Autobiography of Dr. Bhagwan Singh Gyani Pritam (Brief Sketch of Life lived – cont.)

Pioneer Asian Indian

Immigration to the Pacific Coast

The liquor store provided another contribution to my education. It brought wrestlers to our village. From them I learned the art of wrestling and became engrossed in physical culture generally. I had my share of mistakes and mischief. To a certain extent all beings, particularly the young, like to imitate. This may be nature’s way of alluring us to learn. I had to prove things for myself and though venturesome, there was a serious side to my nature. Till I reached maturity the witnessing of any inspiring feat such as poetry, music, clarity of expression, outstanding physical development, skill, wrestling and the like, would act as a challenge to my ability. “Could I do likewise?” I had to try and find out. There is no denying the influence of these early questionings.

At the age of twenty I entered Updeshak College at Gujranwala for the study of music under the direction of Master Isher Singh, Giani, a friend of my father. After a few weeks, I overheard a remark about myself, make by a senior student also by the name of Ishar Singh, who observed: “What does this grand-father expects to learn in his old age?”. This casual remark not intended for my ears, changed the course of my studies, and who knows, may be the direction of my life. After consulting with Master Ishar Singh, my studies, namely, Budhivan, Vidvan and Giani. I completed the three that year. During my post-graduated term, I was appointed teacher at the same College, and the following year, 1907, lecturer on Sikhism, in which capacity I traveled extensively covering Northern India from Delhi to Peshawar.

This was also the year of the Punjab Uprising caused by the increase in land revenue. The agitation that started in 1902 over the Partition of Bengal, on the same communal lines from which Pakistan was to emerge forty-five years later, had developed into an active Revolutionary Movement by 1905 and had split of the Congress Party at its Surat Session, into Radical Nationalists under the leadership of Sri Bal Gangadhar Tilak and the Conservative “Ji-Hazoor” Party, led by Mr. Gokhle. Being a lecturer, I came in direct contact with many Revolutionists, especially Sardar Ajit Singh, with whom I shared the platform several times. From them I received my Baptism in Nationalism.

Through 1908 and the early part of 1909, I taught school at Daska, Distt. Sialkot, during which time I was privileged to meet scholarly Sant HarBilas under whom I studied the six systems of Hindu Philosophy, the Upanishads, the Bhagvad Gita and other classics. I benefited immensely from my Master’s teaching especially Vedanta and the Nyaya-system of Logic which he taught with his unique penetrability. His rare gift of putting a complicated idea into simple words, remains with me still, also gems of wisdom he imparted:

“If you cannot be helpful to others, do not put obstacles in their path, natural obstacles are difficult enough.”

“Do not allow anything to enter your being that will degrade you, nor express anything for which you will have caused to regret later.”

During this time I remained politically active. In the middle of 1908, after the suppression of the Uprising in Punjab, the Revolutionary Movement went underground. Lala Lajpat Rai was arrested and sent to Mandaly; Sufi and Ajit Singh left for Persia and in August of 1909, it became necessary that I had also to leave India. Under an assumed name I traveled covering Burma, Siam, Malay Staits, Java, Sumatra, Borneo and Singapore everywhere preaching Nationalism. Though direct advocacy of the overthrow of the British Yoke was neither advisable nor feasible yet, speaking on Sikh History and the Organization of the Sikh Brotherhood for the sake of India’s Liberation from foreign rule as well as for love of one’s own country, became the medium enabling me to rouse the spirit of Nationalism among my fellow countrymen.

By coming face to face for the first time, with the extent of Sectionalism, partly a result of the social conquest of India, I was to learn a most important lesson. While in the Malay Straits, I was ordered to leave Ipoh, by a Subedar from my own district, for the simple reason that I had offered the help Captain Gurdit Singh, a Sikh brother, to collect funds for the Girl’s High School at Moga, Distt. Ferosepur. I had never realized the existing antagonism between different sections of my own Punjab. This shocking experience aroused in me a deeper sense of dedication to the urgent need of National unity among ourselves.

