A Doc with a Difference ‘The Massacre at Amritsar: Jallianwala Bagh 1919’ by Rajnish Dhawan

This 42-minute documentary explores the massacre of Indians* by the British at Jallianwala Bagh in 1919. A brutal retaliation of a colonial government against unarmed and peaceful political protesters became the precursor for India’s independence. This tragic yet glorious part of our history is re-visited, this time in the context of the struggles waged by people in South Asia and the Diaspora.

The vantage point used to carry out this exploration connects our current situation as South Asians to our history where both the experiences of tyranny and of our resistance to it can be clearly seen.

Congratulations to Rajnish Dhawan, Satwinder Bains, the University of Fraser Valley, and all who contributed to this project for creating a documentary of such permanent value.

‘Dedicated to all of the unsung heroes who fought against tyranny and those who continue to rise against it.’

I would be happy to recommend this documentary to be viewed in high schools, colleges, universities, public libraries and community spaces.

Fauzia Rafique

*the term ‘Indian’ is used here to mean Indians of South Asian origin.

The Harjit Kaur Sidhu Memorial Program – Vancouver March 16-17

The-Harjit-Kaur-Sidhu-Memorial-Program-2016‘Lumber being air dried’ (1910), Vancouver Public Library Acc. No. 14264.

The Eighth Annual
Celebration of Punjabi
The Harjit Kaur Sidhu Memorial Program 2016
Presented by the Department of Asian Studies, UBC
UBC Asian Centre, 1871 West Mall

March 16, 7-9 PM, UBC Asian Centre Auditorium
Reception with snacks at 6:30
Talk on the Ghadar movement by Sunit Singh (University of Chicago)
Award presentation to student winners in a Punjabi-language essay contest
Honour BC-based Punjabi-language author Jarnail Singh Sekha with a life-time achievement award
View performances in Punjabi by students in Punjabi 200 and films by students from ASIA 475, ‘Documenting Punjabi Canada’.

March 17, 4 PM, Room 604, UBC Asian Centre
Talk by Sunit Singh ‘Western Clarion: Canadian Socialists and Indian Migration to British Columbia’, exploring the connections between members of the Punjabi Canadian community and the Canadian Left.

For more information
asia.ubc.ca under “events”
blogs.ubc.ca/punjabisikhstudies under ‘annual event’

Contact Uddari

Why Mewa Singh killed William Hopkinson? Book Launch in Delta – July 28/13

Program Details
Why Mewa Singh killed William Hopkinson?
Revisiting Canadian Immigration Inspector

Author: Gurpreet Singh
When: Sunday July 28, 2013
Venue: Firehall Centre for Arts
11489, 84 Avenue, Delta, B.C.

1 pm
Reception & tour of the Komagata Maru painting exhibition by Jarnail Singh.
1:50 pm
Welcome address by MC Naveen Girn, a research scholar, who is instrumental in identifying important places connected with the Indo Canadian history.
2:00 pm
Opening of the event with a traditional song by Musqueam tribe members and prominent indigenous activists Cecilia Point and her sister Mary Point.
2:10 pm
Cecilia Point’s lecture on the history of occupation, and indigenous struggles against colonization in Canada and the relevance of the ongoing grassroots level Idle No More movement.
2:25 pm
Georgia Straight Editor Charlie Smith will deliver speech on the history of racism and immigration in Canada and draw a connection between the struggles by South Asian Immigrants and the indigenous peoples for social justice.
2:40 pm
Hugh Johnston, a prominent Historian and author will try to situate the story of Mewa Singh in a broader context of the history of racial discrimination in Canada.
2: 55 pm
Former BC Human Rights Commissioner Harinder Mahil will explain how racism and discriminatory policies in Canada contributed to the acts of resistance by the indigenous peoples and South Asian immigrants and how these challenges continue to prevail.
3:15 pm
Book launching by the descendants of the Ghadar activists
3:25 pm
Prominent speakers from the community will express their views.
4:30 pm
Concluding remarks and speech by Gurpreet Singh

For more information call
Satish Gulati of Chetna Parkashan at 604-230-9379
Jarnail Singh at 604-825-4659

End of an era: Dr. Darshan Gill passes away

Renowned scholar and secular journalist Dr. Darshan Gill passes away

Dr. Darshan Gill, a progressive and secular Punjabi writer who opposed religious fundamentalism in Vancouver lost his battle with cancer and passed away at Surrey Memorial Hospital on June 10, 2011.

