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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Gadar of 21st February 1915


Gadar of 21st February 1915
Inderjit Nandan

Economic policies of the British government had pushed the nation on the brink of an economic disaster. In addition to looting the treasury they started exporting not only go ods but also the essential food-grains. This dragged the nation towards an impending famine. During the period between 1850 and 1900 there were 25 famines. Food supplies were being transported out of Punjab while the death-toll owing to starvation was rising.The situation deteriorated much further in the first decade of the twentieth century, and deaths caused by droughts, plague, malaria etc. reached unprecedented proportions. Classification of land holdings as personal capital, coupled with imposition of heavy taxes started destroying the age old village autonomy. Ownership of jointly held land was annulled and farmers went on getting crushed under heavy debts. They started fleeing to foreign countries in search of livelihood, often mortgaging or selling their agricultural land.

In the mean time the goverment continued passing new draconian laws which worsened the situation to the brink of volatile instability. ”Colonization Act”, ”Indigo Act” and ”Doab bari Act” were some amongst them. These circumstances forced the Punjabis to migrate to America, Canada and other countries on an even larger scale.
However even migration did not put an end to their su erings as they encountered ill-treatment and humiliation even in their new abo de. They had to work much harder and much longer at extremely low wages, while they developed regions which were earlier uninhabitable by the native population. With a view to regaining their land in their native country, and subsistence of their families left behind, they were working twice as hard. However, in the mean time local laborers started pressing their government with the demand to stop this immigration. Riots broke out against immigrant laborers in 1907 in British Columbia. Canadian government promulgated a law in May 1908 banning entry into Canada of those who were not traveling to Canada directly from their native countries. Moreover, these new immigrants had to declare a minimum of 200 dollars on entry. This was specifically done to prevent the in ux of Indians and this had tacit support of the colonial government of India. For the British to o did not want the Indians to gain awareness, because those traveling abroad could return and spread the message of freedom and the news of well being in the foreign societies. Moreover socialism was being preached in Vancouver and the British government did not want any similar movement here.

Owing to the ill-treatment in America and Canada, and the policies of the white rulers, Indians began organizing themselves. Indian laborers working in American industries began to form trade unions. ”United India League” and ”Hindi Association” were some of the institutions formed by them. Also, there was an assassination attempt on Lord Harding on 23rd Dec. 1912. These events reinvigorated the revolutionary spirit among Lala Hardayal and his associates. In 1913, ”Hindi Asso ciation of the Pacific Coast”, an o shoot of ”Hindi Association” was instituted. Its founders included Sohan Singh Bhakna, Kesar Singh, Lala Hardayal, Kartar Singh Sarabha, Baba Jawala Singh, Baba Waisakha Singh, Balwant Singh, Pt. Kanshi Ram, Harnam Singh Tundilat, G. D. Verma, Lala Thaker Das, Munshi Ram, Bhai Parmanand, Nidhan Singh Chugha, Santokh Singh, Master Udham Singh, Baba Harnam Singh, Karim Bakhsh, Amar Chand, Rehmat Ali and V. G. Pingle. In the same year, alarmed by the growing economic might and land- holdings of Indian immigrants, the American government passed the “Alien Land Law” lest the immigrant population acquired further riches.

The first step of the party was the publication of a magazine to propagate the principles, goals and the plan of upcoming activities of the movement. A magazine called ”Gadar” was started in November of the same year by the party, with Lala Hardayal as its editor. He enthusiastically began the propaganda bringing awareness among the Indian immigrant population. Publication of the magazine ”Gadar” and establishment of ”Yugantar Ashram” in San Francisco in a way marked the beginning of the ”Gadar movement”. This ”Gadar party” was inspired by the sepoy mutiny of 1857. Though they drew inspiration from the 1857 mutiny, they did not overlo ok the shortcomings of the same. Realizing the need of national unity which was possibly missing in the sepoy mutiny, they emphasized the importance of nationalism in their principles. More importantly it was decided that religion was a personal matter and so was not a topic to be discussed. Similarly casteism was completely shunned. It was also stressed that each individual was to participate in the independence struggle of the country of his residence. Utmost emphasis was on attainment of freedom from the British by means of an armed struggle. The propaganda by Lala Hardayal and other had established beyond doubt that British rule alone was responsible for poverty, adversities and humiliation of Indians. Therefore the party started to press for the armed struggle so that India could be liberated from the clutches of British empire.

