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