|Baba Gurdit Singh, leader of Koma-Gata Maru passed away.
==> KOMA GATA MARU: Punjabis traveling to foreign land in search of better jobs were being discriminated against at the begining of 20th century. The Canadian government had issued prohibition against their entry and the British ships had refused to accept any Punjabi travelers. The Canadian law stated, for the purpose of preventing immigration from india and other countries, that only those passengers could land in Canada who travelled on a through ticket without any break in journey from their land of birth. However, no company provided such a service between the Indian and Canadian ports. As a result, many Punjabis were stranded for months in Hong Kong, unable to get tickets for their final destination, Canada.
Baba Gurdit Singh of Sarhali village, a well established businesses in Calcutta, Malaya, etc., heard of the stranded Punjabis in Hong Kong and decided to challenge this prevalent situation. He rented Koma Gata Maru, a Japanese ship and named it Guru Nanak Jahaj. Sri Guru Granth Sahib accompanied the passengers along with Kesri Nishan Sahib.
On April 4, 1914, this ship sailed out of Hongkong and reached the Vancouver port on May 23, 1919, with 167 passengers. However, these passengers were not allowed to land at Vancouver and were forcibly returned to Calcutta in the same ship, after a long and painful struggle. Upon return, the ship was fired upon by the British at BajBaj Ghat in Calcutta. The returning passengers were either arrested or killed. Only a few managed to escape. Baba Gurdit Singh jee escaped the death and lived in disguise for almost 8-9 years. What started as a simple individual business venture turned into a major political event. The returning passengers were no longer considered as better job opportunity seekers but were prosecuted as freedom fighters.
-Ref. Hindustan Gadar Party: A Short History by Sohan Singh Josh, People’s Publishing House, New Delhi, 1977
KOMAGATA MARU INCIDENT – A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
Komagata Maru was a merchant ship leased by S. Gurdit Singh to move Indians to Vancouver, Canada. The Canadian govt. was anti-Indian and did not favor their entry to Canada. This adventure was neither directly connected to the Ghadar Party nor was it an outcome of any freedom figting organization. However, it gave a unique twist to the Indian history and freedom struggle in India. The Ghadar journal helped to give it a direction of prevalent discontent and moulded it into a radical movement. And there was a very good reason for it.
The Canadian govt, in order to check further influx of Indians, adopted tought measures. Most notorious of them was Canadians Privy Council Order No. 920, popularly known as Continuous Journey Clause. This made the lives of Indo-Canadians very difficult. They could not visit their families and they could not visit them because there was no direct ship service from India to Canada. The Indians, specially Sikhs, used all means to persuade the Canadian govt to withdraw the order, but they won’t listen. A deputation of Bhai Balwant Singh, Narain Singh, Bhai Jawala Singh, and Bhai Nand Singh even went to London in April 1913, and later visited India to present their case to the British and British-Indian govt, respectively. It all failed.
Baba Gurdit Singh, a wealthy businessman from Singapore, in order to satisfy the continuous journey clause, chartered his own ship from a Japanese company that would take passengers directly to Canada. The ship sailed on April 4, 1914 from Hong Kong with 165 passengers on board. More passengers joined in Shanghai, Moje and Yokohama and the number rose to 376. 346 were Sikhs and remaining were Punjabi muslims and Hindus. (Some people put the total at 372.) Before leaving, he consulted a leading Britsh solicitors at Hong Kong who assured him that there was no bar to the Indian admission to Canada. He agreed to pay $60,000 as the charter fee.
The ship arrived on the shores of Vancouver on May 23, 1914. The passengers were not allowed to land and the ship was cardoned off by the police. The Times (London) of that day carried a categorical statement of the Prime Minister of British Columbia that they would not admit these orientals. Leading Indians (mostly Sikhs) in Vancouver formed a ‘Shore Committee.’ It paid $22,000 as installment of the charter money for the ship, and filed a test case in the Supreme Court in the name of one passenger Munshi Singh in the hope that they would get more favourable verdict. On July 7, the full bench of Supreme Court gave its unanimous decision that they cannot overrule the Immigration Department’s dicision.
Food had run out in the ship. Some local Sikhs managed to deliver potatoes and other things on one occasion during the night on a hired boat. The passengers were very angry and they took control of the ship from the Japanese Captain. The Canadian govt retaliated by ordering a harbour tug Sea Lion (sort of tow truck for ships) to push the ship out of the shore. The angry passengers mounted an attack on the police by throwing lumps of coal and bricks. The army regiments had taken positions and it was like a war zone. The Sikhs of Vanocuver were so angry that and decided to burn the city of Vancouver if their countrymen were fired upon by the police, army and the militia who had sourrounded the ship. Somehow a decision was made and the ship sailed back into the sea towards India. Before the ship reached Yokohama, the war broke out. The British govt ordered that no passengers were allowed to land from where they had boarded the ship. At Yokohama, Bhai Sohan Singh Bhakna had delivered 200 pistols and a several hundred cartridges when the ship docked there for a short period. In addition, Ghadar Party literature was also loaded into the ship in flour bags. Many Ghadarites had also boarded the ship from Shanghai.
The Komagata Maru (Guru Nanak Jahaj) reached Calcutta at Budge Budge harbour on July 23, 1914 after a two-month long struggle.
