Sikh passengers aboard the Komagata Maru awaiting permission to set foot on Canadian soil

Although Mr. Hopkinson (an inspector) knew that Gurdit Singh had to pay an instalment of $22,000 to the owners of the ship before June 4, 1914 and that he could not do so without reaching a bank, neither Gurdit Singh nor his men were allowed to go on shore. Failure to pay would mean that the owner would be entitled to forfeit even the amount previously paid, regain possession of the ship and take it wherever they pleased. Mr. Bird, an advocate who wanted to see Gurdit Singh on June 4, 1914, was not allowed to do so. In support of his good faith Gurdit Singh claims he and his men hired lawyers as soon as their ship arrived at Vancouver. It shows, according to him, that they had no intention of going against any law or they might as well have spared themselves the legal fees.  

Kavita Sharma

Gurdit Singh wrote letters to Mr. Malcolm Reid, the Head Immigration Officer; Khalsa Committee; Gurdwara Vancouver; Government of Ottawa; Government of India; British Parliament; His Majesty George V; Maharajas of Nabha and Patiala; the Chief Khalsa Diwan Amritsar; the Hindu Sabha and to various other bodies. He also served notice on Malcolm Reid, warning him that his detention was illegal and holding him responsible for any damages that might be suffered. According to the Immigration Act, “Members of dramatic, musical, artistic, athletic or spectacular ogranisations entering Canada temporarily for the purpose of giving public performances or exhibitions of an entertaining or instructive nature and actors and artists, lecturers, musicians, priests and ministers of religion, professors of colleges or other educational institution, and commercial travelers entering Canada for the temporary exercise of their respective callings” could not be classified as immigrants. Further, the Immigration Act also provided for release of any persons detailed in the Act under a bond with approved security or deposit of money in lieu thereof. Section 33 para 11 of the Immigration Act states:

Pending the final disposition of the case of any person detained or taken into custody for any cause under this act he may be released under a bond, which bond may be in the form F in the schedule to this act, with security approved by the Officer-in-Charge in lieu of a bond, and to an amount approved by such officers; upon condition that such persons shall appeal before a board of enquiry of officers acting as such at any port of entry named by the Officer-in-Charge, and at such time as shall be named for examination with regard to the cause or complaint on account of which he has been detained or taken into custody. 

The Gurudwara Committee at Vancouver was prepared to stand security for the passengers of Komagata Maru, but the prayers of Gurdit Singh and his men were peremptorily rejected. Gurdit Singh’s advocate, J.E. Bird, also complained to the Governor General at Ottawa that he was not being allowed to meet his client and that proceedings were being delayed and obstructed. The passengers gave a bonafide assurance to Mr. Reid, the agent of the Dominion Government that no seditious document, objectionable or prohibited articles would be brought on board from the shore. 

—The author is Director at the India International Centre, and a former principal of the Hindu College, Delhi. The piece is excerpted from her book, Ongoing Journey—Indian Migration to Canada.
 (To be continued) 

October 2010

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