Komagata Maru apology amid `Bole So Nihal’ slogans

May 24th, 2008 - 10:16 am ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By Gurmukh Singh
Vancouver, May 24 (IANS) Amid shouts of “Bole So Nihal”, Canada’s British Columbia provincial assembly in Victoria city formally apologised for the Komagata Maru tragedy involving immigrants from India 94 years ago. The Komagata Maru was a Japanese ship that was hired by a wealthy Sikh, Gurdit Singh (from Malay, now Malaysia), to bring 376 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 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 then Calcutta, 21 were killed by British Indian police and many hanged later.

On Friday, as about a hundred Indo-Canadian leaders and the South Asian media gathered in the assembly gallery to watch the proceedings, ruling Liberal Party House leader Mike de Jong introduced the motion offering an apology to the Indo-Canadian community.

“During the 70-minute debate, during which 18 legislators from the ruling Liberal party and the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) spoke about the racist treatment of Komagata passengers,” legislator Jagrup Brar told IANS on the phone from Victoria.

Immediately, the House leader introduced the apology motion, reading: “Be it resolved that this legislature apologizes for the events of May 23, 1914, when 376 passengers of the Komagata Maru, stationed off Vancouver harbour, were denied entry by Canada.

“The house deeply regrets that the passengers, who sought refuge in our country and our province, were turned away without benefit of the fair and impartial treatment befitting a society where people of all cultures are welcomed and accepted.”

Amid slogans of “Bole So Nihal”, the House took little time pass the motion unanimously, putting to rest the troubling issue.

De Jong looked up at the Indo-Canadians in the gallery and offered the government’s apology for the tragic event.

“It is a great day for us in Canada. A hundred years old historical wrong has been righted. I thank the Indo-Canadian organizations - the Khalsa Diwan Society, Professor Manmohan Singh Foundation and the Komagata Maru Heritage Foundation - which worked hard for justice,” said Brar, who was the first to introduce a motion early this month.

Another Indo-Canadian legislator, Raj Chouhan, said: “Finally, a bitter chapter in our history has been closed. Now we would like the Komagata Maru event to be included as a lesson in our textbooks.”

After the apology, both the ruling Liberal party and the opposition NDP gave a special treat to the Indo-Canadian guests who had come all the way from Vancouver and surrounding areas.

For the Indo-Canadians, the party have just begun as they wait for yet another more significant apology from the Canadian federal government very soon.

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