Fewer Canadians back apology to Indians for Komagata Maru

June 9th, 2008 - 12:53 pm ICT by IANS  


Toronto, June 9 (IANS) As Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper gets ready to apologise to the country’s original inhabitants for the way they were mistreated in residential schools, an opinion poll shows a majority of Canadians favour rectifying past mistakes, except individual incidents like the Komagata Maru. The current Conservative party government, which has been saying sorry for historic wrongdoings, has already apologised to the Chinese Canadians for the so-called head tax imposed on them between 1885 and 1925 to deter immigration from China.

Later this summer, it will also submit an apology to the Indian community for sending back the Komagata Maru ship carrying 376 Indians back from Vancouver in 1914.

The Komagata Maru was a Japanese ship that was hired by a wealthy Sikh, Gurdit Singh (from Malaya, now Malaysia), to bring Indians to Vancouver from Hong Kong to challenge Canada’s racist ‘continuous journey’ policy of that time. Under that policy, only those immigrants could enter Canada who came directly from India without breaking their journey.

Since there were no direct shipping connections between India and Canada at that time, Indians could not enter Canada because they had to break their journey in Hong Kong to catch another ship. The Komagata Maru passengers were not allowed to land and forcibly sent back to India two months later. On their arrival in Calcutta (now Kolkata), 21 were killed by British Indian police and many hanged later.

This Wednesday, the government will be closing another bitter chapter when the prime minister says sorry in parliament for tearing children away from the families of the country’s original inhabitants and putting them in missionary-run residential schools.

Between 1870 and 1970, more than 150,000 of these children suffered physically, sexually and culturally in these government-funded, missionary-run schools as attempts were made to integrate them into the mainstream.

In the public poll conducted last week, about two-thirds of Canadians think it is the right thing for the government to come to terms with the dark chapters in their nation’s history.

But a third of them said there is no need for the current generations to say sorry for the misdeeds of the past generations.

Further, they were less inclined to favour an apology for individual incidents - such as the Komagata Maru episode. Only 52 percent favoured an apology for the Komagata Maru incident.

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