Thursday, May 26, 2016

Righting the Wrong

The Komagata Maru steamship carrying 376 passengers mostly the Sikhs reached Canada's West Coast on May 23, 1914, anchoring in Vancouver's coal harbour. Beyond doubt Sikhs are well known for their hard work and fighting skills. Some of those who fought for the British (WW I) were trying to claim the right to land in Canada despite the absence of any favourable legal provisions. Obviously, that was a direct challenge to Canada's discriminatory immigration rules at the time. The immigration officials refused to let the boat people step on the Canadian soil. The ship, however, ended up being escorted out to sea for returning to Calcutta.  Approximately 20 passengers lost their lives while clashing with police on the Indian soil.
Unlike the recent (government-sponsored) heavy influx of genuine refugees from Syria, the East Indian passengers attempted an illegal entry into Canada. Not more than twenty passengers were permitted entry as permanent residents. Those Sikhs hadn’t faced any genocide like environment back in India; they were simply opportunists trying to find a better economic life in Canada. Nevertheless, they were denied entry because of gross illegality on their part. Quite shockingly, there was a great deal of discrimination at play as well.
The long overdue legislated apology: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has formally apologized in the House of Commons as passengers went through a highly painful experience, denied entry to Canada and were forced to return to violent fate in India. "First and foremost, to the victims of the incident, no words can erase the pain and suffering they experienced," Trudeau said. "Regrettably, the passage of time means that none are alive to hear our apology today, still, we offer it, fully and sincerely, for our indifference to your plight, for our failure to recognize all that you had to offer.”For the laws that discriminated against you so senselessly, and for not apologizing sooner. For all these things, we are truly sorry." Trudeau said. He also apologized directly to the passengers' descendants, some of whom, he noted, were gathered in the House of Commons visitors' gallery to hear the apology. "We can never know what your lives would have been like had your relatives been welcome to Canada," Trudeau said. "The ways in which your lives would have been different, the ways in which Canada would have been enriched. Those possibilities are lost to history, for that, and to you, we apologize." The prime minister said Canada must now commit itself to positive action, to learning from mistakes and to make sure that we never repeat the errors of the past. 
Trudeau ended his remarks with a tip of the hat to his Sikh Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, who Trudeau said worked hard to bring the Komagata Maru incident to national attention.  The prime minister noted that before entering politics Sajjan was the commanding officer of the British Columbia Regiment Duke of Connaught's Own, the regiment that forced the British Komagata Maru out of Canada in 1914. "The minister's family might well have been turned away from Canada, today the minister is an essential member of this government and sits here in this House," Trudeau said. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair also rose in the House to offer his apologies, beginning by echoing remarks by Ambrose when she noted Harper's earlier efforts to express regret for the incident.
"Now here in this House today, we are making that act official, this act of contrition, from all Canadians for this historic tragedy," he said in French.
"It was racism pure and simple that put our fellow human beings at such risk," Mulcair said. "It was a horrific chapter in the history of a country that has come to recognize diversity and tolerance as great strengths."
Better late than never:
Surely, the legislated apology is a welcome step as it has fulfilled the long standing demand of the people of India including Canadians of Indian origin.
Excellent: Sikhs are finally successful in extracting an apology through Canadian parliament for an incident that happened more than 100 years ago.
Does anybody know if there was any apology to the families of those who lost lives due to Air India tragedy?
 Conveniently overlooked:
The militant Sikhs blew up a jumbo jet (Air India flight 182) while in flight from Toronto to India with 329 passengers onboard; 268 passengers of the ill fated flight were Canadians. Question: Would the government address this historic wrong within the century?
Conclusion: In the modern time, the elected leaders must acknowledge that the world has changed for the better; they must accept accountability and be apologetic for all mistakes regardless of their age or magnitude.
We are proud that Canada under the leadership of Justin Trudeau has set an example of superior form of humanitarianism on the planet. That should take care of the racism, as all are equal.

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