Finally, I reached Hong Kong in March 1910. My intention was to proceed to the United States, but upon the request of the Central Sikh Temple Committee there, I became Granthi instead for three years. The Indian Colony in Hong Kong at that time numbered about 7,000 comprising Rajputs, Moslems, Hindus and Sikhs in various profession and occupations. Some were in the Army or Police, other merchants, guards, watchmen, etc. My position as Granthi gave easy access to all strata of society, including the army, where I could come and go at will. Here I did the best National work within the range of my knowledge and capacity. Except for a few Subedare the entire Array and Officers were ready to take up the cause of India’s Independence. I was assured that Hong Kong could be captured in a few hours. This information later, was relayed to Dr. Sun Yat Sen who did not think China strong enough them, to incur the hostility of the British. While in Hong Kong I was twice arrested, one in 1911 and again in 1912; both times for preaching sedition, but on each occasion, I was released. Meanwhile the Sunday meetings at the Temple were being attended not only by Sikhs, but by Moslems, Rajputs, Hindus and Pathans as well. I had succeeded in unifying the Indians and considering my work accomplished I resigned as priest in April 1913 and left for Canada. On leaving I was presented with a “Siropao, a purse and a gold Medal”.

May 1913 found me organizing our countrymen in British Columbia, Canada. There I clashed with an Englishman by the name of Hopkinsen who had been sent by the British Government of India, to keep the community of 4,000 Indians living in Canada, disunited. It was due to his zeal, plus the cooperation of our traitors, that the United League and Guru Nanak Mining Company ceased to function. Both had previously been organized by Prof. Teja Singh, M.A. I succeeded in re-organizing them and in unifying not only the Sikhs among themselves, but the Indian community as a whole, Moslems and Hindus, hence the clash. Two months after my arrival I was arrested but released on a $2,000 bail. There was no case against me.

However, Mr. Hopkinson who, besides being official interpreter for the Indian was also Inspector of Immigration, together with Mr. Reed, Immigration Commissioner, never relinquished their efforts until they secured a special order from the Governor General of Canada for my deportation. Thus, five months after my landing in Canada, I was dragged out in the middle of the night of November 18, 1913, from the home of Babu Harnam Singh (later martyred for the cause), and deported, even though two writs of Habeas Corpus had been issued, one in Victoria, the other in Vancouver, B.C. I was man-handled, injured physically, literally thrown on the "Empress of Japan" destination, India. Later, this same Hopkinson was shot and killed by one of our own, Bhai Mewa Singh, who paid the full penalty, being hanged. Thus, was my exit from Canada affected on November 19, 1913.

Despite my injuries, I managed to escape my guard once in Japan. Continuing the journey to India would have been fatal. I was aware of the fate of a "rebel" once in the hands of an offended oligarch. In Japan, I stayed with Maulana Maulvi Barak Tullah, who was a professor of languages at the Imperial University in Tokyo. The need to secure arms and ammunition caused me to leave Japan in March 1914 for Germany on a Japanese ship, but I was discovered by the British in Shanghai. Upon reaching Hong Kong a warrant was issued for my arrest and the ship was searched. However, through the assistance of the Captain, I was disguised as a Japanese after losing my beard and hair, and set abroad an Australian Cargo ship on its way to Japan. Once in Tokyo, I rejoined Prof. Barak Tullah and for the second time met Dr. Sun Yat Sen and the Sung Sisters who were on their way from the United States to China. Later, one of them was destined to become Mae. Sun Yat Sen and the other Mae. Chiang.

Prof. Barak Tullah and myself decided to leave for the United States and on May 23rd, 1914 we landed in San Francisco. We immediately went to the Gadar Ashram, 430 Hill St., where to our dismay we learned that Dr. Har Dayal, one of the Founders, had voluntarily left for Europe in order avoid being deported. He had been arrested in March. The Gadar Ashram and been left in the care of a Committee presided over Sri Sohan Singh, Bhakna. Shortly after our arrival, I was elected President, Prof. Barak Tullah, Vice President and Pandit Ram Chandra given the responsibility of the "Hindustan Gadar", our weekly official publication. Moreover, the three of us were appointed Commissioners. Five months later, the 1st World War was declared.

