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On May 23, 1914, 376 British Subjects (12 Hindus, 24 Muslims and 340 Sikhs) of Indian origin arrived in Vancouver harbour aboard the Komagata Maru, seeking to enter Canada. 352 of the passengers were denied entry and forced to depart on July 23, 1914. This plaque commemorates the 75th anniversary of that unfortunate incident of racial discrimination and reminds Canadians of our commitment to an open society in which mutual respect and understanding are honoured, differences are respected, and traditions are cherished.--Plaque at the Gateway to the Pacific, Downtown Vancouver.
Komagata Maru Incident 75th Anniversary. Dedicated to the memory of the 376 passengers (340 Sikhs, 24 Muslims, 12 Hindus) who arrived at Burrard Inlet, Vancouver on May 23, 1914, from the Indian sub-continent on the ship Komagata Maru (Guru Nanak Jahaz). Due to the racist immigration policy of the Dominion of Canada, they were forced to leave on July 23, 1914. Khalsa Diwan Society, Vancouver, pays respect to those passengers by commemorating the resprehensible incident. Plaque in the Vancouver Gurdwara dedicated July 23, 1989.
|In the year 1900 the census reported 2050 people from India on the
North American continent. The majority of these people were Punjabis who had
settled in Canada. They had come with the hope of finding work so that they
could improve their economic situation from what it had been in the Punjab.
Upon arrival in Canada they encountered numerous hardships and
discrimination. Canadians wanted the "brown invasion" to stop. They felt
that the growing number of Indians would take over their jobs in factories,
mills and lumber yards.
It was these insecurities which led British Columbia to pass stringent laws discouraging the immigration of Indians to Canada. Indians had to have at least $200 on their person to enter British Columbia and had to have come via direct passage from India. These were very unreasonable laws as the average Indian only earned about ten cents a day. The Canadian government was also pressuring steamship companies to stop selling tickets to Indians. In 1907 a bill was passed denying all Indians the right to vote. They were prohibited to run for public office, serve on juries, and were not permitted to become accountants, lawyers or pharmacists. All this was done to stop the "brown Invasion." On the other hand Japanese and Chinese were immigrating in unlimited numbers.
In 1914 the Komagata Maru was an outright challenge to these exclusionist laws. The Komagata Maru was a Japanese steamliner chartered by an affluent businessman, Gurdit Singh, to bring Indian immigrants to Canada. The ship's route departed from Hong Kong, stopped in Japan and then headed to Canada. Its passengers included 376 Indians, all Punjabis, among whom 340 were Sikhs, 12 Hindus, and 24 Muslims. The ship was eventually turned back at Vancouver where landing was refused, and terminated eventually at Calcutta.
"Bhai Gurdit Singh, Bhai Daljit Singh and his friend Bhai Vir Singh from Ferozepur were staying in the Sikh Temple of Hong Kong in 1914. The story of Chief Justice Hunter's judgment in Victoria, B.C., about the release of 39 Asian Indians was on everybody's lips. The emigrants were overjoyed. Bhai Daljit Singh began selling tickets for departures to Canada. However, the British Government of Hong Kong was watching the activities of Bhai Gurdit Singh because the charter of Komagata Maru was in his name. Two days before the ship was to sail, Bhai Gurdit Singh was arrested by Hong Kong police on the charge of illegally selling tickets for an illegal voyage and the ship placed under police guard. The Sikh Police of Hong Kong were often used to terrorize prospective emigrants.
The news of its departure reached the British Columbia authorities. Their instant reaction was that "Hindus would never be allowed to land in Canada." The Indians who had already settled in Canada had also started to prepare for the arrival of the Komagata Maru. Meetings were held in the Gurdwaras concerning what actions to take. Money and provisions were collected to help the passengers upon their arrival in Vancouver. The entire Indian community in Canada united to fight the opposition.
On May 23, 1914, the Komagata Maru reached Vancouver and anchored near Burrard Inlet. Both the Indians and the Canadian authorities had been waiting for it. The Canadians wanted to send the ship back to where it had originated. The Indians on the other side had lawyers, money and other provisions ready to help the passengers. The Canadian authorities did not let the passengers leave the boat claiming they had violated the exclusionist laws. The claim was that the ship had not arrived via direct passage and most passengers did not have the $200 that would have qualified them to enter British Columbia. For two months the passengers of the Komagata Maru, the Indians in British Columbia, and the authorities of British Columbia were involved in a heated legal battle. At the end of the two months only 24 passengers were given permission to legally stay in Canada. On July 23, 1914 the Komagata Maru was forced to leave Victoria harbor and return to Hong Kong. (See Johnston in the reading list)
The Return and the Budge-Budge Riot
Returned Passengers from Vancouver aboard the Komagata Maru in
The Komagata Maru approached Calcutta on September 26, 1914. As it approached Calcutta, a European gunboat signaled the ship to stop. The ship was put under guard and the passengers were held as prisoners. Then the Komagata Maru was taken to a place called Budge Budge, about seventeen miles away from its original destination of Calcutta. These new developments took the passengers of the ship by surprise. After two months of litigation in Canada they were not interested in any new developments of this kind. Upon inquiry by Baba Gurdit Singh as to the change of their course, an official informed him that the passengers were being sent to Punjab via a special train. Many of the passengers did not want to go to Punjab. They had business to attend to in Calcutta, some wished to look for work there, and most importantly, the passengers wanted to place the Guru Granth Sahib, which they had taken with them on their journey, in a Calcutta Gurdwara.
