NRI Pulse
Perspective

Memorial Day for Indian Americans

Ghadar movement

BY INDER SINGH

When a nation has raised itself to liberty, when it has finally broken through the shackles of subjugation and slavery, it calls for celebration. Liberty does not come without a price. People pay for liberty and freedom with their lives, with their toil, with their blood, sweat and tears.

In the United States, the last Monday of May is observed annually as Memorial Day – a day of national awareness and reverence, honoring those Americans who died while defending American nation and its values. Memorial Day parades and memorial services are held to remember, reflect and honor those who have given their all in service to their country. It was first observed on May 30, 1868 and became an official federal holiday in 1971.

Like the US, several other nations, pay tribute to their martyrs and freedom fighters who sacrificed their life and preferred the gallows for attainment and preservation of freedom. They are held in high esteem and their memories are kept alive by raising befitting memorials so that they could serve as a source of inspiration and courage for future generations.

Many Indian Americans may not know the historical background of Memorial Day. However, like Americans, several Indians hold gatherings of family and friends for parties and barbecues. Most of the Indians in America may also not know their own day of reverence.

Soon after Indians started coming to the United States in the beginning of the twentieth century, they started facing hostility and bigotry from the white American population. They attributed prejudice and racism of the white people due to their being nationals of a subjugated country. In 1913, they formed Hindi Association of the Pacific Coast with a major objective to liberate India from British colonialism. They started publishing a weekly journal, Gadar which was sent free to thousands of overseas Indians all over the world. After sometime, Hindi Association became known as the Gadar party after the name of their weekly magazine. When the World War l started in 1914, it provided an excellent opportunity to overthrow the British Government while the British Indian forces were busy fighting war in Europe. As many as 8000 Overseas Indians hurried homeward to free their motherland from British slavery. The British spies and traitors, however, foiled their plans and hundreds of Gadarites were arrested and prosecuted under the Defense of India Act.  Some paid the ultimate price with their lives, hundreds were jailed, some for life. It is such a pity that there is no memorial day for them!

The Gadar Movement was the saga of remarkable courage, valor and determination of overseas Indians to free India from the shackles of British slavery. Indians had come to Canada and the United States either for higher education or for economic opportunities. Instead, they imbibed the fire and zeal of revolutionaries and became the trailblazers of freedom struggle for their motherland, India. They may have lived ordinary lives but they left an extra-ordinary legacy. The lives they lived, the sacrifices they made, and, the deaths they died, make a part of Indian American heritage. The Indian American community, at least on Memorial Day, should remember the sacrifices of Gadarites and organize tribute events to perpetuate the memory of the brave Indians who laid down their lives in pursuit of freedom for India.

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Inder Singh is Chairman of GOPIO, Global Organization of People of Indian Origin. He was GOPIO President from 2004-09. He was NFIA president from 1988-92 and chairman from 1992-96. He was founding president of FIA, Southern California. Inder Singh can be contacted by telephone at 818-708-3885 or by email at indersingh-usa@hotmail.com

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