the U.S. in 1919, the editorship duties were handed off to Jabez T. Sunderland, a Unitarian minister who was a close associate of Rai and a longtime advocate for Indian independence. Another critical organization was Friends of Freedom for India, which was closely associated with the Gadar Party and led by Agnes Smedley and Sailendranath Ghose. Their mission, according to its own membership ads, was “to maintain the right of asylum for political refugees from India” and “to present the case for the independence of India.”
Incidentally, all three groups – the Gadar Party, the I.H.R.L., and the F.F.I. – enjoyed support from Irish nationalists, and published articles from Irish/Irish-American supporters. Other supporters of Indian freedom who traveled and lectured in the U.S. include Rabindranath Tagore, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, Ram Manohar Lohia and Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit.
What was the U.S. government’s position on the Indian freedom struggle?
This is a pretty complex question, but it seems that before WWI, the U.S. government took a formal position of neutrality whenever possible, even while maintaining surveillance on the activities of Indians in the U.S. who advocated for independence. A few key American political figures like William Jennings Bryan, a member of the Anti-Imperialist league, wrote against British rule in India (Bryan’s 1906 essay “British Rule in India” was actually reprinted and circulated by the Gadar Party), but this wasn’t official state policy by any means. During WWI, the U.S. worked with British authorities to crack down the activity of Indian revolutionaries in the U.S., on the grounds that the Gadar radicals’ relationship with the German government was a violation of the neutrality laws. This resulted in the Hindu-German Conspiracy case of 1917.
Advocates for India’s freedom made much of President Woodrow Wilson’s “Fourteen Points” speech during WWI, which called for “a free, open-minded, and impartial adjustment of all colonial claims,” seeing this as a step forward towards decolonization and publishing praise for the president in Young India and various Gadar pamphlets. But even while most knew Wilson didn’t have India at the forefront of his mind when making such a claim, as historian Erez Manela puts it in “The Wilsonian Moment,” Wilson’s claim became part of their “rhetorical arsenal” for independence.
What explains the recent spurt of books about the links between Indians in the U.S. and the freedom movement?
Part of the reason is that connections are being drawn between Asian-American Studies and what has traditionally been known as “area studies.” Also, transnational or diaspora studies, once seen as a footnote, has given us new focal points for examining the history of the freedom movement in India. The frame for analysis isn’t so nationally bound anymore.
However, while it is true that there are a number of new academic works on the Gadar Party and transnational involvement in the freedom struggle, there has been ongoing interest for many years in keeping these histories alive, beginning with even those who were themselves involved in the freedom struggle and worried that the tremendous sacrifices they made fighting for India’s independence would be forgotten and lost to history.
In 1953, writing from Mexico City, former Gadar Party member Pandurang Khankoje wrote to Bhagwan Singh Gyanee, asking the past leader for information to keep the story of Gadar alive. “People in India are anxious to know about you all,” Khankhoje said. “We are getting old and the history of our movement should not get lost.”
In the U.S. there have been a number of individuals, including T.S. Sibia, Jane Singh, Ved Prakash Vatuk, Irene Joshi, and others who have independently researched and worked to raise awareness about these important histories. There have also been organizations formed such as the Hindustan Gadar Party Memorial Committee to draw public attention to and publicly commemorate these histories. One of their major efforts was for the dedication of the building at 5 Wood Street in San Francisco as Gadar Memorial Hall, which is now owned and operated by the Indian Consular Office.
What is unique now, from the perspective of our work, is the opportunity provided by the digital medium to unify and provide universal access to dispersed archival materials in a way that was completely unimaginable even five or 10 years ago.
How did the South Asian American Digital Archive go about collecting its materials?
Materials in the archive come to us generally in two ways. First are the materials that are held by individuals in their private collections. These are materials that have been collected over the years related to an individual’s family history or their own lives. Materials such as these would often stay in the basement or attic where they are kept and the important stories contained within these materials would not be widely shared. We work closely with such individuals to provide digital access to photographs, letters, journals and other such objects through our website while the original copies remain with their current owner.
Second are materials in institutions or archival repositories around the country. Few materials related to South Asian Americans are included in existing archives. For the vast majority of repositories, materials related to our community fall outside the scope of their collecting efforts. The materials that are available in archives are spread widely in collections across the country, making it difficult even for individual researchers to find the materials they need for their work and especially difficult for members of the community to access them. We have collaborated with a number of institutions to provide digital access to materials in their collections that are relevant to South Asian American history, but that may have otherwise been overlooked.
