The year 2014 is a significant year for the South Asian community in Canada and British Columbia as well as to all Canadians as it marks the Centennial year of the Komagata Maru episode of 1914.
On May 23, 1914, a ship from Hong Kong carrying 376 passengers, mostly from Punjab, British India arrived in Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet on the west coast of the Dominion of Canada. The passengers, who were all British subjects, and therefore should have been allowed entry into Canada, were also challenging the Continuous Passage regulation and other restrictive measures which were being placed to curb South Asian immigration to Canada. As a result of such restrictive policies on part of both the Provincial and Federal Canadian governments, the Komagata Maru was denied docking by the authorities and only twenty returning residents, and the ship’s doctor and his family were eventually granted admission to Canada. Following a two month standoff, the ship was forced out of the harbour by the Canadian military (HCMS Rainbow) on July 23, 1914 and forced to sail back to Budge-Budge, India where nineteen of the passengers were killed by gunfire from British Indian Army troops upon disembarking and many others imprisoned.
This dark moment in Canadian history was marked by the Centre for for Indo-Canadian Studies in two ways:
On Sunday, January 26th at the Sikh Heritage Museum located in the National Historic Site Gur Sikh Temple in Abbotsford, BC. The Museum launched its sixth official exhibition since its inauguration in 2011 with an exhibition titled: “Challenge and Denial – Komagata Maru 100 years later 1914-2014.”
The launch was very well attended with over 100 community members coming together to commemorate this episode. The speakers included Minister Mike De Jong, Abbotsford Mayor Bruce Banman, renowned local artist Jarnail Singh and a reading by author Tariq Malik from his book on the Komagata Maru titled: Chanting Denied Shores.
One of the highlights of the event included the keynote address from Nsibe Kaur, whose father Bhag Singh was on the shore committee that raised $60,000 in 1914 to assist the Komagata Maru passengers. Nsibe reflected on her experiences within the community in the early 20th century and the memories she had more specifically of the Gur Sikh Temple in Abbotsford.
The Centre for Indo-Canadian Studies also took a moment to honour Nsibe Kaur along with SFU Community Liaison Librarian Moninder Bubber for their contributions to preserving South Asian pioneering history connected to the Komagata Maru.
The Sikh Heritage Museum exhibition on the Komagata Maru will be running year long from January 2014-December 2014. We encourage all community members to take a moment this year to view the exhibit. The Sikh Heritage Museum is open seven days a week from 10am-4pm and admission is always free. To view past exhibitions at the Sikh Heritage Museum, please visit: www.canadiansikhheritage.ca.
On November 1 and 2 of the same year, the CICS commissioned a brand-new play on the Komagata Maru story titled That Land Beyond the Waves
A year’s worth of work to suitably commemorate the centenary of the Komagata Maru incident, came to fruition on Saturday, November 1st and Sunday, November 2nd with the two performances of the CICS commissioned play titled That Land Beyond the Waves. The play was written by Assistant Professor of English at UFV, Dr. Rajnish Dhawan and Directed by Associate Professor of English at UFV, John Carroll.
That Land Beyond the Waves is the story of those who were waiting to meet their loved ones stranded on board the Komagata Maru. The play projects the pain of having someone close to your heart suffer in front of you and the tragic irony of being able to alleviate that suffering despite having all the means to do so. it tells the story of 376 separated by heavily guarded waves, denied permission to be together owning to the racist polices of the time. It forces us to ask how far we have come, how successful or unsuccessful we have been in the last hundred years in making our society an inclusive one.
The opening night was a sold out event with an audience enthralled by the moving performances of the actors and the stellar script which combined humour and emotion. The matinee performance was also very well attended and included an opening address by the Honourable Minister of Finance, Mr. Mike de Jong and the Mayor of Abbotsford, Mr. Bruce Banman. The cast and crew received a standing ovation for their efforts at both performances.
Dr. Mark Evered, Vice-Chancellor and President of UFV hosted a reception prior to the opening night to honour the commemoration of the centenary of the Komagata Maru.
The dedication of writer Dr. Rajnish Dhawan and Director John Carroll deserves recognition as the Centre has received accolades and requests for future performances. The CICS will work to develop a school study guide along with the taped performance of the play, which will be made available so that schools may present this piece of forgotten history to students in the local area and beyond.