Komagata Maru Incident: Every Indian Should Know About Especially Punjabis

On 18th May 2016 at 3:15 p.m. ET Wednesday afternoon, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rose in the House of Commons and apologized for an incident that occurred just over a century ago in Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet. The name Komagata Maru Incident means a lot to Indians. The incident happened on a crowded ship in 1914, which later became a symbol of an entire period of Canadian history. A History characterized by ethnocentrism, racism, and exclusionary immigration policies. In Komagata Maru Incident more than 350 people were denied entry to Canada and sent back across the Pacific Ocean. As they weren’t of the right color or religion. Here’s the detailed information Komagata Maru Incident:

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Komagata maru incident

What is the Komagata Maru Incident?

Komagata Maru was a coal-transport steamship that was converted into a passenger ship by Hong Kong-based businessman Baba Gurdit Singh. The Ship set off from Hong Kong in April 1914 and reached Vancouver’s harbor a month later with 376 people on board. Most of the onboard passengers were Sikhs along with some Hindus and Muslims.  Of 376, 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. This was one of the 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.

Komagata Maru Incident

Gurdit Singh Sandhu, who was a Singaporean fisherman 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 Calcutta to Vancouver. His aim was to help his compatriots whose previous journeys to Canada had been blocked.

Why were the Indians involved in Kamagata Maru Incident sent back?

The Komagata Maru Incident was an example of Canada’s increasingly strict immigration policies. Among the most awkward requirements for new arrivals was the Continuous Passage regulation, instituted by the Canadian government in 1908. It stated that immigrants must “come from the country of their birth, or citizenship, by a continuous journey”. Using tickets “purchased before leaving the country of their birth or citizenship.” That means if you were born in India, went to China, and then continued on to Canada, you are illegal.

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The troubles were, no steamships traveled directly between Calcutta and Vancouver and an Indian national had to have $200 in their pockets in order to be welcomed into Canada. The policies were specifically designed to curb the flow of Indian immigrants in the early 20th century, who were coming to Canada seeking work. The Kamagata Maru Incident victims weren’t the only people who faced this problem to get there. A few years before, a $500 entry tax for all Chinese immigrants was put in place, which is what led companies short on laborers to turn to India in the first place.

Baba Gurdit Singh knew about these preferences and policies of Canadian Government but argued that the passengers on the Komagata Maru are British subjects. They should be allowed to move to another Commonwealth nation like Canada freely. Canadian officials disagreed, and the ship was sent back by the authorities. Just 20 returning Canadian residents, plus the Komagata Maru’s doctor and his family, were allowed to get off the ship.

What happened to passengers who were sent back during Kamagata Maru Incident?

After a two-month standoff in the waters in Vancouver, the ship was escorted back out to sea by the Canadian military. During the span of 2 months, it sat in the harbor. The Komagata Maru Incident became something of a media sensation and drew plenty of attention from the public. The steamship eventually ended up back to India, where 19 of the passengers were killed by gunfire upon getting off. Others were imprisoned. Descendants of the passengers have been asking for a formal apology from Ottawa for years and finally, on 18th May 2016, they made it happen.

What was stated in the apology of Kamagata Maru Incident?

Komagata Maru Incident

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made an apology on 18th May 2016. Eight years after the provincial government in British Columbia offered a similar mea culpa. The apology was rejected by the Prof. Mohan Singh Memorial Foundation, which was at the forefront of the requests for a formal apology.

The prime minister acknowledged that the ship was turned away because of clearly discriminatory policies. He stated “As a nation, we should never forget the prejudice suffered by the Sikh community at the hands of the Canadian government of the day,” he said, “We should not and we will not.” Do share this article with your friends and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram & YouTube.

Joyous Sidhu

Joyous Sidhu is one of the pioneer members to start Punjabi Droll. In terms of education, he holds a degree of Bachelors in Science from Punjabi University. Joyous is also a tech lover, actor and above all, he is a fitness freak, you will find him in the gym most of the times.

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