Union government opens centenary of historic Komagata Maru incident

  • Press Trust of India, New Delhi
  • Updated: Sep 30, 2014 13:26 IST

The government on Monday opened the year-long centenary commemoration of the historic Komagata Maru incident, when a steamer carrying 376 passengers, mostly immigrants from Punjab, was denied docking in Vancouver owing to discriminatory immigration laws of Canada.

The struggle of the immigrants, of which 19 were later killed, would now be commemorated year long through a number of programmes such as conferences, publications, development of digital archives and preparation of documentaries and films, among others.

“It reminds us of a huge and vital role played by those who lived away from the country but kept bonds with India intact and alive,” culture minister Shripad Naik said here while inaugurating the centenary commemoration of the incident.

On May 23, 1914, Komagata Maru, a Japanese steamer, carrying 376 passengers from Hong Kong, mostly immigrants from Punjab in the then British India, arrived in Vancouver city in Canada. It was denied docking by the Canadian authorities.

Following a two-month stalemate, the ship was escorted out of the harbour by the Canadian military and forced to sail back to India. The Komagata Maru arrived in Kolkata in September the same year. The British government saw the men aboard the ship as dangerous political agitators.

The police went aboard the ship on September 29 to arrest Baba Gurdit Singh and other leaders. The arrest was resisted by the passengers, which led to firing by the police in which 19 passengers were killed. Baba Gurdit Singh escaped along with many others. The rest of the passengers were sent to Punjab.

Naik said that by commemorating Komagata Maru, we commemorated not only the 376 Indians on board the ship but also all the Indians who had since the early decades of the last century landed in the shores of other countries in search of greener pastures.

He said, “The overseas Indian community now constitutes a diverse, heterogeneous and eclectic global community representing different regions, languages, cultures and faiths. The common thread that binds them together is the idea of India and its intrinsic values.”

A set of commemorative coins of denominations of Rs 100 and Rs 5 were also released on the occasion.

The government has constituted a National Implementation Committee to chalk out programmes to be taken up during the period from September 29, 2014 to September 29, 2015 to mark the centenary.

Three granddaughters of Baba Gurdit Singh, the hero of the episode - Harbhajan Kaur, Satwant Kaur and Balbir Kaur - were honoured by Naik on the occasion.

Culture secretary Ravindra Singh said the committee had chalked out a number of programmes, such as national and international conferences, publications, development of digital archives and preparation of films and documentaries among others.

He said the ministry had also received a host of proposals from several individuals.

For instance, IIT, Kharagpur wants to throw light on the Komagata Maru journey by tracing it back from Budge Budge in Kolkata to Punjab and to understand its significance for addressing contemporary discourse on nation, diaspora and citizenship.

An international seminar titled ‘Komagata Maru: Context, Significance and Legacy’ is also proposed to be organised.

The committee has also approved a proposal from Punjabi University, Patiala, for the production of a play titled ‘Komagata Maru 1914’. It has also decided to hold a week-long function in Vancouver from May 23 to May 30, 2015.

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