A massive ship that had left India a few days ago had reached the harbor at San Francisco on a gloomy January morning. An innocent pair of eyes had witnessed alien land, a metropolitan city that was vastly different from the small villages in India. As he stepped foot on American land, a sight of agony immediately caught his eye. The treatment and prolonged verification that the Indians were put through was a depressing sight. The other passengers belonging from Europe were treated like Kings and Queens. Those innocent eyes were filled with a rush of enquiry and realized that the western world considered Indians to be their slaves. What the eyes saw, had an impact on the mind and the seeds of a new conflict were sown in young Kartar Singh Sarabha’s heart.
At the tender age of 16, Kartar Singh’s parents encouraged him to get on the ship so that he could commence further studies and earn considerably for the family. Coming from the small district of Sarabha in Ludhiana, Singh was not synonymous to the ugly truth that existed in form of the colonial rule. He was now exposed to that brutality at a place where he neither had support nor familiarity with the people. The great change from wandering in the pastures of Sarabha to struggling in the streets of San Francisco didn’t break him, but made his stronger.
In the summer of 1912, he enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley to get a degree in Chemistry. Finances were meager and limited so he had to work. Although being an intelligent and sharp teenager, he didn’t get a job he deserved just because he was an Indian. He eventually started working on daily wages at the fruit orchids in California Central valley. His patriotic feelings escalated quickly as he found a platform to express his ideas amidst fellow Indians who shared similar thoughts. Kartar Singh was a shy person but, the humiliation he had witnessed and the discrimination he had personally faced gave rise to his dynamic side and he became an instantaneous leader.
The Road To Freedom
The common feeling of repaying mother India and an instant urge to do so led to many Indians living in California and other cities in America to come together and participate in gatherings. Gradually, these small meetings led to a need of having an organization. This need and an incessant work force of many Indians led to the formation of Ghadr Party on 21st April, 1913. Ghadr meant revolt, a war against the British. Kartar Singh Sarabha was one of the front members who proposed propaganda and armed conflict to achieve the objective. Many agreed to his ideas and initiated their progress for respective tasks.
The untiring work force delivered soon. The Ghadr party, on November 1st 1913, started printing a propaganda based paper ‘Ghadar’. Kartar Singh Sarabha was adolescent by age, but not by thinking and desire. His contributions in deciding the content and form of the paper were immense. So much so that more and more Indians based at foreign territories demanded for the paper. Soon, the paper was printed in Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Gujarati and Pashto.
When the British forces got majorly involved in the World War, Ghadr members found vulnerability and decided to make the most of the situation. On 5th August 1914, the Ghadar paper issued that the Ghadr party has declared War against the British rule. This dynamic and provocative literary work reached many soldiers, workmen, villages, Panchayats etc. While the paper succeeded in exposing the fake power and discrimination of the Britishers, Sarabha and other prepared a plan to enter India. By November 1914, Sarabha and many other revolutionaries stepped foot on their motherland. An estimate of 20,000 more revolutionaries, equipped with secretly carried arms, were expected to arrive via various ports. Many were caught and thrown in prison. The government abolished the provision of arms to Indian soldiers temporarily, but the movement didn’t lose momentum.
The Beginning of The End
Kartar Singh and others kept performing their duties and tried to expose cruel British laws and their direct interest in Indian wealth. The movement was a massive success; the masses were awakening due to this and were responding in a big manner. The Police had to plant an informer amidst the ranks and nexus of Ghadr party as the former failed to limit the organization’s popularity. Kirpal Singh would betray the people who supported him for over 8 months. He passed on information regarding revolt activities, plans and crucial locations.
Totally unprepared for the Police onslaught, many members of the Ghadr party were located and arrested. The fall of the party was imminent as the core members were now in prison. Trials had commenced and over 60 members were convicted. Kartar Singh Sarabha famously criticized the court’s proceeding and called it biased. He openly claimed that what he did was a crime against bigger criminals and he deserved no punishment. Singh, along with many Ghadrites, were executed on November 16th 1915 at Lahore Central jail.
At the tender age of 19, a hero had been martyred. For over 6 months, inhuman physical torture was endured by the Ghadr Party associates. The souls that had sparked a conflict were now placed on pyres. But, as it is rightly said, ‘Body can be destroyed but, spirit cannot be touched’- Kartar Singh Sarabha’s legacy lived on. His actions inspired Bhagat Singh who later became another warrior against the British rule and rattled their ancestors with his revolutionary actions.
In one of his poems he wrote for the Ghadr paper, he summed up the story of his life…
“Sewa desh di jinddhiye badhi aukhi
gallan karnia dher sukhalliyan ne,
jinha desh sewa ‘ch pair paya
ohna lakh museebtan jhalliyan ne.”:–
This roughly translates into the following: