Smithsonian alters Gadar history
ਜਉ ਤਉ ਪ੍ੇਮ ਖੇਲਣ ਕਾ ਚਾਉ, ਸਿਰ ਧਰਿ ਤਲੀ ਗਲੀ ਮੇਰੀ ਅਾਉ
By Anju Kaur, SikhNN staff writer, Washington Bureau
Posted: Friday, May 16, 2014 | 05:14 pm
According to the secret “Ghadr Directory” published by the British Indian government in 1917, and in 1934, the Gadar Party had 616 members: 527 were Sikhs, 54 were Hindus and 35 were Muslims.
Photo Source: sikhcentury.files.wordpress.com
The immigration and discrimination sections of the exhibition
It was the temporal challenges and the spiritual inspirations of the early immigrants that triggered the Gadar Lehar. In the first two sections of the exhibition, “The First Immigrants,” and “Driven Out,” Momaya presents a distorted history of the early immigrants and their struggles, experts said.
U. S. immigration records and other historical records show that 95 percent of the first immigrants, from 1900 to the end of World War II, in 1945, were Punjabi Sikhs. The rest were Punjabi Hindus and Punjabi Muslims.
But the photographs used in this section show very few Sikhs. And all immigrants are indiscriminately labeled “Indian” or “Punjabi.”
Newspaper and personal accounts show that it was the Sikhs who bore the brunt of all discrimination, and exclusionary policies also were directed at them. Their Hindu and Muslim brethren were inadvertent casualties in the Sikh struggle for civil rights in the U.S.
The Gadar section of the exhibition
This section, called “Freedom Here and There,” is located on a wall next to the immigration and discrimination sections. It mistakenly links the struggle for U. S. citizenship as the driving force behind the formation of the Gadar Party.
The Gadar section of the exhibition contains one misleading photo, and an incorrect narrative and caption.
An enlarged quote at the top states: “The right to become a naturalized citizen, under the provisions of this act, shall extend to persons or races indigenous to India,” Luce-Celler Act of 1946. Under the quote is a label describing the section, an enlarged photograph of Gadar Party members, and an image of a newspaper advertisement pleading for American intervention in Indian independence.
The label incorrectly says: “Although separated by thousands of miles, Indians in India were fighting for freedom from British rule at the same time as Indian immigrants in America were fighting for citizenship…”
Before 1914, when the Gadar Lehar took effect, Indians in British India were not yet “fighting for freedom.”
After Maharajah Ranjit Singh’s death in 1839, the British East India Company launched the Anglo-Sikh Wars against the weakened Sikh empire. It fell in 1849. The company formed the province of Punjab and established representative British rule from Lahore.
After the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857, a mutiny in parts of the British Indian army, protesting British violation of Hindu and Muslim religious sentiments, the company was dissolved. The British established direct rule of the country, in 1858, as the new British Raj.
Queen Victoria’s proclamation assured respect for religion and protection for her new subjects, although that never was the practice. The queen, herself, exiled Maharaja Duleep Singh, Ranjit Singh’s adolescent son, to England and converted him to Christianity.
The British Raj included India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Punjab also was a larger area, which included West Punjab, now in Pakistan. The British Raj reorganized its administration, its financial institutions and its military. Sikhs, particularly Amritdhaarees, were recruited into its military in large numbers.
“The conception of India as a whole, as one unified country, and of its people as one solid nation, for whose independence they could combine together and fight to the last, was yet in embryo in 1857, and was not familiar to the Indian mind,” writes Ganda Singh in, “The Indian Mutiny of 1857 and the Sikhs,” published by the Sisganj Gurdwara Parbandak Committee, in 1969. “It was, in fact, propounded by the sponsors and leaders of the Indian National Congress some three decades later, when a beginning came to be made for the emotional integration of the people under its banner.”
The Congress political party formed in 1883 as a forum for civic and political dialogue between the educated Indians and the British Raj. The party split on ideology by 1907, and did not inspire a “fight for independence.”
When the British unsuccessfully tried to partition Bengal, in 1905, East Bengal industries cried foul at the possible loss of natural resources, and blamed the British of employing a divide-and-conquer policy. Although this set off sedition sentiments, it did not result in a “fight for independence.”
