The Sindhi Hindu community uprooted as the result of India’s Partition, now girdles the globe. But then for Sindhi traders, globalization was never a new concept. For decades, well before Partition, Sindhi traders (commonly known as SindhWorkis) had established themselves practically in every city of the world, with larger concentration in Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Malaysia; through the Middle East to Africa and Gibraltar, and across Britain and Europe to the U.S. and Latin America.
These SindhWorkis or Sindhi traders earned a fine reputation for trustworthiness and honesty in foreign countries. Their word was known as a bond. They supported local, social events and aided worthwhile charities from time to time, locally and in Sindh and India. They were religious and remained steadfast in their family, social and cultural roots and religious identity. Largely their donations were to religious institutions, mandirs (temples) and gurdwaras but many like Bahi Wattumall, Chellarams. Bhai Maghnamal of K A J Chotirmull and many others gave much for educational and social purposes for Sindhis and others.
The SindhWorkis kept a low profile while giving aid and support. As the grand old man heading the Watumalls is said to remark when someone questioned him as to why he does not publicize his charities, he quoted Rahim who was a great philanthropist, “dene wala koi aur hai; log brahm mujh pay kyoun karen!” (Means: Giver is Some One Else – implying that there is some Higher Power that is the Giver – So why should people think that I am the giver?). Later, when Watumalls established the public foundation for Education, naturally their charities had to come out in the open.
By and large SindhWorkis remained aloof from politics. Many suffered almost silently the pain of India for its being a colony of the British but there was no organization worth the name till the first decade of the twentieth century through which they could channel their frustration and funds . A change in the attitude of the SindhWorkis came about with the formation of the Gadar Party early in the second decade of the twentieth century.
Establishment of the Gadar Party:
The Gadar Movement was established around 1912-1913. It was the first organized violent bid for freedom after the uprising (Indian War of Independence) of 1857. Gadar in Punjabi means “revolt” – and indeed this revolt was the saga of courage, valor and determination of overseas Indians to free India from the shackles of British slavery. Clearly, the Gadarites wanted to liberate India by the force of arms. The movement did not achieve its intended objective. However, it awakened a sleeping India and left a major impact on India’s struggle for freedom. The heroism, courage and sacrifices of the Gadarites inspired many freedom fighters to continue their mission. This attempt to free their country was made by Indians living overseas, particularly in the United States and Canada. Although, the overwhelming majority of the Gadarites were Sikhs and the main centers of revolutionary activity were in Canada and the United States, the movement spread to
other centers as well, such as Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore. Many of the leaders were of other parties and from different parts of India, and amongst them were Rash Bihari Bose, Barkutullah, Seth Husain Rahim, Tarak Nath Das, Vishnu Ganesh Pingley, Virendra Nath Chattopadhyay (younger brother of politician-poetess Sarojani Naidu), Bhupendra Nath Datta (brother of Swami Vivekananda) , Ajit Singh (uncle of Shahid Bhagat Sigh), and Bhai Bhagwan Singh.
It was as the result of Rash Bihari Bose’s effort that some Sindhis also became sympathizers and helpers of the Gadar Movement. Notable among them were Dr. Choithram P. Gidwani, who was in regular touch with Rash Bihari Bose, not so much by normal correspondence but through messages sent by word of mouth by friendly couriers. Dr. Choithram had introduced quite a few associates to Rash Bihari Bose, and amongst them were two of his close friends Lokram Sharma and his brother Vishnu Sharma. The two Sharma brothers remained in close touch with Rash Bihari Bose. Dr. Choithram had also been in touch with Lala Har Dayal who had been a faculty member at Stanford University in U.S.A. for about two years. He was the central pioneering figure and the force behind the newly formed Gadar organization.
Please note the following extract on page 89 of The Sindh Story by K.R.Malkani (published by Sindhi Academy Delhi):
“One mid-night in 1913, a lame Muslim complaining of severe stomach pain, arrived in a bullock cart from Kotri, at the residence of Lokram Sharma in Hyderabad (Sindh). Once in, it was clear, that he was Rash Bihari Bose, the famous revolutionary in disguise who had thrown a bomb at Lord Hardinge in Chandni Chowk, Delhi in 1912. Rash Bihari Bose, Lokram Sharma and his brother Vishnu Sharma had been in the same house in Delhi on that bomb-throw day. Dr. Choithram arranged money for Rash Bihari Bose and sent him to Amritsar on way to Japan via Afghanistan”.
Note: Although it is said that Rash Behari Bose had ‘thrown” the bomb, it seems that he had ‘master-minded’ the event and was present nearby to direct the bomb-throw. On December 23, 1912, Lord Harding, the Viceroy of India, was to make his entry into Delhi in a procession. At 11.45am the procession reached Dhulya Katra in Chandni Chowk. A bomb ripped through the procession. The Viceroy escaped, but the man to his right in his howdah was killed and 20 spectators were injured. In the ensuing man-hunt Master Amir Chand, Avadh Behari and Bal Mukund were arrested and hanged in Delhi jail.. Basanta Viswas, who threw the bomb, disguised as a lady, was hanged in Ambala jail. Rash Behari Bose averted arrest owing to a clever disguise. The event, as observed by Sir Valentine Chirol, had a “tremendous effect on the subsequent revolutionary activities” . Rash Behari Bose remained on the move from Punjab to Uttar Pradesh to Bengal in different disguises. A police
officer noted that Rash Behari Bose could have been a “great stage actor” instead of a revolutionary if he so desired.
Rash Behari Bose’s escape from Sindh arranged by Dr. Choithram had also a touch of drama. Rash Behari wore a long beard with a wig of flowing white hair and carrying a long seven-foot pole covered with multi-colorful cloth and a large number of bells attached, he marched on, with banging the pole and repeating loud cries of ‘Alakh Niranjan’, ‘Anal Haq’, ‘Ya Ali, Ya Hussain’ and such religious slogans as though seeking to draw attention to himself but the result actually was that everyone kept away from him, regarding him as a demented sadhu or dervish (holy man), Not only in Sindh but elsewhere too he kept up the same charade, believing firmly that the surest way to avoid detection is to be loud in inviting attention to yourself.
As it is, an organizational set-up had already been created in Sindh to help revolutionaries in hiding and in assisting them to escape. Here again, we turn to page 89 of The Sindh Story by K.R.Malkani, which tells us:
Commissioner of Police
“In 1910, Acharya Kripalani, Kaka Kalelkar, Swami Govindanand, Dr. Choithram and others set up the Brahmacharya Ashram in Hyrerabad (Sindh)… This was not only an institution to produce patriotic young men – though song, drama and gymnastics but also a forum for other activities, including shelter for revolutionaries- in hiding.
“Dr. Choithram, Swami Alaram, Pandit Deendayal Vachaspati and Swami Satya Dev went on cow protection tour of Sindh singing, ‘Behl sahib khe karyo salam’ (‘Salute Sir Bullock’) and collected 3,000 rupees for the Brahmacharya Ashram.”
The Brahmachaya Ashram had nominated a number of members and well-wishers in all districts and many towns of Sindh. Amongst them was Dr. Vatanmal Gidwani of Mirpur Khas, Prof. Ghanshyam Shivdasani in Hyderabad and many others.
The Sindh Story by K.R.Malkani also tells us of how Baba Gurdit Singh, carrying a reward on his head ‘for his arrest dead or alive’ of 40,000 Rupees due to his part in hiring the Japanese ship komagatamaru was sheltered safely in Sindh for a period of three years – thanks to assistance from the Brahmacharya Ashram.
An interesting footnote should also be added here. Dr. Choithram Gidwani had given Rupees 845/ to Rash Bihari Bose, along with a gold bangle donated by Dr. Choithram’s elder brother’s wife, to facilitate his escape to Japan. Long after, when Rash Bihari Bose had reached Japan to settle down there, became a Japanese citizen after marrying a beautiful Japanese girl from the respected Soma family, Dr Choithram received a message through an intermediary, along with Rupees 845/ and the message simply said,
“My wife Tosiko’s parents have given me a gift; call it dowry if you will but it is a gift of love. So I must return Rupees 845/ for they belong to the Brahmacharya and the Cow – and the Cow must not be deprived on my account. As to the lady who donated the Bangle to me, I touch her feet. The bangle adorned my wife’s jewelry box for a while which now, in its entirety, she has donated to the Cause dear to you and us all. Let the Bangle then serve the Cause; and let us pray for the Cause and if time permits, even for us. . . . ”.
NOTE: Apart from the message to Dr. Choithram, Rash Behari Bose simultaneously also sent a message of Regards to Sister “Kumari Jethi”. To her were thanks for the 7-foot curtain rod stripped from the curtains in her drawing room, covered with her two colorful saris which served as his walking pole and the ghungroos and bells, she attached to the pole. Possibly the reference to “Kumari Jethi” is to Kumari Jethi Sipahimalani who later became a Member of the Sindh Legislative Assembly and was herself a freedom fighter, crusading for the rights of Sindhis in India after the Partition. But there is no clear confirmation yet to identify this reference to “Kumari Jethi”.
Rash Behari Bose gained prominence in Japan, particularly during World War II. With the help of Captain Mohan Singh and Sardar Pritam Singh, he formed the Indian National Army (I.N.A.) on September 1, 1942. Rash Behari was elected President and later gave Supreme Command of the I.N.A. to Subash Chandra Bose in 1943. Rash Behari expired before the end of World War II, on January 21, 1945.
