The Dream Denied

The Dream Denied



(Source: New York Times, January 28, 1908)

For Indian, Japanese and Chinese laborers on America’s west coast, life was a long and bitter struggle in the face of tremendous discrimination, poor working conditions, harassment and mob violence. The Chinese and Japanese governments intervened on behalf of their expatriates and negotiated compensation for their loss of lives and property. The British government of India took no action.

Passengers of the S.S. Komogata Maru were denied food and water and refused permission to come ashore in Vancouver, B.C. The training vessel HMCS Rainbow trained its guns on the ship. This was the first official task of the Royal Canadian Navy. (Source: City of Vancouver Archives)

Indians across North America became increasingly convinced their lesser rights stemmed from being a subjugated people. As subjects of a foreign power, they were deemed ineligible for U.S. citizenship by the Civil Rights Act of 1866.  They were disillusioned at being shut out of the American promise of equality; they were enraged at the humiliating treatment of their countrymen aboard the S.S. Komagata Maru when Canadian authorities refused to allow the ship to dock in 1914.  Members of Indian organizations up and down the Pacific coast vowed to expel the British from India.

Das enrolled as a cadet at Norwich University, a leading military academy in Vermont. Young Indians were encouraged by nationalist Bal Gangadhar Tilak to acquire military training abroad to help with India’s liberation. (Source: Dodge and Ellis, History of Norwich University 1819-1911)

Many Indian students who had come to pursue a technical education in the United States were politically inclined. They were attracted to the ideals espoused by the American revolution against a shared colonial master.  The charismatic and indefatigable Taraknath Das played a seminal role in the achievements of the early Indians in the U.S.   Wanted by the police for his revolutionary activities, he fled India and arrived in Seattle in 1906.  Das was a student at the University of California, Berkeley, and later received his degree in political science at the University of Washington.

Believed to be the earliest organizer of Indian immigrants, his work spanned British Columbia, New York, California, Washington and Oregon. He was passionate about the welfare of his fellow students and immigrants and founded several immigrant supportive societies. He published a guidebook for arriving Indian students, as well as the monthly student publication, Free Hindustan, which condemned British policies and advocated armed resistance. His activities soon placed him on the radar of American authorities complying with requests from British officials.

(Be sure to check out our gallery supplement on Taraknath Das for original letters by and about Das, relating to U.S. surveillance efforts and to his student days.) 

Pamphlets and publications helped fan the passion for an independent India. (Source:

Das traveled to Germany just before World War I to organize funding for an armed uprising in India, and to China and Japan to seek support for the cause.  He was arrested, and in 1917, he was sentenced to 22 months in the Federal Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas for violating the Neutrality Act.  After his release from prison his activities took a more peaceable turn, and he devoted his considerable energies to educating the people of India and the U.S. about each other.  He died in New York in 1958.

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