Kartar Singh Sarabha Grewal (1896-1915) was an Indian revolutionary who was amongst the most famous accused in the Lahore conspiracy trial. A leading luminary of the Ghadar Party, Kartar Singh was executed at Lahore in November 1915 for his role in the Ghadar Conspiracy in February 1915.
Kartar Singh Sarabha Grewal was born into a Grewal Jat Sikh family at village Sarabha in the district of Ludhiana, Punjab, in 1896. His father's name was Sardar Mangal Singh. When he was fifteen, his parents put him on board a ship for America to work there. The ship landed at the American port of San Francisco in January 1912. The American Immigration officer put Indians through rigorous questioning while people of other countries were allowed to pass after slight checks. Kartar Singh asked one of the passengers about this type of behaviour. He told him, "Indians are the citizens of a slave country. As such, they are treated badly." This incident had a great effect on Sarabha.
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. Kartar enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley (UCB) and also took up the work of picking fruit in orchards. He frequently talked to other Indians about getting his country freed.
The Ghadar Party and Newspaper
On April 21
, the Indians 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 and set up a national democratic government. Their slogan was "Put at stake everything for the freedom of the country." On the November 1
, the Ghadar Party started printing a paper named Ghadar
, which was published in the Punjabi
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 details 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 issue of 'The Ghadar' dated August 5
. 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
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 January 25, 1915, it was decided on 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, mutiny was to be engineered near Ambala and Delhi.
Kirpal Singh, a police informer ('mole') 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
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. A statue of him was erected in Ludhiana, and Punjabi
novelist Nanak Singh
wrote a novel called Ikk Mian Do Talwaran
based on his life. 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.
The judgement in respect of 63 arrested Gadharites was pronounced on September 13, 1915, at the Central Jail, Lahore. In this first conspiracy case of 1914/15 AD, 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 committed by him. 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.