Gill was the former editor of Canada Darpan, a Punjabi biweekly that gave a voice to moderates who were condemning extremism within the Sikh community during 1980s.

He founded Canada Darpan on November 1, 1982. This date was deliberately picked as it coincided with the anniversary of the founding of Gadar, a newspaper launched by secular Indian revolutionaries who fought against British imperialism.

He was a native of historical village Dhudike in Punjab. Dhudike was known as a village of Gadarites. Dr. Gill, who came from a progressive background had worked at Nawan Zamana, a leftist newspaper published in Punjab, India, before he immigrated to Canada in 1972.

After his arrival in this country, he was employed at sawmills in the B.C. Interior. He moved to Vancouver in 1982.

His newspaper was critical of Sikh fundamentalism and published articles written by prominent moderates, including Ujjal Dosanjh, who went on to become B.C.’s premier and a Liberal MP. Dosanjh was physically attacked for his liberal views in February 1985. During that era, Gill received threatening calls asking him to stop running Dosanjh’s articles. Undeterred, Gill continued to publish them. He also testified in a trial against suspects in the Dosanjh beating case.

The fundamentalists also tried to dissuade people from reading his newspaper; often copies of Canada Darpan were stolen and destroyed during those days. He narrowly escaped a physical assault when he went to attend a function at a Sikh temple in New Westminster. In 1987, his Surrey home was attacked with a firebomb, but nothing untoward happened to him.

In 1989, he sold Canada Darpan due to financial challenges.

Gill also hosted Sahitnama, a literary program on Radio India every Sunday. He has edited 20 books and translated three books from English into Punjabi. The Punjab government granted Gill a literary award for his contribution to Punjabi literature abroad.

Sixty eight year old Gill lived in Surrey with his wife, Charanjit Kaur and three children.

He was first diagnosed with cancer in 2007. Although his right kidney had been removed, he remained healthy until last summer. But the cancer had since invaded his right lung.

Gill remained in high spirits while struggling with cancer. “I will always be opposed to fundamentalism till the end of my life,” he said in one of his last interviews.

His funeral will be held at Five River Funeral Home, River Road, Delta at 12:30 pm on June 18. Later special prayers will be held at the Ross Street Sikh Temple, Vancouver at 3 pm.

Gurpreet Singh

‘Kitte Mil Ve Mahi’ a documentary film review by Virinder S Kalra

Kitte Mil Ve Mahi – Never the Twain Shall Meet
Director Ajay Bhardwaj
72 minutes
Punjabi with English subtitles
DVD, 2005

It is hard to write a review of this film that is also not an obituary. Two of the film’s central characters, Bhagat Singh Bilga and Lal Singh Dil urf Mohammad Bushra, passed away in 2009. In that sense alone, this makes Kitte Mil Ve Mahi poignant and powerful. Both men were involved in revolutionary left politics in the Punjab, yet came from completely different social backgrounds. Bilga, was forged in the Ghadar party and in the later years of his life spent much of his time in England. Lal Singh Dil, a poet and activist, became politicized, ultimately by his caste status, but also through intense involvement in the Naxalite movement. Their ongoing political commitment, to social justice and the removal of caste inequality provides the ideological direction and potency to the film.

What makes the documentary aesthetically appealing is the constant intermingling of music with the interviews. Throughout the narrative serious points made by the subjects of the film are followed by some appropriate music or supporting song. For instance when the custodian, Kadar Sakhi, of the Baba Dasondhi Shah shrine is talking of the way in which the lineage of a particular saint goes back to the Qadiri order from Baghdad, the scene is followed by the BS Balli Qwaali group singing: ‘Get me Qadri bangles to wear.’ This is then often followed by a commentary from Bilga. This interweaving of aesthetics and politics makes the film a powerful and pleasurable visual and aural experience.

The film touches on a considerable number of themes. Quite clearly the backdrop is that ‘other’ place and that ‘other’ time in which Muslims were present in East Punjab and these shrines were to some extent perceived as their domain. This is never made explicit. Just as Lal Singh Dil is never referred to as Mohammad Bushra, yet for those who can read the imagery, after we are told his name, he is then shown in great detail doing his wuzu (ritual cleaning) and doing the namaaz (prayer). Indeed, in all of the shrine scenes, it is ostensibly Muslim saints, who have been integrated into a dalit lineage, that are present, yet absent. The Islam of the shrine fits in so well with Dalit identity, that even the shift from Chisti Sufi Pir to Brahm Chand seems perfectly fine in a world where caste rather than formal religious identity is crucial. Here in the normative boundaries established by formal religion of high-caste/low-caste: male; female cease to operate. At the shrine of Channi Shah, in Sofi Pina, a woman devotee has taken over the role of the living saint. No one in the film protests this transition, rather her pious position is seen as just reward for seva and piety to the saint. Localised power and spirituality of a diverse and appropriate nature come to dominate the scene in this Jalandhar-doaba landscape.

