It was exactly one hundred years ago (1913), that a group of dedicated Punjabis from India, living in North America, decided to dare the British government to leave India. To give it a practical shape to this objective they gave birth to the Ghadar Movement. A hundred years later (2013) the entire Indo-Canadian community is actively engaged in celebrating the centenary of the Ghadar Movement with a great deal of enthusiasm. Nearly every major function held by the Indo-Canadian community this year is being dedicated to the brave souls affectionately called Ghadari Babey. In this context, the work being done by organizations like the Khalsa Diwan Society (KDS), Vancouver and the Ghadar Party Centennial Celebration Committee is commendable. A number of other organizations are also engaged in organizing activities in various cities of Canada to pay tribute to the Freedom Fighters. They have outlined very comprehensive programs that will run throughout the year.
Khalsa Diwan Society, Vancouver kicked off its celebration with a very successful sports tournament early in May. It followed that with an ambitious program on May 25 and 26. On May 25, the Society organized a very successful Kavi Darbar. A number of well-known local poets entertained the audience with very diverse, emotional and inspirational recitation of their poems dedicated to the Freedom Fighters. The poets included Daljit Singh Kalyanpuri, Inderjit Singh Dhami, Harbans Kaur Bains, Gill Moranwali, Harchand Singh Bagri, Manjit Singh Panesar, Khushal Singh Kloti, Mohan Singh Gill and Surinder Singh Jabbal. All of them paid a very fitting tribute to those fearless warriors who gave up their lives to free India and facilitate better lives for their countrymen overseas.
Sunday, May 26 was another exciting day at the Ross Street Gurdwara. The whole complex was buzzing with activity since early morning. After morning hymn sings and prayers, the celebration began with some of the poets sharing their poems dedicated to the Ghadar Movement .This was followed by releasing a souvenir. The souvenir is a compilation of articles and poems about the Ghadar Movement. This 96 page booklet both in English and Punjabi is a great tribute to the Ghadari Babey. It was compiled by a committee consisting of Mohan Singh Gill, Sucha Singh Claire,Nadeem Parmar, Balwant Singh Sanghera, Kartar Singh Bains and Rajinder Singh Pandher. This souvenir is available free of charge from the Khalsa Diwan Society Vancouver Office at 8000 Ross Street in Vancouver.
Indo-Canadian community pioneer Jagat (Jack) Singh Uppal had the honour of releasing the souvenir. He was accompanied by other dignitaries including India’s Consul General Ravi Shankar Aisola, Society president Sohan Singh Deo and KDS executive. Uppal, who came to Canada as a one year old child in 1926, shared his experiences as he grew up and paid a very fitting tribute to the Freedom Fighters. Mr. Aisola, Mr. Deo, Joginder Singh Sunner and Mohan Singh Gill also paid very well deserved tributes to the Freedom Fighters. They were followed by local historian Sohan Singh Puni. Puni gave an impressive account of the Indo-Canadian community’s trials and tribulations in Canada and the rise of the Ghadar Movement. He mentioned that the Ghadar Movement came formally into existence in April 2013 in Astoria, near Portland in Oregon State of the U.S. It was a very secular movement which included Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims. This is a great credit to their unity of purpose. They put aside their religious and personal beliefs in order to focus on their common goal of fighting for their rights and India’s independence from the British rule.
Puni, a very well respected historian, stated that the Freedom Fighters modelled their movement on the American Independence (from the British) model. It may be one of the reasons that they decided to have the Ghadar Movement’s headquarters in places like Astoria and Sanfransisco. Later on, Vancouver also became a major hub of their activities with the Khalsa Diwan Society playing a pivotal role in this regard. Puni mentioned that the Ghadari Babey‘s main objective was to fight British Imperialism at every step of the way. Thus their activities spread around the globe. In addition to fighting for India’s independence, these Freedom Fighters also had to face racism, harassment, hatred and discrimination in Canada and the U.S.Puni stated that between 1904 and 1908 there were 5,200 of our ancestors in the Vancouver area. However, by 1910 there were only 2,600 left here as the rest had moved to western U.S.-mainly to Washington, Oregon and California States. Their numbers in the U.S. had reached 7,500 by 1910. Regardless, their struggle to get the right to vote in Canada and keep fighting for India’s independence from the British rule never slowed down. Eventually, these Freedom Fighters’ sacrifices paid off. They were successful in getting the right to vote for people of Indian origin in Canada in 1947. The same year, India became an independent nation.
Today, more than a million people of Indian origin are enjoying the good life in this country. Thanks to the trials, tribulations and sacrifices of our ancestors here, we have come a long way from the dark days of Komagatamaru and Asian Exclusion Act. Our brave pioneers were never deterred by the insurmountable obstacles . They had the courage to put up with a lot of abuse, ridicule and mistreatment. However, these brave Freedom Fighters never gave up. They kept on fighting not only for the freedom of their motherland but also for the human rights and respect for everyone here in Canada. It is due to their sacrifices that to-day, our community has become one of the most affluent, respected, resilient, prosperous and generous one in Canada. Members of our community are now in the forefront in every area-be it politics, business, media, technology or sports. We are reaping the fruit of our ancestors’ labours and sacrifices. For this we can never thank them enough.
Balwant Sanghera is a retired School Psychologist and Community Activist.