A century later, Komagata Maru incident haunts
WESTERN NATIONS must be hating it when emerging economies quote chapter and verse of the liberal democratic values they preach, especially when it comes to immigration.
At the idealistic level, they swear by fair and equal treatment to all races and peoples in distress. At the practical level, it means all kinds of people trying to make it to their shores, by hook, or crook or by Komagata Maru.
This was a Japanese ship that sailed from Hong Kong to Shanghai and then to Vancouver in 1914 carrying, among others, 376 passengers from Punjab, India. All but 20 were turned away.
Remember, Canada too was under British rule at the time and meetings had been held on board by the Ghadar Party, which vowed to oust the British from India. (Canada had, a year earlier, accepted four lakh migrants from Europe). When the ship returned, Ghadarites were arrested and many villagers kept under ‘village arrest’ for years.
The world might have forgotten but not the people of Punjab, not even today, a full century (minus two years) later. Carrying the hurt and humiliation of being considered less than white-skinned people, they are still crying foul.
A few years into the new millennium, they managed to place a plaque commemorating the 75th anniversary of the departure of the Komagata Maru in a Canadian gurudwara. Another plaque was put up at Vancouver harbour.
Komagata Maru was a Japanese ship that sailed to Vancouver from HK in 1914
In 2008, Ruby Dhalla, MP, asked the Canadian government to apologise for the incident, which it did. Later that year, the Canadian government announced that the Indo-Canadian community would be able to apply for $2.5 million to commemorate the event. Films and plays have been made on the subject. But that’s all sentiment. It has not been followed by the only concrete action Punjab’s Sikhs always aspire for — easier immigration to Canada.
Instead, the Canadian government announced on 27 February 2008 that all applications for immigration under ‘skilled workers’ filed before that date would be trashed. All hell broke loose in Punjab.
The ‘Canadian BackLoggers Pre-2008 Association’ was formed.
It was awkwardly phrased but determined in its mission. They have been holding processions and candle-lit marches.
Punjabis blame the Canadian govt for dashing their hopes and dreams
They are aggrieved that their hopes and dreams of making a new life in Canada have been shattered in an ‘inhuman’ manner — hopes that they nurtured for eight long years.
Their children are carrying posters that say, ‘Don’t Repeat Komagatu Maru’. ‘Don’t Stop Me to Live with my Grandparents.’
And this is how we all get a lesson in history and understand that there is a historical wrong that will be righted if more Punjabis are allowed to settle in Canada.
Since the media has not been highlighting their plight, they have pitched their campaign a bit higher, saying, “The Canadian Government is ready to perpetrate one more act of mass murder ‘the 21st century holocaust’ by dashing the hopes and eliminating the lives of a whole lot of 3,00,000 applicants and their families who have applied for permanent residence in Canada…”
Will someone listen before the hype hits the ceiling fan?
Or perhaps before the people from Punjab file a petition, as they have threatened to do, with United Nations Human Rights Council at Hague against the ‘infringement of their rights by such exploitation by the Canadian government’.