February 09, 2014

SURREY, CANADA: Indian Workers Remenber Komagata Maru Episode

Joga Randhawa

THE Indo-Canadian Workers Association (ICWA) of Canada held a public meeting in Surrey on Sunday, January 26. The meeting was organised in the Newton Library conference room and was attended by a large number of people from all walks of life. These included Jinny Sims, an MP, and Harry Bains, an MLA. The meeting started with the observance of one minute standing silence in homage to the martyrs. The main speakers on this occasion was Surinder Sangha, Kulwant Dhesi, Hardev Singh, Jinny Sims, Hary Bains and Dave Hayer, a former MLA. The meeting was conducted by Surinder Dhesi. A calendar dedicated to the centenary of the Komagata Maru episode and to the martyrdom of Bhai Bhaag Singh and Bhai Badan Singh was released on this occasion by the youth wing of the ICWA. Present on the occasion were Jessie Badesha, Joga Randhawa, Pual Sangha, Navi Dhesi, Pinder Badesha and J Johal along with Jinny Sims, Harry Bains and Raj Toor, descendant of one of the Komagata Maru passengers. It may be noted that the ICWA has been releasing an annual calendar every year from 2007 onward in association with Radio India; however, this year Mahak TV also joined it in the issuance of the calendar. The calendar issued this year carries the pictures of passengers who were aboard the vessel Komagata Maru which reached the shore of Canada but was forced to return to India by the Canadian government 100 years ago on July 23, 2014, under the discriminatory immigration legislation. The vessel was charted by Baba Gurdit Singh and carried more than 350 passengers from South Asian aboard. Canadian authorities now acknowledge that it was a discriminatory act and the prime minister, Harper, apologised in 2008 for the episode. The legislative assembly of British Columbia also passed a motion of apology. This year’s calendar is dedicated to Bhai Bhaag Singh and Bhai Badan Singh in their death centenary years. Bhaag Singh was a prominent Vancouver community leader who died in a temple shooting that occurred in September 1914 in the aftermath of the Komagata Maru incident. He was shot by an agent of the hated and controversial immigration inspector, William Hopkinson, who was later assassinated by Mewa Singh. Prior to his killing, Bhai Bhaag Singh played a significant role in various struggles for social justice and equal rights for the immigrants. This meeting was held at the time when Surrey is facing the challenge of a wave of crimes. There have been in Surrey alone 25 murders in 2013. Speakers expressed their concerns over the trend and requested the municipal, provincial and federal governments to pay due attention to curb the rising wave of crimes. They requested an increase in the security measures, and involvement of the community in order to bring an awareness against the crimes. Kulwant spoke on the current immigration policy of Canada and highlighted the people’s problems regarding the delay in the processing time and issuance of a very limited number of applications for family class. This has been making it impossible for the families to reunite. He asked the people to unitedly come forward to oppose these policies. Surinder Sangha spoke in detail about the causes of rising crime in Surrey. He also insisted on the need to create better facilities for the people and highlighted the issues of homelessness, mental health issue, etc. As every month about 1000 people comes to live in Surrey, the speaker argued in favour of having the ward system in the Surrey municipality so that the people’s concerns could be addressed by the local government more efficiently. Sangha also warned that challenges such as racism continue to face us even today and urged upon the community to get organised and resist rather than remaining confined to symbolic celebrations. Surinder Dhesi gave a detailed chronological narration of the Komagata Maru episode, and Hardev Singh linked the issue of rising crimes with the economic sufferings of the people. Jinny Sims said punishment alone is not a solution; rather we have to address other issues like child poverty, decreases in decent jobs, need of an extra RCMP, etc. Saying that Surrey need help, she said she has been raising these issues in Parliament. Paramjit Gandhri thanked the people who participated and concluded the meeting. This venue for the meeting was so chosen as to condole the death of a young lady who was killed in an adjacent area two weeks ago when she came to pick up her son from a hockey game, and to convey sympathies to the family and to the larger community. The whole community was grieved over the incident and concerned about the rising violence in the area. The meeting received appreciation from all circles; the print media covered the event with pictures, and the radio and TV gave it good coverage.