HARKING BACK: The forgotten Second War of Independence

By Majid Sheikh

Dawn, Aug 23, 2015

We love miracles, miracles of all sorts, and most of all the miracle of Pakistan. Sadly our blind belief in the reason Pakistan came about tends to block out the sacrifices of our collective martyrs, but robs our history of its logic.

Pakistan was never a ‘miracle’. To think so is to betray the hundreds of thousands of martyrs who fell over the years for the cause of freedom. It was the culmination of a long set of events, each related, or leading, to the other. Our tragedy is that we have distorted the logic of our past, deliberately ignored our glorious collective struggle for freedom, and have washed away from the minds of our children events that led to freedom. It is like the ladder of time in which a lot of the rungs are missing.

This piece is about one set of events that took place in the land that is today Pakistan, more so in Lahore. In my view it was our Second War of Independence. The first was the events of 1857, which we now know ended in nothing because it was leaderless, and lacked direction. The second had direction but was leaderless. We must celebrate this Second War of Independence because this year it took place exactly 100 years ago. It is known as the Ghadar Movement.

Its seeds were planted by Punjabis living in San Francisco, USA, more so on the university campus of Berkeley. But in the end it was in the streets of Lahore that its tactics were planned, in Lahore our brave martyrs were betrayed, and it was in Lahore that the leaders were hung. A newspaper by the name of ‘Ghadar’ was being published in San Francisco in which the masthead ran the slogan: ‘Angrez Raj Ka Dushman’. An advertisement on the front page said: “What is our name? Ghadar. What is our work? Ghadar. On the back page another advertisement said: “Wanted Brave Soldiers” – Pay: Death, Price: Martyrdom, Pension: Liberty”. Another slogan read: “No Pandit, No Mullah do we need”. That newspaper suddenly was being distributed free in Lahore.

The scale of this revolution the British managed to hide completely from the people, so that its effects would not bring about a ripple effect. Yet when we today study that movement it is amazing as to its scale. Imagine that numerous set of armies were on the march. To the south in 1915 a huge army of soldiers set off from Iran along the coast, captured Kirmanshah and was headed towards Karachi when they learnt that the leaders had been captured.

In Lahore there was an uprising in the Lahore Cantonment, while inside the walled city people moved to take over all the 13 gates of the old city. The revolution was planned for the 21st of February, 1915. That decision was taken in a house in Lal Khoo inside Mochi Gate. Those attending were Kesar Singh, Harnam Singh Tundilat, Maulvi Barkatullah, Karim Bakhsh, Harnam Singh Siani and a lot of other revolutionaries. But then one of the conspirators betrayed by providing the Lahore CID with exact information. One CID official, who was never discovered by the British, informed the revolutionaries of this. It was brought forward to the 19th of February. Again the CID learnt about this change. Again the revolutionaries learnt of this betrayal and decided on the 17th of February.

On the 15th of February suddenly the entire set of planners were arrested and sent for trial. But the revolution was on. In the cantonments of Ferozepur, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Peshawar, Delhi, Calcutta and other major military centres important trouble broke out. The British using their immense intelligence networks managed to arrest a lot of soldiers. We now know that 1,293 soldiers were arrested. Of them 102 were hanged, while others got long prison terms. Cantonment limits were enforced and contact with civilians was from then onwards restricted.

Overseas the British garrison at Singapore was in open revolt. It was suppressed and 291 soldiers arrested. Within days 42 of them were hanged and 114 sent to a lifetime at the Andaman Islands. It seems that at any cantonment or base where Indian soldiers served had been included in the Ghadar Plan. But the biggest surprise was to come from the villages of Punjab. This proved to be the biggest headache.

The records of the British Intelligence, now available in the India Record Office of the British Museum, tells of over 8,000 Punjabis and Bengalis quietly returning to the sub-continent from the USA, Canada, England and other countries and going to their villages, where they had specific plans to carry out. We do know that on the 21st of February, 1915, hundreds of thousands of villagers in Punjab had started to march on foot towards Lahore. The revolution was on. Ghadar had arrived.

But then as the slogan on the newspaper said ‘no pandits, no mullahs do we need’. It were these very religious people that ‘Ghadar’ did not want who sided with the British. Small groups of villagers were nabbed by their local police. The number of those hanged in their villages is not known. There is some record of a lot of them being hanged in Bhakkar and surrounding villages.

In Lahore the arrests continued as most of the Ghadar revolutionaries managed to escape. In the end a large armed group who had stopped the Punjab Mail just outside Lahore were all killed. The absence of this train when it failed to reach the Howrah Station was to trigger the uprising in Bengal. That failed. In Lahore 291 arrests were made, of whom 42 were put to death in various prisons. As a matter of policy hangings were carried out in every prison and the news spread with the help of ‘patwaris’. It was a ‘shock and awe’ policy which frightened the people.

In Lahore Jail on the 16th of November, 1915, Vishu Ganesh Pingle and Kartar Singh Sarabha were hanged. A new set of trials were carried out on others and 18 months later Harman Singh Siani was hanged in Lahore Jail. Ghadar, or our Second War of Independence had been crushed.

These events led to even more harsh laws like the Rowlatts Act being enforced. This led to the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar, which in turn led to the rise of Bhagat Singh in Lahore, who along with his two friends were hanged in Lahore Jail in 1931. Each step a rung in the ladder to freedom.

In the end a bankrupt Britain left in 1947 after creating communal divisions, which was their ‘escape strategy’. Colonialism has its own twisted logic. Our freedom has a logic embedded in our history of foreign invasions over the centuries. Pakistan was never a ‘miracle’. Its history has its own logic. Sadly, we do not teach our children ‘the missing rungs of our history’.


Back To Majid Sheikh's Columns

Back To APNA Home Page