Gurpreet Singh: Komagata Maru–related murder trial will be revisited a century later at Vancouver Art Gallery
"Mewa Singh’s legacy in the contemporary world is relevant now more than ever." That’s according to Paneet Singh, writer and director of upcoming play The Undocumented Trial of William C. Hopkinson.
The play will be performed six times between January 8 and January 11. The final performance will occur on the same day that Mewa Singh, a radical South Asian activist, was hanged in 1915. It came after he was convicted of assassinating Hopkinson, a controversial Immigration inspector.
For Paneet Singh, what Mewa Singh did was an act of resistance, and it needs to be recognized that systemic racism against people of colour still continues.
"There is rhetoric surrounding immigration that hauntingly echoes kind of rhetoric we heard a hundred years ago, maybe not in the same words but in the same sentiments under the guise of economy, social norms, and security," Paneet Singh said.
Hopkinson’s murder followed the infamous Komagata Maru episode. The Japanese vessel carrying more than 350 South Asian passengers was forced to leave Vancouver's harbour and return to British-ruled India on July 23, 1914, under the then discriminatory continuous-journey law. Former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper publicly apologized for that incident in 2008.
The forced departure of the Komagata Maru stirred a bloody fight within the local Sikh community, which was divided in two different camps. One was led by Bela Singh, Hopkinson’s mole, and the other was led by political activists fighting against racism and British occupation of India.
Hopkinson was keeping an eye on their activities through Bela Singh, who was responsible for shootings inside the Vancouver Sikh temple that killed two community leaders.
Enraged by this sacrilegious act, Mewa Singh murdered Hopkinson on October 21, 1914 at the provincial courthouse, which was then on West Georgia Street. It's now the Vancouver Art Gallery building.
Paneet Singh showed the Straight the exact spot where Hopkinson was murdered inside the art gallery. This is the first time that a play depicting Mewa Singh and Hopkinson will be performed at the site of the real incident that occurred a century ago.
Paneet Singh does not agree that the drama is a mock trial of Hopkinson.
"The play isn’t so much about verdict, of guilty or not guilty," he said. "It’s about examining each person’s story, where they came from, what affected them to do what they do, and what the environment was like in post turn-of-the-century Canada. It’s not just putting someone on trial. It’s about the examination of human nature."