Ghadr, 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
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
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 Ghadr Ashram also known as Yugantar Ashram, and
also to form a Ghadr 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? Ghadr. What is
our work? Ghadr. Where will Ghadr break out? In India. The time
will soon come when rifles and blood will take the place of pen
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 Ghadr 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 Ghadr. 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
The first issue of the Ghadr, 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 Ghadr published
the following advertisement:
Wanted: Enthusiastic and heroic soldiers for organizing Ghadr in
Field of work :
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 Ghadr 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 Ghadr 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 Ghadr 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 Ghadr 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 Ghadr party.
The Komagata Maru incident added fuel to the fire. In San Francisco,
the Ghadr 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 Ghadr party gathered
at Yugantar Ashram, discussed the situation and decided to take
advantage of the involvement of the British in the war. The Ghadr
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 Ghadr 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 Ghadr 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 Ghadr 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 Ghadr 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 : Ghadr 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
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 Ghadr 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 Ghadr 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 Ghadrites 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
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 Ghadr 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 Ghadr men in the Central Jail, Lahore. Thus
the rebellion was smashed by the government before it had really
The Ghadr 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
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 Ghadr party contacted Germany, Turkey, Afghanistan, China and
other countries, but not much help came from any of these. Germany
sympathized with the Ghadr 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 Ghadr 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 Ghadr party.
Ghadr 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 Ghadr leaders were especially
prominent among the Babar Akalis.