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Punjabi Language Education Association:

The Komagatamaru Tragedy


Richmond, BC, Canada, June 13, 2007
Balwant Sanghera

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 in Toronto.
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.

Balwant Sanghera

June 9,2007
( 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:





Balwant Sanghera
President, Punjabi Language Education Association . He is a retired School Psychologist and Community Activist in British Columbia ,Canada.