The Voyage of the Ghadar Conference

Sunday, September 30, 2012, 8.00 AM to 5.30 PM

DeRosa Ballroom, University of the Pacific

3601 Pacific Avenue, Stockton, CA 95211

“The Voyage of the Ghadar: An Eastern Perspective” Conference was an academic conference featuring 16 scholars offering an Eastern perspective on Sikh migration to the United States of America, with a strong emphasis on the origin of Sikh American revolutionary movements that created Ghadar di Goonj, shook the foundations of the British Empire, and led to the independence of the Indian subcontinent. A Punjabi-language event, this conference occurred one week after the English-language “Sikh Journey in America” conference.

Click here for details on the speakers and their topics.

Click here to download a PDF copy of the academic paper abstracts from the conference.

A Century of painful memories of India’s freedom movement from the Pacific Coast

by Dr. Amrik Singh (Centennial Committee Media Coordinator

In a series of events related with the Centennial Celebrations of the First Gurdwara of the United States of America, the second conference, Voyage of the Ghadar, (Eastern Perspective) took place on September 30, 2012 in De Rosa Center of the University of the Pacific Stockton. A large gathering of about 700 attendees showcased a keen interest in knowing the legendary history of the Pacific Coast Khalsa Diwan (Free Divine Communion) Society that was established by Professor Teja Singh, Baba Jawala Singh, and Baba Wasakha Singh in 1912 and that became a precursor to the famous Ghadar movement.

Three panels of scholars from India, Canada, and the United Kingdom covered the various aspects of Ghadar history and its absence from curriculum of schools, colleges and universities in India. Punjabi University Vice Chancellor Dr. Jaspal Singh while attending the post conference Dinner in University Plaza Hotel in Stockton, declared that Punjabi University will adopt the history of Ghadar in its university curriculum from the next academic session. In his presidential address earlier, Vice Chancellor expressed that the history of Indian freedom movement needs to be restructured so as to give rightful place to the Ghadar movement. He pointed out that an exaggerated stress on M.K. Gandhi’s role was mainly responsible for overshadowing the real contribution made by Ghadari patriots who were ardently committed to the cause of freedom. The martyrdom tradition and Gurbani were the major background influences to impact their patriotic activities.

In the beginning, Manjit Singh Uppal, chairman of the Centennial Committee welcomed the scholars to the conference and stressed that their research was necessary to correct the history of the Ghadar movement. The moderator for the first session was Amrit Singh Kandola, a student of California State University. He invited the first panel consisting of Dr. Jaspal Singh, Dr. Jasbir S. Mann, and Dr. Amrik Singh.

In his paper, Dr. Jaspal Singh reevaluated circumstances surrounding 1849’s British annexation of Punjab to the formation of Ghadar movement in the west, and interpreted the Indian independence on August 15, 1947 merely a transfer of powers from the British to their collaborators. The vision of freedom for Gadris was more nationalistic, pluralistic, and democratic than what former collaborators of the British introduced after independence.

Dr Jasbir Singh Mann dwelt on San Francisco Hindu German conspiracy case and the role of Lala Hardayal, Vinay Savarkar, and Ram Chandra in sabotaging the highly nationalistic mission of Ghadar enthusiasts. Ram Chandar’s dubious role in financially cheating members of the Ghadar party had enraged Ram Singh who shot him during San Francisco trial in 1918. In second session, Bachittar Singh of University of Davis acted as a moderator. Introducing the second panel of scholars, he invited Professor Sohan Singh Pooni from Canada, Dr. Iqtidar Cheema from Pakistan, Dr. Balkar Singh and S. Ajmer Singh from India.

First, Professor Pooni elaborated on sacrifices of Canada’s Gadri heroes. Their struggle was both to secure some rights in Canada and as well as freeing India from the British occupation. He criticized the British campaign of portraying Gadris as extremists and anti-social before killing them indiscriminately. Throwing light on the life of Shaheed Mewa Singh, Pooni said that the British spy, William C Hopkinson, had made it impossible for Mewa Singh to live his life peacefully. When Hopkinson’s hired assassins killed two of the most respected members of the Sikh community in the Gurdwara, Mewa Singh took upon himself to teach him a lesson even though it cost him his life. Dr. Cheema’s paper focused on ‘pan Islamist’ influence on Ghadar movement. Lala Har Dayal and Prof. Maulana Barkatullah, according to Dr. Cheema, gave more setbacks to the Ghadar movement than what is known so far.

