Gaddar Party / Movement

Gaddar, commonly translated as “mutiny,” was the name given to the newspaper edited and published for the Hindustani Association of the Pacific Coast which was founded at Portland, United States of America, in 1912. The movement this Association gave rise to for revolutionary activity in India also came to be known by the designation of Gaddar.

As land holdings were becoming uneconomical in the Punjab, the farmers started, by the turn of the century, going abroad to seek new pastures. East Asian countries where new opportunities were opening up offered attractive prospects. Farmers in considerable numbers started moving in that direction. Learning of still better prospects there they began trickling out to Canada and to the United States of America during the first decade of the twentieth century. They were mostly small farmers, ex-soldiers and artisans; as Sikhs they had no taboos against crossing the seas.

For the development of the Western Coast of North America, labour was required. The American and Canadian employers encouraged inflow of cheap and hardworking labour available from among the Chinese, Japanese and Indians (mostly Punjabis). By 1908, about 5,000 Indians had entered Canada. Almost 99% of the Indian immigrants were Punjabis, out of which 90% were Sikhs.

To help Indians in Chicago and New York, Americans established the Indo-American Society. Under its auspices was formed another forum – Indo-American National Association, which invited Indian students for, study in the U.S.A. and rendered them financial help. The forum also started an “India House” where Indian students were provided with free lodging and board. Many students of middle classes joined Berkeley University, in San Francisco. They had to earn to pay for their expenses. Lala Har Dayal (Stanford University), Sant Teja Singh (Harvard University) and Bhai Parmanand decided to get more students belonging to poor families for study in the U.S.A. and Canada. Bhai Javala Singh, Bhai Santokh Singh and Sant Vasakha Singh also joined hands and agreed to render financial help to the students. Along with the students many Indian rebels also found their way into the U.S.A. After some time, owing to financial difficulties, the Society disappeared but similar associations and India Houses sprang up in London and Paris.

The Indians who went to the United States and Canada came from the rural farming middle classes and labour, a large number among them being ex-servicemen. In the beginning, the Indians went to San Francisco and Stockton in California, Portland and Saint John in Oregon and Washington States, and to Vancouver and Victoria, in British Columbia, in Canada. Such persons as Amar Singh and Gopal Singh who had gone to America in 1905, and Tarak Nath Das and Ram Nath Puri, who followed them, started preaching against the British rule in India. They also started a paper called “Azadi ka Circular” in Urdu. This paper was distributed among the armed forces in India to rouse them against the British.

There was constant tension between the White and Asian labour. The latter was low paid, had no facilities such as provided for the White labour. This created jealousies, and the White labour started harassing the Asian labour. They organized attacks on Asian habitations. The Whites even taunted the Indians with being slaves. The governments of China and Japan sent strong protests against the maltreatment of their nationals but there was no one to fight for Indians. The result was that the Canadian government started further harassment of the Indians already there, and also tried to stop further immigration of Indians, also termed as “turbaned tide” or the “ragheads”.

During 1908, the Canadian government tried to persuade Indians in Canada to shift to the British Honduras (Central America) and settle there. An Indian delegation visited Honduras and found the climatic conditions there unsuitable and the wages too low. Hence they refused to migrate to the British Honduras.

The Canadian Government further tightened measures against the entry of Indians into Canada. It passed a legislation that newcomers would not be permitted to land on the Canadian soil “unless they came from the country of their birth or citizenship by a continuous journey, and on through tickets purchased before leaving the country of their birth or citizenship.” They were also required to possess $ 200 against the previously fixed sum of $ 25. These terms hit the Indians the most as they neither possessed any ships of their own nor was there a direct service between India and Canada. The shipping companies were directed against issuing direct tickets to Indians. The British Government in India gave wide publicity to these new terms in order to discourage the people from going to Canada.

The Indians in Canada had created large properties, and, having lived there for three years, had obtained Canadian citizenship. Now they wanted to get their families to join them, but this was not permitted. Many Indians returned to India. Protests to the various authorities concerned made no difference. Indians became victims of racial discrimination, which, they had realized, was the outcome of their country being held in the shackles of slavery. It became a continuous struggle for Indians to enter Canada and to live an honourable life there. Even those who had gone to the United States, and wanted to return to Canada to dispose of their properties were not allowed to come to Canada.

In order to fight the unjust immigration laws, the Indians (mostly Sikhs) organized a Khalsa Diwan Society in Vancouver in 1907 with branches in Victoria, Abbotsford, New Westminster, Fraser Hill, Duncan Coombs and Ocean Falls. Under its guidance, the Indians successfully thwarted the Canadian Government’s attempt to send them to the British Honduras. The Sikhs built a gurdwara at Vancouver which was inaugurated in January 1908, and later a few more at other places. These gurdwaras became the rallying places for the Indians.

