Jaswinder Singh Toor’s grandfather wanted to come to Canada to pursue higher education. Instead, he got a lesson in racism.
It was 1914 and Puran Singh Janetpur, then 24, had excelled at school. He convinced his family to let him leave Ludhiana to do postgraduate studies at UBC.
He never enrolled. He boarded the Komagata Maru, bound for Vancouver, one of two students of 376 passengers, mostly Sikhs.
“They believed they would be welcomed here,” Toor said.
They were wrong. Janetpur’s journey ended in the harbour. The ship languished in port for two months while rations dwindled. Supporters fought in court to have them admitted, but the ship was turned back.
When it docked near Calcutta, a riot ensued. The British shot and killed 19 men. Toor’s grandfather was imprisoned for years and lost his land. When he was released, authorities confined him to his village. He joined the freedom movement in protest.
“He lost almost everything that he had, but the one thing he had left was his education,” said Toor, president of The Descendants of Komagata Maru Society.
Toor’s family eventually came to Canada. Toor arrived in 1976 and now lives in Surrey.
His grandfather often talked about how beautiful Vancouver looked from the harbour. But even after immigration loosened, his memories of B.C. were too bitter. Despite pleas from relatives, Janetpur never returned.Toor’s children each attended UBC, the university their grandfather was never able to set foot in.
A dozen families who trace their ancestors back to the ship’s manifest have been lobbying for a more respectful apology delivered in Parliament. While they wait, the Society focuses on education.“As my grandfather said, the more education you give to society, the less discrimination there will be.”