Gurpreet Singh: Komagata Maru II

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      While Indo Canadians continue to insist that the Canadian government officially apologize in Parliament for the Komagata Maru episode, recent violence and racist rants against domestic and foreign migrants in India reveals how bigotry has raised its ugly head in a country known for its diversity.

      The Canadian government forced the Komagata Maru ship—with more than 350 South Asians passengers aboard—to return to India in 1914 under the then-discriminatory continuous-journey law. It was aimed at preventing Indian immigrants from settling here permanently.

      Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized for this episode in 2008 in a Surrey park. However, community members are seeking a complete apology in the House of Commons.

      Even as the Komagata Maru apology remains an unfinished agenda for many South Asians, the systemic violence and discrimination against domestic and foreign migrants in culturally diverse Indian society is unacceptable.  

      Only recently, Sikh settlers in the Indian state of Gujarat were physically attacked by Gujarati chauvinists, who want them to abandon their land claims and go back to their native state of Punjab. These enterprising Sikh farmers were brought there years ago to make an otherwise barren land near the Indo-Pakistani international border fertile and productive. However, the Gujarat government now wants to get rid of these people—as a result of which the ruling Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party and the Sikh farmers are locked in a legal battle.

      Meanwhile back in Punjab, Sikh fanatics have strongly reacted to the government’s announcement of welfare schemes for migratory labourers coming to the state from faraway poor provinces like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The Dal Khalsa, in particular, accuses these migrants of crimes in the Sikh-dominated state of Punjab.

      This group has targeted migratory labourers in the past too. A few years ago, Dal Khalsa also attacked s former NDP MLA from Surrey, Jagrup Brar, for speaking up against their racist rants. The hypocritical supporters of Dal Khalsa in Canada also believe in such exclusionist policies while expecting special rights for themselves in this country.

      Similarly, the Maharashtra-based regional chauvinist groups, like Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Nav Nirman Sena, have repeatedly targeted migrants from Indian states such as Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

      The recent massacre of Hindi-speaking migrant labourers in Assam is equally disturbing. In 2012, Bangladeshi migrants were targeted by local tribal groups in the same state. 

      All this goes on in a country known as world’s largest secular democracy with a constitution that allows equal rights and freedom to everyone.

      But only a handful fanatical groups operating in different parts of India cannot be blamed. Mainstream political parties of India should take some blame. They have been excessively playing regional and religious cards and pitting one group against another to win elections by whipping up emotions.

      Linguistic politics has further fueled these tensions. Whereas, the ruling Congress government was responsible for engineering the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom following the assassination of the then-Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, the BJP government in Gujarat was directly involved in the anti-Muslim violence in 2002. Ironically, Congress is well-known for its secular credentials compared to the BJP, which advocates Hindu nationalism.

      Both parties increased their electoral representations in the aftermath of these massacres.

      A minister in Goa has described Nigerians coming to the state  as cancer. This follows a protest by Nigerians who were seeking action after the recent murder of their compatriot. The minister blamed Nigerians for drug trafficking and crime in the state; this has encouraged ordinary folks in Goa to boycott dealing with Nigerians.  

      Such political tendencies hold potential danger to the unity and integrity of the country. Often, Indian politicians blame Pakistan and other foreign forces for creating disturbances while the real danger to the unity of the country lies within.

      This is not to suggest that the Canadian political system is perfect. Systemic racism and discriminatory immigration policies in Canada also need to be questioned rather than just holding the country accountable for something that happened 100 years ago.

      Canada should look hard at itself over its treatment of the indigenous peoples and refugees coming to this part of the world even now. Just because the current government has apologized for the historical wrongs in the past does not exonerate it of any wrongdoings today. If our politicians continue to repeat those mistakes, what’s the point of apologizing for something that happened centuries ago?  

      Gurpreet Singh is a Georgia Straight contributor, and the host of a program on Radio India. He's working on a book tentatively titled Canada's 9/11: Lessons from the Air India BombingsHe has a Facebook page called We Are All Untouchables!!! 




      Nov 15, 2013 at 12:00am

      Why do you have to resort to lies to support your narrow minded hatred(along with your communist buddies and indian consulate handlers) for everything "khalsa". Dal Khalsa criticized special sops for migratory labourers that are not even available to poor labourers from Punjab how is that discriminatory? in fact the policy of denying the same benefits to poor labourers who originate from the state is discrimination. Are the so called pro labour communists now against Punjabi labour just because their indian handlers want them to support their "domination by ethnic subjugation" policies lifted straight out of communist china's treatment of Tibet.

      No more apologies

      Nov 15, 2013 at 2:52pm

      Canada was a British Colony during the time of the K Maru and therefore Britain should apologize. Not a single member of parliament and very few Canadian today were alive then and I doubt many would agree with the policy. Why try to humiliate Canadian people for something that not only happened nearly 100 years ago and wasn't the hardship voyage that we had been lead to believe? The voyage was meant to challenge the British Commonwealth laws. Indians today enjoy the same freedoms that all other Canadians enjoy and they don't seem to be suffering - not even remotely. Do the right thing and take care of the hatred in your own community and leave Canada alone.


      Nov 15, 2013 at 4:48pm

      "Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized for this episode in 2008 in a Surrey park. However, community members are seeking a complete apology in the House of Commons."

      And then......


      Nov 15, 2013 at 6:39pm

      Seriously, people are so upset with something that happened 100 years ago that they want an apology. No rational logic here. First, it happened 100 years ago. So it's not affecting anyone now - except those who want an apology. And secondly, what good is an apology - especially one that people "demand". Time to stop living in the past.


      Nov 16, 2013 at 10:48am

      The free men of Vancouver were wholly justified in enforcing their own customary immigration policy---if the City had not wanted it to happen, it would not have happened.

      Free people are always free to enforce their own immigration rules---nobody has a right to enter a city, except by license of its free people.


      Nov 17, 2013 at 12:53pm

      I have never understood the outrage around the facts of the Komagata Maru. Were the laws of the time racist? Absolutely. Do we have anything to do with the promulgation or enforcement of those laws? No. Perhaps there are some Romans who would like apologies from descendants of those who sacked Rome, or some Etruscans who have issues with Romans or Poles demanding apologies for the dismemberment of their country at various times in history.

      My family was dispossessed of land in France & England at different times in history. The case in England is actually rather interesting as my ancestor was somehow involved in the Gunpowder Plot and managed to avoid execution but forfeited family lands to the Crown. Perhaps I should petition the Queen for an apology....