This is a film that works at many levels. At its most explicit it is a treatise on the continuing ‘slavery’ of Dalits in India. Most powerfully articulated through the voice of Lal Dil, but also supported by Bilga. Yet the shrine culture demonstrates a site of creative appropriation and resistance without articulating it in that way. At a more subtle level, the centrality of caste even punctuates the analysis given in terms of social justice. The struggle that Lal Singh has with the Naxalbari movement and the left, though not explicated in the film, is certainly present. The endemic nature of caste stratification is illustrated in the contrasting ways in which Bilga and Dil talk about Chamars. Bilga stands as a Marxist when he is critical of the Indian state or the way that the left is marginalised, yet when it comes to talking of Dalits, he centers himself as the mainstream and them as the ‘other’. This is not an unsympathetic position but is in marked contrast to Dil, speaking as a Chamar. An un-necessary debate about those who face oppression and those who fight against it from a position of caste advantage is not made in the film, nor is that my intention now. Rather, it is to highlight the existence of this tussle within the left, that partly made Dil turn towards Islam as a way of dealing with caste oppression. But even this escape route, did not lead him away from his caste identity, as at the time of his death, he was not buried but cremated in the Dalit cremation grounds of his village.

In opening this review as an obituary, it is important to end it with the optimism that pervades the film in the face of increasingly rigid religious boundary marking in the subcontinent. In the world of Dalit spirituality and shrines, the opposition and resistance that Lal Singh Dil bemoans is lacking in other social spheres, such as the economic and political, seems alive and well. Paying no heed to the requirements of formal religious markers, the sites the film explores are such that all that wish to come and pray are welcome, in whatever form. In the face of changing structures of caste inequality in contemporary Punjab and the emergence of a proud Dalit/Chamar identity, Kitte Mille Ve Mahi provides the cultural background and a clue to the resources mobilized in this new found self-assertion.

For copies of the film please contact Ajay Bhardwaj at ajayunmukt@yahoo.com

Dr Virinder S Kalra
University of Manchester, UK

Talking about a revolution: Bhagat Singh Bilga

Bhagat S Bilga. 2006. Pic Ajay BhardwajBhagat Singh Bilga, 2006. Photo by Ajay Bhardwaj

Bhagat Singh Bilga, the last survivor of the Gadar Movement, tells Teena Baruah about his many adventures (2005)

The man former prime minister I K Gujral calls “a legend” is not a scholar or a man of many words. Ninety-eight-year-old Bhagat Singh Bilga is a revolutionary, the last survivor of the Gadar (revolution) Movement, a struggle launched by expatriate Punjabis in the US and Canada to overthrow the British in India.

Bilga still remembers the heady days when he signed up for the movement. It was 1931 and he, then 24, had just reached the Republic of Argentina in search of a job. The first person he met was revolutionary and freedom fighter Bhagat Singh’s exiled uncle Ajit Singh. Soon, Bilga was won over by the cause. The money he earned by working as a clerk in a railway store went into the kitty that funded revolutionary outfits like Naujawan Bharat Sabha and Kirti Party, and he became a key member of the Gadar Movement in South America. “Gaye the kamai karne ke liye, leke aye inqalab (We went to earn a living, and brought back revolution),” says Bilga, reclining on a narrow bed in a room at Desh Bhagat Yadgar Memorial Hall in Jalandhar. The hall was inaugurated by him and his comrades in the Gadar Movement.

The movement had its roots in discrimination against Indian immigrants in Canada and the US. In April 1914, Gurdit Singh, a prosperous Punjabi contractor from Singapore, chartered a Japanese ship, the Komagata Maru, to take a party of Indians over to Canada. The ship sailed from Hong Kong and, after collecting other passengers at Shanghai, Kobe and Yokohama, arrived at Vancouver on May 23, 1914, with 376 Indians – all Punjabis, with 340 Sikhs, 12 Muslims and 24 Muslims – on board. Canadian immigration authorities refused all but 22 passengers permission to land. The ship eventually headed back to India. As it approached Calcutta on September 26, 1914, a European gunboat corralled the ship and held the passengers prisoner. The Komagata Maru was then taken to a place called Budge Budge, about 17 miles away from Calcutta and the passengers were told that they were being sent to Punjab on a special train. Many of them were reluctant, preferring to remain in Calcutta and seek employment there. In the scuffle that resulted, the policemen opened fire and 20 people died. It was the spark that lit the torch of the Gadar Movement. And the Soviet revolution in 1917 fanned the flames; the ‘Gadaris’- as the followers of the movement came to be known – looked to Moscow for financial support and revolutionary training, their ultimate aim to establish a communist state in India.

