Post the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s apology in the House of Commons in May 2016, for the tragic 1914 Komagata Maru incident; Canada has officially recognised its venue as a site of national historic significance.
Harjit Singh Sajjan, the Defence Minister of Canada, has recently inaugurated a commemorative plague at the venue of the Komagata Maru in Vancouver, in Canada. “On this day, 102 years ago, the Canadian Government shamefully turned away 376 immigrants because of their country of origin. Today, as a representative of the Canadian Government, I am honoured to stand with the South Asian community and recognize the Komagata Maru incident as an event of national historic significance which helped shaped the values – including multiculturalism – that have become a source of strength for our country today,’’ the Canadian defense Minister said at the inauguration of the plaque.
The Komagata Maru was a coal-transport steamship that had been converted into a passenger ship by Hong Kong-based businessman Gurdit Singh. This Japanese ship hired wealthy Sikh Gurdit Singh, a follower of the Ghadar Party, who wanted to bypass Canadian laws of immigration, to bring 376 people – mostly Punjabis – to Canada to challenge the racist laws of the time. The ship anchored in Vancouver in May 1914, but the passengers were not allowed to disembark. The passengers of the ship were not allowed to land when it anchored in Vancouver. The ship was made to return to India after two months and about 20 passengers were hacked to death by British Indian police when it reached Kolkata.
“The Komagata Maru tragedy, along with the laws in force at the time that allowed Canada to be indifferent to the plight of the ship’s passengers, signifies a moment of great importance in the history of immigration and race relations in Canada”, said a Canadian government statement. The statement also said the designation of the Komagata Maru incident site provides an opportunity for all Canadians to learn more about India’s varied history, rich diversity and the lessons we have learned.
Importantly, the descendants of the passengers have been asking for a formal apology from the Canadian Government for years. Presently, Canada’s Sikh population stands at a little under 500,000. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s apology and the official recognition of the Komagata Maru Venue as Site of National Historic Importance will surely heal the wounds of the Canadian Sikh community.