An example of such a collaboration is with the University of Pennsylvania Rare Book and Manuscript Library, which has a series of correspondence between Har Dayal, one of the leaders of the Gadar Party, and his close friend Van Wyck Brooks as part of their collection of Brooks’s papers. Collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania allowed us to provide digital access to these letters and allow users anywhere in the world to read Har Dayal’s words in his own hand for the very first time.
Naresh Fernandes is a freelance journalist who lives in Mumbai. He is a Poiesis fellow at New York University’s Institute for Public Knowledge. He is the author of “Taj Mahal Foxtrot: The Story of Bombay’s Jazz Age.“
This year, the country is celebrating the centenary of the Gadar Movement, so probably this year UPSC Ghadar Movement se question utha sakti hai !!!!
Ghadar movement was a luminous spark of support in distant California for the struggle for independence being waged at home in our country. Apart from commemorating it by the issue of a special postage stamp, India will also upgrade the Gadar Memorial in San Francisco into a functional museum and library with a sculpture to honour the Gadar Babas, the heroes of this great national 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:
1-To liberate India with the force of arms from British servitude and to establish a free and independent India with equal rights for all.
2-To establish their headquarters in San Francisco, that would serve as a base to coordinate all the activities for achieving these aims and objectives.
3-To publish a weekly paper, Ghadar, in Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi and in other languages of India.
4-To hold organisational elections every year to elect a coordination committee from the different committees to carry out all the work.
5-To organize cells amongst Indian railway, industrial, and farm workers, as well as students who would be directly linked to the centre.
6-The coordination committee would elect a three-member commission to supervise the political and underground work.
7-Revenue would be drawn from each member through a monthly contribution of one dollar.
8-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.
9-Every member was duty bound to participate in the liberation struggle of that country in which they were resident.
Members of the Ghadar Party
--Baba Bhagwan Singh Dhosanjh
--Kartar Singh Sarabha
--Baba Visakha Singh
--Harnam Singh Tundilat
--Harnam Singh Kahira Sahira
--Harnam Singh Saini
--Sohan Singh Bhakna
--Lala Har Dayal
--Tarak Nath Das
--Pandurang Sadashiv Khankhoje
--Ganda Singh (Phangureh)
--V. G. Pingle
--Bhai Randhir Singh
--Munsha Singh Dukhi
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,
- Pandit Kanshi Ram Mardauli, Treasurer.
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) asking for help of people through funds
- 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 .
- 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 original 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
1-Rani Lakshmi Bai and her comrades
2-Mandar and Kashi
3-Rana Kunwar Singh
4-Maulvi Ahmad Shah
6-Kuar Khuda Baksh
7-Ghulam Ghose Khan
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.
The Ghadar paper invited the patriots with a typical call:
- 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.
- 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
The British government spent $2.5 million on there trial, an enormous sum indicating the degree to which the Empire feared this movement.
few specimens of the ideas of the Ghadar patriots in their simple poetical compositions, such as,
Sade paise naal sada sir kuttade
Kha kha golian raj nun kaim keeta
Nawan roop rachan hind de samaj da
Deson kadheeaiy chall ke gorian noon
Pehlaan Ghadar Party sare des vich parchar kare
Mil ke sabh ghariban ne ghadar karna,
Pindan waloe mamle band kar deo
Miloogi azadi kaum sukh paaoogi
Vidya batheri vadh jawegi azad hoyaan
Door tadon hone gharan dian tangian [Then all the household difficulties will be over]
Howegi tarrakki pichhon bahut hi sukhali saadi
Sanoon lor na Pandatan Kazian di;
Decline of the Movement
- In August, 1914, World War I broke out. Germany offered the Indian Nationalists (Gadarites) financial aid to buy arms and ammunitions to expel the British from India while the British Indian troops would be busy fighting war at the front. The Gadarites drew plans to infiltrate the Indian army and excite the soldiers to fight—not for the British but against the British Empire)and free India from the shackles of British imperialism. The Gadarites inspired an estimated 8000 thousands overseas Indians to go to India to launch a revolution.
- Before leaving for India, the Gadarites had hoped that Indians were ready for a revolution. They however found that the Indian political leadership openly and willingly co-operated with the British. Many Gadarites including Sohan Singh Bhakna, president, and Kesar Singh and Jawala Singh, vice presidents were taken captives on reaching India while Kartar Singh Sarabha, V.G. Pingle and several others were able to evade arrest. An estimated 3000 overseas Indians were intercepted; more than 300 were put in jails while many more were restricted to their villages.