During 1909, only 6 Indians were allowed entry into Canada. The same year the Indian immigrants organized Hindustan Association under the presidentship of Bhai Bhag Singh Bhikkhivind. Its objects were: formation of a purely Indian (national) government in India; spread of national education; industrialization of India; provision of safeguards from loot by foreigners, and so on. The association started two papers – Pardesi Khalsa in Punjabi and Svadesh Sevak in Urdu. Pamphlets like Khalsa and Maro Firangi Ko (Kill the Foreigner) were widely distributed. A Svadesh Sevak Home was opened on the lines of India House. These activities helped create national feeling among the Indians.

On 15 December 1911, the Society was replaced by another organization called United India League. These activities awakened the Indian immigrants. Persons like Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna, Harnam Singh Tundilat, Udham Singh Kasel, Rakha Ram, Ishar Singh Marhana and others would collect on Sundays or on other holidays and ponder over the problem. St. John and Seattle (U.S.A.) became the centres of their activities. They protested against the maltreatment of their countrymen in the United States and Canada.

In 1911, the White labour resumed their attacks on Indians. By now, the Indians were politically awake. At many places they had organized themselves, procured arms and ammunition, and put up strong resistance. In 1912, at Portland, Hindustani (or Hindi) Association of the Pacific Coast was formed with Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna as its president and G.D. Kumar as the general secretary. The Association started a weekly, Hindustan, in Urdu. As Mr Kumar fell ill and could not cope up with the work, Lala Har Dayal was asked to take his place. The association during May 1913, at a largely attended meeting, decided to open a Gaddar Ashram also known as Yugantar Ashram, and also to form a Gaddar party with its headquarters at San Francisco and its branches at various places in the United States and Canada. The aim of the party was explained thus:

Today, there begins in foreign lands… a war against the British raj… What is our name? Gaddar. What is our work? Gaddar. Where will Gaddar break out? In India. The time will soon come when rifles and blood will take the place of pen and ink.

In simple words, their aim was to get rid of the British raj in India through an armed rebellion.

Each factory or a railway workers’ party selected its own committee to work directly under the Gaddar party headquarters. Out of the members taken from these committees was formed an executive committee to run the party paper and control its press. The party decided to publish a weekly called Gaddar. Every member was to pay a minimum subscription of $1 a month. A three-member cell was formed out of the executive committee to deal with political and secret affairs. Under the rules adopted, no religious subject was to be discussed in the committee. The officials selected were: Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna (president), Bhai Kesar Singh Thathgarh (vice-president), Lala Har Dayal (general secretary), Lala Thakar Das Dhuri (joint secretary) and Pandit Kanshi Ram (treasurer).

The first issue of the Gaddar, in Urdu, came out in November 1913 and that in Punjabi a few weeks later. The paper carried the words “Enemy of the British Government,” under its masthead on the front page. The paper was distributed to politico-Indian centres in United States (Western Coast), Canada, Philippines, Fiji, Sumatra, Japan, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Hankow, Java, Singapore, Malaya, Siam, Burma, India and East Africa. Occasionally, the Gaddar published the following advertisement:

Renumeration : Death
Reward : Martyrdom
Pension : Freedom
Field of work : Hindustan

Later, Hindi, Gujarati, Pashto, Bengali and Nepali editions of the paper were also brought out. The paper brought about a new awakening among Indians. The British government tried to stop circulation of the paper, but failed in its efforts. Instead, the circulation of the paper increased and the party had to spend a great deal of money on it. Besides, a number of small pamphlets, many of them in Punjabi, such as Firangi da Fareb, Shabash (openly preaching the use of bombs for throwing the British out of India), Ghadar di Gunj, Zulam! Zulam! Gore Shahi Zulam, Tilak di Rihai, Navan Zamana, Panjabi Bharavan de Nam Suneha, Angah di Gvahi were issued. The Hindustani Sipahi was published to instigate Indian soldiers against the British rule. “Bande Matram” became the party slogan. The Gaddar party president, with some of his companions, often visited the Indian groups to exhort them to join the freedom movement.

The British thought that if Har Dayal were sent out of America, the Gaddar movement would automatically die. Har Dayal was arrested on the pretext of a speech delivered by him three years earlier. The party got him out on bail and managed to send him away to Switzerland. Thereafter he took no part in the Gaddar movement. Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna now decided to stay at the party headquarters, Bhai Santokh Singh became the general secretary, and the editing of the party paper was taken over by Bhai Harnam Singh of Kotla Naudh Singh. The party’s plan was to invade Kashmir from China; then go for the Punjab, followed by other provinces. The members started getting training in the use of weapons and making of bombs; several got training in flying aircraft also. One of them, Harnam Singh, had his hand blown off while in the process of bomb making, and he was thence onwards known as Tundilat, the armless knight (tundi = armless; lat= lord or knight).

