Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Samuel Stokes who fought for India's freedom - first American arrested by the British

Samuel Stokes. annithisweek.blogspot.com
When I read about an American, a Quaker from Philadelphia  who was the only non-Indian  to sign the Congress (AICC) manifesto in 1921, calling upon Indians to quit government service, I was in for a surprise. An American from a far-off continent taking an active  role in  Indian Freedom Struggle and jailed for  participating in India’s freedom struggle? I could not believe it. When I came to know that  he almost single-handedly turned Himachal Pradesh into a major  apple producing state of India by bringing commercially productive and quality apple plants for this sub-Himalayan region, I was literally bowled  out and decided to know more about this maverick who made a niche for himself in the 'History of India' freedom struggle and the History of Apples in Himachal Pradesh. 
Being from Tamil Nadu, I bet, countless people like me have not heard about American Stokes' participation in freedom struggle, his protest against importation of  British goods and  his close contact with Gandhiji. Nor am I aware of his multi-faceted personality, social activities like rehabilitation of lepers, introduction of new agricultural techniques and apple trees, etc.,  suitable to the climate of that region.
Stokes in Himachal Pradesh. Rediff.com
Mission church, Kotgarh, HM twitter.com
Above image:  Unable to cope with Indian heat, Michel Stokes was sent to St Mary's mission church in the hills of Kotgarh, HP. It was built by the British in 1843. He loved the place immediately .............
His Indianised  name is  'Satyanand' Stokes'  alias  Samuel Evans Stokes (16 August 1882 – 14 May 1946), born and raised in Philadelphia, Penn, USA and his father was a successful businessman, making quality elevators (lifts). It may be of interest to note that Stokes and Parish Elevator Company later merged with Otis Elevators. Graduated from Mohegan Lake Military academy in New York State in 1900,  Stokes  joined Cornell University.  He was an active member of YMCA and took part in social service. He decided that social work was his calling and accordingly,  aged 22  he left for India on 9 January  1904 on missionary work along with Dr. Carleton and his family,  much to the dismay of his family who wanted him to look after the family business. He set his goal on something that would keep  him happy  and lead a contended life - an unexpected long journey that was going to get the best qualities out of him.  

At Subathu, Shimla  (now the capital of HM), Stokes worked at the leper colony run by  Dr Marcus Carleton and took care of the patients' needs, including their emotion feeling of rejection by the society.  Serving the poor and derelict appealed to his heart,  and soul and to serve them better he had begun to learn a working knowledge of Hindi (local language) to deal with the natives and he was of great help to Dr. Carleton in his rehabilitation work. Doing a pious job quietly,  he earned the trust of the local people who developed high regards for him.  Being a Quaker, he took keen interest in spirituality and asceticism, finding satisfaction in simple life in a serene place like a Hindu hermit.  Leading a simple life among the villagers at Subathu in the foot hills of picturesque Himalayas gave him happiness and satisfaction.
Quora

A visit by the Archbishop of Canterbury to the leper colony encouraged him to form an order of monk wood to serve the poor and needy. However,  after a couple of years, he withdrew his activities. As for his parents, they were quite happy that their son was held in great esteem in that part of India, doing a noble job and his real satisfaction  was in his social and community work.  To be identified with Indian people, he married a Rajput girl (named her Agnes) from a Christian family and she bore him five children. He was not happy the way the Christian missionaries were operating in India as they based their approach on western system and failed to teach religion and education in the context of Indian tradition and ethos. In this respect he was quite disillusioned.
American and India freedom fighter Stokes, his wife Agnes. Rediff.com
He developed lofty  ideals and took keen interest in humanism and equality of men, This led him  to change his traditional western habits and began to take Indian  food and followed the Indian customs. He almost became a Hindu as he liked the resilience of Hinduism, 
The 1905 earthquake in Kangra saw Stokes in the peak of his social activities and helped the earthquake victims as much as he could. Refusing govt funds, he  used his own savings for the humanitarian   purposes. The rigor of toil and commitment to help the earthquake victims affected his health very much. After fully recovered, he stayed on in India  and was helping Dr. Carleton at the leper colony.  Upon his advice, he chose a village  called  Kotgarh on the Hindustan-Tibet road, 50 miles from Shimla; being not motorable he reached the beautiful place on  foot to serve the local hilly people. Their abject poverty bothered him and this led him to form apple orchards in that region for their livelihood.
American Stokes and others sachi.org
Members of 4th generation (great-grandchildren) of  Stokes.tribuneindia.com
Realizing her son's resolve to stay in India, Mrs. Florence Stokes came  to India  in 1911. During that time, the area that is Thanedar today was a 200-acre tea plantation owned by a widow  one Mrs Bates. Stokes's  mother bought him the plantation as a gift on February 6, 1912 for  Rs 30,000. 00, a huge some in those days. Stokes  settled on a quiet life with his family, taking care of the land gifted by his mother.  Despite being a member of a rich American business family, the materialistic life did not attract him. With a spiritual bend of mind he  became a Sadhu in a Hindu sense  and won the heart of villagers,  including those who mistook him for a Christian missionary in the garb of  an Indian saint. Being a man of charitable disposition,  using his money he helped the local people a lot.  
Subbash Chandra Bose. english.sakshi.com
Stokes did not like the oppressive rule of the British and the treatment of Indian hill tribes and their age old practices. Already disheartened by the massacre at Jallianwala Bagh (April 1913), Stokes found the approach of the British toward hill tribes  unjust, exploitative and inhuman. He  asked the tribes  to suspend all kar and begar to the government and to the state. Realizing Free India is the only solution for the natives, inspired by Gandhi and other leaders,  he soon got involved in India’s freedom struggle. In the wake of  the Congress special session in 1920 at Calcutta, Stokes penned   a series of articles in the Bombay Chronicle entitled "A Study in Non-cooperation". He, without hesitation, became first American to declare, " (our) Ultimate goal must be absolute swaraj..."  Naturally, Stokes won the admiration of Indian national leaders and he became a full-fledged delegate from Kotgarh to the All India Congress Committee(AICC) which met at Nagpur in 1920.