The Canadian govt had employed agents to commit murders of the Indian community leaders. One such agent was Bela Singh and his band who worked for the Canadian immigration and Mr. William Hopkinson (a high official on the govt) who was a great enemy of the Indian community. Their main job to strike terror in the heart of the Indian (Sikh) community. On September 5, 1914, Bela Singh fired at the Sikh congregation which had gathered to mourn the death of one Ram Singh by Ram Singh. Bela Singh went on firing with two pistols and killed two people and seriously wounded several others. A case was filed agaisnt him. Bhai Mewa Singh shot dead Mr. Hopkinson in the court who was there as a defense witness. Bela Singh was later acquitted. This infuriated the Indian immigrants in Canada. Bhai Mewa Singh was later sentenced to death. Mewa Singh, in his confessional statement said, This is what led me to take Hopkinson’s life and sacrifice my own life to in order to lay bare the opposition exercised upon my innocent people through his influence in the eyes of the whole world. And I, performing the duty of a true Sikh and remembering the name of God, will proceed towards the scaffold with the same amount of pleasure as the hungry baby does towards its mother. I shall gladly have the rope around my neck thinking it to be a rosary of God’s name .
Bhai Mewa Singh’s martyrdom day used to be celebrated in Vanvouver Gurdwara every year (maybe it still is). (I have added this note only to emphasise that govt agents are always active in our own community.)
In the diwans held at Gurdwaras of Shanghai and Hong Kong, Komagata Maru formed a central issue and Indians were asked to return to India to avenge the insult. It was no coincidence that the first jatha of Ghadarites came from Shanghai and reached Calcutta alomost on the heels of Komagata Maru. All those who arrived on subsequent ships at Calcutta were rigorously inspected, and those suspected to be dangerous were either arrested or forbidden to reside elsewhere other than their native villages. Many Ghadarites reached Punjab using various routes and methods.
Komagata Maru Reached Budge Budge Harbour (ghaat)
Komagata Maru arrived at Calcutta on September 29, 1914. The passengers pretty much knew what was in store for them in India. Therefore, they threw all the objectionable things in the sea. When they arrived in Calcutta, they were searched thoroughly three times. No arms were found.
At Calcutta, the police wanted the passengers to board the train bound for Punjab immediately, but the passengers insisted that they have to deposit the Holy Guru Grnath Sahib (which was on baord) in one of the local Gurdwaras. Some boarded the train while the other defied the police and started to march towards Calcutta in the form of a procession. The police informed the 2nd Battaion of Royal Fusileers. Thirty English policemen barred the processions’ entry into the city. A brawl followed and police opened fire, killing 18 processionists and wounding at least 25. The police chief was shot dead by Bhai Munsha Singh who was one of the passengers. Two other officials were killed and and eleven got injured. Two Punjab policemen were also dead. The officials were cared for and got medical treatment, but no one cared for the wounded passengers. Many passengers were tortured. Sixty passengers escaped from the police seige and crossed river Houghley during night. Seventeen of them were later arrested.
Komagata Maru incident created a sharp reaction against the injustice to the passengers all over the world, but the premier organization of India, Indian National Congress, which was supporting the British Imperialist Goverenment’s war efforts in the World War I with money amd men, did not utter single word of condemnation against the foreign rulers.
The saga of Komagata Maru is the story of callous attitude of the Imperial Government and the racist policy of the Canadian government at that time. While every action of the passengers cannot be justified, it was a reaction to the treatment that was meted out to them. Komagata Maru became a by-word for British oppression among the Punjabis. A passenger told an enquiring British officer, This ship belongs to the whole of India. This is the symbol of the honour of India and if this was detained, there would be mutiny in the armies.
Soon after this incident, Ailane-e-Jang (Proclamation of War) was prepared by the Ghadar Pary which was circulated to a very large number of people. An important meeting was held in Sacramento, (California) and Indian were asked to go back home and wage a war against the Britors who were fighting the World War I. A large number of Punjabis did go back to India and started their revolutionary activities. Shahid Kartar Singh Sarabha, Raghubor Dyal Gupta and many others did not even wait for the meeting and left for India. Little bit later 60-70 Indians left by S. S. Korea which included some prominent leaders on the West Coast of USA. Some of them were sent to other countries to persuade the Indians of other countries such as Burma, Phillipines, China, and Hong Kong to go back to India and start the revolution.
Baba Gurdit Singh, who escaped the police bullets, remained underground until 1920. On the advice of Mahatma Gandhi, he made a volunatary surrender at Nankana Sahib and was imprisoned for five years. (Mahatma Gandhi did not help him in any other way!) He died on July 24, 1954.
Such was the story of Komagatu Maru. Sources:
-Ref. Babbar Akali Movement, A Historical Survey, Dr. Gurcharan Singh, Aman Publications, 1993.
|A written agreement took place between the President of the Shiromani Akali Dal, Harchand Singh Longowal and the Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi. This agreement is known as the Rajiv-Longowal Accord.
On January 25, 1986, Chandigarh was to be transfered to Punjab. Even this was deffered under the plea that Fazilka and Abohar, etc. were to be transferred to Haryana province. A farce in the form of the Mathew Commission and the alleged referndum/linguistic survey was held in the area on January 14, 1986. Under such a pretext, the transfer of Chandigarh was refused. This was the end of the historical accord.
==>RAJIV-LONGOWAL ACCORD July 24, 1985