The scene of the then world was fast changing and the activities of Gadar party were approaching its zenith. In February 1914, the ag of Gadar party was hoisted in the city of Stockton, California and the idea of pledging their wealth for their motherland was mooted. The members of Gadar party, had perceived the state the world was in and had anticipated that a World war was imminent.They were also aware that Britain would certainly participate in such war. They were waiting for an opportune moment topress their demands. This was necessitated because Congress, till now, had not played any meaningful role for the welfare of the people, had not negotiated any deal with the government related to mass-starvation, epidemics and famines, nor had they initiated any appropriate measures. They were merely begging for their rights, whereas Gadar party was aiming to gain freedom using an armed struggle. With this goal, its party members were being trained in military warfare. British rulers were under the impression that members of Gadar party were gullible simpletons. They considered Lala Hardayal to be both shrewed and intelligent, and thought that he alone was behind the whole show. If he could be arrested the whole movement will lose its momentum and become directionless. Lala Hardayal was arrested on 25th March 1914 under this design. However, his associates bailed him out and quietly relocated him to Switzerland.

After the 1908 Canadian Law was repealed, Indians were ready in large numbers to immigrate to Canada, however no ship was willing to sail them across the oceans. Some associates contacted Gurdit Singh who was working as a contractor in Singapore and Malaya. He leased the Komagata Maru ship from Japan so that Indians from Kolkata, Singapore and Hongkong ports could be ferried to Canada. When this ship reached the shores at Vancouver, the Canadian government refused them the permission to land in Canada and the ship was redirected towards India. The travelers were disallowed from even procuring food items on their return voyage. Finally when the ship reached Kolkata’s Bajba j Ghat, 222 of the travelers were arrested, 19 were executed, 62 were forced to catch trains. Only 9 passengers could save themselves. This event angered Indians living abroad and they enmasse started returning to India. In October 1914, many Indians from America, Canada, China, Philippines, Singapore, Malaya, Hongkong, etc., came back. Bibi Gulab Kaur was one brave woman among them who delivered inspiring speeches to the passengers of a ship returning from Manila and made an important contribution to the Gadar movement.

The members of the Gadar party and Indians residing abroad had sensed that World War could break out at any moment and therefore zealously started spreading the message of revolution because they wanted to sacrifice their lives for the creation of a new and independent motherland. Not only were they spreading this revolutionary message among Indians residing abroad, they were also conducting similar propaganda in India. They wrote open letters to Indians wherein they intimated the Indians about the impending war and called upon them to jump into this freedom struggle. They enlightened the people about the need for political sagacity at that moment, for they knew it was certain that Britain would get involved in the war and hence would need Indians’ support. They emphasized that the moment was ripe to press for total independence. They maintained that Indian help would certainly be needed by the British and in return complete freedom must be demanded. They proclaimed: ”We must educate our people about our demands. We must unite as a common front, and fight for our national independence together. Until we are all united we cannot press our demands. We should not let this opportunity slip away this time. Our slogan should be:

• Complete independence or non-cooperation.
• Complete freedom and nothing else.
• No freedom, no soldier from India.
• No freedom, no money from India.
• Freedom or resistance.”

The plans of the revolutionaries of the Gadar party got a shot in the arm when the World war broke out exactly as per their prediction and ship loads of Indians started returning home. However, circumstances in India were not as conducive for their efforts as they were abroad. Moreover, the general populace had not reached similar levels of awareness. Nevertheless, on their return they began the party work on a war-footing with utmost dedication. In addition to general public, they also strived to bring about enhanced awareness among the Indian soldiers, who were in British army, by spreading their message in the cantonments. During the 1857 sepoy mutiny the Sikhs had been on the side of the East India Company, however, this time this community was solidly with their own country men. At the same time British too did not want the Sikh community against them.

Intense preparations were made in Northern India for the revolution. Satyendranath Sanyal helped them contact Rambihari Bose who agreed to take over the command. Vishnu Ganesh Pingle too had joined them. As a result of comprehensive propaganda in the army cantonments, the news was that Indian soldiers to o were in a revolutionary mood and in the event of a mutiny they would join the revolutionaries. It was planned that the first attack in Gadar (revolution) would be on the Miyar Meer of Lahore and armament factories at the fort in Firozepur. The success at these venues was to trigger mutiny at other cantonments too. The day for the mutiny was set to be 21th February 1915. The whole operation was carried out so secretively that the British had no inkling of it till as late as 15th February 1915. Unfortunately, however, Kirpal Singh turned an informer and divulged the secret to the Colonial rulers. On learning this, the date of mutiny was advanced to 19th February 1915 but the government caught hold of this information too. Nevertheless, on the appointed day, a group of revolutionaries led by Kartar Singh Sarabha reached Firozepur. But since the British had known this in advance, they had disarmed the Indian soldiers at the camp. This plot failed and the revolutionaries were arrested. Then, these people were tried in Lahore conspiracy case and many were convicted. Kartar Singh Sarabha, Vishnu Ganesh Pingle were among the 46 sentenced to death, 70 were awarded life-imprisonment, 125 were given less severe punishments and 34 were exonerated. Despite this the zeal of the revolutionaries who had returned from abroad did not subside. They continued their struggle as if to rewrite the history of Indian Freedom struggle with their own blo od. In a way, these lines from Kartar Singh Sarabha summarize the entire Gadar struggle:

Our struggle will continue as long as handful of men, be they foreign or native or both in collaboration with each other, continue to exploit the labor and resources of our people. Nothing will deter us from this path.

Translation by:
Vivek H. Gupta
Satwinder Jit Singh

last 167 days of martyrs


The Last 167 days of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, and Sukhdev
Inderjit Nandan

The trial of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, and Sukhdev is known as the “Lahore ConspiracyCase”. This case was called “British Crown vs. Sukhdev and accomplices”. These patriotswere charged with the declaration of war against the king of British Empire, George V. Thecase was adjudicated by the tribunal which was formed on May 5, 1930 for the duration ofmerely six months. The tribunal was instituted by the Viceroy using his special powers, albeit there were no pressing circumstances for the same. The tribunal announced itsjudgment on October 7, 1930. All the three were awarded capital punishment.

The hanging was to be executed on October 27, 1930, even though the tribunal’s term was to end on October 30. In order to send the message to the people of London, and to publicize the objectives of ‘Hindustan Socialist Republican Association’, an appeal was filed in the ‘Privy Council’. The execution was stayed by the Council and hence it was not carried out on the set date, and the term of the tribunal ended on October 30.An elder uncle of Sukhdev, Shri Chintaram Thapar, challenged the verdict in court, questioning its validity in view of the fact that the term of the tribunal, which was the trier of the case, had already expired. However, all normal rules were outed and with the aid of special provisions by the government, the aforementioned appeal was quashed and the sentence was upheld. The primary motives of the appeal to the council, as well as of the challenge to the verdict in court, were to delay the execution, and to expose the unlawfulness of the trial procedure adopted in this case.

Inspite of all this, their sentences were upheld, and on October 7, 1930 they were shifted to special cells made for convicts awarded with the death penalty. These cells had a common front-yard. They were allowed to walk in the compound for about two hours a day. They used to start their day with some free hand exercises involving dips and sit-ups. They firmly believed in the saying ‘Sound mind in a sound body’. They amused themselves by competing against each other during these exercises. Generally the competition was between Bhagat Singh and Rajguru. Ra jguru was a teacher of Yoga and ’Gataka’. After this routine in the morning, they used to read the newspapers, analyze the news, and hold long discussions about the current so cio-politico-economic state of a airs in the country. These besides they used to entertain themselves by singing, conversing using Urdu couplets, etc., . . .their friendship was an example in itself.

