This article is about the 1914 historical incident. For the fictional officer-training exercise, see .Sikhs aboard Komagata Maru in Vancouver's , 1914
The Komagata Maru incident involved the Japanese on which a group of citizens of the attempted to emigrate to Canada in 1914 but were denied entry and forced return to Calcutta (Present day Kolkata), India. There they were fired upon by British police resulting in the deaths of 20 Sikhs.
Komagata Maru sailed from , via Shanghai, , and , , to , British Columbia, Canada, in 1914, carrying 376 passengers from , . Of them, 24 were admitted to Canada, but the other 352 passengers were not allowed to disembark in Canada, and the ship was forced to return to India. The passengers comprised 340 , 24 Muslims, and 12 Hindus, all . This was one of several incidents in the early 20th century in which exclusion laws in Canada and the United States were used to exclude immigrants of Asian origin.
Immigration controls in Canada
Within the British Empire, the main class of people who were not British subjects were the rulers of native states formally under the protection of the British Crown, and their subjects. Many such smaller states, especially in India, were for most practical purposes administered by the imperial government, but sovereignty rested in their rulers and not in the British Crown, and all such persons were (and still are) considered to have been born outside the sovereignty and allegiance of the Crown, and are known as British Protected Persons.
The Canadian government's first attempt to restrict immigration from India was an passed on January 8, 1908, that prohibited immigration of persons who "in the opinion of the Minister of the Interior" did not "come from the country of their birth or citizenship by a continuous journey and or through tickets purchased before leaving their country of their birth or nationality". In practice this applied only to ships that began their voyage in India, as the great distance usually necessitated a stopover in Japan or Hawaii. These regulations came at a time when Canada was accepting huge numbers of immigrants, almost all of whom came from Europe. More than 400,000 arrived in 1913, an annual figure that has not been equaled since.
Gurdit Singh's initial idea“ The visions of men are widened by travel and contacts with citizens of a free country will infuse a spirit of independence and foster yearnings for freedom in the minds of the emasculated subjects of alien rule. ” — Gurdit Singh Portrait of Baba Gurdit Singh, Komagata Maru Memorial,
, from (not to be confused with Gurdit Singh Jawanda from , a 1906 Indo-Canadian immigration pioneer), was a fisherman who was aware that Canadian exclusion laws were preventing Punjabis from immigrating there. He wanted to circumvent these laws by hiring a boat to sail from to Vancouver. His aim was to help his compatriots whose previous journeys to Canada had been blocked.
Though Gurdit Singh was apparently aware of regulations when he chartered the ship Komagata Maru in January 1914, he continued with his enterprise to challenge the continuous journey regulation in the hopes of opening the door for immigration from India to Canada.
At the same time, in January 1914, he publicly espoused the cause while in Hong Kong. The Ghadar Party was an organization founded by Indian residents of the United States and Canada in June 1913 with the aim of liberating India from British rule. It was also known as the Hindi Association of the Pacific Coast.
The passengers consisted of 340 , 24 Muslims, and 12 Hindus, all . One of the Sikh passengers, Jagat Singh Thind, was the youngest brother of , an Indian-American Sikh writer and lecturer on "spiritual science" who was involved in an important legal battle over the rights of Indians to obtain U.S. citizenship ().
The Canadian Government made claims that amongst the passengers were a number of Indian nationalists intent on creating disorder (see , , and .) However this was a public relations cover for its real motive for turning back the ship – a dislike of and discrimination against Indian nationals due to their ethnicity.
Departure from Hong Kong
Hong Kong became the point of departure. The ship was scheduled to leave in March, but Singh was arrested for selling tickets for an illegal voyage. After several months he was released on bail and given permission by , the Governor of Hong Kong, to set sail. The ship departed on April 4 with 165 passengers. More passengers joined at Shanghai on April 8, and the ship arrived at Yokohama on April 14. It left Yokohama on May 3 with its complement of 376 passengers and sailed into , near Vancouver, on May 23. The revolutionaries and met with the ship en route. Bhagwaan Singh Giani was head priest of the in Vancouver and had been one of three delegates sent to London and India to represent the case of . literature was disseminated on board and political meetings took place on board. A passenger told a British officer:"This ship belongs to the whole of India, this is a symbol of the honour of India and if this was detained, there would be in the armies".
