Politics, Historic

Smithsonian alters Gadar history

ਜਉ ਤਉ ਪੇ੍ਮ ਖੇਲਣ ਕਾ ਚਾਉ, ਸਿਰ ਧਰਿ ਤਲੀ ਗਲੀ ਮੇਰੀ ਅਾਉ
By Anju Kaur | May 16, 2014
According to the secret “Ghadr Directory” published by the British Indian government in 1917, and in 1934, the Gadar Party had 616 members: 527 were Sikhs, 54 were Hindus and 35 were Muslims.

According to the secret “Ghadr Directory” published by the British Indian government in 1917, and in 1934, the Gadar Party had 616 members: 527 were Sikhs, 54 were Hindus and 35 were Muslims.

Reporting from Washington – One hundred years ago, when shiploads of immigrants were landing on the West Coast of the United States, thousands of Sikhs were suddenly leaving their livelihoods in America and sailing back to their homeland to launch an armed revolution against the British Raj.

They were the members of California’s Gadar Party, a movement for independence that was largely a Sikh crusade, inspired by the teachings of Guru Granth Sahib and launched from gurdwaras of the Northwest Pacific Coast. 

“…This movement, in fact, was an International Anglo Sikh War…,” writes Jasbir Singh Mann, in “Reevaluating the Origin and Inspiration of the ‘Sikh Gadar' 1907-1918," presented at the 2012 Stockton Gurdwara Centennial. “It was the first declared Indian freedom war, fought by majority international Sikhs...”

But this is not the history presented by the Smithsonian Institution in its new Indian American exhibition, called: "Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape a Nation." The world-renowned institution does not give Sikhs credit for their historical contributions and sacrifices in igniting revolutionary sentiments and laying down their lives for independence. 

The masthead of the Gadar newspaper includes sloak 20 on page 1,412 of Guru Granth Sahib: ਜਉ ਤਉ ਪੇ੍ਮ ਖੇਲਣ ਕਾ ਚਾਉ, ਸਿਰ ਧਰਿ ਤਲੀ ਗਲੀ ਮੇਰੀ ਅਾਉ (jau tau prem khaylan kaa chaao, sir dhar talee galee mayree aao). <i>Source: sikhcentury.us</i>

The Gadar Party was formalized in 1913 and headquartered in San Francisco. According to the secret Ghadr Directory published by the British Indian government in 1917, and in 1934, the Gadar Party had 616 members: 527 were Sikh, 54 were Hindu and 35 were Muslim. 

“In North America, the embracing of socialistic ideology of equality and liberty by Sikh revolutionaries was already firmly grounded in the institution of the Khalsa,” Jasbir Singh writes. Their religious consciousness was their guiding force, and that also is why the movement was non-racial and non-sectarian, he says.

At the onset of World War I, in 1914, the Gadarees “left the shores of California by whatever ship they could get and arrived in India to infiltrate the (British Indian) army and incite rebellion,” Jasbir Singh writes. 

About 8,000 Gadarees went back. The majority of them were Sikhs, and included only 20 to 25 Hindus or Muslims, wrote Sachindra Nath Sanyal, in his book, “Bandi Jeevan,” (Incarcerate Life). Sanyal met them in Punjab. 

“If someone has to meet the Sikh Dal (Gadar) members, one has to go to gurdwaras where they are only seen,” he wrote. “Most of the members were over 60 years of age but they had courage and zeal like young men, he said. “These Sikh Dal members will start reciting Sikh scripture early morning after taking a bath.”

Sanyal later formed the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association, in 1928, for armed rebellion against the British Raj.

The Gadar plan involved 25 gurdwaras from around the world, Jasbir Singh writes. The major players were granthees and spiritual personalities. Of the 29 granthees who went back to fight for freedom, 16 were indicted by the British for seditious activities. 

Most of the 8,000 Gadarees were arrested by the British Indian government. About 5,000 were let off, and about 400 received various sentences, including death. 

According to the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin, of the 62 Gadarees sentenced to life imprisonment in the notorious Andaman Islands, 57 were Sikh. And, of the 48 Gadarees sentenced to death and hanged, 40 were Sikh.

