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India Sikhs Seek To Rename Indian Town Of Boj Boj After Komagata Maru

Chaan Pardesi

Oct 4, 2008
London & Kuala Lumpur
Gurpreet Singh: Sikhs seek to rename Indian town of Boj Boj after Komagata Maru

Gurpreet Singh
Boj Boj Sikh community leader Sohan Singh Aitiana stands at the train station where Komagata Maru passengers were expected to board a train in 1914 bound for Punjab.

Gurpreet Singh
Former Boj Boj gurdwara president Akhtiar Singh shows the memorial to Komagata Maru passengers who perished upon their return to India.

While Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper has apologized for the federal government turning away the Komagata Maru ship from Vancouver's harbour in 1914, Sikhs in India continue their struggle to rename their town after the vessel.
Upon the ship's return to India, there was a shootout with the British authorities in the town of Boj Boj in West Bengal, India, leaving 18 passengers and three police officials dead.
The ship had reached Vancouver on May 23, 1914, with 376 passengers aboard. After remaining stranded in Burrad Inlet for two months, it was forced to return on July 23.
It wasn't allowed to dock in Vancouver because of racist immigration legislation of the era, which required migrants to arrive via a "continuous journey". This effectively barred immigrants from India, who had to stop for provisions along the way.
When the passengers returned to India on September 29, 1914, they were greeted with bullets at the Boj Boj dock by the British police. A riot erupted when passengers resisted an attempt by police to forcibly send them to Punjab by a train waiting at the railway station.
Every year at the temple on the anniversary of the massacre, Sikhs in Boj Boj hold prayers in memory of those who died.
In fact, the Sikh temple is named after the Komagata Maru martyrs and is called Gurdwara Komagata Maru Shaheed Gunj. The name of the temple is written both in the Punjabi and Bengali scripts.
A memorial close to the port, which now remains inaccessible for security reasons, attracts supporters of various political parties, who gather to pay obeisance to the martyrs. (Security staff did not let this writer take the picture of the spot where the Komagata Maru was docked when he visited Boj Boj early this year.)
The harbour in Boj Boj remains neglected and there is no sign to indicate where the Komagata Maru ship was parked.
However, the names of the dead are engraved on a stone erected at the memorial site. An old railway station building near where the bloody incident occurred needs repair, while an old tree that was hit by the flying bullets has perished.
Local Sikhs, including former gurdwara president Akhtiar Singh, revealed that they continue to press the authorities to rename the town and the railway station after the Komagata Maru. Even the current railway minister, Mamta Banerjee, who is from the same state, has been repeatedly apprised of the request.
Yet the Boj Boj railway station remains dilapidated and used only for cargo trains. This is despite the fact that Swami Vivekananda, a towering sage of India, returned from a U.S. journey to Boj Boj.
The modest Sikh temple building has a few pictures related to the Komagata Maru episode. They include a portrait of Gurdit Singh, who charted the ship to challenge Canada's immigration laws of the era, and also a painting of the shooting incident.
The temple does not receive big donations for this, although people with a curiosity in the Komagata Maru's journey occasionally visit Boj Boj from as far as Canada.
Singh, the former gurdwara president, said that the temple gives free books about the Komagata Maru history to visitors to keep the memory of the martyrs alive.
Gurpreet Singh is Georgia Straight contributor, and the host of a program on Radio India. He's working on a book tentatively titled Canada's 9/11: Lessons from the Air India Bombings.






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