Arrival in VancouverKomagata Maru (furthest ship on the left) being escorted by and a swarm of small boats
When Maru arrived in Canadian waters, first at Coal Harbour in Burrard Inlet some 200 meters off CPR Pier A, it was not allowed to dock. The first immigration officer to meet the ship in Vancouver was . While decided what to do with the ship, the , , gave a categorical statement that the passengers would not be allowed to disembark. Conservative MP organized a public meeting against allowing the ship's passengers to disembark and urged the government to refuse to allow the ship to remain. Stevens worked with immigration official Malcolm R.J. Reid to keep the passengers off shore. Reid's intransigence, supported by Stevens, led to mistreatment of the passengers on the ship and prolonged its departure date, which was not resolved until the intervention of the federal Minister of Agriculture, , MP for .
Meanwhile, a "shore committee" had been formed with and . Protest meetings were held in Canada and the United States. At one, held in , Vancouver, the assembly resolved that if the passengers were not allowed off, Indo-Canadians should follow them back to India to start a rebellion or . A British government agent who infiltrated the meeting wired government officials in London and Ottawa to tell them that supporters of the were on the ship.
The shore committee raised ,000 as an installment for chartering the ship. They also launched a lawsuit under 's legal counsel on behalf of Munshi Singh, one of the passengers. On July 6, the full bench of the delivered a unanimous judgement that under new orders-in-council it had no authority to interfere with the decisions of the Department of Immigration and Colonization. Angry passengers relieved the Japanese captain of control of the ship, but the Canadian government ordered the harbour tug Sea Lion to push the ship out to sea. On July 19, the angry passengers mounted an attack. The next day the Vancouver newspaper reported: "Howling masses of Hindus showered policemen with lumps of coal and bricks ... it was like standing underneath a coal chute".
Departure from Vancouver
The government also mobilized , a ship under the command of Commander Hose, with troops from the , , and the . In the end, only twenty passengers were admitted to Canada, since the ship had violated the exclusion laws, the passengers did not have the required funds, and they had not sailed directly from India. The ship was turned around and forced to depart for Asia on July 23.
During the controversy, Punjabi residents of Canada had supplied information to , a British immigration official. Two of these informants were murdered in August 1914. Hopkinson was gunned down at the Vancouver courthouse while attending the Punjabi trials in October 1914.
Firing at harbour on return to India
Komagata Maru arrived in on September 27. Upon entry into the harbour, the ship was stopped by a British gunboat, and the passengers were placed under guard. The government of the British Raj saw the men on Komagata Maru not only as self-confessed lawbreakers, but also as dangerous political agitators. The British government suspected that white and South Asian radicals were using the incident to create rebellion among South Asians in the Pacific Northwest. When the ship docked at , the police went to arrest Baba Gurdit Singh and the twenty or so other men that they viewed as leaders. He resisted arrest, a friend of his assaulted a policeman, and a general riot ensued. Shots were fired and nineteen of the passengers were killed. Some escaped, but the remainder were arrested and imprisoned or sent to their villages and kept under village arrest for the duration of the First World War. This incident became known as the .
Ringleader Gurdit Singh Sandhu managed to escape and lived in hiding until 1922. urged him to give himself up as a "true patriot". When he did so he was imprisoned for five years.
The Komagata Maru incident was widely cited at the time by Indian groups to highlight discrepancies in Canadian immigration laws. Further, the inflamed passions in the wake of the incident were widely cultivated by the Indian revolutionary organisation, the , to rally support for its aims. In a number of meetings ranging from California in 1914 to the Indian diaspora, prominent Ghadarites including , , and used the incident as a rallying point to recruit members for the Ghadar movement, most notably in support of to coordinate a massive uprising in India. Their efforts failed due to lack of support from the general population.
