Vancouver, BC May 30, 2008
The federal government’s pledge to render an unconditional
apology to the South Asian community regarding the Komagatamaru
tragedy is commendable. It is a victory for the entire community.
A lot has been said and written about this dark chapter in Canadian
history. This development should put a closure to this painful
event for our community. On our part, we need to come together
as a unified community speaking with one voice.
All along, there have been three major demands by the community
to resolve the Komagatamaru tragedy. First, the federal government
must render an apology for this sad chapter. Second, there should
be a suitable memorial to commemorate the memory of this saga,
especially the passengers of the ill-fated ship. Third, there
should be an acknowledgement in school curriculum of the injustice
perpetrated on our community since its arrival here.
The first and one of the major steps is more or less out of
the way. The federal government should be formally apologizing
to our community any time now. To its credit, the provincial government
has already apologized in the British Columbia legislature on
May 23,2008, the 94th anniversary of this tragic event. Now, our
community needs to reach a consensus on the other two.
Incorporating this tragedy and the institutionalized racism
in Canada, at least for the first half of the twentieth century,
into the school curriculum needs working with individual provinces.
Since education is a provincial responsibility, it is the provinces
that will have to make a decision on this. With the kind of clout
our community has at both the federal and provincial levels, it
shouldn’t be much of a problem. To start it off, we might
have to concentrate in BC and Ontario which have fairly large
portion of the South Asian community. In order to get the ball
rolling, we need to bring to-gether a panel of educators and historians
in our community.
The demand for a suitable memorial in the memory of the Komagatamaru
passengers appears to be more complex. This can be done in a variety
of ways. Erecting a suitable memorial in the Stanley Park/Burrard
Inlet area is one. Already, the Air India memorial in the Stanley
Park, commemorating the memory of the victims of the 1985 tragedy
may be a good model in this regard. This is an extremely important
issue that needs a lot of debate/discussion and planning.
In this context, a number of prominent members of our community
have suggested the establishment of an endowment dedicated to
creating more awareness about human rights, racial discrimination
and social justice. However, in order to make it viable, our community
might have to urge Ottawa and Victoria to contribute substantially.
Also, it may require a considerable amount of money from the community
An endowment created for this purpose should have large enough
amount in it so that its interest alone should be ample to keep
it going. The interest from such an endowment should be able to
cover all of the expenses for offering financial incentives such
as scholarships, bursaries and grants for research. The projects
should center on the Indo-Canadian/South Asian issues. The Komagatamaru
tragedy should serve as the common focus of such an endowment
run by a non-profit organization. Our community has the resources
and the expertise to accomplish all of this. All it needs is the
will to do it.
(Balwant Sanghera is a retired School Psychologist and Community
Activist. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)