Freedom From Afar
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The intense lobbying for Indian interests that we currently see amongst the Indian diaspora in the US has a long pedigree. Gould recounts the fascinating story of how a small group of men, numbering a few hundred, without much personal or professional security, without the demographic or economic might of the current diaspora, lobbied valiantly, and against the odds, for Indian interests in the US before India achieved independence. Many of these figures and movements, Har Dayal, Taraknath, Bhai Parmanand or the Ghadr party, are now largely forgotten. What makes this book particularly interesting is that it connects two stories: The quest by Indian immigrants for racial and social justice in North America on the one hand and the Indian struggle for freedom on the other.
Gould's story begins with the early Sikh migration to the West Coast, from California to Vancouver. This small group, numbering no more than five thousand, largely ex-army personnel, of a middling status, was the early immigrant pioneers to the US. But this community literally melted away, largely as a result of intermarriage. (Gould's fascinating data suggest most of them married Hispanics!) But even such a small number weighed much in the American imagination and initial fear of immigration from the subcontinent. Legal, racial and social barriers were set up to deter immigrants from India, and even small groups had to slowly struggle to claim their civil rights. The key moment in crystallising an "Indian" political consciousness in Canada comes in 1914, with the fascinating incident of the Komagata Maru, a ship carrying Indian immigrants that was detained in Vancouver for 45 days before being turned back to Calcutta, where many of the passengers were shot. But by World War I, something resembling an Indian political movement was in place in America: The Ghadr party, a crew of motley individuals who took inspiration from pre-Gandhian nationalists, had been formed to fight racial injustice and colonial oppression.
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