By Majid Sheikh
If you enter the now non-existent Shahalami Gate and head towards Rang Mahal, after about 200 yards, to the left, was the ancient Maachi Hatta Guzar – the western-most area of the Akbar-era walled city of Lahore. Today the ancient `guzar` has been over-whelmed by traders with a mere crossing and a mohallah by this very name all that are left.
In my school days I remember walking with my father through this `mohallah` and the old man pointed out a shop and said: “Remember, this shop almost changed the history of the sub-continent”. I asked him why this small shop was so important, and he just said: “never forget Kamagata Maru”. It sounded dramatic. Now this strange name was enough to convince the school boy that it was too complicated a matter to understand. Time proved me wrong. Last week I set out to trace that shop and to research why my father held this opinion.
My research informs me that the shop he mentioned and pointed out was of Bhai Parmanand. In the history of the freedom movement of the sub-continent, this man and his shop was the meeting place of the Punjab Ghadr Movement, a movement that almost dislodged the British colonialists, and because of its failure led to four Lahore Conspiracy Trials, as well as a few others, including the famous Anarkali Murders Trial of 1914. From its failure rose young revolutionaries in Lahore like Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev. The shop in Maachi Hatta was the point where information from `revolutionaries` from San Francisco was received and distributed among local `revolutionaries` tasked to carry out attacks on the colonists.
The origin of the Ghadr Party lay in the Punjabi farmers who were sent to Canada by the British to set up farms in the cold north-western territories. It was very hard labour and special laws were promulgated to ensure that they did not marry `white` women. By 1908 over 5,000 Indians had entered Canada, 99 per cent of them Punjabis. Given the harsh conditions and discrimination, a majority of them crossed over to the USA and settled in western coast cities like Portland, San Francisco and San Jose. Even there they faced new American laws banning them from marrying American women. The word `Ghadr` was given to the newspaper edited and published in 1912 at Portland. The association of Punjabis who published this newspaper gave rise to a plan for revolutionary activities in India. Thus the Ghadr Movement was born.
Many Punjabi students were also studying in prominent universities like Berkeley, Stanford and Harvard. They all joined this association. Lala Hardayal of Stanford, Sant Teja Singh of Harvard and Bhai Parmanand decided to bring over more students from the Punjab, especially ex-servicemen, for higher education in the USA and Canada. Most of them settled in San Francisco and Stockton in California. They started a paper called Azadi ka Circular in Urdu. This paper was distributed among the armed forces in India to rouse them against the British.
In 1912, at Portland Hindustani Association of Pacific Coast declared: “Today there begins in foreign lands, a war against British Raj. What is your name? Ghadr. What is your work? Ghadr. Where will Ghadr break out? In India. The time will soon come when rifles and blood will take the place of pen and ink.” Occasionally Ghadr published an advertisement that said: “Wanted: Enthusiastic and heroic soldiers for organizing Ghadr in Hindustan: Remuneration: Death; Reward: Martyrdom; Pension: Freedom and Field of Work: Hindustan”.
The party`s plan was to invade Kashmir from China, then go for the Punjab followed by other provinces. Members started getting training in the use of weapons and making of bombs. A few even got training in flying aircrafts. The party carried out considerable propaganda in Japan where Maulvi Barkat Ullah was professor in Tokyo University. He attracted many Muslims to the Ghadr Party. The First World War broke out in July 1914. On August 5, the Ghadr Party declared war on the British and decided to come to India to carry out an armed revolution.
Shiploads of Punjabis, armed to the teeth, started leaving the USA and Canada for India starting August 1914. According to British intelligence records, 2,312 Indian Ghadr men, all highly trained, had entered India by Feb 25, 1915. Their influx continued till 1916 when their number increased to more than 8,000. They started issuing pamphlets all over India, especially in the Punjab, targeting Indian soldiers.
The British authorities in India armed themselves with legislative measures like the `Foreigners Ordinance` on Aug 29, 1914, followed by `Ingress into India Ordinance`. Since the Ghadr people were Punjabis, the Punjab government sent its police to the Calcutta shores where the ships were arriving. `Suspects` were nabbed and under police escort taken by train to Ludhiana, where they were tortured in interrogation centres.
