By Balwant Sanghera
VANCOUVER: The Khalsa Diwan Society in Vancouver – the oldest Indian institution set up in North America in 1906 – held a very successful seminar to pay tributes to the heroes of the Gadar Movement and Indian freedom fighters last weekend. The seminar was held at the Resource Centre of the Society located at 8000 Ross Street in Vancouver. The Resource Centre also happens to be the home of the museum dedicated to Komagata Maru, the ill- fated Japanese steamship (carrying 376 Indian passengers) that was forced to return to India after spending two months in the Burrard Inlet under heavy guard in 1914.
This was the third event organized by the Khalsa Diwan Society to pay tribute to the Gadar Movement. The first one was a Kavi Darbar that brought together some of the best Punjabi poets to recite their poems dedicated to the Gadari Babey. This was followed by the release of a souvenir which contained articles about the Movement from some of the prominent writers and respected members of the community.
A large number of very well- known members of the South Asian community took the time to join the Khalsa Diwan Society for this well- deserved tribute. Representatives of various places of worship, community activists as well as Burnaby Edmonds MLA Raj Chauhan, Indian Consul General Ravi Shankar Aisola and Consul D.K. Sharma were some of the distinguished guests on this auspicious occasion. The media was also well represented. Khalsa Diwan Society’s General Secretary Joginder Singh Sunner welcomed the guests on behalf of the Society. He emphasized that it is due to the selfless sacrifices of the Gadari Babey that we are enjoying the good life in Canada. Sunner also stressed the close link between the Gadar Movement and Khalsa Diwan Society. He raised a few questions for the speakers before thanking members of the audience for taking the time to attend this very fitting homage to our ancestors.
Earlier this year, In order to assist with these activities ,Khalsa Diwan Society had invited a number of community activists to undertake this task. They included Nadeem Parmar, Mohan Singh Gill, Balwant Singh Sanghera, Sucha Claire, Harchand Singh Bagri, Kartar Singh Bains and Rajinder Singh Pandher.These individuals put in a lot of effort in ensuring the Society’s role and close connection with the Gadar Movement are rightfully recognized. In this context, a number of other organizations have done a commendable job in paying tribute to the Gadar Movement. As a matter of fact, it is very gratifying to note that since January of 2013 every major function held in the community has been dedicated to the Gadar Movement.
The seminar brought together four excellent resource people who shared their expertise and research on this subject with a distinguished audience. Ms. Milan Singh, a Ph. D. student and researcher of the Komagatamru and the Gadar Movement was the first speaker. Milan is a descendant of one of the Freedom Fighters, Ram Nath Maharaj of Kahnpur, who was arrested by the British for his involvement in the Movement and sent to Fiji for intensive labour. She defined the Gadar Movement and its noble objectives of freeing India from the British rule in a very eloquent manner. This young researcher of political activity of the Canadian South Asian diaspora shared her research about the trials and tribulations of the community. This theme was carried further by prominent South Asian community historian Sohan Singh Pooni. Pooni stated that the Gadari Babey believed that the only way to get respect here was to get rid of the British rule in India. He emphasized that the turning point in this struggle was on October 3, 1909 when former soldiers (decorated by the British) who had valiantly fought for the British Empire, burnt their hard earned medals, certificates and military uniforms in Vancouver. It made a very strong political statement by these pioneers. He described the struggle and aspirations of these brave souls in a beautiful manner. Pooni emphasized that these Freedom Fighters wanted to be identified as Indians not as Sikhs, Hindus or Muslims. They had a firm belief that in order to get respect overseas they needed India to become a free country.
The formation of the Gadar Party in April 22, 1913 was culmination of these collective efforts. Naveen Girn, a young cultural researcher has been doing an excellent job in preserving our community’s history. Of course , at the core of all of this is the Gadar Movement. Naveen shared the work he has been doing as curator and cultural researcher focusing on the South Asian community. His presentation included a number of very impressive slides highlighting the community’s past including the first Sikh Gurdwara near Burrard Street in Vancouver and the Komagatamaru. All of these have a very close connection with Khalsa Diwan Society and the Gadar Movement.
The last speaker for this tribute was Dr. Hugh Johnston, professor emeritus at Simon Fraser University. Dr Johnston is one of the most prominent historians who have written extensively about the South Asian community’s history in Canada. He has also written a book on the Komagatamru . Dr Johnston knows our community’s history very well and has written a lot of papers in this regard.
Dr Johnston mentioned that there was a good reason for the origin of the Gadar Movement and its links to the Western U.S. Most of the Gadari Babey considered the U.S. as a beacon of democracy ,secularism, prosperity and freedom. Thus they wanted this movement to be modelled on the U.S. They strongly believed that like the Americans they had to wage an armed struggle in order to drive the British out of India.
Indian Consul General Ravi Shankar Aisola conveyed his greetings on this occasion and made a few suggestions for the researchers and historians to work on. The tribute concluded with a few questions from a number of prominent members of the audience.
In the end , Sohan Singh Deo, president of the Khalsa Diwan Society, thanked the organizers and attendees for taking part in this tribute. He assured of the Society’s full co-operation for any common projects that the community may like to undertake. Participants commended the Khalsa Diwan Society and seminar organizers for doing an excellent job.
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