- Kartar Singh Sarabha and other Gadarite leaders worked with all those forces that were working to liberate India. They made alliance with well-known revolutionaries in India such as Ras Behari Bose. They organized meetings to plan for the revolution, procure arms and arrange funds to carry out propaganda and other activities. Since many Gadarites were retired military soldiers, they tried to infiltrate into various units of the armed forces. But, most of the plans of the Gadarites either failed or were foiled by the British agents and by the end of February 1915, most of the Gadar activists were taken captives.
- The Gadarites were prosecuted by the Special Tribunal. As many as 46 including Kartar Singh Sarabha and Vishnu Ganesh Pingle were given death sentences, 69 were imprisoned for life and 125 were given varying terms of imprisonment. In the San Francisco Hindu German Conspiracy Trial (1917-18), twenty-nine “Hindus” and Germans were convicted for varying terms of imprisonment for violating the American Neutrality Laws.
- The Gadarites did not hesitate to make any sacrifice for the cause of freedom, dignity and prosperity of their motherland. They fought valiantly for their cause and left a major impact on India’s struggle for freedom. The heroism, courage and sacrifices of the Gadarites inspired many freedom fighters to continue their mission.
Influence of Ghadar Movement on Bhagat Singh !!
- BHAGAT SINGH and his comrades regarded the Ghadar struggle as the first genuinely revolutionary struggle for the freedom of India.
- he regarded Kartar Singh Sarabha as his hero. Bandi Jeewan by Sachindranath Sanyal, which included the first historical account of the movement by an insider, was “a basic textbook“ which he and his friends at the National School at Lahore read and discussed.
- The Rowlatt Committee Report of 1918, containing the British Government’s secret intelligence version of the Ghadar movement, was another.
- Bhagat Singh had personally met some of the leaders of the Ghadar Party such as Bhai Santokh Singh, the founder and editor of the Kirti monthly, Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna, whom he met in Lahore Central Jail, Lala Ram Saran Das and Bhai Randhir Singh. Bhagat Singh was overwhelmed by their individual heroism and the sacrifices made by them.
- Writing on Kartar Singh, Bhagat Singh described how, like most other Punjabi immigrants on the Pacific coast of the USA and Canada, the young 17-year-old Kartar Singh became a revolutionary. He arrived at San Francisco in 1912 for the purpose of study, but his tender heart was badly bruised by the White Man’s racial insults. He would grow “mad” on hearing abuses such as ‘Damn Hindu’ and ‘Black Man’. On thinking about his homeland, he was distressed by “the image of a hapless India bound in chains”. There could be no respect for subjects of a foreign rule. He could no more think of studying or making a career. Gradually an organisation of immigrant Indian labourers was formed and a passion for India’s freedom was roused. The Indian workers pledged to sacrifice their tan, man dhan (body, mind and wealth) to liberate their country. The Ghadar newspaper was started and Kartar Singh worked very hard in its editorial staff. When he was tired while working at the hand-operated printing machine, he would start reciting his favourite song:
- YOUNG Bhagat Singh seemed mesmerised by stories of the courage, dedication and organisational abilities of Kartar Singh Sarabha, whom he lovingly described as his guru, a friend, and a comrade.
- Kartar Singh was told he would be awarded death sentence—‘phansi’, Kartar Singh laughed at it in the court and stated that he would give preference to phansi over life imprisonment, so that by taking birth again I could offer myself for ‘death sentence’ again. Taking birth again I will be executed again until India gains freedom. That is my last wish.
- Bhagat Singh’s contact with the Kirti and the revival of the Naujawan Bharat Sabha in April 1928 with the efforts of Sohan Singh Josh.
- The Ghadar spirit of secularism was, to Bhagat Singh, a distinctly valuable trait, compared to the religious and mystical orientation of the other groups of revolutionaries of India at that time.
Miscellaneous Extra Reading
- Aurobindo Ghosh wrote a series of articles entitled "New Lambs for old"
- Ranade wrote "Essays in Indian Economics" (1898)
- Dadabhai Naoroji wrote "Indian poverty and un-British Rule in India" (1907)
- Swadeshi movement was started in 1905
- The first political murder of Europeon was committed at Poona on 22nd June, 1897 by the Chapekar brothers Damodar and Balkrishna
- The Ghadar Movement – Hardayal an intellectual giant and a firebrand revolutionary from Punjab.
- Ghadar Party which was formed on 1 November, 1913 at San Fransisco in the USA.
- Lucknow Pact between the Indian National Congress (INC) and the Marscist Lenin (ML)
- Bhagat Singh, Raj Guru and Sukhdev were executed in the Lahore jail on 23rd March 1931 and their dead bodies were cremated at Hussianiwala (Ferozpur)
- The All India Congress Committee observed 18th August, 1929 or "Political Suffer Day" all over India.