The Komagata Maru Story: More Awkward Than We’d Like.

Terry Glavin, National Post, April 8, 2015

History doesn’t lend itself to being abused and apologized for at the same time.

Leonard Frank/Handout/Vancouver Public Library Special Collections

Leonard Frank/Handout/Vancouver Public Library Special CollectionsArchival photo of some of the 376 Punjabis, mostly Sikhs, aboard the Komagata Maru in Vancouver Harbor in 1914.

In the way Canadians like to tell it, the story of the Komagata Maru begins on April 4, 1914, when Sikh emigrants from India, hoping only for a better life in Canada, board a ship in Hong Kong; after a series of disgraceful naval ambuscades in Vancouver Harbour the ship is forced to weigh anchor on July 23 of that year. The Komagata Maru steams all the way back to Calcutta, 20 of its passengers are killed in some kind of dockside melee, and the rest of the voyagers are imprisoned.

In the story’s denouement, Canada has constructed a kind of morality play, an allegorical drama of our national salvation from the shame and squalor of Canada’s racist past that places our redemption in Canada’s eventual law reform and repeal, repentance and contrition. There are apologies, plaque-unveilings and seminars, a federally-funded museum, booklets, exhibitions, and a commemorative stamp. That sort of thing.

But Canadians may soon be revisiting their revision of the Komagata Maru story. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be visiting Canada next week. Only two weeks ago the legislative assembly in the Sikh homeland of India’s Punjab State called on him to demand that the Canadian Parliament apologize specifically to India for the “atrocities committed on the Indian people” during the Komagata Maru affair. . .

About Terry Glavin

Terry Glavin has worked as a reporter, columnist and editor for a variety of newspapers. His assignments in recent years have taken him to Afghanistan, Israel, the Russian Far East, the Eastern Himalayas, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Geneva, China and Central America. He is the author of seven books and the co-author of three. His books have been published in Canada, Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom. He has won more than a dozen literary and journalism awards, including the Hubert Evans Prize and several National Magazine Awards, and the B.C. Lieutenant-Governor's Award for Literary Excellence. Terry's most recent book is Come From the Shadows - The Long and Lonely Struggle For Peace in Afghanistan.
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