Bhan Singh (1883- )

Bhan Singh was a passenger on the Komagata Maru whom Gurdit Singh and his committee learned not to trust. He was the son of Khusal Singh and from the village of Baring in the Jallandar District. He was a schoolmaster and one of the educated men on the Komagata Maru and also one of the very few who were critical of Gurdit Singh and the leadership around him. His closest friends on the Komagata Maru were Pohlo Ram, a Khatri from Anandpur, and the ship’s doctor, Raghunath Singh. All three had hopes of entering Canada as tourists even when it was clear that none of their fellow passengers would ever be landed. In late June 1914, Bhan Singh was briefly taken off the ship to interpret for Munshi Singh when Munshi Singh appeared before three immigration officers for the critical Komagata Maru test case that went to the B.C. Court of Appeal. But that was the only brief time that Bhan Singh put his feet on Canadian soil. Otherwise he was limited to speaking to Hopkinson whenever the immigration officer came on board or to sending letters to Reid. The tension of the final days in Vancouver harbour jeopardized his friendship with Dr. Raghunath Singh who complained in a letter to Malcolm Reid that Bhan Singh and Pohlo Ram had turned on him and that they told Gurdit Singh that he was the informant talking to immigration officials. When the ship was finally forced to leave, Bhan Singh wrote a note to the immigration office promising to jump and to swim for shore; and members of the press, following in small craft, half-expected him to appear on deck for the attempt, but he didn’t and sailed for Asia with the rest.

One of the passengers, Kartar Singh of Mehli, when interviewed in 1976 said that Bhan Singh was very intelligent, stressing the fact that he was educated and knew how to speak English. He said that the others took him to be an undercover man and started restricting his movement on the ship. They thought he might pass on information to the guards on the immigration launches that continuously circled the ship, so they tried to keep him off the deck. They let Dr. Raghunath Singh get off when immigration officials came for him, but thought if Bhan Singh got ashore “it would be more dangerous because he was smart.”

Bhan Singh and Pohlo Ram made the return voyage all the way back to India, to Budge Budge. When the police at Budge Budge told the passengers to get on a waiting train for Punjab, Bhan Singh and Pohlo Ram were among the forty-five who obeyed and who were safely on their way to Ludhiana when the shooting took place. At Ludhiana, when the police questioned all of the passengers for a number of days, Bhan Singh and Pohlo Ram testified to the involvement of the leadership of the Komagata Maru in smuggling pistols. They said that Gurdit Singh had purchased a revolver for $40 from Bhagwan Singh in Yokohama on the outbound voyage and that the purchase had been entered in Gurdit Singh’s accounts, which Bhan Singh said he saw on the return journey. Bhan Singh also said that $100 had been spent for pistols in Vancouver and entered in the accounts of the voyage. The police seized these account books (kept in Gurmukhi) when the ship reached India; and they reported finding an entry for $100 scratched out and “miscellaneous things” written in.

The police in Punjab later looked at Bhan Singh suspiciously, judging him by the company he kept. That is evident from a police report in 1915 describing him as a returned emigrant from Canada with these comments:  “Does no work. Mixes with other returned emigrants and is reported by other local officers to be dangerous.”

Sources: Struggle for Free Hindustan: Ghadr Directory, Punjab Section, 1915 (published New Delhi: Gobind Sadan Institute for Advanced Studies in Comparative Religion, 1996); National Archives of Canada, Immigration Files, 1914, RG 76; Report of the Komagata Maru Committee of Inquiry, (Calcutta, 1914); National Library and Archives Canada, External Affairs, RG 25, G1, vol 1156, file 40, 12 Dec., 1914, Chief Secretary Punjab Home Dept mentioning Bhan Singh and Pohlo Ram.