Canada has recognised Komagata heroes, not India: kin

By Gurmukh Singh, IANS,

Toronto : Canada has recognised the Komagata Maru chapter in India’s fight against imperialism, but Indian and Punjab governments have still shown no respect for these national heroes, says the granddaughter of Komagata leader Gurdit Singh.

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The Komagata Maru was a Japanese ship that was hired by a wealthy Sikh Gurdit Singh in Hong Kong to bring 376 Indians to Canada in 1914 to challenge its racist laws. But the Indians were not allowed to disembark in Vancouver and were forcibly sent back to their country.

Their leader Gurdit Singh, who could have gotten off the ship in Hong Kong to look after his business empire, chose to accompany them to Calcutta (now Kolkata) where 20 of them were shot dead on arrival by the police.

“My grandfather Gurdit Singh lost his business empire in Malaysia and Hong Kong to fight imperialism. He paid thousands of dollars to hire the Komagata ship to take Indians to Canada and challenge their racist laws,” his granddaughter Harbhajan Kaur told IANS.

Amritsar-based Kaur, who was in Canada last week to thank the government of British Columbia for apologising for the racist treatment of Komagata passengers in 1914, said: “How shameful that a foreign government has recognised the Komagata chapter, but our own government has ignored it.

“Over 90 years ago, my grandfather and hundreds of others staked their life and wealth to fight imperialist policies, but our leaders are blind to their supreme sacrifice.”

Only Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, knew about the Komagata Maru episode, she said.

“He helped my grandfather raise a gurdwara at Budge Budge in Kolkata where the ship anchored on return from Canada. The first prime minister also visited our village near Amritsar when my grandfather’s died in 1954. After him, the nation refused to even acknowledge the Komagata chapter.”

Emboldening by the Canadian recognition, 65-year-old Kaur said she would meet Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal to tell him about the step-motherly treatment given to the heroes in their own country.

“I am told the federal Canadian government is also apologising this summer. This should be an eye-opener for Indian leaders. If Canada can do it, why can’t India honour these heroes by raising a suitable memorial?” she asked.

“I feel that a fitting tribute to Komagata heroes, who fought for future generations, would be to help our new generation by opening a Canadian-affiliated institute in India so that students coming here can clear qualifying exams in India,” Kaur said.