Punjab Wants $150 Million From Canada For A Historical Wrong

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Jan 7, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
A century later, Punjab wants $150 million
from Canada for a historical wrong

By Fabian Dawson, The Province - July 3, 2010 10:02 AM

The Punjab state government in India is seeking close to $150 million dollars from Canada for turning back a shipload of South Asians, mostly Sikhs, from Vancouver nearly a century ago.

Referring to the 1914 incident when more than 350 passengers from India — Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus — were not allowed to disembark from the Komagata Maru ship and sent back to Kolkata, Punjab Minister for Tourism and Cultural Affairs, Hira Singh Gabria told the Hindustan Times that Sikhs aboard the ship were made to deposit $15,000 each as ‘entry tax’ in 1914.

Despite the deposits, the Sikhs were not allowed to enter Canada.

In the 1914 Komagata Maru tragedy, 376 Indian immigrants, mostly Sikhs, sat for two months in the Vancouver Harbour before being turned back. Twenty were killed by British troops after disembarking in India.

Now an 11-member team of Sikh scholars and legal experts in Punjab has been entrusted with the task of "researching and studying" the subject so that the state government can initiate legal and diplomatic proceedings to get back the amount, which is now believed to have swelled to a whopping $143 million, The Hindustan Times reported.

The team is led by Kirpal Singh Badungar, the former chief of Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), which is the Sikh Parliament responsible for the upkeep of Sikh places of worship, including its Vatican, the Golden temple complex in Amritsar.

The committee has also been told to trace descendents of all passengers who were subjected to torture and brutality before they were sent back to the Kolkata harbor.

In 2008, the B.C. legislature apologized unanimously for the incident.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper also tendered a public apology for the incident, but some segments of the Sikh community in Canada felt it was not enough as it had not been made on the floor of the House of Commons.

Punjab Minister for Tourism and Cultural Affairs, Hira Singh Gabria, told The Hindustan Times that the state government took the decision to undertake the "treasure hunt" after a delegation comprising kin of Sikhs on the Komagata Maru who were gunned down after being sent back to India, met the Punjab Chief Minister recently.

The delegation had told the Punjab government that the money deposited as entry tax was still lying unused in Canada.

“The committee will initiate the process for recovery of the money, which, once obtained, would be utilised to fund Komagata Maru memorials in Punjab and Kolkata,” said Gabria.

Gabria said the committee had been given a month’s time to wrap up its preliminary findings.

“Once the findings establish the facts, the state government will raise the issue with (Indian) Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to press him to use diplomatic channels with his Canadian counterpart,”

The inquisition for the money comes in the wake of a public apology for the Air India terrorist attack, masterminded out of Canada and the promise of compensation for the next of kin of the victims.

It also follows recognition by The World Sikh Organization of Canada for NDP leader Jack Layton, who recently presented a petition in the House of Commons calling on the federal government to officially apologize for the 1914 Komagata Maru tragedy.

Meanwhile, the Canadian government has spent $243,625 of tax dollars to educate Canadians about the Komagata Maru incident.


© Copyright (c) The Province

source: http://www.theprovince.com/travel/century+later+Punjab+wants+million+from+Canada+historical+wrong/3232864/story.html


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Soul_jyot ji

Would you be able to refresh my memory on two matters?

Where were the passengers of the Komogata Maru gunned down?
I understand this happened in India. The boat docked in Kolkota. Were the passengers gunned down in Kolkota?

Apologies. I started with one question and realized I had a second question.

To whom, or to which government, Canadian or Indian, was the entry tax paid? I am unclear from the article who received the tax per head.
Jan 7, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Killings of Kamagata Maru Passengers

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In the year 1900 the census reported 2050 people from India on the North American continent. The majority of these people were Punjabis who had settled in Canada. They had come with the hope of finding work so that they could improve their economic situation from what it had been in the Punjab. Upon arrival in Canada they encountered numerous hardships and discrimination. Canadians wanted the "brown invasion" to stop.

