Richmond, BC, Canada, June 13, 2007
This year marks the 93rd anniversary of a tragic
episode in Canadian history. On May 23,1914 a ship named Komagatamaru
carrying 376 passengers from India entered the Burrard Inlet.
The discriminatory and racist policies of the Canadian government
at that time disallowed the passengers to disembark. During the
following two months, these passengers were subjected to a lot
of humiliation, intimidation and other difficult conditions Khalsa
Diwan Society, Vancouver spearheaded a very strong campaign in
support of the passengers. In this process it spent considerable
resources –financial and otherwise – to convince Ottawa
to let these passengers stay. However, the government didn’t
budge. It allowed only 24 men to disembark. Consequently, after
spending two months in the Burrard inlet, the ship, with 352 passengers
on board, was forced to leave in the shadow of gunboats and warships.
Upon return to India, these people were treated like criminals
by the then British Indian government at that time. Some of them
even lost their lives immediately upon arrival at Budge Budge
Ghat near Calcuttta (Kolkatta), India.
For the past several years, the South Asian community here has
been urging the federal government to deal with this dark chapter
in Canada’s history as it has done with many other communities.
It is very encouraging to note that last year, the federal government
put in place a consultation process in order to listen to the
community on this matter.
Government representatives held extensive discussions with various
community groups, organizations and individuals. This consultation
also included two town hall meetings-one in Surrey and the other
Discussions within the South Asian community seem to indicate
three main points. First, Ottawa should acknowledge and render
an apology for the injustice that this community was subjected
to including the fate of Komagatamaru passengers. Second, there
should be a suitable living/working memorial with an educational
/research component built into it. Third, there should be recognition
of this historical injustice in the school curriculum.
For more than hundred years, the South Asian community has played
a vital role in the growth and development of Canada. Rather than
being bitter about the past injustice inflicted upon it, this
community has participated fully in every aspect of Canadian society
To-day’s Canada is much different than it was hundred years
ago. This nation is very well respected internationally for its
policy of inclusion and respect/appreciation of diversity.It is
true that the current government had nothing to do with what took
lace hundred years ago. However, it does have an obligation to
acknowledge the past injustice and ensure that something like
that will never happen again.
( This article was printed in The Vancouver Sun, a major mainstream
newspaper of British Columbia, on its editorial pages in its edition
dated June 12,2007)
(Balwant Sanghera is a retired School Psychologist, Community
Activist and recipient of the Order Of British Columbia. He can
be reached at: