NORTH AMERICA – THE GHADAR MOVEMENT
NORTH AMERICA – THE GHADAR MOVEMENT
- Large-scale Indian immigration to the Pacific coast of North America took place in the 20th century, especially from Punjab, which faced an economic depression.
- The Canadian government met this influx with legislation aimed at limiting the entry of South Asians into Canada and at restricting the political rights of those already in the country.
- The Punjabi community had hitherto been an important loyal force for the British Empire and the Commonwealth.
- The community had expected that its commitment would be honoured with the same welcome and rights which the British and colonial governments extended to British and white immigrants.
- The restrictive legislation fed growing discontent, protests and anti-colonial sentiments within the community. Faced with increasingly difficult situations, the community began organising itself into political groups.
- Many Punjabis also moved to the United States, but they encountered similar political and social problems. Meanwhile, India House and nationalist activism of Indian students had begun declining in the east coast of North America towards 1910, but activity gradually shifted west to San Francisco.
- The arrival at this time of Har Dayal from Europe bridged the gap between the intellectual agitators in New York and the predominantly Punjabi labour workers and migrants in the west coast, and laid the foundations of the Ghadar movement.
Komagata Maru incident
- In May 1914, the Canadian government refused to allow the 400 Indian passengers of the ship Komagata Maru to disembark at Vancouver. The voyage had been planned as an attempt to circumvent Canadian exclusion laws that effectively prevented Indian immigration.
- Before the ship reached Vancouver, its approach was announced on German radio, and British Columbian authorities were prepared to prevent the passengers from entering Canada. The incident became a focal point for the Indian community in Canada which rallied in support of the passengers and against the government’s policies.
- After a two-month legal battle, 24 of them were allowed to immigrate. The ship was escorted out of Vancouver by the protected cruiser HMCS Rainbow and returned to India. On reaching Calcutta, the passengers were detained under the Defence of India Act at Budge Budge by the British Indian government, which made efforts to forcibly transport them to Punjab.
- This caused rioting at Budge Budge and resulted in fatalities on both sides. Ghadar leaders like Barkatullah and Taraknath Das used the inflammatory passions surrounding the Komagata Maru event as a rallying point and successfully brought many disaffected Indians in North America into the party’s fold.
- The British Indian Army, meanwhile, was contributing significantly to the Allied war effort in World War I. Consequently a reduced force, estimated to have been 15,000 troops in late 1914, was stationed in India. It was in this scenario that concrete plans for organising uprisings in India were made. In September 1913 a Ghadarite named Mathra
- Singh visited Shanghai to promote the nationalist cause amongst Indians there, followed by a visit to India in January 1914 when Singh circulated Ghadar literature amongst Indian soldiers through clandestine sources before leaving for Hong Kong.
- Singh reported that the situation in India as favourable for revolution.
- By October 1914, many Ghadarites had returned to India and were assigned tasks like contacting Indian revolutionaries and organisations, spreading propaganda and literature, and arranging to get arms into the country.
- The first group of 60 Ghadarites led by Jawala Singh, left San Francisco for Canton aboard the steamship Korea on 29 August. They were to sail on to India, where they would be provided with arms to organise a revolt. NORTH AMERICA – THE GHADAR MOVEMENT
- At Canton, more Indians joined, and the group, now numbering about 150, sailed for Calcutta on a Japanese vessel. They were to be joined by more Ghadarites arriving in smaller groups. During September and October, about 300 Indians left for India in various ships like SS Siberia, Chinyo Maru, China, Manchuria, SS Tenyo Maru, SS Mongolia and SS Shinyo Maru.
- Although the Korea’s party itself was uncovered and arrested on arrival at Calcutta, a successful underground network was established between the United States and India, through Shanghai, Swatow, and Siam.
- Tehl Singh, the Ghadar operative in Shanghai, is believed to have spent $30,000 for helping the revolutionaries to get into India. The Ghadarites in India were able to establish contact with sympathisers within the British Indian Army as well as build networks with underground revolutionary groups.
Back to Ghadar Movement
- The Ghadar Party, initially the Pacific Coast Hindustan Association, was formed in 1913 in the United States under the leadership of Har Dayal, with Sohan Singh Bhakna as its president. It drew members from Indian immigrants, largely from Punjab.
- Many of its members were also from the University of California at Berkeley including Dayal, Tarak Nath Das, Kartar Singh Sarabha and V.G. Pingle.
- The party quickly gained support from Indian expatriates, especially in the United States, Canada and Asia. Ghadar meetings were held in Los Angeles, Oxford, Vienna, Washington, D.C., and Shanghai. NORTH AMERICA – THE GHADAR MOVEMENT
- Ghadar’s ultimate goal was to overthrow British colonial authority in India by means of an armed revolution. It viewed the Congress-led mainstream movement for dominion status modest and the latter’s constitutional methods as soft. Ghadar’s foremost strategy was to entice Indian soldiers to revolt.
- To that end, in November 1913 Ghadar established the Yugantar Ashram press in San Francisco. The press produced the Hindustan Ghadar newspaper and other nationalist literature.
- Towards the end of 1913, the party established contact with prominent revolutionaries in India, including Rash Behari Bose. An Indian edition of the Hindustan Ghadar essentially espoused the philosophies of anarchism and revolutionary terrorism against British interests in India.
- Political discontent and violence mounted in Punjab, and Ghadarite publications that reached Bombay from California were deemed seditious and banned by the Raj.
- These events, compounded by evidence of prior Ghadarite incitement in the Delhi-Lahore Conspiracy of 1912, led the British government to pressure the American State Department to suppress Indian revolutionary activities and Ghadarite literature, which emanated mostly from San Francisco.