Punjab Research Group

The Unsung Indian Hero of Kenya

Posted in Articles, Diaspora, Migration by Pippa on January 2, 2014

Makhan SinghPublished in The Tribune 25 December 2013

Following link for full article http://epaper.tribuneindia.com/203331/The-Tribune/TT_25_December_2013#page/19/2

Makhan Singh not only organised the labour movement in Kenya, but also raised the slogan of total independence of the country. He remained in prison for 16 years. But the contribution of this valiant son of Punjab remains unknown in Kenya as well as in India.

WHEN I visited Kenya for the first time in 2005 as an educationist, it was inconceivable then that I would soon be writing a play on an unsung Indian hero Makhan Singh, who had migrated from Punjab in 1927, organised the labour movement of the country, became the first person to call for total freedom from the colonial rule, remained under detention for 16 years and was the first leader to be arrested and the last to be released after independence. If about 20 readings of the play Mungu Comrade in India, England and Canada attracted hundreds of people, who were riveted to the spoken action, it was not the magic of writing; they were actually enchanted by the mesmerizing protagonist who has rightly been termed as a “totally unadulterated idealist”. Dr. Fitz De Souza, Deputy Speaker of Kenya’s first National Assembly said about him, “he wouldn’t compromise his principles on anything.”

He was born on December 27, 1913 in Gharjakh, a town near Gujranwala (Pakistan) in the family of Sudh Singh who went to Kenya in 1920, about two decades after the British took Indian labour to Kenya to lay the railway track from Mombasa to Kisumu to feed their commercial needs. In the 16th century the Portuguese had also imported workers from the then colony of theirs, Goa, to help build the coastal Fort Jesus. But it was in the last years of the 19th century when 37,000 workers and petty tradesmen were introduced from Punjab and Gujarat for the line that is termed by the African tribes and subsequently by Robert Hardy as The Iron Snake. The slithering of this ‘snake’, passing through the dense forests took life of about 2,500 workmen; roughly four persons per mile of the track. Another 6,500 were injured seriously. We have seen this terrain in the film made on the first-hand accounts written by John Henry Patterson in Man Eaters of Tsavo.

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