The Komagata Maru Tragedy 1914

From 1900 onwards there was continuous flow of Sikhs from India to Canada and US. The circumstances were not in favor of Indian / Sikh immigrants and they were subject to all kinds of racial / political / procedural discriminations. One of the main incidence was Komagata Maru Incidence, which was one of the first Indian challenge to colonist British beyond the pacific Coast.

Gurdit Singh, a Sikh from a small village in Punjab was a son of a small time farmer near Amritsar. The farmers were struggling with the problems and due to difficulty in getting their livelihood; father of Gurdit Singh left Punjab and went to Malaysia. He became a small time contractor over there. In 1885, Gurdit Singh joined him.

Gurdit Singh established a steamship company in Malaysia and leased a Japanese steamship Komagata Maru. This ship left Hong Kong in 1914 to Canada.

Those days the authorities in Canada had established a “Continuous Passage Act” to stop the immigrants particularly from India and they called them “brown Invasions“. The continuous immigration of Indians, particularly Sikhs had already irked the Canadian natives and authorities. It was a fear that Indians would take their jobs. The “Continuous Passage Act” was a bizarre law, which required that the immigrants must travel Nonstop to their country of the birth. At that time there was no direct ship from India. The journey of the Komagata Maru was set to circumvent this law.

Komagata Maru sailed from Hong Kong to Vancouver in 1914, aboard 376 passengers including 240 Sikhs, 24 Muslims and 12 Hindus. The ship arrived on 23 May 1914 at Vancouver. The Canadian authorities refused to allow the passengers to go ashore. Gurdit Singh was pressurized to pay the charter dues in one go. He said he would do so after selling the cargo but the ship was not allowed to unload its cargo.

The Indians in Vancouver agitated for the release of the ship. There was no sympathy shown by the Viceroy of India. After a bit confrontation, finally 24 passengers were admitted and the ship was forced back to India. Necessary arrangements were done by the Indian community over there for the return journey. The Komagata Maru docked at Hooghly’s Budge Budge harbor. The news of the Canadian adventures had already reached India and the British took the passengers as rebels. The ship was searched. The Sikhs were herded in a special train to send them to Punjab. Some of them refused and protested. The police opened fire on the procession carrying the Holy book “Guru Granth Sahib” killing 18 people. 200 people were herded in jails. Gurdit Singh escaped the Police and he surrendered in 1921, after 7 years.

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