Open letter to Prime Minister Regarding Ghadar Party Centenary

Prime Minister of India
PM Office, New Delhi
Subject: Regarding Ensuing Ghadar Party centenary and Ghadar memorial sites in USA and Canada

Prime Minister of India
PM Office, New Delhi
Subject: Regarding Ensuing Ghadar Party centenary and Ghadar memorial sites in USA and Canada

Dear Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh,
I have recently visited Ghadar memorial site in San Francisco in California State of United States of America (USA), where I was invited to deliver a lecture on Ghadar party hero Kartar Singh Sarabha on 22nd May, 2011, Sunday, to commemorate Sarabha’s birth anniversary due on 24th May. Apart from visiting this historic site, I got an opportunity to visit Sacramento Cemetery, where not only Ghadar party senior activist Maulvi Barkatullah was buried, many more freedom fighters from Punjab were also buried there.

I was also taken to historic Stockton Gurdwara, which was a meeting place for Ghadaris in 1913-1947 and which is now under the control of Khalistani elements, who have dumped the Ghadar party heroes photographs in one neglected room of the Gurdwara and have filled common eating place-langar with the photographs of Khalistani armed fundamentalists. I could even visit Holt farm of Ghadar party Vice President Jawala Singh, who used to offer scholarships to top Indian students. In University of California’s Berkeley campus, I was able to look at Ghadar archives documents in The Bancroft library and also contacted Centre for South Asian Studies, being looked after by Prof. Raka Ray. Prior to reaching San Francisco, I visited Vancouver in Canada to visit Komagata Maru sites, which again was related to Ghadar movement and its tragic happenings in year 1914.
This whole journey was not only emotionally touching for me, being so deeply interested in the history of revolutionary aspects of India’s freedom struggle, it was enriching in terms of collecting some documents and having first hand feel of the locations of that historic movement fought by our ancestors for the cause of freedom of India. As you are well aware that Ghadar party was launched by migrant Indians, mostly Punjabis, but was inclusive of Indians from all parts of India as Darisi Chenchiah from South, Pandurang Khankhoje from West India, Jatinder Lahiri, Taraknath Das from East India, Maulvi Barkatullah and Pandit Permanand Jhansi from Central India. It was formed in USA in early twentieth century and was announced in March 1913 meeting in St. Jones as ‘Hindi Association of Pacific Coast’ as described by its founder President Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna in his autobiography- ‘Jivan Sangram’ (Struggles of Life), written in Punjabi. However the name of the party became more popular as ‘Ghadar Party’ as from 1st November the party launched the journal called ‘Ghadar’ in Punjabi, Hindi, and Urdu and in many more Indian languages from ‘Yugantar Ashram’ at 5 Wood Street San Francisco, the very building, which is now named as ‘Ghadar Memorial’. The party took its name ‘Ghadar’, consciously to identify it with 1857 – first war of Independence, which Britishers used to call ‘Ghadar’ and the party wished to turn that contemptuous nomenclature to a respectable one by calling itself ‘Ghadar party’! It was most advanced secular democratic movement of its time, whose tradition was upheld and appropriated by Bhagat Singh later with further addition of socialist ideology. After looking at all the places and meeting various people in relation to these, I have made some observations, which I want to share with you.

These observations demand serious attention of the Government of India, as the centenary celebrations of the formation of Ghadar party are beginning next year and you are also receiving lot many representations in this connection. My observations are as follows:

The condition of the building which is now called ‘Ghadar Memorial’, located at 5, Wood Street, San Francisco, has lost its heritage character; even the original name of the building – ‘Yugantar Ashram’ finds no reference anywhere. The name ‘Yugantar Ashram’ was again to identify the movement with early revolutionary movement in Bengal with the name ‘Yugantar’.

The original name of the building was written in Urdu, Punjabi and English now only English and Hindi language changed name is painted on the front wall with no Punjabi or Urdu version. The building was handed over to Govt.. of India after the independence of the country and when Ghadar party was formally dissolved. Presently it is under the administrative control of the Counselor of India. A peon or driver of some Indian official has been put up there, who has no respect or awareness about the significance of this historic site. There is no proper care taker of the building. Very important documents and items of the Ghadar movement, including the artificial arm of Ghadari Harnam Singh Tundilat, who, lost his arm during movement, and who became famous with his surname – ‘Tundilat’ (Broken arm Lord) are under display in glass cases without any lock and key. I suspect that many of the documents could have disappeared under these circumstances. I am attaching two photographs here of the building, one original heritage site in 1913 and the other of a drab-unaesthetic econstructed building. Most of the time building remains closed, even when someone wants to visit it for historic site seeing, he or she can’t see it. It needs special permission from Consulate, which true to Indian Bureaucratic style has no sensitivity for such things, except if some rare sensitive official is posted. Lot many writers have written about it and your office also must have received many complaints in this regard. The building has been converted into a single hall with some kitchen, toilets and a room, used by the peon/driver of consulate.

My suggestion in this regard is: This building should be rebuilt as original heritage with same nomenclature – ‘Yugantar Ashram’, as is very clear from the photograph of the building and converted into Library-cum-research centre on the model of Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in New Delhi, though its scale will be much lower than that.

Further Berkeley campus of the University of California should be involved in this project and Centre for South Asian Studies of the campus, which presently is headed by eminent scholar Prof. Raka Ray, daughter of Indian academician and former Vice Chancellor of Calcutta University, Bharti Roy, with most of Indian researchers as part of it, can make detailed project on it. In fact University of California’s Berkeley campus should be offered this building on lease for establishing Ghadar archives and research centre.

