Gurpreet Singh: Bhai Mewa Singhji, we miss you—my letter to a martyr

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      It’s Tuesday January 11, 2022, 7:45 a.m. in Greater Vancouver.  

      It was at this time in 1915 when you kissed the gallows at New Westminster jail for assassinating a controversial Immigration Inspector, William C Hopkinson.  

      You laid down your life so that we could all live with dignity in this country. 

      Hopkinson’s death was the culmination of the racist policies of the Canadian establishment. He was, after all, a part of the machinery that was determined to discourage permanent settlement of our community elders in British Columbia. Not only there were attempts to relocate them to Honduras, they were not allowed to bring in their families here from India. So much so, they were disfranchised and not allowed to vote.

      This was clearly being done to keep Canada as a White man’s land. Moreover, Hopkinson was working here as a spy of the British Empire that governed India, forcing many like you to leave their homes and come to Canada for a better livelihood. He created a cell of sell-outs who were keeping an eye on activists like yourself, who were not only fighting against racism here but foreign occupation of your motherland. 

      The authorities passed the Continuous Journey Regulation under which the Komagata Maru ship, carrying more than 350 passengers from India, was forcibly returned in 1914. Even though Canadian politicians of all stripes continue to feel sorry for that incident, they have yet to come to terms with the circumstances that led you to end the life of Hopkinson.

      After all, it was he who had patronized a stooge within our community, who went on to kill two community leaders inside the gurdwara in Vancouver. He had been using such people to undermine your struggle for equal rights and social justice. It was he who precipitated this. If Canadians really mean what they say, they need to exonerate you.  

      So today, I just want to thank you for everything. If India is free from the  British rule that’s because of men like you. It’s your struggle that finally drove them out in 1947. Apart from that, whatever I have in Canada is also because of you.  

      I came to this part of the world as an immigrant in 2001 along with my wife and a two-and-a-half-year-old son. This was unthinkable when you moved to Canada. So your sacrifice paved the way for us. 

      My wife Rachna Singh, who currently sits in the B.C. legislature and is a parliamentary secretary for antiracism initiatives, is there because you stood up for our rights. In fact, all elected officials of the Indian origin should be grateful to you and your comrades.

      If you had not fought for the right to vote, we would not have had a power to elect, let alone a chance to get elected.  

      If we are having Punjabi-language radio and TV shows here in Canada, that’s too because of your efforts. But it’s a shame that on the centenary of your hanging in 2015, not more than a few dozen people in our community showed up for a vigil that was organized in your memory.

      Back in 1915, when you were being taken to the scaffold, close to 500 people gathered outside the jail. This was despite the fact that the community members did not have many means to travel like today or spread the word through social media.  

      I also would like to apologize to you on their behalf for both their ignorance and indifference.  

      We miss you today even more as the political situation continues to deteriorate with rising hatred and racism globally. White supremacists are getting organized and have become emboldened.  

      In the country of your birth, a right-wing Hindu nationalist government has passed a law similar to the one that resulted in the return of the Komagata Maru.

      The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is aimed to stop Muslim refugees from coming to India. So much so, members of the oldest Sikh body cofounded by you to fight back against racism have turned into apologists of the tyrants ruling New Delhi. They welcome them with open arms whenever they visit Vancouver and went a step further to defend CAA.

      Their role is no different than those agents of Hopkinson within the community. And yet, they claim to be your followers.

      What they are doing blatantly contradicts the spirit of resistance against repression that kept you going. The government of the day in India is represented by a group of politicians whose movement remained indifferent to the freedom movement decades ago. Their only aim is to turn India into a Hindu theocracy, as against the secular republic you and your associates had dreamed for.   

      I only hope from the younger generation that receive some education about you. All they need to know is what you died for and why and how that remains relevant today.  

      Rest in Power Bhai Sahib.