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The Saga of The Komagata Maru:
Part III





Continued from yesterday …


Part III

A "shore committee" had been formed at the local Gurdwara.

Protest meetings were held in Canada and the United States.

At one, held in Dominion Hall, Vancouver, it was resolved that if the passengers were not allowed off, all Sikh-Canadians should follow them back to the subcontinent to start a rebellion (ghadar).

A British government agent who infiltrated the meeting wired London and Ottawa, putting a twist to the information by telling them that supporters of the Ghadar Party were on the ship.

The shore committee raised over $20,000 towards the exorbitant $200 per head being demanded from each passenger by the hurriedly crafted law. They also launched a court case to test the legal validity of the discrimibatory law.

Their legal counsel was J. Edward Bird, and the test case was in the name of Munshi Singh, one of the ship’s passengers.

On July 6, the full bench of the B.C. Court of Appeal gave a unanimous judgement that under new orders-in-council, it had no authority to interfere with the decisions of the Department of Immigration and Colonization.

The Japanese captain was relieved of duty by the angry passengers, but the Canadian government ordered the harbour tug Sea Lion to push the ship out to sea.

On July 19, when local authorities tried to board the ship, the angry passengers mounted a counter attack. The next day the Vancouver newspaper, The Sun screamed: "Howling masses of Hindoos showered policemen with lumps of coal and bricks ... it was like standing underneath a coal chute".

The government also mobilized HMCS Rainbow, a former Royal Navy ship under the command of Commander Hose, with troops from the 11th Regiment Irish Fusiliers of Canada, 72nd Regiment "Seaforth Highlanders of Canada", and the 6th Regiment -- "The Duke of Connaught's Own Rifles".

In the end, only 20 passengers were admitted to Canada. The government claimed that the ship had violated the mew exclusion laws: the passengers did not have the required funds, and they had not sailed directly from India.

The ship was turned around and -- with the passengers starving, all supplies having been denied to them during the period -- forced to depart on July 23 for Asia.

The Komagata Maru arrived in Budge Budge, a port near Calcutta, on September 27.

Upon entry into the harbour, the ship was stopped by a British gunboat, and the passengers were placed under guard. The government of the British Raj saw the men on the Komagata Maru not only as lawbreakers, but as potential political agitators. They wanted to ensure that none of the passengers got back to Punjab to disclose to the masses how they, as British subjects, had been mistreated in another part of the Empire -- which, it was feared, would add fuel to the fire of the independence struggle which was being led by the Sikhs of Punjab.

When the ship docked at Budge Budge, the police went to arrest Baba Gurdit Singh and the 20 or so other men that they saw as leaders. They resisted arrest and fought back. A general riot ensued. Shots were fired, 19 of the passengers were killed. Some escaped, but the remainder were arrested, some exiled, and others imprisoned or sent to their villages and kept under village arrest for the duration of the First World War. This incident became known as the Budge Budge Riot.

Gurdit Singh managed to escape and lived in hiding until 1922. He was urged to give himself up as a 'true patriot'; which he eventually did, and was imprisoned for five years.

This month, this year, we commemorate the centennial of the Komagata Maru Incident.

The Sikh Heritage Museum of Canada will be hosting a free exhibition on the legacy of the Komagata Maru on the weekend of May24-25 at it’s Gallery at 2980 Drew Road, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.

May 6, 2014

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Part III "

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