They felt that the growing number of Indians would take over their jobs in factories, mills and lumber yards. It was these insecurities which led British Columbia to pass stringent laws discouraging the immigration of Indians to Canada. Indians had to have at least $200 on their person to enter British Columbia and had to have come via direct passage from India. These were very unreasonable laws as the average Indian only earned about ten cents a day. The Canadian government was also pressuring steamship companies to stop selling tickets to Indians. In 1907 a bill was passed denying all Indians the right to vote. They were prohibited to run for public office, serve on juries, and were not permitted to become accountants, lawyers or pharmacists. All this was done to stop the "brown Invasion." On the other hand Japanese and Chinese were immigrating in unlimited numbers.


In 1914 the Komagata Maru was an outright challenge to these exclusionist laws. The Komagata Maru was a Japanese steamliner chartered by an affluent businessman, Gurdit Singh, to bring Indian immigrants to Canada. The ship's route departed from Hong Kong, stopped in Japan and then headed to Canada. Its passengers included 376 Indians, all Punjabis, among whom 340 were Sikhs, 12 Hindus, and 24 Muslims. The ship was eventually turned back at Vancouver where landing was refused, and terminated eventually at Calcutta.


"Bhai Gurdit Singh, Bhai Daljit Singh and his friend Bhai Vir Singh from Ferozepur were staying in the Sikh Temple of Hong Kong in 1914. The story of Chief Justice Hunter's judgment in Victoria, B.C., about the release of 39 Asian Indians was on everybody's lips. The emigrants were overjoyed. Bhai Daljit Singh began selling tickets for departures to Canada. However, the British Government of Hong Kong was watching the activities of Bhai Gurdit Singh because the charter of Komagata Maru was in his name. Two days before the ship was to sail, Bhai Gurdit Singh was arrested by Hong Kong police on the charge of illegally selling tickets for an illegal voyage and the ship placed under police guard. The Sikh Police of Hong Kong were often used to terrorize prospective emigrants.
"Bhai Gurdit Singh was released on bail on March 24, 1914. Mr. Severn, chief secretary for the Governor of Hong Kong, was known to Bhai Gurdit Singh while he was in Malaya. Mr. Severn told Singh that he had been waiting instructions from England and Canada, which never arrived. The governor granted Singh permission for passage on April 4, 1914.

"That very day Komagata Maru left Hong Kong with 150 passengers. On April 8 at Shanghai, 111 emigrants boarded the ship, and on April 14, at the Port of Moji, 86, at the Yokohama port, 14 more passengers boarded the Komagata Maru totalling 376 passengers. From Moji, Bhai Gurdit Singh took 1500 tons of coal to sell in Canada and had intended to buy lumber from B.C. to sell back in the East. Finally, the Komagata Maru left Yokohama on May 3, 1914.


"[There were words of caution from several quarters to the passengers.] Bhai Balwant Singh travelled in the Komagata Maru from Moji to Kobe and explained to the passengers the attitude of the British Government of India, Britain, and Canada towards their mission.

Gyani Bhagwan Singh, who was forcibly deported from Canada on November 19, 1913, also the passengers at Yokohama and told them the story of his own deportation. Mahamad Barkatullah, the great teacher, who was professor of Hindustani in the University of Tokyo, also met the passengers of Maru in Yokohama.

When Komagata Maru made it to Shanghai, a German cable company sent a message to the German press announcing the departure of the steamer Komagata Maru from Shanghai for Vancouver on April 14 with "400 Indians on board..."

"The news was picked up by British press. The Vancouver daily "Province", published the inflammatory news report under the heading of "Boat Loads of Hindus on Way to Vancouver". The British Columbia press began giving such headlines to their articles as "Hindu Invasion of Canada".
The news of its departure reached the British Columbia authorities. Their instant reaction was that "Hindus would never be allowed to land in Canada." The Indians who had already settled in Canada had also started to prepare for the arrival of the Komagata Maru. Meetings were held in the Gurdwaras concerning what actions to take. Money and provisions were collected to help the passengers upon their arrival in Vancouver. The entire Indian community in Canada united to fight the opposition.


