Gadar Memorial Center, San Francisco

Pioneer Asian Indian
Immigration to the Pacific Coast


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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.

  1. Dr. Mathura Singh (27/3/1917) Russians handed him over to the British where he had escaped from India. (It indicates that Russian Czars were opposed to India’s freedom fight as they were to their own workers’ movement)
  2. Harnam Singh Sialkot (17/11/1915).
  3. Bhai Bhag Singh murdered by a Indian hireling of the British. (Imagine what it would have taken for Indians in British army or police to shoot/betray their civilian friends, neighbors, brothers, cousins, and fathers? Does it really establish some unique superiority of the British mind and its institutions in winning such a strong loyalty from Indians by and large? These questions are relevant in any organization today)
  4. Ajit Singh (Chacha of the Bhagat Singh)
  5. Baba Ram Singh Kuka
  6. Uddham Singh Kassil
  7. Mewa Singh
  8. Rahmat Ali Shah (26/3/1915)
  9. Lala Lajapt Rai (The only leader in popular India, UK, and USA)
  10. Jagat Singh Sur Singh (Sur Singh is a village) (16/11/1915)
  11. Bhagat Singh
  12. Kartar Singh Saraba (17/11/1915)
  13. Baba Ram Singh Kuka
  14. Udham Singh
  15. Pandit Ram Chandra Bhardwaj
  16. V.G. Pingle of Maharashtra (17/11/1915) (One wonders how a person from Maharashtra would join the Gadar Party. My guess is that a passionate person no matter where he lives, would stand up against any tyranny)
  17. Baba Waisakhi Singh
  18. Baba Prithi Singh Azad
  19. Pandit Jagat Ram
  20. Sohan Lal Pathak (20/2/1919)
  21. Lala Hardyal (who was mysteriously killed in Nov. 1947 while traveling in a ship going to India, after independence. He had a doctorate from Oxford, and came to USA as visiting professor at Stanford University)

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:

  1. India's Voice 9/43 (a small monthly)
  2. A framed form for joining the Gadar Party, in Gurmukhi. (Very interesting)
  3. A booklet of patriotic songs in Hindi (handwritten)
  4. An Urdu publication, HINDUSTAN KI GWAHI (Evidence of India)
  5. An English pamphlet, Unlawful Government of India and Mahatma Gandhi by Ras Behari Rose based in Japan. It is a powerfully written piece on the detention of Ghandiji. (20/07/1930).
  6. Punjabi Booklets, AZADI DI GOONJ, Number 5, 12. (It was noted #12, that in 1930 Civil Disobedience movement, and entire army battalion was court marshaled for their refusal to fire on Indian protestors. It provides a rare example of Indians in the British army and police not obeying commands against Indian freedom fighters. In civilian life such instances are numerous.
  7. History of India in Urdu by Bhai Parmanand, MA 1918, 350 pages.
  8. A booklet, A few facts about the British Rule in India, June 1915. (It is really heart rending to read it. In one place an English man is quoted “In 1901 the poverty and suffering of the people are such as to defy description”. One of the several data reads as: Plague deaths from 1897-1903: 7,251,257, more than 7 million! (Indians know what happened to the Jews in Germany, but hardly and Indian is aware of a bigger holocaust of the Hindus in India itself!)
  9. The United States of India, monthly, 11/1924 devoted to the economic, social, and intellectual independence of India. (Gadar Party had positive images of USA not only in finding similar name of free India, but also for of its institutional models. Since by 1930’s leaders and masses alike were aware of the British policies of creating rifts between Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs, and the Gadar Party must have agreed on the name, United States of India.)
  10. India against Britain by Ram Chandra, Editor, 01/11/1916 (It was interesting to note that like Afghanistan, both Nepal and Bhutan had defeated British forces three times! That is why the two were not colonized by the British. How many Indians today even in academe, know of this fact?)
  11. Framed picture poster of Yugantar Ashram, the name of the first headquarters of the Gadar Party (full name of the Gadar Party) started at 436 Hill Street, SF.
  12. GULAMI DI ZAHAR (Poison of Slavery) in Punjabi and Urdu by Hardyal, 1919
  13. In Punjabi, handwritten Constitution of the Gadar Party, 29 pages.
  14. India’s Voice 1/1944 (Paper has turned brown and brittle with age
  15. Punjabi booklets, Gadar di Goonj numbers 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, and 14. One unnumbered.
  16. ANK DI GWAHI in Punjabi.
  17. An Urdu pamphlet, NEEM HAKIM KHATRA JAAN
  18. A pamphlet from China (It indicates a collaboration with forces against the British, in China)
  19. A pamphlet in German. (Germany always sided with India)
  20. In Punjabi, GAYATRI MANTRA
  21. In Punjabi, Russia in 1914.
  22. A booklet on Baba Hari Singh Oswal.
  23. Hindi and Punjabi versions of the magazine, GADARI RASALA, ANKO KI GAWAH
  24. HINDUSTAN KA GADAR in Punjabi (Gadar was a powerful weekly publication of the Party)
  25. First anniversary issue of Gadar Ki Salegrah, in Urdu (in 1917 the Party headquarters moved to 5 Wood Street, and was known as Gadar Ashram)
  26. Poster in Urdu in a cardboard form.
  27. Gadar, a newsletter of the Gadar Memorial Center dated 15 August 1993. (I don’t know much it is connected with the historical weekly the Gadar of the Hindustan Gadar Party. But their mailing address is 5 Wood Street, SF. However, its activites have not been heard of anywhere.)

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