In the years leading up to the exhibition, Masum Momaya, its curator and researcher, connected with several Sikhs who submitted information on Sikh American history, including Harpreet Singh of Northern California, co-founder of the American Sikh Congressional Caucus. He provided comprehensive data on the Gadar Lehar (Revolutionary Wave), he told SikhNN. 

“It is not new to them,” said Jatinder Singh Hundal, an expert on Gadar history, from Sacramento. California. “There is nothing he gave them that they didn’t already know.”

But those facts did not materialize in Momaya’s version of Gadar history.

“The curatorial team, led by Dr. Masum Momaya, stands behind its research,” said Emily Grebenstein, spokeswoman for Momaya and the Smithsonian. “At this time, the Smithsonian has no intention of making changes to the exhibition’s labels and artifacts.”

The Smithsonian is presenting Gadar history with a “British-Colonial and Indian-Brahminical” bias, Jasbir Singh told SikhNN. And its information is factually incorrect, he added.

"The exhibition cost over $1 million, which included planning, research, artifact acquisition and display, design and fabrication," Grebenstein said. "The money came from both federal funds and philanthropic donations." 

No Sikh was listed as a major donor.

The Gadar history presented by Momaya and the Smithsonian is the same homogeneously secularized narrative presented by the Indian government. In her keynote address, in May 2013, Ambassador Nirupama Rao said: “It was exactly 100 years ago that the Gadar Party was formed in California. And it was formed by basically Punjabi immigrants to this country, both Sikhs and Hindus, and Muslims also…” Rao spoke at the Photographic Exhibition on Sikh Heritage of India, at the Gandhi Memorial Center, in Bethesda, Maryland. 

The exhibition

“The full story of Indian Americans is vast and requires more than a 5,000 square foot exhibition,” Grebenstein said, by email. “This exhibition is intended to be a starting point – to highlight some of the major contributions of Indian Americans and their history.”

The space for the exhibition is divided into sections with photographs, labels and paintings that are spread throughout the walls. While larger areas are devoted to sections with elaborate three-dimensional props of Indian kids in the Spelling Bee, Sikh taxi drivers, Indian “Patel” hotel history, use of Corning Ware dinnerware, modern art, bhangra and yoga, only one photograph is devoted to the entire Gadar history, which spanned about eight years, engaged nearly all of the early immigrants, resulted from their struggles for civil rights and their fight for independence, and involved the U. S., Canada, Germany, British India and other countries around the world.

The exhibition space includes many props. Top left: Masum Momaya speaks at the Spelling Bee section. Top right: A three-dimensional prop of an Indian-owned hotel lobby. Bottom left: An octagon-shaped prop on yoga. Bottom right: A full-size dining table with Corning Ware dinnerware. Source: SikhNN

“As we enjoy the American dream sitting in our palatial homes and leading a prosperous life, we must remember that we owe a debt of gratitude to these pioneers,” writes Rajen Anand, in "We Owe Them a Debt of Gratitude," for the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin’s 2013 Gadar centennial commemoration. 

The immigration and discrimination sections of the exhibition

It was the temporal challenges and the spiritual inspirations of the early immigrants that triggered the Gadar Lehar. In the first two sections of the exhibition, “The First Immigrants,” and “Driven Out,” Momaya presents a distorted history of the early immigrants and their struggles, experts said. 

U. S. immigration records and other historical records show that 95 percent of the first immigrants, from 1900 to the end of World War II, in 1945, were Punjabi Sikhs. The rest were Punjabi Hindus and Punjabi Muslims. 

But the photographs used in this section show very few Sikhs. And all immigrants are indiscriminately labeled “Indian” or “Punjabi.” 

Newspaper and personal accounts show that it was the Sikhs who bore the brunt of all discrimination, and exclusionary policies also were directed at them. Their Hindu and Muslim brethren were inadvertent casualties in the Sikh struggle for civil rights in the U.S. 

The Gadar section of the exhibition

This section, called “Freedom Here and There,” is located on a wall next to the immigration and discrimination sections. It mistakenly links the struggle for U. S. citizenship as the driving force behind the formation of the Gadar Party. 

