Komagata Maru: The tale behind the apology

Komagata Maru: The tale behind the apology


By Rod Mickleburgh

At extensive last, a formal apology has been delivered in the Dwelling of Commons for Canada’s racist behaviour in its shameful therapy of Sikh passengers aboard the Komagata Maru, who experienced the effrontery to look for immigration to the West Coast additional than a hundred yrs back. Not only ended up they denied entry, they ended up subjected to two months of exceptionally inhumane procedure by unflinching immigration officers. While quite a few now know the basics of the unwell-fated voyage, the tale has quite a few features that are considerably less effectively acknowledged. I am indebted in composing about it to Hugh Johnston and his definitive book, The Voyage of the Komagata Maru.

Just days prior to the outbreak of World War Just one, the most direct challenge to Canada’s racist, anti-Asian immigration insurance policies was about to come to a potentially bloody stop in the waters of Burrard Inlet. Countless numbers of Vancouverites lined the waterfront to enjoy, while dozens of modest boats bobbed about offshore for a ringside look at. All eyes targeted on the Komagata Maru, an ungainly Japanese service provider ship carrying additional than 350 hungry and more and more desperate immigrant hopefuls from India, and the HMCS Rainbow, the only seaworthy vessel in the Canadian Navy.

The cruiser had been dispatched soon after the predominantly Sikh travellers resisted a deportation purchase by bombarding law enforcement trying to board their ship with rocks, bricks and other debris. As the Rainbow skilled its guns on the Komagata Maru, all those on board bolstered their spirits with patriotic war tracks from their Punjabi homeland and prepared for more battle. They vowed to fight to the finish. The existence of 200 armed militia gathered on the pier and 35 riflemen aboard a nearby police tug added to the stress.

By then a familiar sight to Vancouverites, the Komagata Maru had been marooned in the harbour for two months by a awful, tricky-boiled immigration agent, Malcolm Reid. An implicit believer in a “white Canada,” Reid took the law into his have palms to assure not a one immigrant designed it to shore. In this, he was actively assisted by community Conservative MP and white supremacist, Henry Herbert Stevens. Now, Reid had a deportation purchase to pressure the ship back again to Asia. Except those people on board were not organized to leave. The looming showdown and likely of armed conflict so close to shore was a magnet for the people of Vancouver. As chronicler Hugh Johnston set it: “The metropolis had taken the day off to see the display.”


The saga of the Komagata Maru was but another dark chapter in Canada’s racist past. A sophisticated tale, with a lot of twists and turns, several agendas and bitter factionalism, the simple situation was however simple. Between a sequence of race-based guidelines to curtail Asian immigration, Canada imposed its harshest restrictions on persons from India. Orders-in-council in 1908 brought a complete halt to an immigration flow that experienced viewed 2,500 Indians appear to B.C. in much less than five a long time. Nevertheless newspapers universally labelled them “Hindus,” virtually all have been Sikhs from rural Punjab. They proved challenging, ready personnel, getting positions generally in logging and sawmills. At the exact time, they endured the same prejudice, harassment and white hysteria as immigrants from China and Japan.

Compared with the Chinese and Japanese, however, who mostly experienced in silence, these from India loudly protested the government’s immigration constraints.

Arguing they had the identical rights as all British subjects, they fought various and often thriving battles in the courts. In 1914, they took the government head on with the arrival of the Komagata Maru. Arranged by Gurdit Singh, an extremely-assured Sikh businessman, the ship and its travellers defied the government’s ordinance that barred Indian immigrants from landing in Canada except they came on a direct journey from India. No such passage existed. Singh boldly picked up travellers in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Yokohama, just before heading to to Vancouver. His aim was to exam the ban in court docket, self-assured their rights as British topics would be upheld.

When the ship arrived on Might 23, even so, Reid refused to make it possible for it to dock. He, much too, had a goal: force the Komagata Maru again to Asia, if he could, with out a court listening to. To that stop, he kept the passengers imprisoned, their ship circled working day and night time by armed patrol launches. Disregarding guidance from faraway superiors in Ottawa, he stretched usually swift strategies into weeks. And periodically, he slash off food items and water deliveries to the ship. At a single position, passengers were so thirsty that some licked drinking water off the deck when a small total spilled from a barrel.


Their battle was taken up by Sikhs on shore, who supplied extraordinary assistance for those on board. The Sikhs’ established Shore Committee raised 1000’s of pounds from their relatively small local community to shell out for lawyers, ship provides and charges of the constitution, alone. They held up a barrage of tension, until finally at very last Ottawa over-dominated the obstreperous Reid and agreed to submit the subject to the B.C. Court docket of Charm. With very little approaching a Constitution of Rights and Flexibility, nonetheless, the 5 judges dominated unanimously that the ship’s travellers ought to be deported. Worn out by their numerous irritating weeks at sea, these on board recognized the verdict.

Nevertheless Reid, sensing Indian plots all over the place, ongoing to harass them, purchasing the ship to go away without having provisions and demanding its substantial constitution expenditures be paid initial. The vessel remained at anchor, prompting Reid to cut off foods and water for three more days. When he foolhardily arrived on board, the travellers threatened to preserve him there. A tall, dignified Sikh told Reid: “If you had been starving for 3 or 4 hrs, you would soon get motion to get one thing for on your own, but we have had absolutely nothing for a few days. Now you are listed here, we would like to hold you until eventually we get provisions and water.” The motion worked, and provides quickly appeared. The travellers fought back again all over again, when law enforcement subsequently tried out to board the ship to ship it on its way, nonetheless with no suitable food stuff. That fight introduced in the navy, and that brought thousands of fired up onlookers to the docks.

The hours ticked by. On the HMCS Rainbow, Commander Walter Hose warned authorities there could be heavy loss of lifestyle, if he have been purchased to storm the Komagata Maru. At last, considerably to the disappointment of the looking at crowd and Malcolm Reid, the federal federal government blinked. They agreed to thoroughly stock the ship for its return journey. At 5 a.m. the upcoming morning, two months to the working day of its arrival, the Komagata Maru weighed anchor and headed back to Asia. Racism had triumphed.

Tragically, this was not the end of the story. When the ship achieved India, British authorities tried using to power passengers immediately again to the Punjab. When some resisted, imperial forces opened fireplace, killing 20 of them at an obscure railway depot named Budge Budge.


And again in Vancouver, bitterness erupted about the job of local community informers employed by Reid to continue to keep tabs on the circumstance. Two informers ended up fatally shot. Shortly afterwards, Reid’s chief Sikh informant opened fire himself at the funeral of one of the victims, killing two worshipers. When Immigration Inspector William Hopkinson, who headed surveillance activities for Reid, showed up at the courthouse, neighborhood Sikh Mewa Singh took out a .32 calibre revolver and shot him dead. Ahead of staying hung for Hopkinson’s murder, Singh said he acted to uphold the concepts and honour of his religion.

To this day, Singh is acknowledged as a martyr by lots of in the Sikh group.


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