Bancroft library of the University of California is already having Ghadar Archives in its possession with twenty boxes of documents and some digitalised records are also there. Govt. of India should establish Kartar Singh Sarabha Chair in the Berkeley campus of University of California, where Sarabha was a student of science in 1912-13. This Chair should be located in Ghadar memorial site turned into Ghadar research centre. Copies of all the documents relating to Ghadar movement, spread in various places of US, Canada, India, many other countries, where Ghadar party had influence like Singapore, Philippines, China, Argentina, Brazil, Germany etc. should be brought to this research centre. This should be the best tribute to Sarabha and Ghadar party movement during Ghadar party centenary celebrations. In this research centre some items of Komagata Maru site should also be put on display, such as a brick thrown by Komagata Maru passengers on Canadian police during two month struggle at Vancouver sea side, where ship remained detained. This brick is on display in Museum of Vancouver city quite prominently. The model of Komagata Maru ship should also be displayed. A film ‘Continuous Journey’ made by Ali Kazmi on Komagata Maru incident beautifully captures the moments of that period. This documentary should be shown and distributed throughout India in schools and colleges during centenary year.

B) Nehru Memorial Museum and Library should acquire the photo copy or digitalised version of Ghadar Archives in Berkeley campus Bancroft library of University of California, which in original should stay there, the University may never part with this historic record. Copies of documents in New York Public Library and other places in USA, Canada and other countries should also be acquired for this library, where a special section for the study of Ghadar movement and movement led by Bhagat Singh should be created as the two are inseparable from each other.

Sacramento Cemetery, where Maulvi Barkatullah’s and other Punjabi Muslim freedom fighters graves exist, a plaque should be put up by Govt. of India, giving the details of the role of these personalities, particularly detailed role of Maulvi Barkatullah, should be highlighted. Irony is that caretaker Patricia Hutchings of this cemetery is too keen to know these details and offer all help to put the details. We named a University in Bhopal in the name of Barkatullah, but have no sign of our respect at his grave in Sacramento! I am attaching its picture too.
The situation in Stockton Gurdwara is too serious. A place known as heritage site of Indian freedom struggle, as many meetings of Ghadar party activists used to take place here and a hall still stands in the name of Ghadari Babas. This hall displayed the photographs of Ghadar party activists and martyrs, some of these photos are under display in Desh Bhagat Yaadgar Hall, (Ghadar memorial Hall) in Jalandhar in Punjab. But the heritage nationalist Gurdwara was captured by Khalistani supporters in Stockton and now first sight of Gurdwara comes by the big banner flowing high at Gurdwara entrance—‘Khalistan Zindabad’ with photograph of Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale. Inside common eating hall (Langar), many photographs of gun totting Khalistani fundamentalists are under display as ‘martyrs’, which include killers of Smt. Indira Gandhi and General Vaidya. Ghadar party heroes photograph were taken out and put in bundles of some neglected corner room, along with photographs of Khalsitani armed fundamentalists, while the Ghadar hall has been converted into prayer room with copy of Guru Granth Sahib installed there , though already a prayer room existed there. The excuse was made for the need of another prayer hall, which could have been built in enough space and resources available in the Gurdwara. It was done to insult the memory of Ghadar party heroes and downgrade Ghadar movement as compared to Khalistani movement by these mischievous elements. It is a pity that Govt. of India cannot do anything in this regard, as the Gurdwara has been taken over by local Sikhs here, who are ignorant of glorious past of Ghadar movement and have been taken away by the loud mouthed irrational speeches of Khalistani orators. But an awareness campaign about the significance of Ghadar movement among local Sikhs/Punjabis should be launched here, so that in few years’ time, local Sikhs themselves are able to free the Gurdwara from Khalistani elements and restore its pristine glory with Ghadar party heroes memoirs. (Some photographs attached)

An identifying plaque with details at the Holt farm location of Ghadari Jawala Singh, near Stockton, not much known now to even researchers, should be put up by Govt. of India during centenary year of Ghadar party formation.

Many other things can also be done during centenary year of Ghadar party formation, but emphasis should be more on creating awareness/information/knowledge of these historic events for our younger generations. The history of such events should be taught at school level and simple books narrating the historic events should be published for free or subsidised price distribution in major Indian languages. Particularly autobiography of founder President of Ghadar Party Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna, which is about hundred pages only and written in very simple style, should be translated into all Indian languages and published through Publication Division, Government of India or through National Book Trust, which has published very good books on Indian freedom struggle in recent years should be assigned this task. Some good documentaries/television serials should also be made, but with sound historic facts. The number of Indians now in USA and Canada is very high; many meetings/seminars with published books/Ghadar party documents should take place at these places to make them feel proud of their own heritage in these countries. California state in USA and British Columbia State in Canada should be in the centre focus. Lot many politically influential Canadians of Punjabi background like former British Columbia Premier Ujjal Dosanjh, himself a grandson of a Ghadari hero, who fought against Khalistani elements and suffered, could be involved in chalking out these programmes.

I earnestly hope that under your wise academic leadership, Government of India would chalk out suitable projects to commemorate this momentous, though failed movement of our freedom struggle. However the wastage of public money should be strictly avoided and dedicated people should be involved in chalking out and overseeing the implementation of various activities during the year.

With Best Regards,
Chaman Lal
Visiting professor on Hindi Chair, Centre for Language learning
The University of the West Indies St. Augustine, Trinidad & Tobago (West Indies)
Professor & Former chairperson, Centre of Indian Languages Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

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