Sohan Singh Bhakna - United States

United States

Sohan Singh soon found work as a labourer in a timber mill being constructed near the city. In this first decade of the 1900s, the Pacific coast of North America saw large scale Indian immigration. A large proportion of the immigrants were especially from Punjab British India which was facing an economic depression and agrarian unrest. The Canadian government met this influx with a series of legislations aimed at limiting the entry of South Asians into Canada, and restricting the political rights of those already in the country. The Punjabi community had hitherto been an important loyal force for the British Empire and the Commonwealth, and the community had expected, to honour its commitment, equal welcome and rights from the British and commonwealth governments as extended to British and white immigrants. These legislations fed growing discontent, protests and anti-colonial sentiments within the community. Faced with increasingly difficult situations, the community began organising itself into political groups. A large number of Punjabis also moved to the United States, but they encountered similar political and social problems. Early works among these groups date back to the time around 1908 when Indian students and Punjabi immigrants of the likes of P S Khankhoje, Pandit Kanshi Ram, Taraknath Das and Bhai Bhagwan Singh were working towards and for a political movement. Khankhoje himself founded the Indian Independence League in Portland, Oregon. Sohan Singh at this time came to be strongly associated with this political movement taking shape among Indian immigrants. His works also brought him close to other Indian nationalists in United States at the time.

Meanwhile, India House and nationalist activism of Indian students had begun declining in the East Coast towards 1910, but gradually shifted west to San Francisco. The arrival at this time of Har Dayal from Europe bridged the gap between the intellectual agitators in New York and the predominantly Punjabi labour workers and migrants in the west coast, and laid the foundations of the Ghadar movement. In the summer of 1913, representatives of Indians living in Canada and the United States met at Stockton, where the decision was taken to establish an organization, Hindustani Workers of the Pacific Coast. The Pacific Coast Hindustan Association, was formed in 1913 in the United States under the leadership of Har Dayal, P.S. Khankhoje and Sohan Singh Bhakna. Bhakna was its president. It drew members from Indian immigrants, largely from Punjab. Many of its members were also from the University of California at Berkeley including Dayal, Tarak Nath Das, Kartar Singh Sarabha and V.G. Pingle. The party quickly gained support from Indian expatriates, especially in the United States, Canada and Asia. Ghadar meetings were held in Los Angeles, Oxford, Vienna, Washington, D.C., and Shanghai.

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