In 1952 the Indian government set up a memorial to the Komagata Maru martyrs near the . It was inaugurated by Indian Prime Minister . The monument is locally known as the Punjabi Monument and is modelled as a (dagger) rising up toward the sky.
A tripartite agreement was signed between the Kolkata Port Trust, Union Ministry of Culture and the Komagata Maru Trust for the construction of a G + 2 building behind the existing memorial. The building will house an administrative office and library in the ground floor, a museum in the first floor and auditorium in the second. The total cost of the construction will amount to 24 million (INR).
In 2014 government of India issued two special coins, INR 5 and INR 100, to mark the centenary of the Komagata Maru incident.
A plaque commemorating the 75th anniversary of the departure of Komagata Maru was placed in the Sikh (temple) in Vancouver on July 23, 1989.
A plaque commemorating the 80th anniversary of the arrival of Komagata Maru was placed in the Vancouver harbour in 1994.
A monument in remembrance of the Komagata Maru incident was unveiled in July 23, 2012. It is located near the steps of the seawall that lead up to the Vancouver Convention Centre West Building in Coal Harbour.
A stamp commemorating the 100th anniversary of the arrival of Komagata Maru was released by on May 1, 2014.
The first phase of the Komagata Maru Museum was opened in June 2012 at the Ross Street Temple.
In response to calls for the government of Canada to address historic wrongs involving immigration and wartime measures, the Conservative government in 2006 created the community historical recognition program to provide grant and contribution funding for community projects linked to wartime measures and immigration restrictions and a national historical recognition program to fund federal initiatives, developed in partnership with various groups. The announcement was made on June 23, 2006, when Prime Minister apologized in the House of Commons for the .
On August 6, 2006, Prime Minister Harper made a speech at the Ghadri Babiyan da Mela (Festival of the ) in Surrey, B.C., where he stated that the government of Canada acknowledged the Komagata Maru incident and announced the government's commitment to "undertake consultations with the Indo-Canadian community on how best to recognize this sad moment in Canada's history". On April 3, 2008, , MP for , tabled motion 469 (M-469) in the House of Commons which read, "That, in the opinion of the House, the government should officially apologize to the Indo-Canadian community and to the individuals impacted in the 1914 Komagata Maru incident, in which passengers were prevented from landing in Canada." On May 10, 2008, , Secretary of State (Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity), announced the Indo-Canadian community would be able to apply for up to .5 million in grants and contributions funding to commemorate the Komagata Maru incident. Following further debate on May 15, 2008, Dhalla's motion was passed by the House of Commons.
On May 23, 2008, the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia unanimously passed a resolution "that this Legislature apologizes for the events of May 23, 1914, when 376 passengers of the Komagata Maru, stationed off Vancouver harbour, were denied entry by Canada. The House deeply regrets that the passengers, who sought refuge in our country and our province, were turned away without benefit of the fair and impartial treatment befitting a society where people of all cultures are welcomed and accepted."
On August 3, 2008, Harper appeared at the 13th annual Ghadri Babiyan Da Mela (festival) in Surrey, B.C., to issue an apology for the Komagata Maru incident. He said, in response to the House of Commons motion calling for an apology by the government, "On behalf of the government of Canada, I am officially conveying as prime minister that apology."
Some members of the Sikh community were unsatisfied with the apology because they expected it to be made in Parliament. Secretary of State Jason Kenney said: "The apology has been given and it won't be repeated".
The British Columbia Regiment (Duke of Connaught's Own), which was involved in the expulsion of the Komagata Maru, was commanded by a Sikh, , from 2011 until 2014. He later became Minister of National Defence.
On May 18, 2016, Prime Minister gave a formal "full apology" for the incident in the House of Commons.
The first Canadian play based on the incident is The Komagata Maru Incident, written by and presented in January 1976. It was presented again in 2017 by the , directed by Keira Loughran, starring .
