Armed revolutionary movements have not always freed nation states of imperial rulers and bank-rolled dictators. But victory or stalemate, without the freedom-loving gift of his indelible blood on the battlegrounds of history, the romance of man’s eternal quest for liberty and dignity would forever be lost on nations.
Win revolution or not, freed, imprisoned or exiled, China, Russia or even Nicaragua could not have arrived where they are today without the tumult of history behind them, witnessed through the leaked photographic frames of Tianamen protestors, the guns of the Bolshevik Red Guards or the bullets of the Sandinista guerilla army, all 20th century expressions of man’s right to disown and disband oppression.
Gadar was one such armed revolutionary movement in India’s struggle for independence and liberty against British rule in the early 1900s, a precursor to another important one by the Azad Hind Fauj of Netaji in the early 1940s. Gadar was run and managed by the Indian Diaspora, with local support within India.
We are one year away from the centennial journey of Gadar which will begin worldwide in 2013, a movement that was fashioned in a swashbuckling and bold manner by India’s youth, and plotted and led from such faraway battlegrounds such as USA, Canada and Britain. The outraged British administration described it as political terrorism, the freedom aspirants saw it as a movement to end colonial serfdom. The Gadar movement was always destined to be crushed by colonial forces that had far superior artillery, funds, espionage and organization at their disposal. But what was so breathtaking about Gadar was the high price young men of India were willing to pay to see their nation free from the clutches of foreign rule. The freedom-at-all-costs attitude has always lit the flames of revolutionary imagination world over. The Gadarite youth were no exception to this. They decided that the only way out was to take on the British with force.
These young men, some just-turned adults and not yet out of their teen, were willing to die, as all revolutionaries who romance such a cause eventually are. But what made this razor’s edge patriotism very prosaic, way too magnificent and infinitely memorable was that this was not just a bunch of ill-fed, brooding men who wanted to kill their oppressors. On the contrary, this was a movement led at various points by brilliant young students who had sought and received admission in top American universities like UC Berkeley in the early parts of the 20th century, battling all along the combined menaces of prejudice, racism, maltreatment and hostility that had reached abysmal depths in America at the time. This was ironical, because it was America that championed the cause of liberty and freedom for all.
These were young men who were hoping that when it came to securing India’s independence, their collective ingenuity and tactical bravado would turn out to be grist for the mill. These were young men who had chosen to make their mark with pen and inks, and instead ended up plotting against powerful targets with guns and blood. As Prof Harish K Puri writes in his book Ghadar Movement—A Short History, “the Ghadarite vocabulary of hate and vengeance was laced with abuse, they were committed to violent attack and to the sacrifice of their lives. Their emotional actions had the crudity of the peasant’s outburst against the oppressor.” Forty eight of them were hanged to death by the British for trying to run a revolution using sabotage and subterfuge as prime methods. Several others were sentenced to life. A few were released after imprisonment.
GOPIO Chairman Inder Singh an Indian immigrant to the USA in the 1960s who has written extensively on the Gadar movement and is, not ironically, located in California—the motivational hub among overseas Indians for the early 20th-century movement—says, “Gadar is the saga of courage, valour and determination of overseas Indians who had come to Canada and the United States either for higher education or for economic opportunities. They imbibed the fire and zeal of revolutionaries and became the trail blazers of freedom struggle for their motherland, India. They may have lived ordinary lives but they left an extra-ordinary legacy.”
The movement could be crushed, as many revolutionary movements are. But the spirit of freedom that it upheld, could not ever be. As a leading world body of overseas Indians, GOPIO, in fact, has planned events around Gadar Centennial in 2012 and 2013, including the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in January 2013 in Kochi.
We will continue to track the preparations by the GOPIO and its associate world organizations during the run up to January 2013.