Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Vancouver council approve Komagata Maru street name to acknowledge historic wrongs

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A major street in Vancouver will now bear the honorary name of Komagata Maru Place, after its city council unanimously passed a motion on Tuesday in that regard “as an acknowledgment of the historical discrimination.”

That decision commemorates the incident in 1914 when the Japanese steamship, Komagata Maru, carrying 376 passengers from India was escorted away from Vancouver harbour due to discriminatory laws that were then in place in Canada.

Canada Place, which will now also have the secondary name of Komagata Maru Place, is a significant two-block section of the city in the province of British Columbia.

Raj Singh Toor, spokesperson for the Descendants of the Komagata Maru Society, said, “We can’t undo the past but we can move forward and leave a legacy for the future generations by educating them about the past.”

Toor said he had been advocating for such a measure since March 2018. “We are extremely happy. It’s a great tribute to those passengers who suffered a lot during the tragedy,” he told the Hindustan Times after the motion was passed by the council.

The staff of the council also presented a report that recommends that the 2nd Avenue Gurdwara, a historic place of worship built in 1908, be recognised. Better known now as the Ross Street Gurdwara, it is operated by the Khalsa Diwan Society.

After the unanimous vote in favour, councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung tweeted, “It’s official. Canada Place will receive the secondary name of ‘Komagata Maru Place’ as an acknowledgment of the historical discrimination by the City against our South Asian communities.”

In 2016, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had formally apologised on behalf of the nation in the House of Commons, for the discriminatory event that led to the turning back of the vessel from Vancouver Harbour. A permanent memorial marking the episode exists in Vancouver.

In 1914, the ship arrived near Vancouver harbour on May 23. Its passengers were from India, many seeking to immigrate to Canada, though it was also a political act as some among them returned to fight for Independence. However, upon arrival of the ship at the harbour, immigration authorities refused to allow the majority to come ashore, citing the discriminatory Continuous Passage Regulation, a law that mandated that immigrants arrive in Canada directly from their home country. For those from India, that was logistically impossible. The racist legislation was meant to be exclusionary. The passengers had a standoff with authorities, at times the angry passengers confronted them. Part of the reason for the action against those aboard the ship was that the British empire also considered some of the passengers to be linked to the revolutionary Ghadar movement. On July 23, two months after the arrival of the ship, the resistance was overcome and the ship was escorted away from Vancouver and back to India. On its return, British police boarded the vessel and attempted to arrest the leaders of the passengers who they considered to be insurgents. In the resultant riot, 19 passengers were killed and over 200 arrested.

Vancouver council approve Komagata Maru street name to acknowledge historic wrongs

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