Komagata Maru— What is it & Why is it important to you?

Overview of the Komagata Maru Incident

Komagata Maru is a ship that carried the hopes of many immigrants who wanted to live in Canada. The passengers were mainly south Asian, among the group, many people contributed to the British empire through a series of battles and wars. They dreamed of a better life living in Canada. They thought they would be welcomed because Canada was also a British subject.  However, their dream did not come true because of racism and they were forced to sail back to India.This incident became a significant factor that influence Indians to unite and fight against British empire. In this post, I will explain in detail how the Komagata Maru incident happened and why it matters.


How Did It Happen? 

Background 

In 1908, the Canadian government passed the continuous passage act, which required every immigrant to have an uninterrupted journey from their origin of birth to Canada. This act is preventing immigrants from coming from Asia because they believed in white supremacy. In other words, they believed that Canada is a “white” country. To present their biased opinions formally to the British government, they decided to pass this law because they knew no ship can directly come to Canada from Asia and the Middle East. But after six years, Komagata Maru arrived at Vancouver’s harbour, challenging this unfair act.

(Immigration Act: Picture Source)

How Did the Journey Start

Baba Gurdit Singh, the leader of this journey, rented a coal-transport steam ship, also known as Komagata Maru. He persuaded hundreds of hopeful passengers to join his journey to immigrate to Canada. They sailed from Hong Kong and stopped at ShanHai, Moji and Yokohama before heading to Canada. More passengers join the journey looking for a better life when they stopped by. Most of the passengers were men and almost all of them were Punjabi. Although Gurdit Singh and the passengers were aware of the continuous passage act, he had reasons to believe they can immigrant to Canada because, in 1913, a BC lawyer successfully argued in the court against these provisions, which enhanced their faith. Baba Gurdic Singh decided to challenge the act by sailing to Canada because he hoped to open the door of imagination from India to Canada. He wanted to fight against the racist laws for South Asian people. With this hope, they sailed across the Pacific Ocean to Canada.

(Baba Gurdit Singh: Picture Source)

Arrival and Treatment 

On May 23, 1914,  the ship Komagata Maru along with its 376 passengers arrived at Vancouver’s harbour. But to their surprise, the immigration officer didn’t allow the ship to dock. Their entry was denied because they did not have an uninterrupted journey to Canada. The local South Asian community quickly organized, they formed the “Shore Committee”. They raised funds to hire a lawyer, J. Edward Bird, to speak for people on Komagata Maru. However, the condition on the ship was getting worst. The Canadian government ignored passengers’ requests for food and clean water. The Shore Committee donated some food and water to make their living possible, but it was far from enough. Although the Shore Committee had tried its best, the Canadian government refused to back down. The governemt continuously asked the Komagata Maru to sail back to India, as soon as possible. It was obvious that the chance to immigrate to Canada was low.

(Komagata Maru and Its Passengers: Pictures Source)

Retreat to India and the Consequences 

On July 23rd, exactly two months after its arrival, Komagata Maru and its passengers were forced to sail back to India. There were only seldom people who have previously lived in Canada were allowed in. When they sailed back to India, many British police officers were waiting for them. The British government viewed the Komagata Maru incident as a rebellion against the British government. The British police fired at the passengers, 20 people died and injured nine people. Many passengers who survived gun violence were arrested and imprisoned in, but some managed to flee away

Official Apology from the Canadian Government 

In 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered a formal, full apology at the House of Commons for the Komagata Maru incident. He apologized for the role the Canadian government played in the Komagata Maru incident. “Canada’s government was, without question, responsible for the laws that prevented these passengers immigrating peacefully and securely” The government finally apologized for the Komagata Maru incident, more than a century after the arrival of Komagata Maru

(Picture Source)

Why Does the Official Apology Matter?

Although the official apology from the Canadian government is late, but it was still important for South Asian community. Recognize the wrongdoing in past and adjust it for future is the reason why many people believe an official apology matters. A formal apology from the federal government will prevent negative effects from growing, such as white supremacy. 


Why Should We Remember the Komagata Maru Incident 

The Komagata Maru is relevant to us because it demonstrates the importance of equality. As a nation, understanding and remembering what happened in the past will help us  build a better future for the next generation. If everyone knows this story and understands its significance, we can prevent all forms of racism. As a immigrant, I can relate to this incident  and understand its significance. To this date, Canada have over eight million immigrants, roughly 21.5 percent of the total population. In fact, Canada have one of the immigrants highest rate per population among the world. But this can never happen without Komagata Maru and its 376 passengers. Racism and inequality that caused this incident should be remembered and never repeat it again. The story of Komagata Maru should be passed down to future generations and never be forgotten


References

Reflecting on the Komagata Maru Apology 

The racial legacy of Komagata Maru

CTV News— The Komagata Maru apology 


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