They were fighting a battle which transcended the barriers of selfishness, caste, religion and such interests. They used to read various books obtained from outside, and discuss among themselves. Both Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev were well versed in the doctrines of Socialism, and Ra jguru also immersed himself in its study. They used to have highly productive discussions about ‘revolution’. And by ’revolution’ they meant political power of the people, by the people, and for the people. They were aiming to bring about a revolution of the proletariat. In their discussions they also pondered over the question of how to bring about a revolution in the nation using scientific methodology. All the three were completely given to the task of providing valuable guidance to the revolutionaries living outside. The most important aspect of their character was that they were mentally extremely strong. Their morale was always high. For they knew it well that this revolutionary work would take not just days or months but rather years and decades to complete. Therefore they had also realized that this revolution would successfully happen only by a sustained e ort over long periods and only by using a scientific approach to inspire the masses. They humbly considered themselves merely to be a few in a long chain in the path to successful revolution. According to them, neither had they initiated this struggle, nor was it going to terminate after their end. They were prepared for a long tireless battle for their cause.
The civil disobedience movement led by Mahatma Gandhi had reached its peak, and it was obviously a hot topic of discussion among these three. They were apprehensive that the movement would end in some compromise and fizzle out without resulting in any substantial benefit to the nation. They were convinced that though the movement was led in the name of the masses, these masses would not be profited by it. For its leaders were a handful of wealthy capitalists and middle class businessmen. Albeit a large number of laborers and farmers were involved in this movement, these three feared that these people would be shorn of any tangible benefits. They were sure that an active participation by the masses in leadership in such struggles was very critical, while these capitalist leaders were unwilling to take these commoners along. They wanted to establish a party with active participation of the commoners in the leadership, which would lead this struggle. They wanted the reins in the hands of communist party as was the case in the Russian revolution. Sukhdev used to refer to this by “Central Red Revolutionary Party”. He desired a similar faction, comprising of the commoners, in the Congress and even wanted to lead this faction. These three even chalked out a blueprint of such a revolutionary program, which is also referred to as their will. They had researched a lot while preparing this action-plan. They hadn’t analyzed just the situation prevailing in the country. Instead while drawing their scheme they had considered the complete global scenario, and had analyzed similar revolutions which had happened elsewhere all over the world. Even though the drafting was done by Bhagat Singh, all the three had labored together for many days before successfully arriving at the final version of the plan. One version of the plan was conveyed to their friends by a letter, while another was composed in form of an article. When the letter-version was sent out for publication in the news papers, not a single newspaper agreed to publish it. Then Sukhdev wrote to his companions outside, informing them that their voice was being suppressed in the media,and that this suppression was a handiwork of the then leaders of the nation. These three worked systematically to a great plan, e ciently dividing the work among themselves for a speedy completion, for they knew that they had little time with them, and a gigantic task was awaiting completion.

On the other hand, the appeal before the Privy Council was rejected in February 12,1931. The people were all charged up, and defense committees were formed. Thousands signed on the petitions submitted to the Viceroy in their defense. Pt. Madan Mohan Malviya telegraphed for a reconsideration of the case for a change in the sentence. The whole nation was keenly observing the next move of Mahatma Gandhi, for he had an upcoming meeting with the Viceroy. But the Viceroy expressed his inability in quashing the sentence, but o ered to delay the execution until the end of forthcoming Congress Party meeting that was to be held in Karachi.

In the end, as per the apprehensions of Bhagat Singh etc., an agreement was reached between Mahatma Gandhi and Viceroy Lord Irwin, with nothing much in it. The agreement obtained release or reduced sentence for those agitators who had abided by the tenets of non-violence. However, there was nothing in it for the other revolutionaries,members of the Gadar and Babbar Akali movements. As per section 10 of this agreement all the laws enacted by the government to curb the Civil Disobedient Movement were to be abrogated. Ordinance (1931), which was about the “Terrorist Movement” was not covered under the above section, and hence was not repealed.

