By Sheshu Babu*
India has produced great young persons who dared to lay their lives fighting for freedom from British. Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and others are well known. But there were many others who are not remembered by many people to-day. One such young martyr is Kartar Singh who inspired Bhagat Singh in his struggle against colonialism.
Kartar Singh Sarabha (1896-1915), born on May 24, lost his father Mangal Singh at an early age and his grandfather Sardar Badam Singh Grewal brought him up with love and care. He was educated in his village (Sarabha, Ludhiana) initially and then, took admission in Khalsa School Ludhiana.
Though academically average, he was good at playing pranks and his friends called him ‘ aflatoon’. He was a good sportsman and a leader in his school (kracktivist.org). After his 9th class, he went to stay with his uncle in Odisha. He completed matriculation and joined college in 1910-1911. He wanted to go to the US for further studies with the full support of his family.
Life in The US
He sailed to San Francisco in July 1912 . He was supposed to get enrolled in University of California, Berkeley but he was found to be working in a mill factory in December 1912 in Astoria, Oregon (a historical note by Baba Jwala Singh). His association with Nalanda Club of Indian students, Berkeley aroused patriotic sentiments in him as he was agitated with the treatment of immigrants, especially manual workers in US. Sohan Singh Bhakna, founder of Ghadar Party who was almost twice his age inspired Kartar Singh. He called the young man with the name ‘ Baba Gernal’ . Kartar learned to shoot with a pistol, make a bomb and even flying a plane. He frequently spoke to Indian indentured labourers and soldiers working for British about freeing India.
Ghadar party and Kartar
On April 21, 1913, Indians in Oregon formed Ghadar party. Their aim was to overthrow British by any means possible and their motto ” Put at Stake Everything for the Freedom of the Country” . He was in charge of official mouthpiece ‘ Gadr’ in Punjabi. He wrote and edited ana also printed the Punjabi edition wiand – operated machine. It was also available in other languages like Hindi, Gujarati, Bengali and Pushto. Many overseas Indians became the members of the party. Besides news, the paper had articles on atrocities by British and call for freedom. (excerpts from ‘The Gadar Heroics’, co- authored by Inder Singh, chairman GIPIO international, May 14, 2014, www.indiawest.com).
The paper was published in Yungantar Ashram (headquarters of the party in San Francisco) where the volunteers lived. In October 1913, he sang an emotional song at a meeting in Sacramento to return to India and carry out the battle. When the world war I broke out, the Ghadarites decided that time for war with British colonialists has come. This was printed in the August 5 , 1914 issue of the Gadar newspaper .
Return and martyrdom
On September 15, 1914, he left US and along with Satyen Sen and Vishnu Ganesh Pingle, reached Calcutta. With an introduction letter from Jatin Mukharjee, he met Rash Bihari Bose. He promised many Ghadarites coming but they were arrested in port itself.
Meanwhile, Kartar prepared ground for the rebellion in Meerut, Agra, Lahore, Rawalpindi and so on. The members fixed 21 February 1915 as the D- day. Kripal Singh, an informer revealed the plans to British. Many members were arrested one day before. Kartar escaped and along with others, was ordered to leave the country by the party. However, he could not make up his mind leaving other comrade in prison. He tried to incite rebellion in the army but was arrested.
In September, he was sentenced to death by hanging in Lahore. The Lahore conspiracy case was one of the early case in which Gadar members were sentenced.
The 19 year old Kartar was hanged on 16 November 1915. He was only 17 when he joined Ghadar party. Even while he went to the gallows, he was courageous. He sang the song composed by himself written in Punjabi which was his favourite:
“Serving one’s country is difficult
It is so easy to talk:
Anyone who walked on that path,
Must endure millions of calamities.”
Even the judge recognised his intellect and said, “He is the most dangerous of all rebels” before awarding the sentence.
Such great martyrs who contributed a lot to the freedom struggle must be remembered. Even Bhagat Singh was inspired by the bravery of this early member of Ghadar Party. When Bhagat Singh was arrested, the photo of Kartar Singh Sarabha was found in his pocket. He used to tell his mother that Kartar Singh was his hero, friend and a great companion.
He is the unsung hero. His contribution should inspire young and old.
*Writer from anywhere, finds solace in Bhupen Hazarika lyric ‘Ami ek jajabor’:
“I am a gypsy
The earth has called me her own
And I have forgotten my home”