Martyr Kartar Singh Sarabha, whose father’s name was Sardar Mangal Singh, was born into a Grewal Jat Sikh family at village Sarabha in the district of Ludhiana, Punjab in 1896. When he was fifteen, his parents put him on board a ship bound for America to study there. The ship landed at the American port of San Francisco in January 1912.
Sarabha began his involvement in the Gadar Party in San Francisco in 1912. Sarabha was born in India in the year 1896. After his graduation from high school in 1911, he arrived at the University of California, Berkeley to continue his studies in engineering.
In Berkeley, he joined the Gadar party in 1913. Around this time, he also learned how to fly. He returned to India in 1914 to fight for his country’s independence. On November 16th, 1915, Sarabha was hanged at the tender age of 19.
At that time Asian immigrants were put through rigorous questioning and there numbers were strictly limited, while people of Western European countries were allowed to pass after slight checks. Asking one of his fellow passengers why this was happening, he was told, “Indians are the citizens of a slave country. As such, they are treated badly.” This incident had a great effect on Sarabha.
Kartar enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley (UCB) and also found seasonal work picking fruit in the vast orchards of California’s central valley. Whether at school or in the fields, when time allowed, he frequently talked with other Indians about winning freedom for India. By 1914, vast numbers of Indians were working outside of India. Most were working either as indentured labourers in any of several British Colonies or as soldiers in the British/Indian Armed forces then fighting in Europe (WWI), the Middle East or in one of Britain’s Colonies.
The Ghadar Party and Newspaper
On April 21,1913, the Indians of California assembled and formed the Ghadar (Revolution) Party). The aims of the Ghadar Party were to free India from the slavery of British Rule, by means of an armed struggle and to set up a national democratic government in India. Their slogan was “Put at stake everything for the freedom of the country.” On November 1, 1913, the Ghadar Party started printing a paper named ‘Ghadar’, which was published in the Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Gujarati and Pushto languages. Kartar Singh did all the work for that paper.
This paper was sent to Indians living in all countries throughout the world. The purpose of the paper was to unmask the truth about British rule to Indians, impart military training, and explain in detail the methods of making and using weapons and explosives.
Within a short time, the Ghadar Party became very famous through its organ: ‘The Ghadar”. It drew Indians from all walks of life.
Revolt in the Punjab
With the start of World War I in 1914, the British became thoroughly engrossed in the war effort. Thinking it to be a good opportunity, the leaders of the Ghadar Party published the “Decision of Declaration of War” against the British in an issue of The Ghadar dated August 5, 1914. Thousands of copies of the paper were distributed among army cantonments, villages and cities. Kartar Singh reached Calcutta via Colombo on board the SS Salamin, in November, 1914. He was accompanied by two other Gadhar leaders, Satyen Sen and Vishnu Ganesh Pingle, along with a large number of Gadhar militants. With a letter of introduction from Jatin Mukherjee, the Jugantar leader, Kartar Singh and Pingle met Rasbehari Bose at Benares to inform him that twenty thousand more Gadhar members were expected very soon . A large number of leaders of the Ghadar Party were arrested by the Government at the ports. In spite of these arrests, a meeting was held by members of the Ghadar Party at Ladhouwal near Ludhiana in which it was decided to rob the houses of rich people, to finance the armed insurrection. Two Ghadris, Waryam Singh and Bhai Ram Rakha were killed in a bomb blast in one such raid.
After the arrival of Rash Behari Bose at Amritsar on January 25, 1915, it was decided in a meeting on February 12 that the uprising should be started on February 21. It was planned that after capturing the cantonments of Mian Mir and Ferozepur, mutinies were to be engineered near Ambala and Delhi.
Kirpal Singh, a police informer, planted in the ranks of the Ghadar Party, had a large number of members arrested on February 19 and informed the Government of the planned revolt. The Government disarmed the native soldiers due to which the revolt failed.
On March 2, 1915, Risaldar Ganda Singh had Kartar Singh, Harman Singh, Tundilat, and Jagit Singh, arrested from Chakk, No. 5, district Lyallpur.
Verdict and Execution
The judgement in respect of the 63 arrested Gadharites was pronounced on September 13, 1915, at the Central Jail, Lahore. In this first conspiracy case of 1914–15, 24 Gadarites were sentenced to death. Kartar Singh was one of them.
The court observed that Kartar Singh was the most dangerous of all the rebels. “He is very proud of the crimes he committed. He does not deserve mercy and should be sentenced to death”. Kartar Singh was hanged in the Central Jail of Lahore on November 16, 1915, when he was only 18.
He soon became the symbol of martyrdom and many were influenced from his bravery and sacrifice. Bhagat Singh, another great revolutionary of Indian freedom, regarded Kartar Singh as his guru, friend and brother. The judges during his trial were impressed by his intellectual skills, but nonetheless he was sentenced to death by hanging. He wrote a popular song which he would sing and it is said that he died singing it:
“Sewa desh di jinddhiye badhi aukhi
Gallan karnia dher sukhalliyan ne,
Jinha desh sewa ‘ch pair paya
Ohna lakh museebtan jhalliyan ne.”
Serving ones country is very difficult
It is so easy to talk
Anyone who walked on that path
Must endure millions of calamities.