Society

The Komagata Maru Incident - A Shameful Moment in Canada's History

The Komagata Maru incident was a timely testament to Canada's discriminatory immigration guidelines of the time.

A Brief Overview

The Komagata Maru incident took place in 1914. Citizens from the former British Raj aboard a Japanese steamship were denied entry into Canada while attempting to illegally enter the country. The ship had sailed from Hong Kong with 376 passengers, only 24 of whom were allowed into Canada. The rest were sent back with the ship. The reason why this is described as a shameful moment is that only Sikhs, Muslims, and Hindus were turned away, all of whom were British subjects. The Canadian Government has since acknowledged, apologized, and initiated different programs as a sign of remorse.

What Happened During The Komagata Maru Incident?

The Komagata Maru departed from Hong Kong on April 4, 1914, initially with 165 passengers. More passengers were added at Shanghai and Yokohama. When the ship arrived at Coal Harbor in Vancouver, it was denied docking and the captain was ordered not to allow anybody to disembark from the ship. Canadian Authorities rejected any deliberations to allow the passengers to disembark or the ship to continue docking at the harbor. This led to violations of the passengers’ rights and prolonged the ship’s departure. A committee of activists of Indian origin protested and insisted that if the passengers were not allowed on Canadian soil, then Indo-Canadians would follow them back to India to start a rebellion against the British rule. The activists raised money to charter the Komagata Maru and filed a lawsuit on behalf of one of the passengers. The presiding judges threw out the case citing the independence of the Immigration Department.

The angry passengers staged a protest and took over the ship’s control as the Canadian government thereafter forcefully pushed the Maru out to sea. Passengers attacked the authorities and Canada responded by deploying the Navy. On July 23, 1914, the Maru was forced to sail back to Asia. On returning to India, the passengers were rounded up because intelligence had reached the British in India that they can stage a rebellion. Travelers who were perceived to be leaders were arrested and riots broke out; 19 of them were shot dead, some escaped and many were arrested.

Significance In History

The Indian government erected a monument to remember the martyrs of the Komagata Maru in 1952. Construction of a museum and library to remember the event is also underway in India and memories of the Komagata Maru were inscribed on Indian coins in the year 2014 to mark a century since the incident. In 1989 (75th anniversary), a commemoration of the event was unveiled at the Sikh Gurdwara temple in Vancouver. During the 80th anniversary commemoration in 1994, a sign of the Komagata Maru was placed at the Vancouver harbor. Another monument was erected in Coal harbor in the year 2012 while the Canadian Post unveiled the Maru’s stamp in 2014. Since 1976, Canadian and Indian groups have presented several plays of the incident. There are also novels, films and documentaries depicting the incident. The Canadian Immigration department has also funded the creation of a website fully dedicated to the Komagata Maru incident.

The Komagata Maru event was a manifestation of discrepancies of the Canadian Immigration policies at the time. The incident also led the Ghadar Party to seek international support and recruit new members and supporters. The group tried to create and uprising that would lead India to self-rule but did not succeed because many Indians did not support the campaign. The Canadian government led by the prime minister have since apologized for the incident and offered grants as a sign of their regret.

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