Dr. Balkar Singh analyzed the dynamics of Ghadaris’ consciousness in the Sikh perspective and found that the Ghadar mission had incorporated all characteristics of Sikh psyche. Therefore, they had no problem in moving ahead with their struggle for throwing the British out of India. He disapproved the western perspective of secular nationalism which, according to him, is no more than a mere façade for dividing ethnic communities. The third session was compered by Jasjot Kaur, a student from UC San Francisco. Dr. Prithipal Singh Kapoor dwelt more on history of the Sikhs than on the Ghadar movement. Kapoor stressed that Gadris were fully aware of their Sikh heritage, and that factor was precisely responsible for the genesis of Ghadar movement. Dr. Gurnam Kaur’s paper centered on becoming fearless and upbeat while living life as a true Sikh. Gadris’ exemplary sacrifices had shaken the British foundation.

Dr. Sarbjinder raised more questions than he answered. He said that if Sikhism was one of the influences on Gadris’ rebellious spirit, then why some Sikhs became collaborators of the British? Media being in control of British hands, it was easier for them to portray Gadris’ anti socialism and criminal behavior. The last session was moderated by Kulbir Kaur Beniwal, a student from Delta College Stockton. Dr. Tarlochan S Nahal tried to reinterpret the incident of Jallianwala Bagh in the light of the Ghadar movement whereas Dr. Dhillon compared it with the mutiny of 1857. Ghadar movement, according to him, was the only organized nationalistic movement that included all sections of society in the emerging mosaic of Indian nationhood.

Jatinder Singh Hundal, an engineer by profession, presented his paper on life and times of Lala Hardayal. He shared that he couldn’t find Dayal’s name in the ‘Ghadar Directory’ published by the British. He stated that Dayal’s recanting of his ideology and abjectly surrendering to the British was shameful. His later writings and research were all focused on promoting the British Empire not only in India, but in the whole world. Rajinder S Rahi, a scholar on Ghadar movement, could not come to present his paper, but a video of his lecture was played.

In his closing remarks, Dr. Amrik Singh thanked scholars and the audience for taking keen interest in the proceedings of the conference. He appreciated the role of the Stockton Gurdwara Management committee, and the centennial committee for putting their concerted efforts in making all programs a great success. Bhai Sukhjivan Singh, head Garanthi of Stockton Gurdwara, offered prayers in remembrance of Gadri patriots. Harnek Singh Atwal, president, Amarjit S. Panesar, vice president, Kuljit S Nijjar, Gen. Secretary, Ranjit Singh Chandowalia, treasurer, Gurmail S Khela, joint secretary, and Chhinderpal Singh, Kishan Singh, Sukhwinder Singh Dhaliwal, Jaswant Singh Shad, Iqbal S Gill, Daljit Singh, Gurnam Singh, Joginder Singh, Gulwinder Singh Bhinda, Karmjit Singh Gill, and Harpal Singh, all executive members worked together diligently.

Chairman of the Centennial Committee Manjit Singh Uppal and coordinator Bhajan Singh Bhinder thanked Dr. Jasbir Singh Mann, Dr. Amrik Singh for acting as conveners of the Western Conference, and Tarlochan Singh Nahal of the Eastern conference for their coordination and hard work. Gurdeep Singh Kooner arranged to telecast the conference live through PTN media group. South Asia Post’s Chief Editor Gobind Thukral, JUS TV host Harvinder S Riar, Ajit Jalandhar correspondent, Husan Laroya, Indo-American Dialogue’s Kuldip Dhaliwal, Punjab Times’s Tarlochan S. Dupalpur were present to cover the event. On September 29th, Dr. Sohan Singh Mahal hosted pre-conference dinner to all invited guests. Among the speakers on Pre- Conference dinner, Editor in Chief of South Asia Post Mr. Gobind Thukral spoke on glorious legacy of the Ghadar movement and stressed the need to preserve it for future generations. Dr. Gurinder S. Grewal was kind enough to arrange post-conference brunch at his palatial farm house on October 1, 2012.

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