A petition was introduced in the Canadian parliament Tuesday seeking a formal apology from the government for the Komagata Maru tragedy of 1914 in which 376 Indians were not allowed to enter the country and sent back.
The Komagata Maru was a Japanese ship hired by a Malaysia-based wealthy Sikh Gurdit Singh to bring 376 people, mostly Sikhs, to Vancouver from India via Hong Kong in 1914 to challenge racist laws of that time. But the Indians were not allowed to disembark in Vancouver port for two months and then forcibly sent back to India where many were shot dead by police on arrival in Kolkata.
Though Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized for it at a Punjabi mela in Vancouver in 2008, some sections of the Indo-Canadian community and opposition parties have been demanding a formal apology in the country's parliament.
Moving the petition in the House of Commons, Jack Layton, leader of the opposition New Democratic Party, said, "The Conservatives (the ruling party) have proven they have a heart when it comes to saying sorry to communities such as the First Nations (native people) and Aboriginals over the residential school abuse and the Chinese head tax - now it's time to apologize to the Sikh, Hindu and Muslim communities who suffered from the Komagata Maru.
"Today is Vaisakhi - the Sikhs' New Year, celebrated all around the world. It's in this spirit of celebration that I presented a petition signed by more than 4,600 Canadians, demanding this government apologize for the mistreatment and denial of basic necessities and legal rights on May 23, 1914, to Indians who were on board the Komagata Maru.''
Thanking a Vancouver-based organization and individuals for collecting signatures, the opposition leader said, "This petition was a Canada-wide, community effort, but particular thanks goes to the Prof. Mohan Singh Memorial Foundation of Canada, and to Sahib Thind and Jasbir Sandhu.''
He said the government should use the auspicious Vaiaskhi day to recognize an historical wrong. "What better gift to give the community on Vaisakhi than the apology and acknowledgement that they deserve. The Komagata Maru has been an unhealed scar in the Sikh community and in our history,'' said the leader of the opposition party which had also moved a motion nine years ago to get the five Sikh religious symbols recognized by the Canadian parliament.