An enlarged quote at the top states: “The right to become a naturalized citizen, under the provisions of this act, shall extend to persons or races indigenous to India,” Luce-Celler Act of 1946. Under the quote is a label describing the section, an enlarged photograph of Gadar Party members, and an image of a newspaper advertisement pleading for American intervention in Indian independence. 

The Gadar section of the exhibition contains one misleading photo, and an incorrect narrative and caption. <i>Source: SikhNN</i>

The label incorrectly says: “Although separated by thousands of miles, Indians in India were fighting for freedom from British rule at the same time as Indian immigrants in America were fighting for citizenship…”

Before 1914, when the Gadar Lehar took effect, Indians in British India were not yet “fighting for freedom.” 

After Maharajah Ranjit Singh’s death in 1839, the British East India Company launched the Anglo-Sikh Wars against the weakened Sikh empire. It fell in 1849. The company formed the province of Punjab and established representative British rule from Lahore. 

After the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857, a mutiny in parts of the British Indian army, protesting British violation of Hindu and Muslim religious sentiments, the company was dissolved. The British established direct rule of the country, in 1858, as the new British Raj. 

Queen Victoria’s proclamation assured respect for religion and protection for her new subjects, although that never was the practice. The queen, herself, exiled Maharaja Duleep Singh, Ranjit Singh’s adolescent son, to England and converted him to Christianity.

The British Raj included India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Punjab also was a larger area, which included West Punjab, now in Pakistan. The British Raj reorganized its administration, its financial institutions and its military. Sikhs, particularly Amritdhaarees, were recruited into its military in large numbers. 

“The conception of India as a whole, as one unified country, and of its people as one solid nation, for whose independence they could combine together and fight to the last, was yet in embryo in 1857, and was not familiar to the Indian mind,” writes Ganda Singh in, “The Indian Mutiny of 1857 and the Sikhs,” published by the Sisganj Gurdwara Parbandak Committee, in 1969. “It was, in fact, propounded by the sponsors and leaders of the Indian National Congress some three decades later, when a beginning came to be made for the emotional integration of the people under its banner.”

The Congress political party formed in 1883 as a forum for civic and political dialogue between the educated Indians and the British Raj. The party split on ideology by 1907, and did not inspire a “fight for independence.” 

When the British unsuccessfully tried to partition Bengal, in 1905, East Bengal industries cried foul at the possible loss of natural resources, and blamed the British of employing a divide-and-conquer policy. Although this set off sedition sentiments, it did not result in a “fight for independence.” 

When the British passed legislation, in 1906, designed to plunder Punjab’s agriculture and to grab land from the peasants, it also created seditious sentiments and boycotts, but it did not produce a mass movement or “fight for independence.” 

“On reaching India, the Gadarites found that the situation was not ripe for any revolutionary activity,” writes Gurcharan Singh Aulakh, in “Gadarite’s dreams in Babbar Akali Lehar and the Reality of Independence Movement,” also presented at the Stockton gurdwara centennial.

“Many sections of society were agog to act as stooges of the (British) government. The mahants of the Sikh gurdwaras and some other Sikh organizations passed resolutions against the Gadarites.”

At the inception of the Gadar Lehar, in 1907, very few “Indian immigrants in America were fighting for citizenship.” Disenfranchisement was not the most urgent issue for these immigrants. 

The exhibition only presents three persons who sought U. S. citizenship: Kanta Chandra, in 1910, A. K. Mozumdar, in 1912, and Bhagat Singh Thind, who applied after the end of World War I, in 1918, after the Gadar Lehar crumbled. His case went to the Supreme Court, in 1922. 

Tyrannical agrarian policies by the British had led Punjabis, beginning in 1897, to immigrate to Canada, a British commonwealth. As Canadian lumber mills began hiring them as cheap labor, their numbers increased suddenly from 1904 to 1908, to more than 5,000, Jasbir Singh writes. About 98 percent of them were Sikh, and the majority of them were veterans. 

Their influx caused a backlash from Canadian workers who lost their jobs to the lower-wage immigrants. As a result, Canada passed legislation to essentially stop Sikh immigration. Women and families were not allowed at all. And attempts were made to deport to Honduras the Sikhs who already were settled in Canada. 