Bilga too was sent to Moscow by the Gadar Party with 60 other Gadaris to learn the Russian language, Marxism, politics, economics, military techniques and guerrilla warfare. In 1933, he received his orders to return to Punjab. Sikhs in those days were followed by the British all over the world on their journey back home, and arrested the moment they touched home ground. Travelling on a fake passport under the pseudonym ‘Milky Singh’, Bilga took an impossible route, crossing Paris, Berlin, and Colombo, before reaching Kanyakumari. He crossed Nagpur and Calcutta before coming to Kanpur. It took him a year.

Bilga is preparing to travel again. “Today, I have a valid passport,” he says with a smile. He is going to Birmingham in the UK to stay with his two sons, Kulbir, 76, and Prem, 56, and consult doctors about his prostate problem. “When you travel after 90, you should travel light,” he adds, packing his age-old grey overcoat in a tiny suitcase. It’s also hard for him to find things in his small, cluttered room at the memorial hall.

Bilga’s home, the Desh Bhagat Yadgar Memorial Hall, is a treasure trove for researchers, safekeeping over 17,000 books about India’s revolutionary history. There are handwritten statements of Gadaris, a British directory containing sketches and whereabouts of Gadaris, original copies of the movement’s handwritten newspaper Gadar (in Punjabi and Urdu) which was published from San Francisco in 1913, and 2,000 rare pictures of revolutionaries, who usually took great pains to conceal their faces and identities.

“I have dedicated myself to this museum which has 35 other freedom fighters as its members,” he says. “It traces the life of each and every Gadari along with their photographs. We have collected them from their villages, relatives and friends, in India and abroad. And all this to tell the world that Englishmen didn’t leave India because a handful of Indians threw salt into their eyes. They left because we sent them packing.”

Over the past 46 years, the museum has received financial help from NRIs, as well as information about their revolutionary relatives and friends. “They know these pieces of history will be safe with us,” says Bilga. Every October, a five-day festival called Gadari Mela is hosted at the Yadgar Hall to celebrate the contributions of revolutionaries. It is attended mostly by families of martyrs of the Gadar Movement – 400 revolutionaries were hanged and 5,000 were sent to Kala Pani for life imprisonment; most of them never returned – who often come from abroad to be a part of it. Last year, a BBC reporter who filmed a documentary on Bilga sent him some cash and a rare picture of Gadaris in Singapore taken on February 15, 1915. Unfortunately, Bilga can’t enjoy viewing his collection as he used to, having lost his eyesight three years ago.

The debility has also robbed him of his habit of reading his favourite Punjabi daily Naya Zamana. But Bilga regularly listens to TV news bulletins and receives a steady stream of visitors. His comrades’ family members often drop in for a glass of tea. And then there’s 52-year-old Gurmit Singh, a former journalist and student communist who has dedicated his life to keep alive the memories of the Gadaris. Gurmit spends 12 hours with Bilga every day and is family now – Bilga’s wife Jannat died 35 years ago. “I talk to him about everything from family problems to pressures at work,” says Gurmit. “He listens carefully and his advice is in sync with the times. Sometimes, it seems he is 20 years old.”

Bilga’s daughter Kranti died of typhoid after he was arrested for his anti-Partition protest after Independence. His two sons live in Birmingham and are active leftists – elder son Kulbir is currently the president of the Indian Worker’s Association in Birmingham. “It’s in their genes,” he says with pride. “And they love fussing over their father, sending money and arranging expensive medical treatment for me.”

His family aside, Bilga has many well-wishers. CPI (M) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet, 90, has known him for 30 years. “His village Bilga is about 8 km away from my village Bundala,” he says. “Also, we have worked together as comrades for the Communist Party. I have rarely seen a more dedicated father, a finer freedom fighter and a more grounded politician in my lifetime.” And Balwant Singh Ramoowalia, 60, former union minister and former secretary general of the Akali Dal, calls him a “true patriot”. Ramoowalia was introduced to Bilga a quarter of a century ago while he was settling pension cases of freedom fighters as an MP in 1998. He adds, “Bilga’s commitment to the nation is so strong that he could never get along with any political party completely. In fact, he earned the reputation of being ziddi (stubborn) by standing to his personal ideology.”

