In early 1900s Canada, public opinion of the white-majority was explicitly anti-Asian. Racism of all stripes was not only popular, but also supported by law. In this hostile environment, the Komagata Maru made its way from the port of Hong Kong to Burrard Inlet, off the coast of Vancouver in 1914.
Barred from disembarking, the passengers of the Komagata Maru stayed aboard the ship for two months as supporters on shore mounted challenges and provided basic material supports such as food and water. During the two month period, the passengers were supported by a group of South Asians living in the Vancouver area – this “Shore Committee” shared news, raised money, wrote about the Komagata Maru, and helped facilitate the legal battle to fight for the passengers to stay. In the end, they were finally escorted out of the harbour by the Canadian Naval ship the HCMS Rainbow carrying out (in its first official national duty). The passengers aboard the Komagata Maru faced uncertainty and violence upon their return to Calcutta.
A transnational tragedy with unneeded loss of life and resources – the story of the Komagata Maru highlights a deep valuing of racist exclusion in-built within the fabric of Canadian society and law, while presenting all of us with an opportunity for self-reflection, for remembrance and also for healing the wounds of historical traumas. This healing is, of course, made complicated by innumerable other examples of exclusion, discrimination and marginalization. As we reflect and remember, we must resist the urge to only look back in sorrow. Marginalized communities, including South Asian communities, have resisted and mobilized in astounding and inspiring ways. They did so in 1914, they continue to do so.
This website, created as part of a larger “Brown Canada” project coordinated by the Council of Agencies Serving South Asians (CASSA), based in Toronto, Ontario, creates an opportunity for reflection and dialogue. Like the 376 Indians aboard the Komagata Maru who journeyed so far, we invite you to let the expanse of this (virtual) space unfold in front of you.