Raghunath Singh, Dr. (1886- )

Raghunath Singh was the Komagata Maru’s youthful-looking, twenty-seven-year-old doctor hired in Hong Kong by Gurdit Singh. He had been in Hong Kong for three years with the Bengal-based 8th Rajputs as an ISMD (India Service Medical Department) officer serving as a sub-assistant surgeon. When Gurdit Singh hired him he was starting a two month leave; enough time, he assumed, to accompany the ship and its passengers to North America and to return. He brought his wife and their six-year-old son and they occupied one of the few cabins on board. He described the adventure to Canadian officials as a holiday trip, but it was a holiday that turned out badly. As the ship’s doctor and a Rajput and probably a Hindu, he was distanced from the majority of the passengers (the name Singh is common among Rajputs even if they are not Sikhs). In Vancouver, he was treated differently by immigration officials, which was both an advantage and a hazard. Aside from the twenty returning immigrants, he and his family were the only people to land in Canada, although that was just as a tourist and only at the last moment.

During the summer that the Komagata Maru was anchored in Vancouver’s harbour, Raghunath Singh repeatedly told immigration officers that he was not an emigrant like the others and that his leave from his regiment was expiring and that he had to get back to Hong Kong. It was urgent because he was subject to the sanctions of military law. In the end the immigration department agreed, and it helped his case with them that they found him cooperative and isolated from the rest of the passengers—excluded from the meetings they had every night and at times denied the full range of the ship. On the 13th of June, Raghunath Singh asked the immigration agent to take him off the ship, saying he was in danger—that at an assembly of all the passengers, Gurdit Singh had identified him as a government spy. He was calmer a few days later when he spoke to the MP H.H. Stevens in an interview recorded by a stenographer, saying that his wife and child were alright, and that his greatest concern was overstaying his leave. But he was in a difficult position. That was evident when Gurdit Singh wanted to send his secretary Daljit Singh ashore to buy provisions and Malcolm Reid, the immigration agent, refused and suggested that Raghunath Singh could do it instead (at that point, Raghunath Singh had already been ashore to buy medical supplies). That did not suit Gurdit Singh who obtained a letter from Raghunath Singh saying he could not take the responsibility for purchasing provisions. One assumes that Raghunath Singh felt he had no option but to give Gurdit Singh that letter.

 On July 11, he was again writing to Malcolm Reid saying that his life was in danger, they “they may strike at any time” and that “I can not stand their insults and am sorry to have nothing to defend me.” He wanted Reid to arrange to send him back to Hong Kong and he said that his friends Bhan Singh and Pohlo Ram had turned against him and had told Gurdit Singh that he was the one who told everything against the ship to the immigration people. “Therefore I am left alone, all the blame on my head.” A week later Raghunath Singh and his family were safely landed as tourists and able to watch the departing Komagata Maru from shore.

The only group that Raghunath Singh could easily associate with in Vancouver were members of the Bela Singh faction, and that added to his difficulties with the rest of the South Asian community. Within a couple of months he applied to the immigration department for assistance to rejoin his regiment. His request was supported by a cable from the General in Command in Hong Kong asking the immigration agent in Vancouver to send him back. About that time, the Indian army stopped his pay. Raghunath Singh, unfortunately, could not get a cabin passage for months—steamship services had been cut back in wartime—and he remained in Vancouver throughout the fall and winter and testified at the trials of Bela Singh and Sohan Lal. He was a featured witness against Sohan Lal whom he said had repeatedly urged him to attend weekly Saturday meetings of the United India League, and who assured him that Sikhs in Vancouver had no ill-feelings against him, only against those like Bela Singh who had given evidence to the government. Later Raghunath Singh was to describe those meetings to the police in India, saying that the speeches on these occasions were violent and that the speakers were urging a general return to India to start an uprising.

Not until March 27, 1915 did Raghunath Singh and his wife and child embark from Vancouver on the SS Monteagle, on two-and-a-half tickets worth $212.50 and ultimately billed to the Military Department in India. In August 1916, Raghunath Singh was back in India with his home regiment and stationed in Peshawar at the fort of Shabquadar near the Khyber Pass. Punjab police inspector Ikram-ul-Hak came to see him there on the 5th of August for evidence about revolutionaries from Canada, particularly Balwant Singh Khurdpur and Kartar Singh Nawan Chand. On this occasion, Raghunath Singh mentioned Bela Singh and the inspector immediately went to see him in Hoshiarpur. Two months later, on October 26, 1916, Raghunath Singh and Bela Singh with seven other police witnesses attended a jail parade in Lahore. Balwant Singh Khurdpur was one of the prisoners paraded and they identified him as the man they knew in Vancouver.  There the trail of evidence of Raghunath Singh’s involvement with the Komagata Maru ends.

Sources: Gurdit Singh, Voyage of Komagata Maru or India’s Slavery Abroad (Calcutta, n.d.); Vancouver City Archives, Stevens Papers, particularly stenographic notes from conversation between Stevens and Dr. Rughunath Singh, 4 July 1914; National Archives of India, Lahore Conspiracy Case III (Second Supplementary Case, Judgment dated 4 Jan., 1917) accused no 3); Library and Archives Canada, Immigration files, RG 76; Indian Army Quartertly List for 1 Jan., 1912 (Calcutta, 1912), online database.