The City of New Westminster will consider local connections to the Komagata Maru incident.
Raj Singh Toor, vice-president and spokesperson for the Descendants of the Komagata Maru Society, is seeking the city’s support to commemorate the incident. His grandfather was among the 376 passengers on the vessel that arrived in Vancouver on May 23, 1914.
“No food, water or medication was provided by the government, even though it was the government’s discriminatory law that prevented the passengers from disembarking,” he said. “Only the local Sikh community provided the passengers with food and water.”
After two months “under the shadow of a military ship,” he said the Komagata Maru was forcefully sent back to India.
“The British were ruling India at that time, and when the Komagata Maru arrived in India, British troops shot at the passengers,” he said. “Around 20 people were killed on the spot. Many were injured, and the rest of them were put in jail for a long period of time, including my grandfather.”
Toor was on hand when the provincial government apologized for this incident in 2008 and when the federal government apologized in 2016.
According to Toor, New Westminster has a direct connection with the Komagata Maru incident, as some local families were among those who provided passengers with food, water and medication and also tried to lease the ship in an attempt to keep it from being sent back to India.
“I am wondering if the City of New Westminster can name a street or park in memory of the passengers of the Komagata Maru,” he wrote in a letter to council. “This would be greatly appreciated, not only by descendants of the passengers, and by all (of the) South Asian community in Canada, but by every Canadian who believes in treating all humans with digity and respect.”
On Oct. 7, council approved a motion by Coun. Chinu Das to have staff do a report on the connection of New Westminster and the Komagata Maru incident, including documentation about support the local South Asian community offered to passengers.
“That is a very sad chapter in the history of Canada,” she said. “To repair that, there has been apologies made by the provincial government and the federal government. I think that is something that we hold very dearly, that there was a formal apology. But is that really enough?”
Das said she met with Toor, who gave her a glimpse into what it was like for passengers on the Komagata Maru and how Lower Mainland residents banded together to help those passengers.
“That is a story that really needs to be told,” she said.
Das said several historians have already done research on this issue. Once staff gets details about New West residents’ response to the incident, she said it would be appropriate for the city to think about how to move forward.