By Balwant Sanghera
VANCOUVER: This year marks the hundredth anniversary of the founding in North America of the Gadar Movement to liberate India from British rule.
Life for the earlier people of Indian origin in Canada and the US was extremely difficult. It was an arduous struggle for them. A number of prominent community activists and historians have done a commendable job in compiling our pioneers’ trials and tribulations. So long as the economy was good, immigrants especially from India, China and Japan did fine. Nevertheless, they were always subjected to a lot of hostility, discrimination, hatred and racism.
As the wave of prosperity faded, the hostility against immigrants from Asia reached a new high. It took on another form as depression had set in 1907. The scarcity of jobs resulted in a lot of jealousy and racism between the whites on one hand and Chinese, Japanese and people of Indian origin on the other. The resentment against the hard working Asians resulted in the formation of Asian Exclusion League.
The Canadian government wasn’t of much help. Under pressure from these racist elements, the government passed the Asian Exclusion Act. It not only stopped immigration from Asia but also institutionalized racism in Canada. As a result of these measures, the Indo-Canadians, who numbered 5,317 in 1908, declined to 951 by 1931. Thanks to the countless sacrifices of our pioneers, to-day our community, numbering more than a million, has become one of the most prosperous, resilient, generous and powerful ones.
In view of a very hostile environment, immigrants from India had no choice but to fend for themselves. Nearly all of them lived near the mills or on the farms where they worked. This kind of poisonous and hostile environment prompted efforts to bring all people of Indian origin- Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims- under the one umbrella. This would enable them to put up a united front against the hatred, racism and discrimination prevalent at that time. These initiatives gave birth to the Khalsa Diwan Society, Vancouver on July 22, 1906. From that day on, the history of the Khalsa Diwan Society is closely linked to the growth and development of our community in Canada. It also marked the beginnings of the Ghadar Movement –A Movement of Freedom Fighters – in 1913.
Since its inception, the Khalsa Diwan Society in 1908, Vancouver has been closely linked to the struggles and aspirations of the Indo-Canadian community in Canada. This Society has always been in the forefront of fight for fairness, justice and respect for Indo-Canadians.
The Khalsa Diwan Society became not only the heartbeat of the community but also the hub for the Gadar Movement and the freedom fighters. These freedom fighters, affectionately called Gadari Babey, waged war on two fronts. In Canada, they were fighting against injustice, racism and discrimination. At the same time, they were fighting hard to free India from British rule. They strongly believed that in order to get respect overseas they have to free their motherland from the British. They realized that the root cause of their suffering was the colonial yoke back at home.
To commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the Gadar Movement, a number of activities ,seminars and related activities have been taking place all across Canada this year. As a matter of fact, nearly every major function held in the Indo-Canadian community has been dedicated to the Ghadar Movement and its freedom fighters.
A number of local organizations and the Indo-Canadian media must be commended for paying well deserved tributes to Gadari Babey.
For its part, Khalsa Diwan Society has also been doing its part. Earlier this year, it held a Kavi Darbar paying tributes to the Gadar Movement and also released a souvenir in this regard.
On Saturday, October 19, the Khalsa Diwan Society will be hosting a seminar on its premises (8000 Ross Street, Vancouver) from 2 PM to 4 PM to pay tribute to the heroes of the Gadar Movement.
Prominent local historians Hugh Johnston and Sohan Pooni will be joined by Naveen Girn and Ms. Milan Singh in paying tribute to the freedom fighters. Johnston and Pooni are very well known and respected scholars. Naveen is a cultural researcher and project facilitator for the City of Vancouver and Milan is doing her Ph.D. on Komagata Maru. This seminar should be of special interest to young people of Indian origin.
For further information, your readers should feel free to contact Nadeem Parmar (604-298-2920) or Mohan Gill (778-908-0914) or myself at 604-836-8976).
(Balwant Sanghera, an Indo-Canadian community leader honoured with the Order of British Columbia, is based in Richmond on the outskirts of Vancouver)