A commission Meeting was held at 436 Hill St., San Francisco on August 15th, 1914 to reconsider and revise our plans, disturbed and altered by the advent of the War. At this meeting, the following three decisions were taken:

First: In the name of India Nationalism, we should declare OPEN WARFARE against British Rule in India and proclaim India a FREE and SOVEREIGN REPUBLIC. Up to now agitations had been carried on by intelligentsia against particular grievances or for specific needs. Now, it was decided to advocate the open foster REBELLION on MASS scale which would be difficult for the British to suppress or to bribe its leaders.

Second: All means should be used; every advantage taken, no matter from what quarter it may come. Connections should be established with active Revolutionary Movements of other countries of and central Governments such as Germany, Austria, etc., with nations whose interests and relations were in direct conflict with the British.

Third: The collection of funds, armaments, etc., should be intensified and students sent to be trained in the Military Academies of other Nations whenever and wherever possible. Appeals should be made to Indians everywhere to proceed to India and start fighting for "freedom". The Gadar Press could be used to serve these various aims.

Other points equally urgent were discussed from every angle within the range of our knowledge and the existing conditions. We were fully aware of our lack of facilities in transportation, communication, military equipment, material, men and money with which to wage a successful revolution. We were also conscious that we would have to struggle not only against the British, but against all her allies who were enjoying concession at our expense. It was also clear to us that outside the Revolutionary Movement in Bengal the rest of the country was asleep and wholly unprepared though willing to cooperate and be drained of men, money and material by their British Masters. Fight they MUST, but not for freedom of their country but against a nation with whom they had no quarrel, but whose rising power the British could not tolerate. Black clouds of despair hung all over our Indian horizon. Our one ray of hope was our Countrymen’s love for their Motherland. We hoped and dared to expect that through our appeal some would wake.

The immediate question was: "Shall we DARE defy British Imperialism or shall we remain INACTIVE and let the present opportunity pass by?" A CHALLENGE was presented to our manhood, INDIA'S MANHOOD, which could only be met in a "manly" manner through action.

The decision was unanimous: "accept the challenge and ACT." Better to fail in the attempt than to do NOTHING. Our decision was "TO GO AND DIE", thus proving to ourselves and to the world that India, despite their old age, was ALIVE, a nation capable of rejuvenation.Hence, "THE DECLARATION OF WAR" which appeared i the "Hindustan Gadar" date (?) August or September 1914.

The outcome of this meeting was that Prof. Barak Tullah, a Moslem Divine, well versed in the languages of the Near East was sent to Afghanistan, Persia Turkey, etc. Pandit Ram Chandra was to remain in San Francisco in publication of the "Hindustan Ghadar" and I was assigned to cover the Far East and to return once more to Asia. My ventures there were numerous, dangerous and some doomed to failure, but it was during this period that I met Shri Rash Behari Boss, Mr. M.N. Roy, Lala Lajpat Rai and others. All these events and full details of other key facts not even mentioned in this "brief sketch" are described in the "Autobiography" under preparation. Suffice it to say that I traveled through Japan, North and South China, Korea, Manchuria, and the Philippines. I witnessed the Third Chinese Revolution; the first was in 1911 when I was priest in Hong Kong; the second was when I met Dr. San Yat Sen after he fled from Shanghai in 1913, the third, in 1916, when we met again following his failure to oust Yuan Shi Kai.

It was in Nanking, China, while on an interned German Gunboat that I wrote a booklet entitled "Junk or Azadi" - "War and Freedom" - which embodied the aims discussed at our Commission Meeting in San Francisco and which was distributed among Indians all over Malaya, Hongkong, Shanghai, and in the Philippines wherever Punjabi was read. It was my first effort in writing and approximately 2,00,000 copies were circulated. They were also sent to the 35,000 Indian War Prisoners held in Germany, most of whom were Sikhs. As a result of the "Declaration of War" and the appeal to our countrymen published in the "Hindustan Gadar" and this booklet - "Jung aur Azadi" - more than 10, 000 patriots from all over the world responded by going to India to fight for her freedom.

