by Judy Yung
Kartar Singh, a Punjabi Sikh, was born in Sarabha village, Ludhiana district, in 1896. His father died when he was six and his mother when he was thirteen. He was raised by his grandfather, a farmer. Kartar attended the village school for five years and graduated from a missionary high school in 1911. He was attending Revenshaw College in Orissa when he got caught up in the nationalist movement to free India from British rule. He decided to go to America to aid the cause. He was then seventeen years old.
Kartar Singh Sarabha
His ship, S.S. Siberia, arrived in San Francisco on July 28, 1912, and Kartar was immediately taken to Angel Island for immigration inspection. Although there was no immigration law excluding Indians at the time, anti-Indian sentiment was intense and large numbers of his countrymen were being rejected and sent back to India on grounds that they were “likely to become public charges.” Kartar came well prepared. He had $100 with him and he told the immigration inspectors that he was planning to study electrical engineering at the Berkeley University. When asked how he would support himself while in the U.S., he answered that his grandfather, who owned 300 acres of land in India, would send him $40 a month or whatever amount of money he needed to complete his education in the next five years. Impressed with his ability to speak English and his overall appearance, the Board of Special Inquiry admitted him into the country without further questions. He had been detained on Angel Island for only three days.
Kartar Singh entered the U.S. through Angel Island as a student and became a Gadar Party activist. He was captured and executed by the British government in India on November 16, 1915. (“India’s Heroes,” Hindustan Gadar newspaper, 1916)
When World War I broke out in Europe, the Gadar Party seized the opportunity with Great Britain at war to return to India to launch their revolution. Kartar Singh was among the largest group of sixty men to leave San Francisco on the steamship Korea on August 29, 1914. Always on a bike, he traveled hundreds of miles to various British garrisons to organize discontented Indian soldiers in support of the revolution. He was deeply involved in planning an armed uprising for February 21, 1915. But before the nationalists could carry out their plans, they were betrayed by one of their members. Kartar and close to three hundred persons in the Punjab were arrested by government authorities and tried for their role in the planned revolt. He was sentenced to death, the youngest to be executed at eighteen years of age. In the hours before his hanging on November 16, 1915, he wrote one last poem, which he sang as he was led to his execution.
Place of Origin
Place of Settlement