When Vancouver city council unanimously passed a motion to formally apologize for the infamous Komagata Maru episode on June 10, some Indo Canadian politicians, ethnic media voices, and self-styled community gatekeepers were thrilled.
Before making any assumption that the entire South Asian population in Greater Vancouver is delighted, it is important to recognize that not everyone is impressed.
After all, the City of Vancouver has let down those who've been raising voices against India's highly discriminatory and divisive Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). It was passed by the right-wing Hindu nationalist government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The CAA is a poor copy of the Continuous Journey Regulation under which the Komagata Maru was forcibly returned to British-ruled India from Vancouver's harbour in July, 1914. The Japanese vessel with more than 350 South Asian passengers was stranded in Burrard Inlet for two months before being ordered out to sea.
This expulsion was a product of the Canadian government's racist policy to keep this country as “white man’s land” and discourage immigrants from India from settling permanently in B.C.
While Canada has repeatedly acknowledged its mistake, the Modi government has passed the CAA, which openly discriminates against Muslim refugees coming to India from the neighbouring countries.
The CAA only allows non-Muslim refugees from Muslim-dominated Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.
There have been angry protests against it in North America. That led Seattle city council to pass a motion against CAA.
However, a similar motion brought in Vancouver by Coun. Jean Swanson was withdrawn after a pushback from pro-India lobby groups. Even officials of Khalsa Diwan Society that runs the oldest Sikh temple in Vancouver—and which has a glorious history of defending the Komagata Maru passengers—shamelessly opposed the motion brought by Swanson.
It is pertinent to mention that the current leadership of the Khalsa Diwan Society is completely aligned with Modi and welcomed him with open arms when he came to Vancouver in 2015. This was despite the fact that Modi has a controversial past.
Thousands of Muslims were murdered under his watch in 2002. Modi, who was the chief minister of the western state of Gujarat back then, was denied a U.S. visa until he was elected as prime minister in 2014. Since then, attacks on religious minorities have grown at an alarming rate across India.
Even though Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party is known for its antiminority stance and aspires to turn India into a Hindu theocracy, the Khalsa Diwan Society did not find anything wrong in entertaining him.
This was the case even though the organization was established in 1906 by Indian revolutionaries to fight back against British occupation of their homeland and racism abroad to form an egalitarian and secular republic.
Ironically, the latest notion on the Komagata Maru was moved by none other than Swanson, who was left alone on the issue of CAA. Since she wasn’t getting enough support from others on the council, she decided to withdraw the earlier motion.
She was not the only city politician to face a backlash for taking a stance against what is happening in India. The City of New Westminster also came under fire from Modi supporters when a lone city councillor, Chuck Puchmayr, brought forth a motion against CAA on Mach 9. That motion is yet to pass. Voting has been delayed indefinitely due to public health emergency in the wake of COVID-19.
If the City of Vancouver and those who claim to be passionate about the history of Komagata Maru really care, they should show courage to stand up against tyrants like Modi. Their silence is only strengthening the hands of Modi as anti-CAA protestors continue to be arrested and harassed back in India.
It is always easy to talk about what happened in the distant past, but if you cannot challenge what is going wrong in the present, then there is no point in remembering our history when it's being repeated with impunity.
In the meantime, no thanks to the City of Vancouver for buckling under pressure of a bigot governing the world’s so-called largest democracy and trampling over the rights of minorities every day.