It was due to their activities and the trials in the so-called "Conspiracy Cases" at Delhi, Lucknow, Lahore, Amritsar, Meerut, Mandaly, etc., that the "Rowlett Act" which in turn produced the massacre of Jalianwala Bagh, in Amritsar, and the awakening of India. It was in this manner that the field contribution of the Gadar Party be denied?

It is common knowledge that these same Patriots, these brave men, were banded as out-throats and thugs, that they were hunted down, spied upon, denounced as disturbers of peace, treated as criminals, even shot, hanged and imprisoned. This "Saga of Heroism" is still to be written.

While in the Philippines I was arrested twice and ordered to leave Manila. Twice also did I escape arrest in China, once in Sing Tao which was under Japanese Martial law, and two days later in Tientsin. It was while in China also that warrants were issued for my arrest as well as those of Sri Rash Behari Bose and Bhai Gopal Singh.

I left China in June 1916 landing in San Francisco sometime in July but as I did so without passport of ticket my stay was of three days only. I then proceeded to South America by way of Panama. There the British Minister has informed the foreign Office that I was a Moslem and since Panama is a Catholic country opposed to polygamy, which is reputed to be practiced by the Moslems- I was automatically disqualified and ordered to leave. Such was the might of the British veracity.

On my way to America abroad a U. S Fruit Company's ship, I was removed at Havana, held for three days by the immigration and sent back to Panama without reason. To this day I have been unable to learn how any Cuban authority could take a passenger from an American ship and by what law my journey was interrupted. Nor did the U.S Fruit Co. ever refund my ticket which was from Panama to Galveston, Texas. In Panama on the advice of General George Goethal, then Governor of the Canal Zone, and who was also the builder of the Canal, I gave up going to South America and re-entered the United States legally, landing in New York October 11, 1916.

Mr. Harish Chandra Sharma, son of Mahatma Munshi Ram was in New York to meet me. He had been sent by Pandit Ram Chandra with $3,000 and an urgent request that I proceed immediately to Germany to work among the 35,000 War Prisoners there. During my short stay in San Francisco in July, I had been informed that all was not well at Gadar Ashram. There was a general revolt against Panjit Ram Chandra for his misuse of authority and Gadar Funds, but I could not take up these complaints then, because of my illegal entry. Now, I decided to go to California instead of proceeding to Germany as directed and from here begins the most devastating chapter of my life.

Six months later the United States entered the War, April 7th, 1917. Twenty-four hours later, nineteen of us were arrested as well as Germans, Irish and others and the famous "San Francisco Conspiracy Case", for the violation of the neutrality of the United States, began. Besides this international struggle I uncovered the sordid mess of Pandit Ram Chandra's doings within the Party itself. The Constitution prepared by Dr. Har Dayal had been destroyed, and a new one written and approved according to which all authority of the Gadar Party was vested in Panjit Ram Chandra and incorporated with the support of two other members, Mr. Gobin Behari Lal & Mr. Harish Chandra Sharma as well as the "Hindustan Gadar", the Party's Official Organ, as their own private Corporation. Gadar Funds were misappropriated. More than $15,000 cash had been deposited in the name of Panjit's wife. Properties were purchased in the name of Panjit's personal friends who were not even members of the Party. The two lots on Wood St., where the present Ashram stands, had been put in the name of Mr. Reed, and American gentleman.

Twenty such charges were brought before the meeting of the Executive Board held at Gadar Headquarters, 436 Hill St., S.F., in the presence of 27 members of the Committee appointed by Pandit Ram Chandra himself. After hearing but three of these charges, Pandit Ram Chandra ran out of the meeting refusing to return. A two-member commission was then appointed to investigate the charges. The misdeeds were revealed and the charges confirmed whereupon the Gadar Council demanded and obtained Pandit Ram Chandra's resignation. It was following the disgraceful dismissal that he constructed to build the present Ashram at 5 Wood Street in opposition to the legally constituted Gadar Centre. More-over, he bought a new press and issued a second "Hindustan Gadar Paper" in open defiance, continuing to do until his death. Thus, it was that two Hindustan Gadar Papers appeared at the same time in San Francisco (Details of these happenings are included in the "History of the Gadar Party" published soon, though requests were made to suppress them.)

