By Mark Juergensmeyer

Ghadar means "revolution," and in a word, it describes what the movement hoped to achieve: the overthrow of British rule and the establishment of India's independence. It was founded in the early decades of this century by expatriate Punjabis on the west coast of the U.S. and Canada; its bases of operations were in San Francisco and the San Joaquin valley. The movement has been a source of continuing fascination among scholars, not only because its quixotic ventures are interesting in themselves but also because Ghadar has had an impact in both its Indian and American contexts.

Ghadar as Revolutionary Movement

The history of Ghadar is full of adventure, intrigue, and high drama: it involves shiploads of munitions aimed at India, secret deals with international agents, and an inflammatory propaganda machine. For this reason, much of the interest in Ghadar and the research on it is directed towards the organization and activities of the movement itself. Most of the accounts of Ghadar cover the brief span of years from 1913 to 1917, beginning with the arrival of the central figure of the movement, Lala Har Dayal, as a visiting professor at Stanford University and ending with the tragic conspiracy trial in San Francisco four years later.

* Unfortunately, very few of the records of the original organization have survived. When the building that housed the Ghadar headquarters at 5 Wood Street in San Francisco was demolished in the 1950s, what records remained in the building were taken to the home of a Punjabi family living on a farm near Davis, California. Soon thereafter a fire swept through the house and the records were destroyed.

Many of the publications of the movement are still available, however. These include the newspaper, the Hindustan Ghadar [765] *, from which the organization received its name, a series of pamphlets, Ghadar-di-Gunj [353], articles by Har Dayal [342-7], and a number of tact’s [326, 358]. Most of these were written in Panjabi or Urdu and were aimed at rousing support from the Punjabi community in the United States and elsewhere around the world. Some pamphlets, however, were aimed at a different audience: sympathetic Americans. These writings, printed in English, include A Few Facts About British Rule [351], reprints of American criticism of the British [337, 372] and an open letter to President Wilson [338].

Most of the publications, regardless of language, preached the same message: the evils of colonial rule and the need for independence. There was little hint, however, of what sort of government the revolutionaries wanted in its place. The Ghadar constitution [362, 364] indicated only a general respect for parliamentary order. The title of a later Ghadar newspaper, The United States of India [781], suggests an American model of democracy; and the Marxist model was embraced by some of the Ghadarites who returned to India from America after 1917 via the Soviet Union. The aspirations of a Marxist Ghadarites, Sohan Singh Bhakna, are described in a biography [426], and the progressive political and social ideas of Har Dayal are to be found in his articles [342-7], his published volume of letters [274], and in biographies about him by Emily Brown [265] and Dharmavira [275].

The organization of the Ghadar movement is, like its ideology, only partially revealed through its publications. The government reports - the British India Office files, the U.S. government investigations [132-4] and records of the conspiracy trial kept at the U.S. National Archives and Records Center in San Bruno, California - give additional information on Ghadar membership and activities.

Several scholarly works published in India rely on interviews and other sources for portrait of the Ghadar Party as a revolutionary movement. The differences among some of them indicate differences in the scholars' choices of sources. Deol [416] uses interviews and other materials available in the Punjab, while Mathur [292] relies almost entirely on Indian government documents in Delhi in tracing the intrigues of the party. Bose [262] has tracked down records in London, Berlin, and India. Khushwant Singh and Satindra Singh focus on the Sikh connections [454], as does Randhir Singh [459]. Harish Puri has comprehensively covered Ghadar publications, government reports, and interviews available in India, United Kingdom, and the United States, in his analysis of the political aspects of Ghadar [438-9].

The Role of Ghadar in India's Independence

To gain perspective on the role the Ghadar movement in India's struggle for independence, it is necessary to expand the narrow time range of 1913 to 1917. This breadth is provided in some of the biographies of Ghadar leaders where their involvements with the party are connected with their interest in earlier movements. Har Dayal's break with the Arya Samaj is described in the biographies about him [265-275]. Before he edited the Hindustan Ghadar, Ram Chandra was the editor of journals supported by nationalist groups in India [391], and another Ghadarite, Bhai Parmanand, was similarly involved [437].

One of gauging the importance of Ghadar as a revolutionary threat is by the magnitude of the British government's response to it. The British concerns are reflected in the reports of police inspectors [400] and in evidence marshalled against Ghadar defendants in the Lahore Conspiracy Trial and the Sedition Committee Report of 1918 [399]. Lists of the Ghadar literature that the British banned from India are compiled and annotated by N.G. Barrier [255].

Historians have been of an uncertain mind regarding the importance of Ghadar's role in Indian history. The Cambridge History of India, for example, accords it one line, and even that is inaccurate. On the other hand, Majumdar's history of the independence movement [432] devotes almost a hundred pages to Ghadar. Banerjee [254] and Bose [262] give excellent assessments of Ghadar's participation in the freedom movement. Deol [416] similarly links Ghadar with militant nationalists, but his emphasis is on subsequent developments in the movement in the Punjab.

The direct effect of the Ghadar movement on India's independence is debatable, especially since the Congress movement at the time showed it little favor and was operating with a different style. Ghadar is said to have influenced several different nationalist leaders: Lajpat Rai, founder of the "India Home Rule League of America" [469, 304]; Togore [254, 432] (a connection which is refuted by Hay [439]); the Indian Marxist, M. N. Roy [262]; and Subhas Chandra Bose, founder of the Indian National Army [416]. In addition, the journalist Durga Das, in India: From Curzon to Nehru, has claimed that Ghadar support financed the funding of India's first English-language nationalist newspaper, The Hindustan Times.

