1913, The Gadar Party, and the Roots of India’s Armed anti-British Colonial Struggle–in San Francisco

[In 1913, a growing number of migrants from India to Canada and the US  formed The Gadar Party in San Francisco, designed to  organize an army to overthrow British colonial rule in India.  This organization  organized thousands of primarily Punjabis and Sikhs to return to India with the purpose of launching armed revolts (and mutinies among Indian soldiers in the British colonial army), and thereby sparked the struggle of millions during the first half of the 20th Century.  The noted revolutionary, Bhagat Singh, was himself motivated strongly by the Gadar Party’s revolutionary struggles.  Eventually, much of the party was crushed and its members hanged–and the remainder split into Communist and anti-Communist sections.  Today, while millions of Indians celebrate this heroic resistance and heritage, people in the US remain largely ignorant of the important history of these revolutionary and criminalized migrants.  We salute the heroic and historic resistance, 100 years ago, of these remarkable revolutionaries!  —  Frontlines ed.]

“The Ghadar Party’s main support came from Punjabi peasants who had begun to migrate from Punjab in the 1890’s. Moving east to Hong Kong and further east to the United States, and Canada in search of better wages, these men, most of them Sikh, worked as laborers in the Pacific Northwest. During the slump of 1907, Punjabis in Canada found themselves the butt of racial prejudice, as had other Asian immigrant groups also sources of cheap labor, who preceded them. The Punjabis were vilified as “ragheads” and the “turbanes tide”, and they found themselves at the storm center of racial tensions that occasionally flared into violence. Stung by their bitter experiences with prejudice and bigotry, disheartened by the British government’s failure to assist with problems of immigration to Canada, harboring a persecuted immigrant’s need to reaffirm his cultural identity, the Indians in California and the other coastal states were primed to be receptive to the idea of fighting a revolutionary struggle for India’s freedom.”

–from  “The Ghadar Party – Historical Assessment of an Indian Revolutionary Movement” by Emily Datta

“The major weakness of the Ghadar Party was its exceptionally poor sense of secrecy, which made it an easy target for British imperialism, armed as the latter was with the knowledge of the Ghadarites’ plans, not to say a monstrous police and military machine for suppression of the Indian people. The second weakness of the leadership of the Ghadar Party was its failure to understand the essence of imperialism. Hence the entertainment of the illusion by it that it could rely on the assistance of imperialist Germany for India’s freedom, whereas German imperialism was only interested in using the Ghadarites against Britain and snatching the latter’s colonial possessions for itself. Such an understanding had to await the epoch-making victory of the October Revolution in Russia.”  —  by Harpal Brar

Gadar – Overseas Indians Attempt to Free India from British Serfdom

By Inder Singh

Gadar Movement is the saga of courage, valor and determination of overseas Indians who had come to Canada and the United States either for higher education or for economic opportunities. They imbibed the fire and zeal of revolutionaries and became the trail blazers of freedom struggle for their motherland, India. They may have lived ordinary lives but they left an extra-ordinary legacy.

Cover of India Against Britain by Ram Chandra. Published in San Francisco by the Gadar Party [1916]. Excerpts from articles that refute allegations made by loyalists to the British Raj.

Cover of “India Against Britain” by Ram Chandra. Published in San Francisco by the Gadar Party [1916]. Excerpts from articles that refute allegations made by loyalists to the British Raj.

At the dawn of the twentieth century, both India and Canada were British dominions, so, Indians had easier access to emigrate to Canada. The new immigrants were hard working and accepted lower wages, so some Canadian companies publicized the economic and job opportunities available in Canada to seek more cheap labor from India. During the first few years, every year about 2000 immigrants, mostly Punjabi farmers and laborers were permitted to come. As the number of immigrants increased, the locals felt threatened by labor competition from the hardy and adventurous Punjabis. Fear of labor competition led to racial antagonism and demands for exclusionary laws from cheap foreign Asian workers. In 1909, severe immigration restrictions virtually ended legal Indian immigration to Canada.

When Indian immigrants saw the doors closing on them in Canada, they started coming to the United States which needed more people to do hard labor work to build new communities. In the U.S, they faced many difficulties, suffered numerous hardships and encountered rampant discrimination. Initially, they could find only menial jobs, but over a period of time and with their hard work and determination, many of them became successful farmers with their own land.

Within a span of few years, number of immigrant workers had swelled, so they starting facing widespread hostility which led to racial riots, resulting in certain cases, a loss of life and property. Like Canada, the United States, which had initially welcomed the Asian labor to do menial jobs, enacted Asian exclusionary laws to bar Asians emigrating to the United States. Continue reading