On May 23, 1914, the Komagata Maru reached Vancouver and anchored near Burrard Inlet. Both the Indians and the Canadian authorities had been waiting for it. The Canadians wanted to send the ship back to where it had originated. The Indians on the other side had lawyers, money and other provisions ready to help the passengers. The Canadian authorities did not let the passengers leave the boat claiming they had violated the exclusionist laws. The claim was that the ship had not arrived via direct passage and most passengers did not have the $200 that would have qualified them to enter British Columbia. For two months the passengers of the Komagata Maru, the Indians in British Columbia, and the authorities of British Columbia were involved in a heated legal battle. At the end of the two months only 24 passengers were given permission to legally stay in Canada. On July 23, 1914 the Komagata Maru was forced to leave Victoria harbor and return to Hong Kong. (See Johnston in the bibliography)

The Komagata Maru approached Calcutta on September 26, 1914. As it approached Calcutta, a European gunboat signaled the ship to stop. The ship was put under guard and the passengers were held as prisoners. Then the Komagata Maru was taken to a place called Budge Budge, about seventeen miles away from its original destination of Calcutta. These new developments took the passengers of the ship by surprise. After two months of litigation in Canada they were not interested in any new developments of this kind. Upon inquiry by Baba Gurdit Singh as to the change of their course, an official informed him that the passengers were being sent to Punjab via a special train. Many of the passengers did not want to go to Punjab. They had business to attend to in Calcutta, some wished to look for work there, and most importantly, the passengers wanted to place the Guru Granth Sahib, which they had taken with them on their journey, in a Calcutta Gurdwara.

The British officials did not care what the passengers wanted. They were going to be put on a train to Punjab and that would be the end of it. But the passengers were adamant on going to Calcutta. They were the rightful owners of the ship and the British officials had no reason to keep them on the ship or send them to Punjab. They felt that some action had to be taken, so they decided to march to Calcutta.

Their main purpose on reaching Calcutta was to hand over the holy Guru Granth Sahib and to see the governor. The journey was long and after numerous threats by the police, they were left with no choice but to head back to Budge Budge. At Budge Budge, they were ordered to board the ship once again. The passengers, led by Baba Gurdit Singh, refused. A policeman attacked Baba Gurdit Singh with his baton but was stopped by a fellow passenger. It was at this point that firing started. Baba Gurdit Singh was carried to safety. But not all passengers were to be so fortunate. Twenty-nine fell victim to the bullets of British officials and 20 died. Here was another senseless massacre of innocent Indians at the hands of the British. The was the tragic end of the passengers of the Komagata Maru.


The Komagata Maru returned to India's waters on September 26, 1914, leaving behind only twenty-four passengers who could prove residence in Canada. The

repercussions of the Government's actions - the Budge Budge riot. The radicalization of those abroad, the vigilante action against informers, the murder of Hopkinson, the execution of Mewa Singh, were overshadowed by the outbreak of World War I, in August 1914. Today the only reminders of this incident are a plaque near the Gateway to the Pacific in Vancouver, B.C.and a memorial plaque at Ross Street Gurdwara, in Vancouver, B.C.


1. Vig, M. <TT>"Lest We Forget."</TT> MEHFIL v.3:3 (1993) : 12-13. Excellent editorial. Permission being requested from Mr. Vig.
2. Johnston, Hugh J.M. The Voyage of the Komagata Maru: the Sikh Challenge to Canada's Colour Bar. Delhi: Oxford University Press. 1979. Excellent source.
3. Singh, Kesar. Canadian Sikhs (Part One) and Komagata Massacre. Kesar Singh: 13487-98-A Avenue, Surrey, B.C. Canada V3T 1C7. 1989.
4. Ward, W. Peter. "The Komagatu Maru Incident" in White Canada forever : popular attitudes and public policy toward Orientals in British Columbia / W. Peter Ward. Montreal : McGill-Queen's University Press, c1978; 2d ed. c1990, pp 79-93 (both editions).

