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Onkar Singh Bindra | Gold River, CA
Posted: 06:30 PM | June 30, 2011

Jawala Singh, a Unique Ghadri Baba

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Jawala Singh in 1912 to 14 in the United States (left), in the 1930s in India (source: lib.berkeley.edu, ghadarmemorial.net).

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The Sikh Temple in Stockton, 1915

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Gobind Lal Behari 

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In 1929, the wooden building of 1915 was moved for use as a library, and a new brick building of the Gurdwara was built in its place. It had an elevated seat for Sri Guru Granth Sahib. With permission from the Shiromani Gurdwar Parbandhak Committee, the western system of sitting on chairs, wearing shoes and leaving heads uncovered, was adopted. This system was also adopted when a Japanese Church in El Centro was converted into a gurdwara in 1948, and at the Tierra Buena Road Gurdwara, in Yuba City, built in 1973.

However, now-a-days with the arrival of large numbers of Sikh immigrants from India since mid 1980s, all California Gurdwaras have switched to the Indian tradition of removing shoes and covering heads before entering the prayer hall, and sitting on the carpet. But many Gurdwaras do have a few benches or chairs on the side or in the back, for the physically challenged.

Jawala Singh’s patriotic spirit made him very popular and he was elected president of the California branch of the Indian Association, an organization set up by the Indian pioneers to guard their interests. Discriminatory treatment meted out to them by the locals and the unsympathetic attitude of the representatives of the British-Indian government created a strong desire to overthrow the British government in India at the earliest. This led to Jawala Singh playing an important role in the Ghadar Movement.

The Holtville farm became the center of activities of the Ghadar Party. Jawala Singh played a key role in organizing a conference of the Ghadar Party in Sacramento on Dec. 31, 1913, which was attended by thousands. Here, he was elected first vice president of the party.

Soon after the start of the World War I on July 28, 1914, the Ghadar Party decided that its members must go to India to fight against the British government in India. Jawala Singh and Sohan Singh Bhakna, the president of the Ghadar Party, toured the Western states to recruit volunteers to go to India. His farm served as a camp for training revolutionaries on their way to India. Eventually, he and his partner, Visakha Singh, donated their entire property to the Ghadar Party. Jawala Singh was one of the leaders of the first large group that sailed for India on August 29, 1914, aboard the S.S. Korea. From Hong Kong, he went on another ship, Tosha Mans, which reached Kolkata on Oct. 29, 1914.

On the way, in Singapore, Jawala Singh tried unsuccessfully to win over the loyalty of Indian regiments and to incite them for a national revolt against the British. On arrival at Kolkata, he was arrested from the ship and taken to Ludhiana by train, where was tried and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Jawala Singh served 18 years in Montgomery Jail. On his release in 1933, he identified himself with farmers and workers and voiced their grievances through a newspaper called ‘Kirti’. He worked for the Desh Bhagat Pariwar Sahaik Committee, which collected funds and helped the families of freedom fighters. He also became the first president of the Punjab Kisan Sabha, a peasants’ union, formed to negotiate with the colonial government regarding farming practices and land revenue.

For his new activities he was rearrested in 1935 and sentenced to another year in prison. After his release, he led the tenant movement of Nili Bar, an area of Montgomery district, now the Sahiwal district of Pakistan, commanded by the lower Bari Doab canal.

During his travel to the attend the All-India Kisan Conference, a conference of representatives of farmers of all states of India, at Comilla in Bengal, his bus met with an accident, resulting in serious injuries. He died on May 8, 1938.

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