THE TRAGEDY OF KOMAGATA MARU
The Komagata Maru came on May 23, 1914, with 376 passengers including my grandfather. His name was Baba Puran Singh Janetpura. He was a student in that ship. He was already well-educated, having studied at an English-Language High School in Ludhiana Punjab and had studied telecommunication at the University of Amethi. He was coming to Canada for higher education. They were British subjects and were also holding British passports. He told us that the Canadian government denied them entry and did not treat them very well. No food, water, and medication were provided by the government. Only the local Sikh community provided their subsistence. The Komagata Maru was sent back forcefully to India after two months under the shadow of the military ship by the discriminatory law.
The British were ruling India at that time when Komagata Maru arrived in India. British troops shot them, 20 were killed on the spot; many were injured, and the rest of them were put in jail for an extended period. My grandfather served about five years jail term. When he was released, the government put him on restriction so he could not go out from his village. In protest, most of the passengers joined the freedom movement including my grandfather. Finally, India got free in 1947. Komagata Maru was the turning point in the Indian independence movement. My grandfather Baba Puran Singh Janetpura was recognized by the Punjab, India government, for his services and he played an active role in the Indian freedom movement.
In 1968, my uncle sponsored my grandfather to come to Canada, but he refused. He said that he had a painful, bitter memory of Canada. He stated that he would not go there, but the South Asian community would go there and would be very successful there, and live happily and peacefully there. His word came right. Today, the South Asian community is living very successfully, happily, and peacefully—here in Canada.
Descendants of the Komagata Maru Society was lobbying and have been working for more than ten years for the Komagata Maru apology, and we never asked for any compensation. The BC Government did apologize for this tragedy in Victoria. I witnessed it. The Federal Government also Apologized in the House of Commons on May 18, 2016.
Before the federal election, I had a couple of meetings with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and I asked him:
“If you form the government, would you apologize for the Komagata Maru Incident?”
He emphatically replied: “Yes, Mr. Toor, I will.”
The Prime Minister office sent us the official invitation to witness the Komagata Maru apology in the House of Commons. The Prime Minister stood up from his chair, and he apologized to the descendants of the Komagata Maru and the South Asian community. He was facing us when he apologized. He was respectful and his words were profound. After the apology, the descendants went to a separate room, and we had pictures taken with the Prime Minister.
As the descendants of Komagata Maru, we are jubilant, yet we were also emotional thinking about the tragedy. The 376 passengers suffered a lot, and now, their struggle and sacrifice were recognized in the House of Commons. We are euphoric and saying thank you to Prime Minister Trudeau, and to his whole team who kept their promise.
We cannot undo the past, but we can move forward and leave a legacy for the future generations by educating them about the history. My grandfather used to say:
“One day, you could be rich, the next day you could be poor by lossing everything, but the one thing that no one can take away is your education. So ensure to give your children a good education. For, when society is educated, there will be less discrimination.
My grandfather passed away in 1974. In 1976, for his legacy and his memory, the Punjab government and family built a hospital in his village Janetpura. Half of it was paid by the government of Punjab, and the other half, by the family.
Raj Singh Toor
Descendants of the Komagata Maru and Spokesperson for the Descendants of Komagata Maru Society