Gadar Memorial Center, San Francisco
Pioneer Asian Indian
Immigration to the Pacific Coast
Any thing associated with Gadar sends a wave of chill in my spine. Gadar also symbolizes a dream of some simple brave Indians who thought that once they were out of the British reach in India or other colonies, they could challenge their might. But they were politically naïve. The British were able to tap into their overseas activities through the US intelligence and aborted their various plans. After 25 years of independence and private donation, the Gadar Memorial Center at 5 Wood Street was opened in 1975. My first visit was in Dec. 2001.
Center is located in a small house. As I entered its main hall upstairs, I was really overwhelmed by its vibrations. Though all alone in the hall, yet I felt surrounded by immortals. At such moments, one realizes the difference between the longevity of a human being in a physical form and legacy left behind with great ideals and sacrifice. Nevertheless, the quality of an individual life is always measured by the amelioration brought in all life around.
At the entrance of the hall, there was a visitor’s register wherein I proudly entered my name. There are 21 framed pictures of the Gadar Party leaders and martyrs on two opposite walls of the main hall. Twenty-two open bookshelves have an assortment of books and four showcases display some Gadar Party material. My concern was that with open shelves, no checkout system, and no regular open hours, this collection is likely to be lost and wither away.
While looking at those pictures I felt as if they were also peering at me. It was an eerie feeling that one gets in a cemetery, but I soon got over. One not aware of their heroic deeds would pay little attention to their ordinary facial features. Ordinary people appear extraordinary because of their great deeds and sacrifices. I paid my homage to each one by standing before each picture and took notes of whatever I saw or came across my mind. The dates in parentheses across some names are the dates of their kissing the British gallows. The comments in the Italics are mine.
The Heart of the Center lies in four showcases displaying pamphlets, documents and booklets. I was really in awe in extending my hand to reach out and touch the material. They were alive at DNA level, and kind of challenged me to comprehend the magnitude. Each and every document must have been held by at least one member of the Gadar Party. Initially, it was irresistible not to browse the documents in some detail, but for lack of time I decided to save some for next visit. This is a list of items in the showcases:
The Gadar Party was active in all kinds of publications in many languages, and mixing them whenever necessary. That is one lesson to draw. It is a shame that soon after independence so much was damaged in language riots in India. In public service, message and its spirit should not be sacrificed for the sake of language
The current visitor’s register has been maintained since 1982. In a random count, I figured that not more than 2000 visitors came during the last 19 years! Included in it are names of some Indian ministers visiting it during their US trips. By and large, visitors are from California who come for the obvious reason of their ancestors’ association with the Gadar Party. After winding up a comprehensive survey of the main hall, I came out in a small lobby. There are five framed posters and a few memorial plaques. Inscribed in plaque are many names including Chief Patron, Didar Singh Bains of Yuba City, I call it a citadel of Punjabiyat, in USA.
On a lobby wall a big map of United States of India includes present Pakistan, united Kashmir, Burma, Sri Lanka, and other smaller territories. Two other walls include on its display a framed poster in Urdu appealing to Indians not to fight with the Chinese. My thoughts went to 1950’s when the mood of HINDI CHEENI BHAI BHAI foreign policy turned into a stab in the back by the Chinese assault on Indian in Oct 1962.
A photo of the members of freedom fighters for India Jatha 1924 includes a picture of Raja Mahendra Pratap of Vrandaban. All along masses viewed Indian princes as stooges of the British Empire. Reading about him showed that there are always exceptions. For Raja’s opposition to the British policies, he was denied passport to leave India. It is an intriguing story how he reached Germany and joined the German army. The British confiscated all his royal property in India. A framed poster titles: Remember Our Gadar Heroes. Names of the founding members are: Lala Hardyal, Ram Chandra Bhardwaj and Baba Sohan Singh Bhaken. Figures of 400 members hanged during 1915-16 and 5000 life imprisoned are noted. It is an awesome feeling to be a part of this history. History is not a cookbook of recipes. Yet, standing up and staking your life for your ideals and values, providing inspiring leadership in crises and working in a united way, are qualities that are always called upon in any age and national crisis.
Government of India with the collaboration of overseas Indian communities should establish Gadar Studies Centers in Vancouver (Canada) and London (UK) where the Gadar movement had its wings. The first Indian Ambassador At Large, Dr. Bhishm Agnithotri is ideally positioned to explore such projects with Indian Diaspora. However, the most urgent need it to save the display items from natural decay, mishandling and neglect. The entire collection can be electronically saved on a single hard disc and commercially marketed.
PS: Gadar is an Urdu word adopted in Punjabi also, which is equivalent to the word evolution in English. A traitor in Urdu would be transliterated in English as Gaddaar, which is also adopted in Punjabi language. An English reader must see the big difference in meanings caused by this subtle difference in spelling.
Source: Satish Chandra
Professor at University of Nevada, Las Vegas
May 20, 2003