The Japanese vessel carrying more than 300 South Asian passengers from British India had arrived at Vancouver on July 23, 1914. Since British Columbia was part of the British dominion, they had come as British subjects to earn their livelihood in this part of the world. However, under a discriminatory immigration law aimed at keeping Canada a white man’s land, the Komagata Maru ship was forced to return after remaining stranded in the waters of Burrard Inlet for two months.
The current Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, has already apologized for the episode in the House of Commons.More than a century later, the history is being repeated by the India government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The BJP, which wants to transform India into majoritarian Hindu state, had recently passed a controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill, which openly discourages Muslims coming to India as refugees from the neighbouring countries. Among these countries are Muslim dominated Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The bill is intended to ensure smooth immigration of non-Muslims, especially Hindus from these countries to India. The BJP claims that these groups have been facing religious persecution in these countries, although it goes against the spirit of Indian Constitution that is based on the principles of secularism and diversity. Being a secular democracy, India cannot discriminate so shamelessly and blatantly against any religious group. This Bill is today Indian law.
It goes without saying that there are some Muslim groups, such as Shias, Ahmediyas or even Mohajirs, who face inequality in Pakistan. How can one deny refuge to them? A situation that constantly brings climate refugees, irrespective of their religious beliefs, to India has nothing to do with the socio-political environment in these countries. One does not need a PhD to guess what the motivations of this government are. They have clearly picked on countries that are frequently demonized by the BJP government as exporters of Islamic extremism, in order to polarize Hindus against Muslims. It is worth mentioning that attacks on Muslims have grown under Modi ever since he became the Prime Minister in 2014 and got re-elected this year with more seats. The state of Gujarat had witnessed anti-Muslim pogrom in 2002 under his watch. Modi, who was the Chief Minister of the state back then, had alleged Pakistan based Islamic extremists of burning a train carrying Hindu pilgrims. More than 50 people had died in the incident that was instantly blamed on Pakistan, following which thousands of Muslims were killed by mobs across Gujarat.
It’s a shame that the Indian officials in Canada continue to celebrate the history of Komagata Maru and won’t shy away from staking claims in the story, whereas in their own home country, they are raising walls against refugees in the name of religion. Their attitude is no different than that of the British, who wanted to keep India divided on religious lines to prolong their rule. Ironically, Gurdit Singh, who charted the Komagata Maru, had shared in his memoirs that the British were partly upset with him as he had given space to everyone, including Hindus, Muslims and the Sikhs, on the vessel to practice their religions. This shows how the founding fathers of modern India had tried to build an inclusive society, by taking everyone along in their fight against colonialism and racism, and yet the present day Indian leadership is bent upon destroying that dream. It is time for Canada to wake up and see what’s going on in India. If Trudeau really cares for Komagata Maru, he should intervene and let Modi know that this is not going to be tolerated, and if Modi doesn’t listen then he must think of slapping sanctions against the Indian government.
Indians Abroad for Pluralist India has organized a rally against the divisive Citizenship Amendment Act on Sunday, December 22 at 3 pm at Holland Park in Surrey.