Ghadar di Gunj, banned in India in 1913

If you nose around the Internet for unexpected Berkeley connections, you can find extraordinary things.

The other day development economist Atanu Dey wrote a lengthy post on his blog tearing into the usually hagiographic portrayals of Mahatma Gandhi. It’s worth reading if you’re interested in Indian history. But I was more taken with the Berkeley connection which Dey, a Berkeley grad, uncovered in a more radical strain of the Indian independence movement:

Many years ago, after having left India, I slowly started to learn about India. I learned that India did exist before Gandhi, the Nehru-Gandhi family, and the Congress party. I learned that many different organizations and many other people have fought and died for Indian independence. In San Francisco, I visited the Ghadar Party memorial.

The Ghadar Party, initially the Pacific Coast Hindustan Association, was formed in 1913 in the United States under the leadership of Har Dayal, with Sohan Singh Bhakna as its president. The members of the party were Indian immigrants, largely from Punjab. Many of its members were students at University of California at Berkeley including Dayal, Tarak Nath Das, Maulavi Barkatullah, Kartar Singh Sarabha and V.G. Pingle. The party quickly gained support from Indian expatriates, especially in the United States, Canada and Asia.

I was then at UC Berkeley. Here’s more:

In 1912–1913, the Pacific Coast Hindustan Association was formed by Indian immigrants under the leadership of Har Dayal, with Sohan Singh Bhakna as its president, which later came to be called the Ghadar Party. With donations raised with the help of the Indian diaspora, especially with the aid of Indian students at the University of California, Berkeley, the party established the Yugantar Ashram at 436 Hill Street where a printing press was set up with the donations. The first Urdu edition of Hindustan Ghadar appeared on 1 November 1913, followed by a Punjabi edition 9 December 1913. The issues were first handwritten before being printed on the press. Careful measures were taken to shield the party and its supporters from British intelligence, which included the measure of memorising over a thousand names of the subscribers so that no incriminating evidence could fall into the hands of the British government. The articles in the paper were initially authored by Har Dayal, with the printing operation run by Kartar Singh Sarabha, then a student of UC, Berkeley. Copies of the paper began to be shipped to India with returning Ghadarites and immigrants, and were quickly deemed to be seditious and banned by the British Indian government.

Who knew?

Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...