Bilga continues to act stubbornly on his beliefs. His emphatic belief in pluralism led him to take on Sikh extremists during the Khalistan separatist movement in the late 1970s and 1980s.

“In 1978, it was impossible to challenge Punjabi terrorists if you were a Sikh,” recalls journalist Kuldip Nayar, 79. “While covering the Punjab unrest, I heard of Bilga. He stood alone and spread his pluralistic ideas. The fact that he had no weapons to defend himself didn’t bother him either.” Bilga agrees that it was impossible to speak against Khalistani mobs in the emotionally charged villages of Punjab in the early 1980s. “We recruited more than 200 young intellectuals to pacify the fanatics,” he remembers. “Most of them were gunned down.” Bilga went from one village to another on his cycle, requesting Hindus not to give in to communal hatred. “I once went to a condolence meeting of a slain Hindu and addressed Sikh mourners there against the movement. After coming back home, I sat in the courtyard awaiting my death. I desperately wanted to be a martyr!”

Bilga has had many close calls. Once, he travelled from Colombo to Kanyakumari with a British spy in tow. He posed as a Tamilian and exchanged his ticket with a co-passenger. But the spy wasn’t fooled. Finally, Bilga had to jump out of the train at Nagpur. He reached Kolkata, worked as a trade union leader and played an important role in bringing the shutters down on Juggi Lal Kamlapat cloth mill – the strike was called because the mill owners had beaten a worker to death. He also established two underground presses, one in Kanpur and another in Lahore.

As the memories come flooding back, Bilga becomes animated again, belying the fact that he’s 98. He has only recently allowed his body certain concessions. “Earlier, I used to wake up at 6 am,” he says. “Now, my body revolts. It tells me to go back to bed. And I listen to it. Sometimes.”

To know more about the Gadar movement, log on to www.gadarmemorial.com

Featured in Harmony Magazine April 2005

Baba Bhagat Singh Bilga (Ghadri) moves on at 102

‘Baba Bhagat Singh Bilga, the last surviving member of Ghadar Party, died today in Birmingham, UK. He was 102 years old.’
A comment at Uddari Home this morning from Bharat Bhushan
Waiting for more.
Talking about a revolution: Bhagat Singh Bilga
Photos in Foto Mandli

Contact Uddari

Kartar Dhillon, Californian Punjabi Writer/Activist, Passes On at 93

The following message just arrived at Uddari from Vancouver Author Sadhu Binning, telling us about a life well-spent.
“Kartar Dhillon, writer and political activist, died at age 93 of natural causes on June 15, 2008. Kar, as she was known to her family and friends, was born on April 30, 1915 in California’s Simi Valley. Her father Bakhshish Singh immigrated to the US in 1897. Her mother Rattan Kaur came in 1910.

“Kar’s parents were among the founding members of the Gadar Party. Kar became active in India’s struggle for independence from the British at a very early age, and remained an activist for human rights and social change all her life. She supported organizations like Black Panthers and participated in organizing farm workers.

“She will be remembered by readers for her story “Parrot’s Beak” that she wrote in 1989.

“Kar lived with her daughter Dr. Ayesha Gill in Berkeley California.”

A memorial celebration of her life will be held on
Saturday, July 12 at 10AM
Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley
1 Lawson Road Kensington, CA 94707

The Cover of Kartar Dhillon\'s book
View more photos at Uddari Photo Album page


A few years back Sadhu Binning translated and published a book by Kartar Dhillon in Punjabi.
Here is the cover page of Dhillon’s book.


View the PDF version of the introduction by Sadhu Binning in Punjabi (Gurmukhi)

Author Amarjit Chandan adds this note and the photo image:

Kartar Kaur Dhillon with brother Bud Dhillon
“Kartar Kaur introducing her older brother Budh Singh at Ghadr Party Yuganatar Ashram, San Francisco in 1998.

“Budh went to Moscow in 1922 at the young age to get revolutionary training. He went there again after seven years. The first batch of Punjabis in Moscow included Dada Amir Haidar. Sergeant Budh fought in the World War 2 in France as well.

“Hari, the youngest brother of Kartar, was also in the US army and laid down his life in Okinawa fighting against fascism.”
Amarjit Chandan
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