Lala Har Dayal and revolution's war cry from America



A Sanskrit graduate from Delhi's St Stephen's College, two scholarships from Oxford in 1905, Professor of Indian Philosophy and Sanskrit at Stanford University, the force behind the 'Ghadar' newspaper, which articulated India's nationalist aspirations in the US ... the polymath revolutionary, Lala Har Dayal, dreamt of independent India with his eyes open.

Known to be a brilliant orator, when one of the immigrants from Punjab suggested to his group that Har Dayal be invited to the Pacific coast to seek his advice, the meeting changed everything for the Punjabi diaspora looking to overthrow the Raj in India.

Prof. Harish Puri, historian and expert on the Ghadar movement, tells IANS that the meeting opened up many new avenues. Those who attended realised that people were willing to donate funds, educate others, and do something for the country.

"By this time, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar had written the book, 'The Indian War of Independence', which, after being translated into English, inspired several young revolutionary minds who had migrated abroad, including Madan Lal Dhingra, to be convinced that an armed revolt was the only way to liberate the country."

Born on October 14, 1884, Har Dayal suggested that it was important to educate the Indian people living on the US
Pacific Coast poltically. To achieve this end, he became the editor of a weekly paper in Urdu and Gurmukhi for educating the Indian immigrants on the Pacific Coast. It was named 'Ghadar', meaning 'mutiny'.

The group behind the effort lived together, wrote articles and published the newspaper. The idea was to prepare for an armed revolt. These people had connections in the British Indian Army -- they had either served, deserted or left it. Also, many of them had cousins and relatives in the army, so they began to collect the names of everyone with connections in the armed forces back home.

"The idea was to organise an uprising in 1917/1920 after preparing for seven to ten years. The British intelligence, however, knew exactly what was happening as these people were talking openly. At one point, it seemed that the British government knew more about them than they themselves," Prof Puri points out.

By March 1914, the U.S. government, under the influence of the British ambassador in Washington, D.C., arrested Har Dayal. It was feared that he would be tried for anarchism, the political philosophy he espoused, or that the British government would send him back to India to be hanged.

Also, when a bomb was hurled at Lord Hardinge by Basanta Kumar Biswas on December 23, 1912, in Delhi, one of the accused in what was known as the Delhi Conspiracy Case, Bhai Balmukund, was a cousin of Bhai Parmanand, one of the founders of the Ghadar Party. Har Dayal, therefore, was very much on the British radar.

Continues Prof. Puri: "He jumped bail and was secretly sent to Geneva. Thereafter, he did not really have any connection with the Ghadar movement. Later on, his own ideas underwent a total transformation. He wrote an article arguing that Asia needed the protection of the British Empire for a long time to come as he had seen the situation in Germany and Turkey and felt that the British were far more civilised.

"This was in 1919. He was arrested in Germany a few years back. So yes, there was a complete transformation in Har Dayal, and thereafter we don't see much of him.

"Of course, he was lecturing on a variety of topics. He was an honest, hard-working man who lived a very simple life and was committed to whatever he did."

Prof. Puri believes that it is important to include the role of revolutionaries extensively in schoolbooks, but warns that we need to be cautious about myth-making.

The professor points out: "In the absence of credible historical evidence and research, a lot of stories around their bravery have been manufactured too. So, people will have to collect facts from authentic resources and British libraries, and so on. If you want to record anything, it cannot be based on mythology.

"Much fabrication has been done on the basis of their emotional commitment to those people. Today's children must know everything, not in bits and pieces."

Adding that Mahatma Gandhi acknowledged the patriotism of the revolutionaries but their justification of violence disturbed him, the historian says: "He believed that everyone has his idea of who is 'good'. Mahatma Gandhi was essentially concerned about the mass consequences of this belief that you can kill the people who are not doing 'good'."

Even as debates rage over the NCERT history texts, Prof. Puri maintains that they are excellent and much work in multiple stages has been put into them.

"Before the textbooks are finalised, school students must be exposed to them so as to ascertain if they are easy to comprehend," Prof. Puri says, hastening to add: "But yes, I do believe in the need to change the way history is taught so as to make it more accessible to school children. We must therefore look around the world for the best practices that we can follow."


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