Sikhs began migrating south of the border, into Northwestern U. S. cities. They also arrived by ships, in San Francisco, and through Mexico. Most were farmers and mill workers but a small number also came to study at the University of California, at Berkeley. Nearly 1,750 Punjabis immigrated between 1904 and 1908, Jasbir Singh writes.

But there were never more than 7,000 legal Punjabi immigrants between 1897 and the end of World War II, in 1945, said Bruce LaBrack, professor emeritus of cultural anthropology at the University of the Pacific, in Stockton, California. And, about 95 percent of them were Sikh. 

U. S. workers also began to feel threatened. On Sept 4, 1907, riots began in Bellingham, Washington. The Sikhs were driven out. Months later, a riot occurred in Everett, Washington. And, in Aberdeen, Washington, the Sikhs and other Punjabis left after being threatened. Riots also ensued the following year, in California. American workers began to lobby Congress to pass Asian exclusion legislation. 

The greatest struggle for the early immigrants in the U. S. was for basic civil rights. They were fighting against employment discrimination, immigration discrimination, and racial discrimination. 

Photo caption. <i>Source: SikhNN</i>

The photo caption misleadingly says: “In the same spirit that American colonists organized for freedom from England, Indian immigrants campaigned for dignity and rights for Indians back home.”

Before the formation of the Gadar Party, in 1913, Sikhs organized and “campaigned for dignity and rights for Indians” in North America, which led to an armed struggle for freedom “back home.”

The Sikhs, being farmers and mill workers, needed an English-speaking person to campaign for their rights. They asked Teja Singh, a student at Columbia University, in New York, and later at Harvard University, in Massachusetts, for help. In 1906, Teja Singh left his job as vice principal of Khalsa College, in Amritsar, to study and spread Sikhi. He was about 29. Teja Singh’s oratory skills moved his American professors and friends to ask him to lecture on Indian culture and Guru Nanak’s teachings. 

The news about Teja Singh’s landmark lectures in New York reached Canada where Sikhs wanted a learned person to explain their faith to Canadians, writes Sukhmander Singh in “Life and Times of Sant Teja Singh: 1906-1912,” also presented at the Stockton gurdwara centennial. 

“His fights against unjust and ill treatment of (Sikhs) in Canada and America were most remarkable and were even acknowledged by the governments of these countries,” Sukhmander Singh says. His deep faith in Sikhi also moved the Sikhs. He consecrated dozens of Amritdhaarees everywhere he went. 

Under Teja Singh’s guidance, the Sikhs began to consolidate their efforts by building gurdwaras, where they and their Hindu and Muslim compatriots regularly met. The Canadian gurdwaras opened in Vancouver, in 1908, and in Victoria and Abbotsford, in 1912. The Vancouver gurdwara became the first center for seditious propaganda. Teja Singh briefly went to London, and also coordinated the first gurdwara there, in 1910. 

The first gurdwara in the U. S. opened in Stockton, California, in 1912. It was named the Pacific Coast Khalsa Diwan Society, and became the center of social and political gatherings and a focal point for Sikh revolutionaries. Teja Singh was its president.

Vedantic centers did not participate in any independence movement although New York, Chicago and San Francisco centers existed at that time, Jasbir Singh writes. 

“Teja Singh was the first Ghadree who organized the community, established institutions, created Sikh awareness, and posed a real threat to the British,” Sukhmander Singh says. 

“He essentially prepared the ground work for the Gadar movement to take root.”

The struggle for constitutional rights continued from 1907 to 1913. But the Canadian and American governments were relentless. The British Raj encouraged these allies to impede immigration and restrict other civil rights. 

Sikhs and other nationalists realized that as long as they were slaves in their motherland, they would be treated as slaves everywhere, without rights.

The Gadar Party was established in June 1913. 

Photo of Gadar Party members, which experts said was an unrepresentative sample of Gadrees, nearly all of whom were Sikhs. <i>Source: SikhNN</i>

Only one artifact is dedicated to the Gadar Party in the Smithsonian’s exhibition. It is a photograph that shows several men standing under the party’s banner. Only two are recognizable Sikhs.