This double standard caused serious displeasure in all these three. They clearly perceived that this agreement did not amount to any progress towards total independence of the nation. On the other hand, appeals by Mahatma Gandhi exhorting people to suspend all revolutionary movement against the British Empire were repeatedly being published in the newspapers. All these three deliberated and decided to express their point of view to Mahatma Gandhi through a letter. Sukhdev drafted the letter, in which it was made clear that establishment of a social demo cracy was their notion of total independence for the nation.

All attention was now focused on the meeting to be held in Karachi. Mahatma Gandhi anticipated that the agreement of March 5, 1930 would be duly evaluated on its merits in the forthcoming Karachi session. Further, he also thought that the sentence awarded to these three will have no bearing on either the session or the approval/disapproval of his agreement with the Viceroy. Mahatma Gandhi expressed his view to the viceroy that if these three youth were to be eventually hanged anyway then it would be more prudent to hang them before the Karachi session rather than after it (quoted from “History of Congress” by Pattabhi Sitaramayya).

Prior to this, on March 2, 1931, messages had been sent to the families of these three, informing them about their final chance to meet the sentenced. The families of all these three had a meeting on March 2 and 3. The parents had tears in their eyes but these three were happy. The mental strength exhibited by these three was exemplary. These three comforted their family members. When younger brothers broke down and cried then Bhagat Singh comforted them in a letter the same day in which he explained to them that for them the meaning of life was to live with courage and hope, and to study well.

They fired their final salvo by writing a letter to the British Government on March 20, 1931. In this letter they declared openly a war with the British government, and warned that this con ict will not cease so long as a handful of people are looting the hardworking multitudes of people of this country. They wanted to in ict a telling blow by exposing the hypocrisy of the British Government. In their declaration they also demanded that since they were imprisoned as prisoners of war, they should be shot dead rather than hanged. In the meanwhile, some of their companions asked though a message if they should attempt to get Bhagat Singh released. However, Bhagat Singh refused the offer. In his reply note, he wrote “My name has become the symbol of Indian Revolution, and the ideals and the sacrifices have accorded me a larger than life image. It will be very di cult, if not impossible, to sustain this image further if I am alive.”

Finally, the day of execution arrived. The British government had gotten scared by the resistance and anger expressed by the people at large. On March 23, 1931, the families of Bhagat Singh, Ra jguru, and Sukhdev had arrived to meet them for the last time.However, the government exhibited another example of gross unfairness by refusing entry to the grand parents of Bhagat Singh, and the elder uncle of Sukhdev. Only intimate family members (Parents and siblings) were allowed to meet them. The mothers of Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev decided that if Bhagat Singh’s grandparents and Sukhdev’s elder uncle (who had brought Sukhdev up) were not granted permission to meet, then they would also refuse to avail the permission. Rajguru’s mother and sister had arrived to meet him, but Rajguru’s mother also sided with the mothers of the other two and refused to avail permission granted to her. Their family members were as intimate with one another as these valiant revolutionaries had been among themselves. And like they were fighting against injustice as revolutionaries, their mothers too united and were up in arms against this unfairness, and thence they sacrificed their last chance to meet their wards at the alter of their high moral principles.

Usually execution is done between 6 and 7 in the morning, and the law prohibits any hanging during the evenings. But the British government outed even this norm, and these three were executed in the evening on March 23, 1931, at 19:35 hrs. All the three kissed the hanging rope and embraced it as if it were a garland of roses. Such a feat of valor and bravery has been rarely observed in history. Before their execution, all the three shouted slogans to the e ect “Long live Revolution, down with imperialism”. After the nooses were tightened, the whole atmosphere in and out side the prison was filled with slogans of “Long live Bhagat Singh, Long live Rajguru and Long live Sukhdev”, and “Long live Revolution, down with imperialism”.
Translated by:
Vivek H. Gupta
Satwinder Jit Singh