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Komagatamaru apology

Vancouver, BC May 30, 2008
Balwant Sanghera

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 itself.

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
(Balwant Sanghera is a retired School Psychologist and Community Activist. He can be reached at:







Balwant Sanghera




Komagata Maru