“These people were not what we call the heart and soul of the movement - it was all Sikhs with turbans,” Sukhmander Singh told SikhNN. They not only had the spark of freedom but also the Khalsa resolve to carry through with the fight. 

“The Smithsonian has picked up an isolated thing (picture) that is not a representative sample.”

Har Dayal was an orator-turned-traitor. He is erroneously named as a Gadar leader. <i>Source: SikhNN</i>

The photograph’s caption wrongly says: “In 1913, in Stockton, California, Har Dayal and other immigrants formed the Gadar Party to support India’s surging movement for independence from Britain.” 

“They only mention one Indian by name who was associated for a few months in the beginning of the organization when it was not fully developed, and never took part in it,” Jatinder Singh told SikhNN. “Har Dayal’s own writings, published in newspapers, journals and books, in British India, Europe and the U. S., show he was against the Gadar Lehar. 

“To mention his name as a leading figure is a mistake.

“His association with Sikhs in California was a short lived and virtually uneventful association with the Pacific Coast Khalsa Diwan Society (Stockton gurdwara) and the Ghadr Lehar,” he writes in “Gadar Lehar and Lala Har Dayal: Life, Activities & Ideology,” also presented at the Stockton gurdwara centennial. “This included his contribution to the official publication, “Gadar.” Few of his writings, mostly mild in tone, appeared in this publication.”

Har Dayal was able to articulate party policy and was usually seen speaking publically about the party more than anyone else, Jatinder Singh added.  The local media, unaware of the inner workings of the party, would usually see a spokesman as the de facto leader of the party. But it was the Sikhs who were the major players, the foot soldiers, the contributors. The Gadar Party was financed 100 percent by the Sikhs, either directly or through the Stockton gurdwara. 

Har Dayal was not liked among the Sikhs, he said. In those days, Sikhs were apprehensive about non-Sikhs, but not because of discrimination or hate. 

Since the majority of the upper leadership was from Punjab, they either knew each other or were familiar with each others families or villages, Jatinder Singh writes.  Their common struggle created a strong bond. Outsiders, especially non-Sikhs, found it difficult to infiltrate and take control of the Gadar Lehar. It remained a solely Sikh movement, especially Sikhs belonging to Punjab.

They needed an articulate person who could speak to the public in English about the Gadar Lehar. "They felt they had no choice in this case," he told SikhNN. 

Har Dayal was born into an aristocratic pro-British family in New Delhi, and graduated from Government College Lahore. He left India, in 1908, abandoning his wife and newborn daughter, whom he never saw, and worked as an editor of an Indian newspaper in Switzerland. He moved to Massachusetts, in 1911, where he met Teja Singh at Harvard, and learned of the Sikh pioneers in California. 

From California, Har Dayal went to Waikiki Beach, Hawaii, where he briefly lived in a cave-like environment and studied Buddhism and the works of Karl Marx, Jatinder Singh writes. In 1912, he was appointed by Stanford University, California, as lecturer of Indian philosophy, but was terminated when a San Francisco newspaper published an article on his “free love” theory, opposing marriage. He also was having an affair with a student at the time. 

Har Dayal then formed a communist organization, “The Fraternity of the Red Flag,” the same year. 

He also began working with Sikhs who had already designed the infrastructure of contacts and supporters to carry out the responsibilities of the Gadar movement. His offer to work on the “Gadar” newspaper, the official publication of the Gadar Lehar, was accepted by the Pacific Coast Khalsa Diwan Society.

In early 1913, Har Dayal took an oath at Yugantar Ashram, the Gadar Party headquarters, in San Francisco, to fight for independence as part of the Gadar Lehar. But in May 1913, he met with Sikh activists in the lumber mills of Oregon who had formed the Hindi Association of Pacific Coast. Sohan Singh Bakhna was chosen as its president and Har Dayal was appointed its secretary. 

“Either out of ignorance, or some other reason, some people call Har Dayal the founder of the Gadar Party – that is not true,” said Sohan Singh Bakhna, in a statement published on the Gadar Heritage Foundation Web site. “The party had taken root much earlier than Har Dayal’s first visit to St. John (Oregon), in March 1913.” 

“The funds collected by Gadar Lehar were most likely put to use to develop this organization, thus splitting up the movement,” Jatinder Singh writes. “It clearly shows that he was looking for an opportunity to develop his own agenda, with his own organization, fully in his control… His involvement with the Gadar Lehar and its mother organization, the Pacific Coast Khalsa Diwan Society, was only superficial at best and non-involvement at worst.”

The first issue of the Gadar newspaper was published in November 1913, with Guru Granth Sahib’s sloak 20, page 1,412, on its banner: ਜਉ  ਤਉ ਪ੍ੇਮ ਖੇਲਣ ਕਾ ਚਾਉ, ਸਿਰ ਧਰਿ ਤਲੀ ਗਲੀ ਮੇਰੀ ਅਾਉ (jau tau prem khaylan kaa chaao, sir dhar thalee galee mayree aao). It means: If you wish to play this game of love with me, then step into my path with your head in your hand.

The Gadar Party also published a pamphlet of poetry, "Gadar di Goonj," which included many shabads from Guru Granth Sahib.

Har Dayal’s writings, in other publications, show that he was not interested in the same kind of revolution as the Gadarees envisioned. He did not want an independent India with peoples of all faiths. He promoted a Hindu India and a separate Sikh Punjab.

“His important ideological statements (and) write ups provide insight into his mind as a staunch Hindu who was obsessed with the creation of a Hinduism-based state that would ensure supremacy of Hinduism (and) protect the cow as a sacred animal…” Jatinder Singh writes.

With his own agenda in mind, Har Dayal networked with German officials to provide assistance for the Gadar Lehar. The Germans were not only interested in India’s natural and industrial resources, but also in distracting the British during the impending world war. They helped with the distribution of Gadar pamphlets all over the world, and provided funds to the Stockton gurdwara for use in the Gadar Lehar.

At least one of Har Dayal’s public speeches was attended by a German official. Har Dayal was arrested in March 1914. Deportation files from the Bureau of Immigration show he was arrested “on charges of being a member of excluded classes (communists) and anarchist or advocating the overthrow of the United States government by force.” The Gadar was not mentioned. During his interrogation, Har Dayal made derogatory remarks about Indian freedom fighters and distanced himself from the movement. 

Unaware of Har Dayal’s remarks, Gadar Party members helped him escape to Europe in April 1914. After he left, he never again made any contact with anyone in movement.  Later that year, Har Dayal broke away from the Indian National Committee in Berlin, and criticized its work for the freedom of India.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “Har Dayal decisively rejected his earlier revolutionary viewpoint. He abandoned his Anglophobia, advocated the mixed British and Indian administration of his country, and became a firm admirer of Western culture and values.” 

The Canadian government released this stamp marking the 100th anniversary of the Komagata Maru incident. <i>Source: SikhNN</i>

March 1914 also was a tipping point for Sikhs in Canada. The Continuous Journey act required passengers to make a nonstop journey from British India to Canada in order to immigrate. The new act was designed to stop immigration, as all ships made at least one stop. The act was then amended to also require immigrants to have $200 in their possession.

Gudit Singh of Sarhali chartered a ship, Komagata Maru</a>, for this purpose. It sailed nonstop from India to Vancouver. But the Komagata Maru still was not allowed entry, and was compelled to leave in July 1914. Of the 376 passengers on the Komagata Maru, 346 were Sikhs. 

Upon its return to Calcutta, the British police insisted that passengers board a train bound for Punjab, Gurcharan Singh writes. Fearing that the train would be diverted and they would be imprisoned, only 50 men and two children boarded the train. About 203 were arrested, 32 absconded and 19 were killed.

This jatha (group) could not have been returning to India, in 1924, to start a revolution because the Gadar movement ended in 1915, nine years earlier. <i>Source: SikhNN</i>

The Gadar photo caption also erroneously says: “Here, a jatha, a group of freedom fighters from the Gadar Party, in San Francisco, in 1924, gets ready for a trip back to India.”

The Gadar plan failed in 1915, nine years before what the caption states. “Jatha” is a Sikh term, but they were not getting “ready for a trip back to India” in 1924.