The impact of Ghadar on politics in the Punjab is even more direct. The biography of Sohan Singh Bhakna [426] and the G. S. Sainsara history [442] indicate the role that returning Ghadarites had in the formulation of the Punjab's leftist political groups. The connection between Ghadar and Marxist movements in the Punjab are mentioned in my Religion as Social Vision [430], and the links with international Marxism are explored by Gail Omvedt [435].

Ghadarites are claimed as nationalist leaders throughout the Punjab. A link between Ghadar and Punjab here Bhagat Singh is made by Josh [285]. Ghadar's contribution to the rise of the Akali movement is described in Khushwant Singh's History of the Sikhs, Vol. 2 [453]. Punjab's Scheduled Caste organization, the Ad Dharm Mandal, was also founded by a Ghadarite, whose story is found in interviews [440].

There are almost no studies of the branches of Ghadar outside India and North America. Yet we know that some existed in such places as Hong Kong, Manila, Bangkok, Shanghai, and Panama. Other Ghadar contacts were to be found in Europe and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. According to some sources [93, 399, 416] the 1915 uprising among Punjabi soldiers stationed in Singapore was fomented by Ghadarites. Some information is available on Ghadar activities in China [405].

India was not the only country mobilizing against British colonialism in the early 1900s, and the Ghadar leaders found kinship, especially in Irish revolutionary brotherhood [349]. According to Mrs. Ram Chandra, it was the Irish who defended and supported the Ghadarites in California during the difficult days of the San Francisco conspiracy trial in 1917-18 [391].

Germany was the Ghadar movement's most significant -- and damaging ally. The entrance of the United States into World War I made Ghadar's dealings with the Germans untimely and precipitated an investigation [314]. In the Ghadarites own recollection of the movement [391, 404, 440], the role of the Germans was largely financial. According to Bose [262] and M. N. Roy [306] there were close connections between Ghadar and the Indian National Committee in Berlin; the Germans arranged in 1915 for two shiploads of weapons to be supplied to Ghadar armies training in Siam and elsewhere in Southeast Asia on the American boats Maverick and Annie Larson. The attempt was aborted by British intervention.

The German connection is the focus of several accounts of Ghadar [262, 292, 320, 414-5, 461]. Part of the reason for the great interest of historians in the German issue is the availability of sources. The government reports -- including British intelligence [399] and American -- are the most thorough. A great store of material was collected as evidence for the conspiracy trial in San Francisco, which effectively ended the most active years of the Ghadar Party. Copies of the court transcript of the trial (The United States vs. Franz Bopp et al.) are available on microfilm [389]. The voluminous materials collected in evidence by the American government for the trial are kept at the West Coast branch of the U.S. government's national archives in San Bruno, California. The major unexplored area for research on the German connection is the archives of the German government.

The Ghadar Chapter of America's Ethnic History

The problem of the immigrant community provided much of the impetus for enthusiastic support for the Ghadar movement. The new Indian immigrants were not being treated hospitably in the nation of immigrants. Information about the early Indian immigrant community in California may be found in Congressional reports [132-4], and interviews reported in Waiz's Indians Abroad, published in 1927 [139]. And there are a few studies of the Indian immigrant community [160, 197] (see also the proceedings of the Asiatic Exclusion League [8]). The Ghadar Party blamed British influence for America's negative attitude toward Indian immigration, and the tragic end of the boat land of Indian immigrants on the Komagata Maru indicates that Canadians were as hostile to the new immigrants as Americans [115]. These difficulties may have fueled the passions of the Ghadar movement, and this pattern of ethnic frustration leading to participation in a movement of nationalism back home constitutes what I have described as a syndrome for which Ghadar is a prime example [429].

Summary of the Available Sources

The original documents, written in Panjabi and Urdu, include as least six newspapers and magazines, thirty pamphlets, and dozens of posters, all printed by the Hindustan Ghadar Party. These sources are augmented by the files and records of various government agencies in Great Britain, Canada, and the United States, and firsthand accounts found in some ten autobiographies and thirty interviews with former members of the Ghadar Party. There are also newspaper reports from the San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle, and the Vancouver Sun. No official party records are known to have survived, except for those preserved as evidence for the 1917-18 trial.

From these original sources have been written a dozen scholarly books on the Ghadar Party, and over thirty articles and chapters in books. These are some ten biographies of Ghadar leaders, and over a hundred or more historical and bibliographic works that touch on the Ghadar movement in a peripheral way.

Some copies of the original Ghadar publications and pictures of its leaders are in the Ghadar memorial building which has been constructed on the site of the original headquarters in San Francisco. The largest single collection of original and secondary material in the United States is the Ghadar Collection of the South and Southeast Asia Library Service at the University of California, Berkeley. An even larger collection, augmented by microfilm copies of governmental reports, is to be found in the National Archives of the Government of India in New Delhi. The Desh Bhagat Yad Ghar (National Patriots' Memorial Center) in Jalandhar, Punjab, has original materials as well. The collections in the India Office Library and the British Library in London are also useful, and include banned Ghadar publications. The United States government's records are located in the National Archives and Library of Congress, Washington, D. C., and are on microfilm in many university libraries. The U. S. government collection of evidentiary material for the conspiracy trial is located at the National Archives and Records Center, San Bruno, California. Since the source materials are to be found in various places, including both India and America, those who extensive research on the movement will have to retrace some of the steps of the peripatetic Ghadarites themselves.

Sources: Mark Juergensmeyer. Scholarly Interest in the Ghadar Movement. South Asians in North America: An Annotated and Selected Bibliography. 1988 pages 15-18

Share with Friends