Bhagwan Singh Gyanee - The Forgotten Indian Freedom Fighter

He was perhaps the lone scholarly freedom fighter who had probably sacrificed the most for Indian freedom and yet the powers that be did not bother to even erect a single brick in his memorial at the place where he died and was cremated unceremoniously in 1962.

Yes it is so. And this is the story of Dr Bhagwan Singh Gyanee who served as President of the Ghadar Party for over six years after exit of Lala Hardyal, spent several years organising Indians abroad for the cause of freedom of his country or in jails of different countries, and was instrumental in declaring an “open warfare” against British rule in India after a meeting of the Ghadar Party at its San Francisco headquarters on August, 15, 1914.

Not only that Dr Gyanee was allegedly neglected after his death, he was not issued a passport by the Indian Government for over two years after the country attained freedom in 1947 and he had to return to his motherland in 1958 after getting an invitation from the then Punjab Chief Minister Partap Singh Kairon. Dr Gyanee was also a close associate of great Indian freedom fighter Rash Behari Bose and his Irish counterpart Davelera.

Photograph of Bhai Bhagwan Singh Gyanee taken in Yokohama, Japan. In November 1913, Bhagwan Singh was deported from Canada and being returned to India. He escaped the ship when it was docked in Japan. In this studio photograph of Bhagwan Singh, he poses with a sword and gun to indicate that freedom for India from the British could only be achieved through armed revolution.

Image Source :

Since he had been actively involved in revolutionary activities after being appointed lecturer in Sikhism at Updeshak College, Gujjranwala (Pakistan) and had developed close contacts with freedom fighters like Ajit Singh, he had to leave India in the aftermath of the arrest of Lala Lajpat Rai in 1908 and had to leave for Burma under an assumed name. From that day he travelled to Siam, Hongkong, Shanghai, Hawana, USA, Germany and Canada, and could never meet his family for the next over 45 years. His wife (who never met him after he left the country in 1908) died in his absence in the early fifties. “For our family it is a saga full of bitter feelings. He was never accorded recognition as a freedom fighter,” said Mr S.P. Singh, grandson of Dr Gyanee, while showing the place where Dr Gyanee was cremated in 1962. After reuniting with his family Dr Gyanee had bought some property on Spatu road here which is still with the family. Mr S.P. Singh, who has settled in the USA was on a brief visit to this place.

“It is not that he did not know his fate. He was aware what usually happens with freedom fighters. Just listen to one of his last audio tapes where he tells that Ghadar Party freedom fighters were neglected,” said Mr S.P. Singh, while switching on the tape of Dr Gyanee which the latter got recorded in 1959 in presence of his secretary. “You don't acknowledge those who died for the country or those who died and on the basis of whose sacrifices the Congress got roots in Punjab.....some noise.”

“What to talk of any memorial, none came to attend his cremation even as after his return to India he stayed at the Punjab Chief Minister's guest house for some years. It was only that his bhog was attended by Mr Partap Singh Kairon. I think he was punished for opposing Nehru's “Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai” slogan and his “Panchsheel” policy which proved to be a failure soon after prediction made by Dr Gyanee before his death,” rued Mr S.P. Singh, while showing Dr Gyanee's pictures with Pandit Nehru and other leaders.

Mr S.P. Singh said not only Dr Gyanee's wife died in his absence, his daughter (S.P.'s mother), who once made up her mind to approach the government for some pension in view of the family's poor economic condition, was frustrated by the authorities. “They asked her bluntly as to whether she had ever been imprisoned? Even my nana (Dr Gyanee) was told to submit proof that he was an Indian if he wanted to get an Indian passport after 1947,” he said.

Asked about the desire of the family, Mr S.P. Singh said the only wish of the family was a suitable memorial to Dr Gyanee.

Dr Gyanee, who was born at Wiring village of Amritsar district on July 27, 1884, travelled on a feigned identity to Honkong and settled there in 1910 after which he was appointed a “granthi” of the gurdwara there by the Sikh Temple Committee and was arrested twice there in 1911 and 1912. After this he migrated to Canada in April, 1913, where his anti-British activities and objection to it by Hopkinson, an immigration inspector, led to his deportation to India, but he managed to escape to Japan to reunite with Maulvi Barkatulla, a professor of languages at Tokyo's Imperial University. As the need to fetch arms forced him to leave Japan for Germany, he was discovered by a British while he was travelling by a ship near Shanghai, but he escaped and landed at San Francisco along with Barkatullah on May 23, 1914, where he was made president of the Ghadar Party, which declared an “open war” against the British rule in India and to make it a “free and sovereign republic” on August 15, 1914. There he met Irish freedom fighters and Indian freedom fighter Rash Behari Bose. In 1917, he was arrested in the “San Francisco Conspiracy Case” with 19 other Indians and sentenced to two years imprisonment.

After leaving the party in 1928, he wrote a number of books on diverse tops, including “The Art of Living,” “Science of Perpetual Youth,” “The Ideal of Friendship,” “The Humanology Notes”, “Paths to Perfection”, “Why Men Fail”, “Jang aur Azaadi”, “Concentration”, “Love, Marriage and Divorce”, “Mysteries and Functions of the Subconscious Mind”, “Yogi Exercises”, “The Greatest Enemy of Man”, “Food That Makes and Breaks You”, “Creative Wisdom” “Self Culture” and “Food Chart”. Article Originally Published at TheTribune