The party carried out considerable propaganda in Japan where Maulawi Barkat Ullah was a professor in Tokyo University. Later, when the British had him removed from the appointment, he reached San Francisco. His presence attracted many Muslims to the party. The Maulawi and Bhai Bhagwan Singh went together and addressed the gatherings one after the other. This had a healthy effect on the movement.

The Gaddar party did not restrict its activities to the Indians in the United States and Canada only, but covered also those living in Manila, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Malaya, Siam and Japan. Bhai Bhagwan Singh and Bhai Santokh Singh worked among Indians in those countries. Many Indians were externed from these places for such activities. In these places also, gurdwaras became the centres of political activity of Indians. In Hong Kong, the British Government once placed the gurdwaras under police control to check these activities. The party also influenced soldiers of 25 and 26 Punjabis located in Hong Kong. Hira Singh, a millionaire of Hong Kong, rendered much help to the Gaddar party.

The Komagata Maru incident added fuel to the fire. In San Francisco, the Gaddar gave the clarion call for mobilization as soon as the Komagata Maru was turned back. The First World War broke out in July 1914. On 5 August, leading members of the Gaddar party gathered at Yugantar Ashram, discussed the situation and decided to take advantage of the involvement of the British in the war. The Gaddar party declared war on the British and decided to come to India to carry out armed revolution against the British.

Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna, with his companions, left for India. On 22 August 1914, the first ship with 26 Indians left Vancouver on 29 August, another ship with 60-70 Indians left San Francisco for India. The latter included Bhai Kesar Singh, Bhai Javala Singh Thathiati, Bhai Nidhan Singh Chuggha, Udham Singh Kasel and Pandit Jagat Ram. The Gaddar leaders wound up their businesses and from October 1914 started pouring in India from United States, Canada, China, Philippines, Singapore, Malaya, Sumatra, Hong Kong and other countries. They also included women workers, such as Bibi Gulab Kaur (originally from the village of Bakhshivala, in Sangrur district of the Punjab) from Manila. Her speeches impressed the listeners including the Malaya State Guides and other units of the Indian army.

According to government records, 2312 Indian Gaddar men had entered India between 13 October 1914 and 25 February 1915. Their influx continued till 1916 when their number increased to more than 8,000. But it is likely that the Gaddar men had entered India in greater numbers than the government knew.

The British Government was not unaware of these activities. It issued an Ingress Ordinance (5 September 1914) giving powers to the provincial governments enabling them to deal with the entrants in any way they considered proper. Most of the entrants were got hold of at the ports of entry, especially at Calcutta. They were either instructed to report to the Central Enquiry Office at Ludhiana, or, such as Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna, were sent there under detention. Out of those apprehended, 2,500 were confined to their respective villages and 400 considered dangerous were kept under detention. About 5,000 were released with a warning.

The capture of Gaddar leaders had upset the plans to some extent, yet the party as a whole was not disheartened. New leaders came forward and reorganized the movement. They established their headquarters at Amritsar, later shifting to Lahore. The party established a new press and published small pamphlets such as : Gaddar Sandesh, Ailan-i jang, Tilak, Nadar Mauqa, Rikabganj, Canada da Dukhra, Naujavan Utho, Sachchi Pukar, and so on. These pamphlets were published in Punjabi, Urdu and Hindi, and were distributed among the public and the soldiers. The party also produced their own flag having red, yellow and green colours. Dr Mathura Singh supervised factories producing bombs.

The party members contacted students; they contacted soldiers stationed especially at Mian Mir (Lahore), Jalandhar, Firozpur, Peshawar, Jehlum, Rawalpindi, Mardan, Kohat, Bannu, Ambala, Meerut, Kanpur and Agra cantonments. The soldiers were generally in sympathy with the movement. Many party workers joined the army with a view to obtaining arms and ammunition.

Contacts were also established with Bengal revolutionaries such as Rash Behari Bose whose close companions were Sachin Sanyal and Vishnu Ganesh Pingle. Pingle acted as a link between the Gaddar party and Bengalis. The movement faced financial difficulties in India. The expenses had increased owing to opening of various branches, travelling, purchase of arms and ammunition and publications. Money was not easily available as it was in foreign countries. To overcome this difficulty, the party had to resort to forcible acquisition of funds by undertaking political dacoities.

All the preparations completed, the party executive met on 12 February 1915, and decided to start the rebellion on 21 February. Their plan was simultaneously to attack and capture Mian Mir and Firozpur cantonments; 128th Pioneer and 12 Cavalry were to capture Meerut Cantonment and then proceed to Delhi. Units in cantonments in northern India were expected to join the rebellion.