Rediff.com
Soon Stokes plunged into freedom activities, giving full support to Indian aspirations, he earned the wreath of the British.  Despite warning by the govt. (31July 1921) discouraging foreigner's participation in agitations against the government, Stokes along with a British nurse attended a bonfire of imported clothes. Gandhiji and other leaders wanted Indians to wear Swadesi (home-made) clothes, not foreign clothes. Since then  Stokes had begun to wear Khadi (hand-spun cloth from cotton promoted by Gandhiji). One sterling trait Stokes possessed was his trust in his ideology, thus maintaining individuality. On a few occasions when he met Gandhiji on certain issues he was at variance with him, but his respect for his ideals and political thinking had never changed. He lived at Sabarmati Ashram (now in Gujarat) for a while and accompanied Gandhiji on some occasions.
123RF.com
 Prince of Wales on a visit to Patiala, Punjab India, 1922 Mid-Day
When the Prince of Wales  was on his visit in November 1921 in Lahore, Punjab there was widespread protest and Stokes  was an active participant along with other leaders like  Lala Lajpat Rai. He told the Indian leaders that 'the British prince  was not your prince' and  according reception to him by a section of Indian leaders is not right. Stokes was the first PPCC member  and to be detained on December 3 under Section 108 of the CrPC, thus becoming the only American   in history to become a political prisoner of Great Britain in the freedom struggle in Colonial India.
Stokes’ trial evoked considerable interest in the media  and was well covered in great detail by The Tribune . When Stokes   was jailed for six months,  The Tribune commented  ''a grievous failure of justice". Equally furious and critical was Gandhi who wrote,  "That he (Stokes) should feel with and like an Indian, share his sorrows and throw himself into the struggle, has proved too much for the government. To leave him free to criticize the government was intolerable, so his white skin has proved no protection for him…"
Satyanand Stokes. twitter.com
Above image:  'In death, as in life, Stokes left a lasting legacy. He was no foreigner. He was a man who assimilated and fought for India'..............
Roughly nine months before India's independence in August 1947, Stokes died on 14 May 1946 owing to extended illness.  That  Satyanand Stokes's name is not in the list of many freedom fighters  at a time when India was  celebrating the golden jubilee of our Constitution is  highly deplorable. It may be counted as an act of pure negligence on the part of Congress leaders who overlooked this great man's participation in freedom movement. However, we get a feeling of elation that  Samuel Stokes, through his selfless and sincere services to the people of his region, has touched the soul and heart of the people there, thus establishing himself as a true Karmayogi - neither expecting accolades from his followers nor an award from the Indian government.  Hailing from a rich American family, he could have chosen a cozy and comfortable life; but he preferred a simple non-materialistic life that made him happy. Indeed, a great man with real American spirits, upholding the virtues of people like Abe Lincoln, John Kennedy, Martin Luther King and a host of others. 
To know the entire life story of Satyavati Samuel, read – AN AMERICAN IN KHADI: The Definitive Biography of Satyanand Stokes, by Asha Sharma.
 http://www.rediff.com/news/special/the-american-who-fought-for-indias-freedom/20160809.htm
 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satyananda_Stokes