"if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen
the side of the oppressor." - Desmond Tutu.

Vancouver’s apology for Komagata Maru episode means nothing in the absence of will to stand up against Modi Featured


Gurpreet Singh  

When Vancouver City Council unanimously passed a motion to formally apologize for the infamous Komagata Maru episode on Wednesday, June 10, a section of the Indo Canadian politicians, ethnic media, and self-styled community gatekeepers were thrilled.

Before you make any assumption that the entire South Asian population in Greater Vancouver is delighted, it is important to recognize that not everyone is impressed.

After all, the City of Vancouver has let down those who have been raising their voices against the highly discriminatory and divisive Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed by the right wing Hindu nationalist government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

CAA is a poor copy of the Continuous Journey Regulation, under which the Komagata Maru was forcibly returned from Vancouver harbour in July, 1914. The Japanese vessel with more than 300 South Asian passengers had remained stranded in Burrard Inlet for two months. This was done as part of the racist policy of the Canadian government to keep this country as a “white man’s land” and discourage immigrants from India from permanent settlement in BC.  

While Canada has repeatedly acknowledged its mistake, the Modi government has passed the CAA, which openly discriminates against Muslim refugees coming to India from neighbouring countries. 

CAA only allows non-Muslim refugees from Muslim-dominated Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

There have been angry protests in North America, as a result of which Seattle City Council has already passed a motion against CAA. 

However, a similar motion brought in Vancouver by city councillor Jean Swanson was withdrawn after a pushback from pro-India lobby groups. So much so, the officials of Khalsa Diwan Society, which runs the oldest Sikh temple in Vancouver and has a glorious history of defending the case of Komagata Maru passengers, shamelessly opposed the motion brought by Swanson. 

It is pertinent to mention that the current leadership of the Khalsa Diwan Society is completely aligned with Modi, and welcomed him with open arms when he came to Vancouver in 2015. This was despite the fact that Modi has a controversial past. Thousands of Muslims were murdered under his watch in 2002. Modi, who was the Chief Minister of Gujarat back then, was denied a US visa until he was elected Prime Minister in 2014. Since then, attacks on religious minorities have grown at an alarming rate across India. 

Even though Modi’s Bhartiya Janata Party is known for its anti-minority stance and aspires to turn India into a Hindu theocracy, Khalsa Diwan Society did not find anything wrong in entertaining him, even though the  organization was established in 1906 by Indian revolutionaries to fight back against British occupation of their homeland and racism abroad, to form an egalitarian and secular republic.   

Ironically, the latest motion on Komagata Maru was moved by Swanson, who was left alone on the issue of CAA. Since she wasn’t getting support from others on the council, she decided to withdraw it. She was not the only city politician to face a ba cklash for taking a stand against what is happening in India. The City of New Westminster  also came under fire from Modi supporters when a lone city councillor, Chuck Puchmayr, brought a motion against CAA on Mach 9. That motion is yet to pass as the voting is delayed indefinitely due to public health emergency in the wake of COVID 19. 

If the City of Vancouver and those who claim to be passionate about the history of Komagata Maru really care, they should show courage to stand up against tyrants like Modi. Their silence is only strengthening the hands of Modi as anti-CAA protestors continue to be arrested and harassed back in India. 

It is always easy to talk about what happened in the distant past, but if you cannot challenge what is going wrong in the present, then there is no point in remembering our history which is being repeated with impunity.

In the meantime, no thanks to the City of Vancouver for buckling under pressure of a bigot who is governing the world’s so-called largest democracy and trampling the rights of minorities every day.

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