In the "San Francisco Conspiracy Case" three of us, Dr. Tarak Nath Das, Bhai Santokh Singh and myself drew the maximum sentence of two years at McNeils' Island Federal Penitentiary and Gopal Singh one year plus one day. Two of the others served light sentences at the City Jail and the rest were freed. The "Case" was considered the biggest in the State of California, it continued for six months which is a matter of court record. As my bail had been set at $25,000, the highest amount of any, I remained in jail allowing other their liberty. Federal Judge Van Fleet before pronouncing the sentence addressed himself to me, say: "I regret, Bhagwan Singh, that the law does not allow me to impose stiffer sentence upon you than the two-year limit. I will recommend that the penalty in such cases be increased." Our lawyer, Mr. Timothy Healy, at this point requested His Honor to consider the fact that I had already served six months in jail, whereupon instead of my sentence being increased, His Honor begrudgingly reduced it to eighteen months. According to the San Francisco "Chronicle" the "Conspiracy Case" cost the British Government three and a half million dollars and the United States, five hundred thousand. I have often wondered who was responsible for opening the case.Almost three months before the end of my sentence, "Deportation proceedings" were brought against me by the immigration authorities…This episode is also given in detail in the Autobiography…The final issue was, that failing all other means, the Gadar Party delegated me to Washington, D.C. and plead my own case, which I did in 1920, the case was dropped.

The reorganization of the Gadar Party occupied the next period. I also attempted farming but was not very successful mainly due to the great depression at that time. Ten thousand Banks went under and I too failed with them. In the meantime, I was recalled to the Gadar Party, however I resigned on January 1st, 1928.

From 1928 I was engaged in my own work, writing, lecturing, teaching. For years I had made special studies in Creative Psychology and Sociology, evolving a simple, practical and scientific philosophy for modern needs. It is a "Pattern Theory for Adult Education". This I was now prepared to test and to unfold. I have spoken in every city of the United States with a population over 300,000 except in the State of Maine. I have addressed High Schools, Colleges, Universities, Associations, Clubs, Churches, private organizations, as well as Radio audiences; also, have founded the "Humanology Society" and organized "The American Institute of Culture" with affiliated "Self-Culture Association" in many large cities. I have written several books. There is quite a deal of unedited, unpublished material still pending covering various subjects of human interest besides a library of three hundred tapes and a gross record embodying the "Fundamentals" of my work.

​In 1948 at the request of my countrymen, once more I gave up my own work and returned to the Pacific Coast to serve them holding meetings, editing and publishing a monthly periodical "Nav-Yug" for eighteen months. As soon as India was FREE, I applied for my passport to return home, but despite repeated enquiries. I did not receive it for over two years.

At long last, upon the invitation of Sri Partap Singh Kairon, Chief Minister of the State of Punjab, after nearly fifty years in foreign lands, I am HOME. I left incognito under an assumed name to work for freedom, I return a FREE man on an Indian ship under own flag.

​My dear Countrymen and Fellow Citizens,

I salute and greet you! I leave to your imagination the ecstatic joy I am privileged to experience. By Birth and by Choice, I am an INDIAN, human in disposition and attitude and scientific in outlook. I have national pride both racial and geographical; am not slow at learning new lessons and have no mental nor spiritual rheumatism to prevent moving in any direction or to destroy my flexibility.So much for now…My personal life is not for public interest. If more is required of my activities it is all at your disposal. I hope I have not bored you with this accumulation of facts, movements, failures, impression and aspiration….


October 1958

​(This is a copy, in part of a letter sent to the Consul General of India in San Francisco in 1950, at his request, with some additions.)

​Source: “Brief Sketch of Life Lived" by Bhagwan S. Gyanee, pages

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