The Spirit of the Ghadar Movement

Dr. R. K. Janmeja Singh

In the Western literature, the picture of a revolutionary
is a discontented neurotic who is fanatically pursuing a
political end. Meeting two of the Ghadarites left me
with the feeling that the Ghadarites were loving, warm
and dedicated human beings. The Ghadar movement
was a flood that was caused by the political barriers to
the flow of their human values, which they cherished.

It is so sad that even the beautiful souls with lofty ideals fade away into the darkness of oblivion, leaving behind the shimmering shadows of the resilient struggle. Meeting a Ghadarite for a moment is worth more than volume written about the Ghadar. They were simple folks, who believed in the independence of human spirit. Living just for oneself is animalistic. They had the awareness of their fellow beings. They lived and died in the service of mankind with a glow of freedom in their hearts. It just happened that they had to fight against the, then prevalent, political suppression in their mother country as well as in their adopted homeland. To talk about Ghadar just as a political movement without mentioning the human values that sparked this struggle, is to talk about flowers without sensing the sun and the soil that nurtured them.

In the Western literature, the picture of a revolutionary is a discontented neurotic who is fanatically pursuing a political end. Meeting two of the Ghadarites left me with the feeling that the Ghadarites were loving, warm and dedicated human beings. The Ghadar movement was a flood that was caused by the political barriers to the flow of their human values, which they cherished.

It was the fall of 1961 when I drove across country, from the East to the West coast with my American companion. Both of us being graduate students, we were obsessed with the sublime and the absurd. We talked about the fools and the kings. We felt pretty smart and were soaring high without intellectual trips. We stopped at the Stockton Gurdwara. There we met an old Sikh with his white flowing beard. He talked to us like a Punjabi hospitable peasant talks to a person passing through the village. He entertained us in his modest house next to the Gurdwara.

His face lit up when he talked about the Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs struggling together toward a common cause. He felt sad that India was torn into two parts, which violated the spirit and the ideal behind the struggle. He was interested in us. When he discovered that I was going to my first job and that we had an auto accident on the way, he asked me if I had my writing “machine” (pen). He gave me his check book and asked me to fill out the amount that I may need because it is rough to start out in a new place.

My companion and I looked at each other with moist eyes. Our high flutant philosophical, religious and political discourse looked so pale against the inscriptions of this kindly soul, written with the way of his life and not with words. This was S. Jagat Singh, who died a few years after this visit. He was an “unlettered farmer of the Punjab”. It is about such persons, Professor Puran Singh wrote:

I am an unlettered farmer of the Punjab
I cannot even write my name
A poor Sikh who knows naught of your questions
I have no language, nor has the clouds, nor the river
Nor the forest that dwells by the mountainside
I have that large whit love that is in the heart of the sun, and
I love you as the sun loves the flowers of the earth.

Before we left, he shuffled into the other room and brought for us the picture which is published in this issue of the Sikh Sansar.

Then there is S. Kesar Singh Dhillon, who is a living testimony to the spirit of the Ghadar party. I first met him when I came to Berkeley in 1963. He lives in a modest house that stores relics of the Ghadar movement, including the printing press. Even now, every newcomer to Berkeley can find solace and shelter at his home. The spirit of human service and lofty ideals survived the political turmoil.

S. Kesar Singh ji spent all his life in the service of his mother country and fellow man. He is the last Executive Secretary of the Ghadar party. In 1947, they dissolved the party because India had won freedom, even though he was painfully and visibly sad about the partition. He hands over $10,000.00 and the property in San Francisco to the Government of India to build a memorial for the martyrs. The Government of India had approved the project and authorized $80,000 for construction. Unfortunately, the plans have never been implemented. We, lesser beings, who are intellectuals and politicians, are caught up in such a cobweb of intrigues that we are suffocating the spirit of the Ghadar movement. I hear some people talking about the credits: which community should get the credit – the Hindus, the Muslims or the Sikhs?

Ask this question to S. Kesar Singh Dhillon, who remembers all his comrades in arms as his dearest kin. Read the poems of the Ghadar party. Their religious identity was their personal spiritual pursuit, the Ghadar movement was their common cause. I hope that some enlightened soul will get kindled by the spirit of the Ghadar movement and we will erect a befitting memorial for our own inspiration and for the inspiration of the generations to come.

Source: “The Sikh Sansar”, Volume 2, Number 2, June 1973

Share with Friends
>