The British officials did not care what the passengers wanted. They were going to be put on a train to Punjab and that would be the end of it. But the passengers were adamant on going to Calcutta. They were the rightful owners of the ship and the British officials had no reason to keep them on the ship or send them to Punjab. They felt that some action had to be taken, so they decided to march to Calcutta.
Their main purpose on reaching Calcutta was to hand over the holy Guru Granth Sahib and to see the governor. The journey was long and after numerous threats by the police, they were left with no choice but to head back to Budge Budge. At Budge Budge, they were ordered to board the ship once again. The passengers, led by Baba Gurdit Singh, refused. A policeman attacked Baba Gurdit Singh with his baton but was stopped by a fellow passenger. It was at this point that firing started. Baba Gurdit Singh was carried to safety. But not all passengers were to be so fortunate. Twenty-nine fell victim to the bullets of British officials and 20 died. Here was another senseless massacre of innocent Indians at the hands of the British. The was the tragic end of the passengers of the Komagata Maru.See Kesar Singh,Canadian Sikhs
Incident at Budge Budge Harbor, near Calcutta. ( Source: T.S.Sibia sikhpioneers.org )
World War I
The Komagata Maru returned to India's waters on September 26, 1914, leaving behind only twenty-four passengers who could prove residence in Canada. The repercussions of the Government's actions - the Budge Budge riot. The radicalization of those abroad, the vigilante action against informers, the murder of Hopkinson, the execution of Mewa Singh, were overshadowed by the outbreak of World War I, in August 1914.
article by Hugh
Johnston, "The Komagata Maru Incident".
Canadian Sikhs (1989), p. 129.
KOMAGATA MARU-BABA GURDIT SING
1914, Baba Gurdit
Singh, who led a shipload of Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims to
late Baba Gurdit Singh, his colleagues and the ship have become an integral
part of the history of
A famous filmmaker recently announced a film, "Exclusion," on the Komagata Maru episode and she has decided to engage superstar Amitabh Bachchan to play the role of Baba Gurdit Singh.
And the painting has been done by one of the greatest Punjabi artists, Jarnail Singh, who has settled in Surrey after leaving Chandigarh six years ago.Jarnail Singh is a son of late Kirpal Singh, a famed founder artist of the Central Sikh Museum Sri Darbar Sahib, Amritsar. Kirpal Singh has a unique place in the Sikh history as a painter of Anglo-Sikh Wars and other important episodes.
Jarnail Singh, who
has captured the soul and beauty of the Punjabis and their culture in a most
authentic manner, is on the Board of Directors of the Arts Council of
Surrey. He is also a member of the Public Art Advisory Committee there. His
works have been recognised by Canadians in a big way. He grew under the
shadows of his father, but inspiration to paint the Punjabi culture came
from late M.S.Randhawa, a patron of Punjabi art and culture. influenced me
to paint various lakes near
1. Vig, M.
2. Johnston, Hugh J.M.
3. Johnston, H.
4. Singh, Kesar.
5. Ward, W. Peter.
6. Canadian Historical Association
7. Srikanth, Rajini.
8. Josh, Sohan Singh.
Dramatizations and Novels Based on the Komagata Maru Incident
1. Singh, Kesar. Komagata Maru. Patiala: Punjabi Pabalikeshana, 1993 novel(in Punjabi).
2. Singh, Harcharn. Komagata Maru: kaumi dukhanta. Candigarh: Raghabira Racana Prakashana, 1985 Play (in Punjabi).
3. Pollock, Sharon. "The Komagata Maru Incident, a Play" in Six Canadian Plays (first edition) ed. Tony Hamill, Playwrights Canada Press, Toronto 1992, pp. 229-286.
4. Vidyarthi, Ram Sharan. Komagata Maru ki samudra yatra [1. Samskarana] Mirajapura [Utter Pradesh] Krantikari Prakasana  (in Hindi).
The 93rd anniversary of the arrival of Komagata Maru ship to the Canadian shores acquires a special significance. It coincides with the acquisition by Komagata Maru Heritage Foundation, after prolonged negotiations, the all-too-famous boat
Built in 1905, Sea Lion was the tug boat commissioned by the Canadian government and boarded by Immigration officers and police to force Komagata Maru and its 376 passengers out of Canadian waters. Faced with a barrage of coal and stones, and beaten back with sticks, the boat had to make a hasty retreat.
since then, has gone through many transformations. Today it is like a luxury
yacht and has been acquired at the cost of $752,000.00 by
Heritage Foundation, to be turned into a permanent memorial to preserve the
history of the South Asian community in
The 93rd anniversary is also significant because it comes at a time when the diverse components of the South Asian people living in the Lower Mainland of Canada have been attempting to come together, as one collective voice, to claim the shared heritage of the Komagata Maru episode. "It does not matter which part of the world we come from, what language we speak, what religious faith we subscribe to, if our roots go back to the South Asian Sub-continent, Komagata Maru becomes an important milestone for our South Asian identity in Canada. We are all descendants of the sacrifices made by the Komagata Maru passengers, said Hari Sharma, president of SANSAD.
was held with a gathering of all South Asian societies at
Bear Creak Park
Additional information from Vancouver Archives
THe History of Metropolitan Vancouver
Contact T.S. Sibia