When the British passed legislation, in 1906, designed to plunder Punjab’s agriculture and to grab land from the peasants, it also created seditious sentiments and boycotts, but it did not produce a mass movement or “fight for independence.”
“On reaching India, the Gadarites found that the situation was not ripe for any revolutionary activity,” writes Gurcharan Singh Aulakh, in “Gadarite’s dreams in Babbar Akali Lehar and the Reality of Independence Movement,” also presented at the Stockton gurdwara centennial.
“Many sections of society were agog to act as stooges of the (British) government. The mahants of the Sikh gurdwaras and some other Sikh organizations passed resolutions against the Gadarites.”
At the inception of the Gadar Lehar, in 1907, very few “Indian immigrants in America were fighting for citizenship.” Disenfranchisement was not the most urgent issue for these immigrants.
The exhibition only presents three persons who sought U. S. citizenship: Kanta Chandra, in 1910, A. K. Mozumdar, in 1912, and Bhagat Singh Thind, who applied after the end of World War I, in 1918, after the Gadar Lehar crumbled. His case went to the Supreme Court, in 1922.
Tyrannical agrarian policies by the British had led Punjabis, beginning in 1897, to immigrate to Canada, a British commonwealth. As Canadian lumber mills began hiring them as cheap labor, their numbers increased suddenly from 1904 to 1908, to more than 5,000, Jasbir Singh writes. About 98 percent of them were Sikh, and the majority of them were veterans.
Their influx caused a backlash from Canadian workers who lost their jobs to the lower-wage immigrants. As a result, Canada passed legislation to essentially stop Sikh immigration. Women and families were not allowed at all. And attempts were made to deport to Honduras the Sikhs who already were settled in Canada.
Sikhs began migrating south of the border, into Northwestern U. S. cities. They also arrived by ships, in San Francisco, and through Mexico. Most were farmers and mill workers but a small number also came to study at the University of California, at Berkeley. Nearly 1,750 Punjabis immigrated between 1904 and 1908, Jasbir Singh writes.
But there were never more than 7,000 legal Punjabi immigrants between 1897 and the end of World War II, in 1945, said Bruce LaBrack, professor emeritus of cultural anthropology at the University of the Pacific, in Stockton, California. And, about 95 percent of them were Sikh.
U. S. workers also began to feel threatened. On Sept 4, 1907, riots began in Bellingham, Washington. The Sikhs were driven out. Months later, a riot occurred in Everett, Washington. And, in Aberdeen, Washington, the Sikhs and other Punjabis left after being threatened. Riots also ensued the following year, in California. American workers began to lobby Congress to pass Asian exclusion legislation.
The greatest struggle for the early immigrants in the U. S. was for basic civil rights. They were fighting against employment discrimination, immigration discrimination, and racial discrimination.
The photo caption misleadingly says: “In the same spirit that American colonists organized for freedom from England, Indian immigrants campaigned for dignity and rights for Indians back home.”
Before the formation of the Gadar Party, in 1913, Sikhs organized and “campaigned for dignity and rights for Indians” in North America, which led to an armed struggle for freedom “back home.”
The Sikhs, being farmers and mill workers, needed an English-speaking person to campaign for their rights. They asked Teja Singh, a student at Columbia University, in New York, and later at Harvard University, in Massachusetts, for help. In 1906, Teja Singh left his job as vice principal of Khalsa College, in Amritsar, to study and spread Sikhi. He was about 29. Teja Singh’s oratory skills moved his American professors and friends to ask him to lecture on Indian culture and Guru Nanak’s teachings.
The news about Teja Singh’s landmark lectures in New York reached Canada where Sikhs wanted a learned person to explain their faith to Canadians, writes Sukhmander Singh in “Life and Times of Sant Teja Singh: 1906-1912,” also presented at the Stockton gurdwara centennial.
“His fights against unjust and ill treatment of (Sikhs) in Canada and America were most remarkable and were even acknowledged by the governments of these countries,” Sukhmander Singh says. His deep faith in Sikhi also moved the Sikhs. He consecrated dozens of Amritdhaarees everywhere he went.