Kamagata Maru was the first ship to reach the shores of Calcutta on Sept 27, 1914 after the issuing of `Ingress into India Ordinance`. The passengers of Kamagata Maru were murdered in cold blood as they disembarked at Budge Ghat. This massacre left 19 dead, 21 injured, 72 were imprisoned, while many others went missing. Ghadr had started, but it was the British who fired the first shots. The incident sparked an amazing revolutionary fervour throughout the Punjab, as well as India. After Kamagata Maru, the other ships that brought in Punjabi revolutionaries were Chai Sang, Nam Sang and the Tosha Mam.
The Ghadr leaders were allotted zones for working in military barracks. Each and every cantonment was covered. The task of attacking the arms magazines successfully in each and every barracks was seen as not feasible. Thus just two targets were selected, they being Lahore`s Mian Mir Cantonment and the nearby Ferozepur Cantonment; both of which controlled the entire Punjab and Northern Command Magazines. It was thought that once these Magazines were taken possession of, the jawans of all other barracks would have arisen in revolt. The meetings at Maachi Hatta planned that the workers of Lahore and Amritsar area would move in to attack Mian Mir Cantonment, while the workers of Doaba and Malwa on Beas would attack Ferozepur Cantonment.
The attack date was set for Nov 26, 1914. However, the police acting on inside information `encountered` them at Pheru Shehar in which some of them were killed. Kanshi Ram Marholi and his group were arrested and executed. The Ghadr Movement faced their first setback. But they regrouped and set a new date at attack the Mian Mir Cantonment.
It was decided to attack the Mian Mir Cantonment on Feb 12, 1915, and Ferozepur Cantonment on the night of Feb 21, 1915. It was also decided that 128th Pioneer Regiment in Meerut under the command of Bhai Phula Singh and 12 Battalion under the command of Bhai Isher Singh would rise in revolt and they were to take possession of Meerut. They were then to move to Delhi under the command of VG Pingle and declare the establishment of the Indian Republic. It was assumed, given the detailed planning, that the jawans in all the barracks from Bannu up to Dinapur would revolt in their own areas. The jawans of 23rd Battalion in Mian Mir Cantonment were waiting with bated breath to hear the first shot of the Ghadrites on the appointed date.
But `inside informers` burst the balloon of the entire Ghadr Movement, and the British-led Punjab Police arrested Ghadr leaders from their hideouts and from clandestine places of operation. The Ghadr leaders were prosecuted in a number of criminal cases. Besides the Lahore Conspiracy Case, there were four Supplementary Lahore Conspiracy Cases, two Mandi Conspiracy Cases, two Burma Conspiracy Cases and one Lahore City Conspiracy Case.
A total of 279 Punjabi emigrants were tried. Out of them 46 were hanged in Lahore where today is the Shadman Colony. Another 64 were sentenced to life deportation and 125 were awarded lesser punishments. The grand Ghadr Movement, planned in such detail in San Francisco and controlled from Maachi Hatta inside the walled city, met a sad end. The British Government had intelligence men posted at railway stations in cities and in important villages. The lambardars, zaildars and other village functionaries were also alerted to provide information. The government had managed to plant informers in the Ghadr Party itself.
All the leaders were put in the Lahore Jail. The army units which had promised to join the revolution kept quiet. However, some units such as 26 Punjabi, 7 Rajput, 12 Cavalry, 23 Cavalry, the 128 Pioneers, Malaya State Guides, the 23 Mountain Battery, 24 Jat Artillery, The 15 Lancers, 22 Mountain Battery,130 Baluch and the 21 Punjab did come out in the open. About 700 men of the Fifth Light Infantry, located in Singapore, mutinied on Feb 15 and took possession of the fort. The rebellion was subdued by British troops; 126 men were tried by court martial which sentenced 37 to death, 41 to transportation for life. Thus I managed to relive my childhood story of the shop in Maachi Hatta, and the coming of Kamagata Maru. It is sad that the entire story of the Ghadr Movement is not taught to Pakistani students, who would be so proud of the long history of resistance for freedom. The shop in Maachi Hatta is no more, the victim of commercial expansion inside the walled city. The names of those who gave their lives for freedom have been obscured by subsequent events. History is as we make, with massive portions rubbed out of our collective memory.