By Gurmukh Singh
Toronto– Even as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologised to the Sikh community in the House of Commons in Ottawa for the 1914 Komagata incident, Canadian Sikhs have demanded that the episode should be made part of school curricula across the country.
The Komagata Maru was a Japanese ship that was hired by Malaysia-based rich Sikh Baba Gurdit Singh to bring 376 Indians, mostly Sikhs, to Canada to challenge the racist laws of the time in 1914.
Since both India and Canada were British dominions at that time, the Indians should have had the right to enter Canada. But the Canadian government of that time put in place various clauses in laws to bar Indians from entering Canada.
The Komagata Maru, which entered Vancouver harbour on May 23, 1914, was forcibly sent back to India after two months. On reaching Budge Budge in Calcutta in September 1914, the passengers were subjected to firing by British Indian police in which 19 of them were killed.
In his apology in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Trudeau said: “Canada’s government was, without question, responsible for the laws that prevented these passengers from immigrating peacefully and securely. For that, and for every regrettable consequence that followed, we are sorry.”
“Today — while knowing that no words can fully erase the pain and suffering experienced by the passengers — I offer a sincere apology on behalf of the government for the laws in force at the time that allowed Canada to be indifferent to the plight of the passengers of the Komagata Maru.”
The Canadian prime minister said, “The Komagata Maru incident is a stain on Canada’s past. But the history of our country is one in which we constantly challenge ourselves, and each other, to extend our personal definitions of who is a Canadian. We have learned, and will continue to learn, from the mistakes of our past. We must make sure to never repeat them.”
Welcoming the apology, advocacy group World Sikh Organization demanded that a Komagata chapter be included in school curricula across Canada.
World Sikh Organization president Mukhbir Singh said: “Prime Minster Trudeau’s apology in the House of Commons today is a historic moment for Canadian Sikhs and recognizes the dark chapter the Komagata Maru tragedy marks in Canada’s history. While Canada is today a model of multiculturalism and inclusivity, it is important for us to understand that it was not always so.”
“We believe it is essential that the Komagata Maru incident, as well as the anti-immigrant sentiment that fuelled this incident, be made a part of our provincial education curricula. It is important that we as Canadians teach our youngsters to confront issues such as racism and xenophobia and learning about the Komagata Maru incident is an excellent opportunity to do so.”