Dramatizations and Novels Based on the Komagata Maru Incident
1. Singh, Kesar. Komagata Maru. Patiala: Punjabi Pabalikeshana, 1993 novel(in Punjabi).
2. Singh, Harcharn. Komagata Maru: kaumi dukhanta. Chandigarh: Raghabira Racana Prakashana, 1985 Play (in Punjabi).
3. Pollock, Sharon. "The Komagata Maru Incident, a Play" in Six Canadian Plays (first edition) ed. Tony Hamill, Playwrights Canada Press, Toronto 1992, pp. 229-286.
4. Vidyarthi, Ram Sharan. Komagata Maru ki samudra yatra [1. Samskarana] Mirajapura [Utter Pradesh] Krantikari Prakasana [1970] (in Hindi).


  1. Copyright © Mr. Vig "Lest we Forget"
  2. Copyright © Johnston, Hugh J.M"The voyage of Komagata Maru: the Sikh challenge to canada's colour bar"
  3. Copyright © Kesar Singh "Canadian Sikhs and Komagata Massacre"
  4. Copyright © Harcharan Singh "Komagata maru kaumi dukhant"


Narayanjot Kaur Ji:

To the best of my knowledge the TAX amount (?) was then due to the Government of the "Dominion of Canada".

I highly recommend the book: "A WHITE MAN'S COUNTRY" - An Exercise in Canadian Prejudice. Author: Ted Ferguson
I.S.B.N.: 0-385-11400-1

I have shared the above book with a number of friends to indicate from where & how we came, where we are today, and where we should be in the future!


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
That is great! Thanks for the information.

Now - If the money was paid to Canada, and Canada deposited it in an account, then it should be repaid - with interest.

Jan 7, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada

Hugh Johnston, professor emeritus of history at Simon Fraser ( University ), said there was no such thing as an "entry tax" levied on Komagata Maru passengers.

"It’s mistaken information," he said, noting that the passengers were required to pay for the chartered vessel in $15,000 instalments, and one of them came due when the ship arrived in Vancouver.

"There was a shipping agent here in Vancouver acting on behalf of the Japanese [ship] owners who had the job of collecting that money," said Johnston. "I suspect that is the source of the mistake, as there was no tax on entry."

source: http://www.theprovince.com/travel/century+later+Punjab+wants+million+from+Canada+historical+wrong/3232864/story.html#Comments


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Soul_jyot ji

That is exactly why I asked the question. From my understanding of immigration in the US there were agents going by different names who collected fees from immigrants - in the thousands of dollars. But these were not taxes. In those days, the need for unskilled labor was great. Canada and the US were still developing economies with vast expanses of land to farm, lumber to cut, railroads to build, and not enough labor. On the other hand, Asia and Europe had what were literally "starving masses" struggling to free themselves from economic oppression, political oppressions, near slavery. This made it possible for the wicked to make money, and they usually collected from both future employers and immigrants, acting as go-betweens. There was a lot of abuse, and significant extortion.

So now the question is: from whom should government of Punjab collect these monies in a legal and rightful sense?
Jan 7, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
A message to India: We’re sorry – and that’s enough

Tasha Kheiriddin - The National Post -July 5, 2010 – 10:00 am

From the "it’s never too late to say you’re sorry" department: The Punjab state government in India is considering asking Canada for compensation of $143-million for turning back a ship of South Asian migrants nearly 100 years ago.

