An inspiration for revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh, remembering the supreme sacrifice of Kartar Singh Sarabha-Art-and-culture News, Firstpost

In 1915, before the outbreak of the mass struggles that characterized much of the 1920s, another young man was executed by the British administration. Every 19 years, his sacrifice has served as a trigger for many others. His name was Kartar Singh Sarabha.

Among the most heart-wrenching stories of the Indian freedom movement are the tales of young men and women who flirted with danger by attacking the might of the British Empire and sacrificed themselves in the process. Come on March 23 and Bhagat Singh and his comrades, Sukhdev and Rajguru, are always remembered for the sacrifice they made. For a people enslaved in the midst of struggle, the execution of these three young men in 1931 served to strengthen their commitment. Their executions in this sense were not an end, but another beginning and perhaps more importantly, a reaffirmation.

In 1915, before the outbreak of the mass struggles that characterized much of the 1920s, another young man was executed by the British administration. Every 19 years, his sacrifice has served as a trigger for many others. His name was Kartar Singh Sarabha.


Kartar Singh Sarabha was born on May 24, 1896 in the village of Sarabha near Ludhiana in the undivided Punjab. The Punjab was a booming society at the time. Since the middle of the 19th century, the Punjab had undergone considerable changes. In 1849, the British usurped the empire of the powerful Maharaja Ranjit Singh after retiring his heir, Dalip Singh. The Punjab soon became the armed wing of the Empire and the Punjabis joined in large numbers the Anglo-Indian army. In 1900, almost half of the Indian army included troops from the Punjab.

The canal settlements developed in the Punjab by the British to fuel their commercial agricultural activities had also resulted in internal migration between eastern and western Punjab. The colonies had enabled many peasants to obtain land, but the cycle of crop failure, debt and tax pressure remained their bogeyman. The famines of 1896-97 and 1899-1900 were particularly severe.

In November 1906, a drastic increase in the water flow of the canal was announced by the colonial government. Then, the Punjab Colonization of Land Bill of 1907 repealed the terms and conditions of the Punjab Colonization of Land Act of 1893 by prohibiting the transfer of property by will and allowing only the elder. Farmers in the settlements were enraged by these movements and a movement started against these movements which became known as the “Pagri Sambhal Jatta” campaign.

In such a desperate situation, the urge to leave Punjab for greener climates was only natural. The initial emigration was to the Far East. But by 1905 45 Punjabis had found their way to Canada, and by 1908 there were 3,500 Indians in Canada when authorities clamped down on Indian immigration. Shifting their gaze south, many Punjabis have now entered the United States. Several thousand people have made it into the United States, three-quarters of which are Sikhs and at least half of them are former soldiers.

The Ghadar newspaper in Urdu, detailing the arrest of Lala Hardayal. Flight. 1, no 22, March 28, 1914. Image via Wikimedia Commons

Stay in the USA

Sarabha’s early years were spent in the village where he was raised by his grandfather after his father’s untimely death. It appears his enrollment was made at Ravenshaw College in Cuttack, Odisha, where an uncle lived. In July 1912 Sarabha sailed for San Francisco, intending to enroll at UC Berkeley. But it seems that at least initially he started working in the Californian countryside as a laborer like many fellow Punjabis. The details of his enrollment at Berkeley are unclear, and it is difficult to say for sure that he studied there.

North America at this time was hostile to Asian immigrants and their presence caused much resentment. Soon the immigrants began to band together to try to share their problems and discuss what they were going through. In this process, Sarabha became politicized. Among other things, Sarabha, like many Indians in the United States, felt his enslavement keenly as an individual of a submissive race. Liberating India from British rule was seen as a way to restore the honor and dignity of Indians as a people.

In March 1913, Indian workers in the states of Oregon and Washington founded an organization to fight for their rights. Around the same time, in May-June 1913, Lala Hardayal addressed a series of meetings in California that laid the groundwork for a movement. The name the movement has given itself—Ghadar—signaled his intention to call for armed revolution. Sarabha was quick to join the movement. The movement has its headquarters in San Francisco and in addition to Sarabha, others like Harnam Singh, Raghubar Dyal Gupta and many others have volunteered not only to work for the movement, but to stay on the premises and be available at any time.

The Ghadar The newspaper took off quickly, first in Urdu in November 1913 and from December in Punjabi, thanks to Sarabha’s efforts. In addition to writing the Punjabi text, Sarabha also used the portable machine to produce copies of the publication for distribution. At this point, it was still unclear how the Ghadarites intended to stir up an armed rebellion. Being politically well informed, there was a feeling that Europe would soon be plunged into war and that might be the right time to strike. The feeling was though that this war would probably start around 1920 and so they had a few years to prepare. Meanwhile, regular issues of the publication continued to come out, with some even finding their way to India where they were seized by British authorities.

An inspiration for revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh remembering the supreme sacrifice of Kartar Singh Sarabhas

(L) A pamphlet published in 1920; (R) A book cover with the portrait of Sarabha. Source: Digital Library of Panjab.

In May-June 1914, the Komagata Maru the incident took place in neighboring Canada. This further radicalized the Ghadarites. On July 28, 1914, much earlier than expected by the Ghadarites, the armed confrontation that would snowball until World War I began in Europe. The Ghadar The issue of August 4, 1914 then published a call to arms: “O warriors! The opportunity you were looking for has arrived, ”he proclaimed. Eager to make the most of this opportunity to move their plans forward, Ghadar leaders deployed to different parts of the United States to ask Indians to quit their jobs, liquidate their businesses, and return to India to prepare. to an armed struggle to overthrow the colonial regime. At the end of October, eight ships left the USA and Canada for India. Among the returnees was Kartar Singh Sarabha who landed in Colombo and went to Punjab.

The plan was to get the Indian soldiers in the Punjab to mutiny in the hope that the spark lit in the Punjab would spread throughout the country.

Almost from the start, things didn’t go as planned. Many of those who landed in Calcutta, such as Sohan Singh Bhakna, were arrested on their arrival. Sarabha, handicapped by the arrest of his compatriots, nonetheless continued without being defeated and entered many cantonments in the Punjab and tried to radicalize the military. Vishnu Ganesh Pingley, his associate from the United States and Rash Behari Bose from Bengal who had joined the Ghadarites in India were his companions in this endeavor.

The date for the armed revolt was set for February 21, 1915. This was disclosed to the British authorities, after which the date was changed to February 19. News of this change has not reached all concerned. During this time, the British reacted quickly and arrested a number of revolutionaries. The promised revolution did not materialize. Pingley and Sarabha have been arrested. Bose fled to Japan and did not return to India until his death in 1945.

Pingle, Sarabha, Harnam Singh, Bhai Paramanand and many more were tried in the Lahore Conspiracy trial in April 1915 for their role in the February conspiracy. When asked about his role in the plot, Sarabha was defiant, stating that it was his duty to get the Indians to rebel against the British, anticipating what Gandhi would declare a few years later. Pingle and Sarabha were executed in Lahore Central Prison on November 16, 1915.

Sarabha’s supreme sacrifice has not gone unnoticed. Bhagat Singh idolized him and carried his picture in his pocket at all times. When the Naujawan Bharat Sabha was established in March 1926 by Bhagat Singh, Bhagwati Charan Vohra and others, one of the first functions organized by the Sabha was to pay homage to Sarabha. In this function, Durga Devi and Sushila Devi sprinkled blood from their fingers on a milky white blanket of Sarabha’s portrait to underline their commitment to the cause.

Thelma J. Longworth

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