“The Gadar uprising, planned for Feb. 19, 1915, which was supposed to be the beginning of a revolution in India, ended with disaster, and all leaders of the movement in India were either killed, detained or went into hiding,” Jatinder Singh writes. 

Before leaving the U. S., Har Dayal handpicked and appointed Ram Chandra, a Brahmin from Peshawar, as head of the Gadar Party. During the trial, it became public knowledge that Ram Chandra had taken possession of the building that housed the headquarters of the Gadar, its newspaper and all the accounts of the Ghadr Party. Both the Germans and the Sikhs were astonished. 

The Sikhs returned to their homeland to start an armed revolt, but received no money or arms as promised by the non-Sikh Gadar leaders left behind in the U. S. Yet they went ahead with their plan to capture the Mian Mir and Ferozepur cantonments, before engineering a mutiny in Ambala and Delhi. But one of their own, Kirpal Singh, betrayed them. The British disarmed the Sikh and other Indian soldiers in those areas, and made sweeping arrests. They were sentenced in the Ferozepur Conspiracy Trial.

In the U. S., the German Conspiracy Trial began in San Francisco, in November 1917. Of the 34 people who went on trial, 17 were Gadarees, the rest were Germans or German Americans. Bhai Ram Singh, a Gadaree, killed Chandra on April 23, 1918, when the trial ended.

During the trial, Har Dayal wrote an article for a San Francisco publication that criticized the Germans and nationalist Indians who were involved in the freedom movement, including Gadarees.

In 1919, the year of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, Har Dayal’s letters were published in London, and in the New York Times, announcing that he no longer believed in freedom for India. He applied for amnesty in England and continued to publish several papers, and a book, about the fallacy of revolution and the superiority of English society. He married a Swiss woman, in 1926, while still married to his Indian wife. 

Har Dayal was given amnesty in March 1927, and lived as a recluse in England. He died in 1934, in Philadelphia, while lecturing, and was cremated by the Philadelphia Ethical Society.

“It was betrayal by men like Har Dayal that despite a high degree of devotion for the cause and willingness for ultimate sacrifice, the Gadar Movement could not achieve success as envisioned by the faithful foot soldiers that returned to India to fight for India’s freedom, and paid the ultimate price with their lives,” Jatinder Singh writes.

But the thousands of Gadarees who survived went on to lead or participate in other freedom movements.

Most of them belonged to the Central Punjab region. Some took part in forming the Central Sikh League, in Amritsar, in December 1919, which coincided with the annual meeting of the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League.

Others became members and presidents of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, which formed in 1920. Two of the Gadarees, including Sohan Singh Bakhna, became Akal Takhat Jathedar. 

Many also took part in forming the Babbar Akali Lehar for independence, in 1921.  

“Their source of inspiration was exclusively Sikh lore and history,” Gurcharan Singh writes. “To fight against tyranny of this kind was the duty of a true Sikh.

“The role of the Sikhs in the struggle of India’s freedom must be written in the words of gold,” they say. “They were in front in every struggle, whether it was the Agrarian Agitation of 1907, the Gadar Movement, the Babbar Akali Movement, the Hindustan Socialist Republican Organisation or National Congress Movement or Indian National army, led by Subash Chandra Bose.”

The Sikhs constitute only two percent of India’s total population, they write, but of the 2,175 Indians martyred during freedom struggles, 1,557 were Sikh. Of the 2,646 Indians sent to the Andaman Islands for life imprisonment, 2,147 were Sikh. Of the 127 Indians hanged for sedition, 92 were Sikh. Of the 20,000 Indians who joined the Indian National Army, 12,000 were Sikh. 

The Sikhs made extraordinary sacrifices that led to the eventual independence of India, but at the unforeseeable cost of the British dividing the Sikh homeland. The Sikhs never signed the ratification of the Indian constitution.

Masum Momaya, the curator of the Beyond Bollywood exhibition, is an expert in women’s rights. She also is the researcher for the exhibition. Momaya was made aware of all the issues concerning Sikhs in her exhibition, but she will not consider changing any of it labels or artifacts.

________________________ From Sikh News Network archives.