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Japanese connection to radicalism in Punjab


The Komagata Maru in Vancouver harbour
The Japanese were partly responsible for engendering radicalism in Punjab. Their ship, their bricks were the ones that were involved in the episode at Vancouver harbour in May 1914 that finally resulted in the radicalisation of many Punjabis. The Japanese vessel Komagata Maru took 376 Punjabis from Hong Kong to Shanghai and thence to Vancouver. This it did despite full knowledge that Indians were unwelcome in Canada at that time and that in 1907 there had been riots wherein the white population had attacked Asians. Admittedly most Asians in Canada at that time were Chinese and some Japanese. But the prejudice against non-whites was high. One of the recent laws needed every immigrant to come with at least $200 on their person and on a ship that sailed directly from India.



Officials abroad the Komagata Maru, July 1914
The Komagata Maru violated all these conditions. This ship had been chartered by a rich Punjabi businessman from Hong Kong, one Gurdit Singh, to test the laws of British Columbia. The journey was well publicised. The Canadian press had already begun to talk of the 'Hindu invasion' during the seven week that took the Komagata Maru to reach Vancouver. The locals greeted the ship with bricks and stones. The passengers retaliated in kind. One of the bricks thrown indicates that even the bricks were of Japanese make. The authorities tried to forcibly remove the ship from the harbour but the passengers fought back and pushed back the tug and its armed policemen who had come for the task. Finally a naval ship was called in: to perform the first substantive task in its history-- to remove the Komagata Maru from Vancouver harbour.



The authorities at Vancouver allowed 20 to enter. These were the ones who already had resident status. The rest were forced to return to India. They spent their journey back discussing the causes for their plight, condemning the colonial government and vowing to overthrow all colonialism. Many of them became converts to Marxism. That legacy of fighting against injustice continues to exist in Punjab.



For four months they had been stranded on their ship. On returning to Calcutta they were met with a British gun boat that arrested all the passengers and jailed them at Budge Budge near Calcutta. When the passengers were told that they were all to be put on a train to Punjab they rebelled. The police opened fire on the protestors. Twenty of the protestors were shot dead. The rest were taken to Punjab and virtually imprisoned in their villages.



The tug boat Sea Lion was brought in to take the Komagata Maru out to sea. One of the ofrficials abroad the Sea Lion was William Hopkinson, once a policeman in Calcutta. Hopkinson wass well versed in Hindi and had a smattering of Punjabi. He used his ability to disguise as a Sikh to collect information about the Sikhs in Canada. For his role in forcing the Komagata Maru back he was murdered by Mewa Singh, a Sikh in Canada, outside the provincial court house in Vancouver. 14 October 1914.

The warship Rainbow was called in to force the Komagata Maru out of Canadian territorial waters. This was one of the first tasks undertaken by a nascent Candian navy-- attacking its own citizens. It may be worth recalling that in those days Indians were as much a subject of the British empire as were the Canadians.


Source : India History