By Surekha Vijh
WASHINGTON: The Indian American freedom fighters who started India’s independence movement on American soil and passed the torch to India one hundred years ago to end British colonial rule (Raj) were saluted and remembered in the nation’s capital.
The Gadar; the call to revolution or the Gadar Movement began both on the West Coast of the US and in Canada. The Gadar Centennial (1913-2013) Celebration held in the Washington, DC Metro area, marked the occasion with a historical seminar, speeches, poetry, awards, music and dance.
The day-long program was arranged by the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) of Metropolitan Washington, in collaboration with many international and American Indian organizations.
Speakers talked about the Gadar expedition, which started in the early twentieth century, showing a remarkable organizing power and international network of support mobilized by the Gadar Party’s handful of Indian nationals and its secretary, Lala Har Dayal. It got its forceful drive with Dayal’s arrival in 1911 to lecture on Indian philosophy at Stanford University in California.
Understanding the disillusionment and discontent of the immigrant laborers along the Pacific coast, Dayal harnessed the revolutionary zeal of the students.
Pointing out the historical perspective of the Gadar Movement in the US, Professor Harbans Lal from Dallas, Texas, said it started with a small group of people and impacted India thousands of miles away with full force.
The Indian ambassador to the US, Niupama Rao, said it was a significant centennial celebration, because we are meeting here in the US where this movement was formed on its West Coast that heralded the freedom movement in India and we won our ultimate independence.
The Gadar Movement was like a spark of fire which lit up the whole forest. There are many names who started the movement, to mention a few like Govind Bihari Lal, Gurrmukh Singh, Bhai Parmanand and Jwala Singh.
The ambassador said that this Gadarites movement was similar to the Irish independence movement, who also gained their freedom from the British after a long turbulent struggle and many sacrifices.
Rao pointed out that the Indian Diaspora, who are now making significant contributions in many fields in America, has grown tremendously in these hundred years, from a very few Gadarites who fought and lit the torch for the freedom struggle.
The ambassador explained the Gadar was originally a weekly newspaper published for the Hindustani Association of the Pacific Coast, founded in Portland, Oregon, in 1912, which united people from various backgrounds and beliefs, including Sikhs, Hindus Muslims and Christians, grew into the Gadar Party in 1913, the Gadar Babas contributed to our freedom struggle against British Colonial rule through their selfless dedication and sacrifice, aiming at the complete independence, dignity and prosperity of our motherland. Celebrating the centennial is a befitting tribute to the patriots and heroes of the Gadar Movement and recognizing their sacrifices to free India, Rao added.
Gadar heroes remembered included Taramath Das, Sohan Singh Bhakna, Lala Har Dayal, Kertar Singh Bhakna and their lives in Andeman Jail or Kaal Paani.
Besides Ambassador Rao, ambassadors from different countries of Indian Origin participated. Some American government executives, including Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler and a number of dignitaries, attended the event which featured an inaugural session, lectures and a cultural program.
Among those present were Ambassador Subhas Ch Mungra of the Republic of Surinam to the US, Inder Singh, Chairman of GOPIO international, Ambassador Islam Siddiqui, Chief Agriculture Negotiator, Mr. Ashok Ramsaran, President GOPIO International, Rajan Natrajan, Deputy Secretary of the State of Maryland, Kumar Barve, Majority Leader of the Maryland House of Delegates, Aruna Millar, Maryland State Delegate, Ike Leggert, County Executivre, Montgomery County, MD.
The cultural program included patriotic songs, dances, concluding with a grand finale of lively “bhangra.”
(Surekha Vijh is a journalist-poet based in Washington DC)