The British Government had intelligence men posted at railway stations in cities and in important villages. The lambardars, zaildars and other village functionaries were also alerted to provide information. The government had managed to plant informers in the Gaddar party itself. Before the new leadership came forward and reorganized the movement’s plans, the British Government “knew much more about their designs and was in a better position to cope with them.” In spite of this, the Gaddarites in the central Punjab murdered policemen and informers and attempted to derail trains and blow up bridges. Factories for preparing bombs were established. All this made the government feel that they were “living over a mine full of explosives.”

When the party learnt that the information about the D-Day had leaked, they advanced the date of rebellion to 19 February, but this information also reached the police through their informer, Kirpal Singh. The police raided the party headquarters at four different places in Lahore and arrested 13 of the “most dangerous revolutionaries. All cantonments were alerted and the Indian troops placed under vigilance; some were even disarmed. Arrests of Gaddar men took place all over the Punjab. Rash Behari Bose, with the help of Kartar Singh Sarabha, escaped from Lahore to Varanasi: Vishnu Ganesh Pingle was arrested at Meerut on 23 March 1915. All the leaders were put in the Lahore jail.

The Government of the Punjab sought and the Government of India passed under the Defence of India Act wide powers to the Punjab Government who formed a special tribunal of three judges, including one Indian, to try the Gaddar men in the Central Jail, Lahore. Thus the rebellion was smashed by the government before it had really taken shape.

The Gaddar men were tried by the Special Tribunal in what are known as Lahore conspiracy cases in batches. The trial of the first batch began on 26 April 1915. In all, 291 persons were tried and sentenced as under: death for 42, 114 were transported for life, 93 awarded varying terms of imprisonment, 42 were acquitted. Confiscation of property was ordered in the case of many. No one appealed against the punishments. Those who were hanged included Kartar Singh Sarabha, Jagat Singh (Sursingh) Vishnu Ganesh Pingle, Harnam Singh (Sialkoti), Bakhshish Singh (son of ishar Singh), Bhai Balvant Singh (Khurdpur), Babu Ram, Harnam Singh, Hafiz Abdulla and Rur Singh (Sanghval).

Under the circumstances, the army units which had promised to join the revolution kept quiet. However, some units such as 26 Punjabi, 7 Rajput, 12 Cavalry, 23 Cavalry, 128 Pioneers, Malaya State Guides, 23 Mountain Battery, 24 Jat Artillery, 15 Lancers, 22 Mountain Battery, 130 Baluch and 21 Punjabi did come out in the open. About 700 men of 5 Light Infantry, located in Singapore, mutineed on 15 February and took possession of the fort. The rebellion was subdued by the British troops; 126 men were tried by court martial which sentenced 37 to death, 41 to transportation for life, and the remaining to varying terms of imprisonment. Soldiers from other units were punished as following:

Unit Death Transportation for life
23 Cavalry 12 6
12 Cavalry 4
130 Baluch 4 59
128 Pioneers 1

The party workers also went to Iran and Iraq to instigate Indian troops against the British, and to Turkey to exhort Indian prisoners to fight for India’s freedom. In Iran, the party was able to raise an Indian Independence Army. The Army advanced towards Baluchistan, and en route captured Kirmanshah. Then they advanced along the coast towards Karachi. Meanwhile, Turkey was defeated and the British had occupied Baghdad. The Indian Independence Army thus losing its base was also defeated.

The Gaddar party contacted Germany, Turkey, Afghanistan, China and other countries, but not much help came from any of these. Germany sympathized with the Gaddar party and occasionally tried to render some help in the form of weapons and money, but these often failed to reach the party. For instance, 5,000 revolvers on board Henry S. which sailed from Manila were captured en route by the British. Germany had also formed an Oriental Bureau for translating and disseminating inflammatory literature to the Indian prisoners of war in Germany.

During World War I, revolutionaries from most countries had gone to Switzerland, which was a neutral country. The Indians there formed Indian Revolutionary Society, also known as Berlin-India Committee. The Society had formed a provisional government at Kabul, but had no contacts with the Indian public. The Gaddar party established links with the Society and both agreed to help each other. Germany sent financial help to the Society but, on learning that it was being misappropriated, discontinued it. The Society soon collapsed. No sum ever reached the Gaddar party.

Gaddar movement, as says O’ Dwyer, “was by far the most serious attempt to subvert British rule in India.” Most of the workers were illiterate – only 2% of them knew Urdu or Punjabi. Still they organized a strong movement which for the time being thrilled the country and made the British panic. Although the movement was suppressed, it provided nucleus for the Akali movement that followed a few years later. The Gaddar leaders were especially prominent among the Babar Akalis.

Source: Encyclopedia of Sikhism – Harbans Singh.

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