The first Canadian novel based on the incident is Lions of the Sea, written by and published in 2001. In 2011 cited Lions of the Sea as one of the first fictionalized South Asian perspectives on the Komagata Maru in her philosophical dissertation presented to the University of Waterloo. Several friends of the author suggested the title of the novel for the Sikh Heritage Museum of Canada Komagata Maru exhibition in 2014 which was subsequently titled "Lions of the Sea: The National Komagata Maru Exhibition." Lions of the Sea is being adapted into a film.
wrote the play Komagata Maru based on the incident in 1984. In 1989, when Indo-Canadian community of British Columbia commemorated the 75th anniversary of the Komagata Maru, Sadhu Binning and Sukhwant Hundal wrote a play Samundari Sher Nal Takkar (The Battle with the Sealion) and co-edited and produced first issue of Punjabi literary magazine Watan on the Komagata Maru incident.
wrote A Letter To The Maru - 1914-1994. The letter was a fictionalized narrative utilizing both public record documentation and archival material; the piece ran in 1998 in an issue of Rungh Magazine.
In 2004, 's feature documentary Continuous Journey was released. This is the first in-depth film to examine the events surrounding the turning-away of the Komagata Maru. The primary source research done for the film led to the discovery of rare film footage of the ship in Vancouver harbour. Eight years in the making, Continuous Journey has won over ten awards, including the Most Innovative Canadian Documentary at DOXA, Vancouver 2005, and a Golden Conch at the Mumbai International Film Festival, 2006. Also in 2006, Kazimi assisted broadcaster in obtaining a piece of red cedar from Jack Uppal's Goldwood Industries, the first Sikh-owned timber mill in British Columbia, as a way of bringing the Komagata Maru story and the story of Sikhs in Canada into the project. Parts of this wood now serve as kerfing strips on either side of the end block in the interior of Voyageur, the guitar at the heart of the project.
The radio play Entry Denied, by the Indo-Canadian scriptwriter focuses on the incident.
In early 2006, , a film director, said she would produce a film about the incident titled . On October 9, 2008, it was announced that she had recast the lead role in favour of and with a budget of million.
In 2012, filmmaker Ali Kazimi's book Undesirables: White Canada and the Komagata Maru was published by Douglas & McIntyre.
In 2014, , written by Phinder Dulai, was published by Talon Books. The poetry book begins with a suite of poems that utilize archival records, public repositories, and online uploaded material never published before, including new photographs of the Komagata Maru from the Vancouver Public Library.
Library launched a website Komagata Maru: Continuing the Journey in 2012 funded by the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada under the auspices of the Community Historical Recognition Program (CHRP). This website contains information and documents related to the Komagata Maru incident and a timeline that unfolds the details and supports teaching, research and knowledge about the Komagata Maru for school-aged, post-secondary and general audiences.
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- SAT SRI AKAL CANADA
- Ferguson, Ted, "A White Man's Country" (Toronto: , 1975)
- Johnston, Hugh J.M., The Voyage of the Komagata Maru: the Sikh Challenge to Canada's Colour Bar. (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1979)
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- Kazimi, Ali (2011). Undesirables: White Canada and the Komagata Maru. Vancouver: D&M Publishers. .
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- Singh, Malwindarjit, and Singh, Harinder, War against King Emperor: Ghadr of 1914–15: A verdict by special tribunal (Ludhiana: Bhai Sahib Randhir Singh Trust, 2001)
- Somani, Alia Rehana. "" (PhD thesis) (). School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, University of Western Ontario, 2012.
- Ward, W. Peter, "The Komagata Maru Incident" in White Canada Forever: Popular Attitudes and Public Policy toward Orientals in British Columbia. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2d ed., 1990, pp. 79–93
- Waraich, Malwinderjit Singh (ed.), Sidhu, Gurdev Singh (ed.), Komagata Maru: A Challenge to Colonialism Key Documents (Unistar Books, 2005)
- Whitehead, Eric, Cyclone Taylor: A Hockey Legend (Toronto; Doubleday Canada, 1977), pp. 158 –163
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