Demand for renaming a Vancouver street after Gurdit Singh gains momentum

Published: July 25, 2013
Gurdit Singh

Gurdit Singh and his son were among the passengers aboard the Komagata Maru that Canadian immigration officials wouldn’t allow into the country in 1914. PNG Archive

GURPREET SINGH
VANCOUVER DESI 

The demand for renaming a street in Vancouver after Gurdit Singh, who charted the Komagata Maru ship with 376 Indian migrants aboard to the city almost 100 years ago, is gaining momentum.

Gurdit Singh had defied the discriminatory continuous journey law that was used by the Canadian government back in 1914 to turn away the ship. He charted the Japanese Vessel to bring in East Indian immigrants to challenge the controversial law for which the Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper has already apologized in 2008. The ship was forced to return and except a few passengers most people aboard Komagata Maru were not allowed to disembark. The ship remained stranded in Burrad Inlet near Vancouver city for two months and returned on July 23, 1914. Incidentally, Gurdit Singh’s death anniversary falls on July 24. He passed away 40 years after the episode. As the city is gearing up for the centenary of the Komagata Maru incident next year, the demand for renaming a street after Gurdit Singh is gaining momentum.

The demand was first raised by the Georgia Straight Editor, Charlie Smith at a South Asian public event in Surrey last year. Smith believes that efforts have already begun to rename a street near the Ross Street Sikh temple in Vancouver. The area falls in the South Asian enclave of the city. The temple is governed by the Khalsa Diwan Society, the oldest Sikh body which had helped the Komagata Maru passengers during the deadlock.

But Smith wants a street in the downtown area that is closest to the Burrad Inlet to be picked for this purpose. “Gurdit Singh’s name should be known to the mainstream community even if it causes some technical inconvenience like the change of street address etc. ”

During an open line talk show on Radio India, most callers supported the demand. Jaswinder Singh Toor, who is the leader of the descendants of the Komagata Maru passengers, said that he completely supports the idea and hopes this will go long way in recognizing the role of Gurdit Singh as an act of resistance against racism. Ranjeet Singh Khalsa of the Banda Singh Bahadur Society said that his organization is willing to start a petition or correspondence in partnership with other religious organizations to convince the Vancouver City council.

Harbhajan Singh Gill of the Komagata Maru Foundation that organizes annual candle light vigil in memory of the ship passengers every year agrees. “It’s a great idea. We fully endorse this demand and are willing to press the City of Vancouver to meet this.” Gill is also instrumental in getting the consent for postal stamp dedicated to the ship passengers to be released next year.

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