Kartar Singh Sarabha (24 May 1896 – 16 November 1915) was a Sikh revolutionary who was among the most famous and reputed martyrs of Punjab. He was 17 years old when he became a member of Ghadar Party, then came up as a leading luminary member and started fight for an independent India. He was one of the most active members of the movement. Singh was executed at Lahore in November 1915 for his role in the movement in February 1915 when he was merely 19 years old.
Kartar Singh Sarabha was born on 24 May 1896 in Ludhiana, Punjab India into a Grewal Jat Sikh family in village Sarabha, district Ludhiana, Punjab. His father was Mangal Singh and his mother was Sahib Kaur. Kartar Singh was very young when his father died and hence his grandfather Badan Singh Grewal brought him up. After receiving his initial education in his village, Kartar Singh entered the Malwa Khalsa high school in Ludhiana; he studied there until 8th standard. Then he went to his uncle (father’s brother) in Orissa and stayed there for over a year. During this time he took lessons for standard 10 from a high school in Ravenshaw University, Cuttack, Orissa.
After coming back to his grandfather, his family decided to board him to the United States for higher education. He sailed to San Francisco in July 1912. He was supposed to get enrolled in University of Berkeley but the evidence that he did study there varies. In a historical note by Baba Jwala Singh, what is mentioned is that when I went to Astoria, Oregon in December 1912 I found Kartar Singh working in a mill factory. Most people will say that he studied in the respective college but the college itself did not find any record of enrollment with his name.
His association with Nalanda club of Indian students at Berkeley aroused his patriotic sentiments and he felt agitated about the treatment immigrants from India, especially manual, worker received in the United States.
Sohan Singh Bhakna founder of Ghadar Party inspired Kartar Singh to revolt against British colonial India for the sake of an Independent country .Sohan Singh Bhakna called Kartar Singh as “Baba Gernal”.He learnt how to shoot a gun from local Americans, and also learned how to make detonating devices. Notably Kartar Singh also took lessons for flying an aeroplane.
In 1914, Indians worked in foreign countries either as indentured labourers or soldiers fighting for the consolidation of British rule or extending the boundaries of the British Empire. He frequently spoke with other Indians about freeing India from the British rule.
Ghadar Party and newspaper
When the Ghadar party was founded in mid-1913 with Sohan Singh, a Sikh peasant from Bhakna village in Amritsar district, as president and Hardyal as secretary, Kartar Singh stopped his university work, moved in with Hardyal and became his helpmate in running the revolutionary newspaper Ghadr (revolt). He undertook the responsibility for printing of the Gurmukhi edition of the paper. He composed patriotic poetry for it and wrote articles.
On 21 April 1913, the Sikhs of California assembled and formed the Ghadar Party (Revolution Party). The aim of the Ghadar Party was to get rid of the slavery of the British by means of an armed struggle. On 1 November 1913, the Ghadar Party started printing a paper named Ghadar, which was published in Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Gujarati and Pushto languages. Kartar Singh was quite heavily involved in the publishing of that paper.
This paper was sent to Indians living in all countries throughout the world. The purpose of the newspaper was to unmask the atrocities being committed on Indians by the colonial British government .
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 issue of ‘The Ghadar’ dated 5 August 1914. Thousands of copies of the paper were distributed among army cantonments, villages and cities. Kartar Singh reached Calcutta via Colombo on board SS Salamin in November 1914: he accompanied two other Gadhar leaders, Satyen Sen and Vishnu Ganesh Pingle, along with a large number of Gadhar freedom fighters. With a letter of introduction from Jatin Mukherjee, the Jugantar leader, Kartar Singh and Pingle met Rash Behari 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 commit robberies in the houses of the rich to meet requirements of finance for armed action. 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 25 January 1915, it was decided on a meeting on 12 February that the uprising should be started on 21 February. It was planned that after capturing the cantonments of Mian Mir and Ferozepur, mutiny was to be engineered near Ambala and Delhi.
Kirpal Singh, a police informer in the ranks of the Ghadar Party, had a large number of members arrested on 19 February and informed the government of the planned revolt. The government disarmed the native soldiers due to which the revolt failed.
After the failure of the revolution, the members who had escaped arrest decided to leave India. Kartar Singh, Harnam Singh Tundilat, Jagat Singh etc. were asked to go to Afghanistan and they did make a move towards that area. But Kartar’s conscience did not permit him to run away when all his comrades had been held. On 2 March 1915, he came back with two friends and went over to Chak No. 5 in Sargodha where there was a military stud and started propagating rebellion amongst the armymen. Risaldar Ganda Singh had Kartar Singh, Harnam Singh Tundilat, and Jagit Singh arrested from Chak No. 5, district Lyallpur.
Bhagat Singh was inspired by him.“On Bhagat Singh’s arrest, a photo of Sarabha was recovered from him. He always carried this photo in his pocket. Very often, Bhagat Singh would show me that photograph and say, ‘Dear mother, this is my hero, friend and companion.’ ” -Bhagat Singh’s mother