The period concerned was just prior to the First Great War when many Indian revolutionaries were busy organising their activities abroad, not only in Europe, but also across the Atlantic to America and to Canada. The Ghadhr Party had become active in America. A political pamphlet shows the nucleus of the revolutionary movement in the New World. It became a vigorous anti-British Movement. Earlier, around 1919, leaders like Khankoje and Ramchandra had organised institutions like the Indian Independence League and the Indian Association of the Pacific Coast. Arrivals of intellectuals like Lala Hardayal gave the Ghadhr Party a great boost. A few lines from the first issue of the pamphlet (1st November 1913) will be really interesting.
“Today there begins in foreign land and in our own language a war against the British Raj. What is your name—Mutiny—What is your work—Mutiny—Where will it break out—India”.
The Canadian Government tried all methods to thwart the activities of the Ghadhr. Espionage was one of them. There was a Sikh young man, Bela Singh of the Indian community in Vancouver. He was won over and he told of the activities of the Ghadhrities. He was being tried by William Hopkinson, formerly of the Indian Police Service, under whom Bela Singh used to work. Now enters Sewa Singh, also known as Mewa Singh. The Ghadhr Party of U.S. was bent on punishing Bela Singh for his betrayal of the secrets. Dedicated and daring Indians were needed for the purpose. Sewa Singh offered his service to the motherland, in a novel way. He would do away with the traitor, Bela. No punishment to himself would act as a deterrent. He out-witted the police office and one day went to his bungalow and pulled out his revolver. Hopkinson was shaving and saw Sewa in that posture and pulled him up. The martyr-to-be-in-Canada became one step cleverer. He appeared to become sentimental and said; “my countrymen hate me and openly accuse me of being in your pay while you never offered me a job you promised. I came to end my life in your presence”. The officer was taken in by his sentimental acting. Sewa became intimate to him.
Now came the fateful day. In the 21st October 1914, Hopkinson was busy in the court giving final touches to the case of Bela Singh. He had to ensure that his protege, and India’s enemy, was saved. His new found friend, Sewa, was also there. He suddenly whipped out the revolver and shot at the target. This time there was no mirror to save the Indian trained police officer.
Sewa was cool and confident, with no trace of concern for the consequences. On being questioned after the action he confessed about his part in it with an air of pride for his performance. He charged the police officer of adopting the treacherous tactics of employing one Indian against another to betray his own country with the lure of a small material gain. It was degradation of the lowest depth and he had to pay the price. Moreover, he did it inside a court room where justice is expected to be done. Now was the revolutionary justice with no court of appeal. The trial was made easy by the accused offering no defence. He was executed on 11th January 1915. On the eve of his death he made a statement to the priest of the Gurudwara who had come to meet him and bless him. He averred that his action was not emanating from any enmity with the individual. Hopkinson was the enemy of the country’s freedom and had to be eliminated. I quote his inspiring and immortal words;
“I, performing the duty of a true Sikh and remembering the name of God, will proceed towards the scaffold with the same amount of pleasure as the hungry babe has towards the mother. I shall gladly have the rope around my neck thinking it to be a rosary of God’s name; I am sure that God will take me into his blissful arms because I have not done this deed in my personal interest but to the benefit of both my people and the Canadian government.”
In the small span of half a century (1896-1946) the Indian Revolutionary Movement has seen a mixture of traitors and martyrs, from Kripal Singh (who betrayed Rash Behari Bose’s well planned All India Uprising on the 21st February 1912) to Bela Singh. Sewa Singh belongs to the latter. Independent India has reserved brick-bats for the former and bouquet for the latter. This is history’s way of dispensing justice. Heroes are honoured at all times and in all climes.