In 1914, Canada refused to allow the 376 passengers aboard the Komagata Maru to disembark when the vessel docked in Vancouver. The government invoked the Continuous Passage Act, which required that immigrants travel by continuous journey from their home country. The Komagata Maru had not only sailed from Hong Kong with Indian migrants aboard, it had in fact done so on purpose: It was chartered by a Sikh businessman, Gurdit Singh, as a direct challenge to the exclusionary legislation.After languishing for two months in the port of Vancouver, the Canadian Navy forced the Komagata Maru to sail back to India with over 300 of its passengers still on board. Upon disembarking in Calcutta, British authorities wanted the men to board a train for the Punjab; they refused, a rebellion ensued and 20 people were killed.

Ninety-six years later, this incident apparently has a price tag: $143-million. The amount is supposedly based on a $15,000 "entry tax" the 376 passengers allegedly paid to the Canadian government upon docking in Vancouver. Not only is the existence of that tax disputed, but it is unclear whether the $15,000 would have been a tax per passenger, or for the whole ship. (In any case, it is still unclear how the State of Punjab arrived at the figure of $143-million: compound interest? Inflation? A number picked out of a hat?)

Whatever the amount claimed, the real debate centres on the principle at stake. Why should today’s Canadian taxpayers, who had nothing to do with the incident, pay compensation 100 years later to a foreign government, who itself had nothing to do with it? Yes, you read that right: In this case, the money wouldn’t even go to descendants of the unsuccessful migrants, it would be used to build memorials in the Punjab (thus padding the pockets of architects, designers and whoever else succeeds in riding the memorial-building gravy train).

<DIR>According to the Hindustan Times, the Punjab government decided to undertake the "treasure hunt" after families of the passengers killed by British officers met with Punjab officials, claiming that the $15,000 deposited as entry tax was lying unused.
"The committee will initiate the process for recovery of the money, which, once obtained, would be utilized to fund Komagata Maru memorials in Punjab and Kolkata," (Hira Singh Gabria, Punjab Minister for Tourism and Cultural Affairs) is quoted as saying.

Enough already. The British Columbia government issued an apology in 2008. The federal government issued an apology in 2009 and pledged $2.5-million for "projects commemorating the tragedy" (Canada’s Economic Action Plan stimulating our economy again, no doubt).

We’re sorry, and we’ve said we’re sorry, twice. But engaging in a "treasure hunt" a century later is absurd. And that is something we shouldn’t be sorry to say, out loud, should the State of Punjab decide to send Canada a bill.

source: http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2010/07/05/tasha-kheiriddin-a-message-to-india-were-sorry-but-were-not-143-million-sorry/
Jan 7, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Punjab forms non official committee
to identify martyrs of "Kamagata Maru"

Punjab Newsline Network
Wednesday, 07 July 2010

CHANDIGARH: A non official committee under the Chairmanship of Dr. Daljit Singh Cheema, Advisor to Chief Minister Punjab has been constituted to identify the families of the martyrs of "Kamagata Maru" so that the government could provide them with the benefits of freedom fighters.

This was stated here on Wednesday by Hira Singh Gabaria, Tourism, &Cultural Affairs Minister Punjab while presiding over a meeting of Kama gata Maru memorial committee.

Gabaria said that the government was in search of a few more relevant statistical details regarding the martyers and the committee would start its search operations so that the families could be traced at the earliest.

While recalling the Kamagata Maru incident which occurred in 1914, the seminars and talks would be organized where the details of the incident would be highlighted and memorials would also be raised.

A resolution to celebrate the centenary of Kamagata Maru event in 2014 at the State level has also been passed during the meeting.

The Minister urged the renowned scholars, writers and historians to bring all the relevant documents in the notice of the newly constituted committee so that a true picture of 'Kamagata Maru' event be given to the people. Next meeting of the committee would be held at Chandigarh on July 28, 2010.

source: http://www.punjabnewsline.com/content/punjab-forms-non-official-committee-identify-martyrs-kamagata-maru/21856

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