There was considerable sympathy and support among the people of Sindh for the Gadar Movement. Those connected with the movement through efforts of, and contact with, Rash Bihari Bose, however, were very cautious and circumspect. For instance, Vishnu Sharma was code-named “Teesra Ishwar” (“third God” – a reference possibly to the third god in the Trinity of Gods – Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu). His brother, Lokram Sharma, who also, along with him, was in the same house in Delhi with Rash Bihari Bose on the day of bomb-throw at Lord Hardinge, had the code-name of “Teesra Ishwar ka Bhai” (“Brother of Third God”). Dr. Choithram Gidwani had the code-name of “Brahmadassa” which may possibly have been selected at random, unconnected with any particular association. (Brahmadassa is an uncommon Sindhi name. It was the name of the discoverer of the confluence of Sindhu and Saraswati Rivers. Brahmadassa started life in an Ashram as a Brahmachari but later renounced his
vow of Brahmacharya and married Rishi Vaswana’s daughter, settling along the Saraswati River. Thus the code name of Brahmadassa had no real connection with Dr.Choithram Gidwani’s life as he, throughout, intended to remain- and did remain – a Brahamachari) .
There was lasting advantage in the secrecy maintained by Sindhis in their code-names. When a person – who was very high up in the Gadar movement – turned a traitor and a police-informer, Gadar movement was broken up as all the names of the participants were with the Police. Sindhis with their code-names were protected as, despite a nation-wide investigation and hunt, their identities remained hidden. At least a dozen men with names of Ishwar Das, Ishwar Singh and such like, along with their brothers, were questioned by the Police, from time to time, on the suspicion that they may be the culprits referred to as, “Teesra Ishwar” or “Teesra Ishwar ka Bhai”
As many as 145 Gadarites were hanged by Indian Government, 308 were sentenced for longer than 14 years and many more for lesser terms. Some of them passed years in KALA PANI (Black waters) in the Andamans.
Fourteen Gadarites remained hidden in Sindh for long, sheltered through aid from the Brahmacharya Ashram. They moved out to safety, with changed identities and in disguise with somewhat altered appearance, when the police- hunt for them was no longer hot.
Dr. Choithram as also most Sindhis had by now had begun to embrace the Gandhian doctrine of non-violence as the way to make the British leave India. They no longer subscribed to the Gadarite philosophy of force and violence to gain independence. But even so, they felt honour bound to protect the Gadarites from police-hunt. “We have promises to keep”, they said, and they kept their promise. They also said among themselves, “If Gandhiji knew, he would understand”, but they left Gandhiji uninformed.
Support of SindhWorkis:
Sindhi traders (SindhWorkis) began to support the Gadar Movement. Certainly, the SindWorkis were not in the frontline of the movement. Their support largely consisted of financial donations – often substantial – to the movement. In one case, the firms of Pohoomal Bros, D.Chelaram, M.Dialdas & J.T.Chanrai of Hong Kong contributed on a large scale to a fund for the purchase of ammunition for an armed rising by Gadarites. Quite apart from this ad hoc assistance, SindhWorkis were paying regularly to the Gadarite treasury. The SindhWorki support also extended, in many cases, to providing safe-houses to hide the Gadar revolutionaries. Moreover, SindhWorkis were able to help Gadarites in passing their important and confidential messages as they had a vast and intricate network covering practically every country with associates, correspondents and in many cases, even branch offices.
Again, as The Sindh Story by K.R.Malkani points out, “When Subhash Chandra Bose set up INA in the Far East, his best and biggest supporters were the Sindhi businessmen there. Both Subhas Bose and Gandhiji referred to Sindhis as “World Citizens” since they are to be found everywhere.”
Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose is immortalized in our History for having formed the Azad Hind Government in exile, and regrouping and leading the Indian National Army to battle against the allies in Imphal and Burma during the World War II.
Sindhi families abroad donated large sums of money, ornaments, jewelry to support the Independence movement of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.
Among the Sindhworkis who distinguished themselves by supporting these freedom movements are:
1) Wassiamull Assumall 2) J. Kimatrai3) Utoomal Assudomal 4) Gangaram, Singapore
5) Jhamandas Melwani, Hongkong/Singapore 6) Sehwani family (Manila) 7) K a J Chotirmall, Hongkong/Singapore8 ) Kewalram Corpoartion, Japan 9) Gulraj Corpoartion, Japan 10) P Parsram, Japan 11) Watumull’s Hawaii 12) Watanmal Bulchand 13) Chanrais 14) D Chellaram 15) G. Assanmall 16) Jhangimull and many others.
via – Dial V. Gidwani- Sindhu American
April 03, 2008