Komagata Maru descendants demand apology from Canada

Published: January 11, 2013


Crowded deck of the Komagata Maru in 1914. Submitted photo/Leonard Frank, Vancouver Public Library

After the Punjab government acknowledged the “unsung heroes” of Komagata Maru, Indo-Canadians are at a loss as to why Canada refuses to do the same.

Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal announced in Chandigarh, India Thursday that those involved in India’s freedom struggle, including martyrs of the 1872 Kuka movement, Komagata Muru in 1914 and 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre, will be recognized and their families likely compensated.

“Coming from the Punjab government … it’s great news,” said Surrey resident Jaswinder Singh Toor whose grandfather was one of hundreds of Indians aboard the Japanese chartered ship en route to Vancouver. “(But) financial (compensation) is not that important for us, what is more important is the recognition.”

“All we’re asking for is an apology in (Canadian) Parliament.”

Toor’s grandfather was hoping for a better education in Canada until the ship was turned away from the Burrard Inlet May 23, 1914 and forced back to Calcutta where British forces fired on them, killing 22 people.

“It was terrible unhealthy conditions (onboard),” Toor told Vancouver Desi. “And more than 20 were killed and the majority of them, including my grandfather were put in the jail and (forced to work) hard labour (for years).”

When finally released, his grandfather devoted the “rest of his life” to the freedom movement, but was forever tainted from the experience.

“At that time there was a lot of racism and the community felt unwelcome,” Toor said. “My uncle asked my grandfather to come and join him (in Canada in 1969), my grandfather refused – he said that once that country humiliated him and his fellow passengers that he does not feel like going back.”

Surrey MP Jasbir Sandhu has been fighting for nearly 20 years for recognition in the House of Commons.

Sandhu labeled Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s apology to the Surrey community at a festival in Bear Creek Park in 2008 as “fake” and “clearly rejected by the community.”

Monument to the Komagata Maru was unveiled along the seawall near Convention Centre West in Vancouver, B.C., on July 23, 2012. Steve Bosch/PNG

“If he can (apologize) in a park well why not in the House of Commons?” asked Sandhu. “The community has signed a number of petitions over the years asking the federal government to officially and respectfully close this chapter so the healing process can begin of this terrible dark chapter in our history.”

“We need to recognize our past wrongs … this is about doing the right thing.”

Toor believes the South Asian community deserves an apology in the same way it was given to First Nations for residential schools and the Chinese community for the Chinese Head Tax.

“There’s more meaning for us in an apology in the House of Commons,” said Toor. “It is on record … it’s more coming from the heart.”

Not only would it recognize “the struggle and the pain,” but it would also serve as a lesson for the younger generations.

“They will be proud of their elders and their culture and how hard their fathers or grandfathers or great grandfathers had to fight for their rights,” he said.


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