On May 20, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologised in the Canadian House of Commons (Parliament) to India and Indo-Canadians for his country’s refusal to admit people of Indian descent into Canada some 112 years ago.
It was referred to as the Komagata Maru incident – the ship carrying Indians from Hong Kong to British Columbia where it was denied docking forcing the passengers to live aboard under treacherous conditions and then returned to Calcutta, India, with the Indians aboard.
The PM told parliament: “I rise in this House to offer an apology on behalf of the Government of Canada for our role in the Komagata Maru incident”. He described the incident as “a great injustice” against people of Indian descent.
A report in an Indian medium noted this was the second time a Canadian Prime Minister apologised for the black mark in the history of Indo-Canadian immigration. Also, over the last several decades, the Canadian government took steps to right the wrongs committed during the Komagata Maru fiasco.
As recorded in history, Gurdit Singh, an Indo-Canadian immigration pioneer, chartered the Japanese steamship SS Komagata Maru to take people from India to Canada. The Indians first made their way to Hong Kong with 165 Indians aboard and from there to Shanghai and Yokohama, Japan, where additional passengers joined the journey.
The ship arrived on the shores of British Columbia after some 40 days. But Canada refused the ship permission to dock and the passengers were detained on board for two months waiting a resolution from negotiations between British and Canadian authorities.
Non-Indians were off loaded and “the dreams of the rest of the asylum-seekers were shattered”, notes the report.
They were rejected under laws that excluded Indians from settling in Canada. Their problems did not end there.
Upon their return in Calcutta, British gunboats blocked the ship’s entry into port. The passengers were treated as law-breakers and political agitators. A general riot ensued when the police boarded the ship to capture the leaders.
“In the melee, 19 passengers were shot and killed, and the rest were jailed”. Indian emigration has a long history, going back to over a thousand years, as Indians sought to help other countries with their development. Indian indentured trade started with the French government in 1826 to her colonies in the Caribbean and Indian Ocean area. Indians were indentured to Guyana in 1838 and later to the Dutch, French and Spanish Caribbean.
In recent time, Indian émigrés have been welcomed in Canada and other developed countries that once precluded Indians from settling including Japan, Italy, Ireland, US and Germany all of which have been sourcing Indian medics and techies for industrial development.
Indians are doing quite well in many countries leading the way in scientific and engineering research and their skills are in great demand. All of these countries are proud of the presence of Indians.
Prime Minister Trudeau should be applauded for his apology which is welcomed by the Indo-Canadian community (Indo-Guyanese are categorized as Indo-Canadians).