Why does Punjab want Komagata money, ask Indians in Canada

Last Updated : 16 July 2010, 08:25 IST
Last Updated : 16 July 2010, 08:25 IST

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The Komagata Maru was a Japanese ship hired by a Malaysia-based wealthy Sikh, Gurdit Singh, to bring 376 Indians to Vancouver via Hong Kong in 1914 to challenge racist laws of that time. But they were not allowed to disembark  for two months and then forcibly sent back to India where many were shot dead by police on arrival in Kolkata.

Punjab Tourism and Culture Minister Hira Singh Gabria said recently in Chandigarh that the passengers of the ship had deposited $15,000 as 'entry tax' with the Canadian authorities. But that money was not given back when the ship was forcibly sent back.

The amount deposited in 1914 has a whopping value of $143 million today, according to the Punjab minister.

To get the money back from Canada, he has set up an an 11-member panel of Sikh scholars and legal experts to give its opinion on legal and diplomatic measures.
"But we don't know anything about what the Punjab government is doing. It is all politics. Nobody has consulted us," said a descendant of Gurdit Singh who hired the  ship to bring the Indians to Canada.

Vancouver-based Indo-Canadian MLA Jagrup Brar added, "When the families (now settled in Canada) of the Komagata passengers have not made such demands, I wonder how the Punjab government has started this process. They should have consulted the Indo-Canadian community and the families who suffered because of the 1914 episode."

Sikh leader Nachhttar Singh Chohan, of Mississauga on the outskirts of Toronto, also expressed his dismay at the demand made by the Punjab government.

"Canada didn't invite the Komagata Maru passengers to come here. This country had the right to  stop them. So this demand for return of the so-called 'entry tax' money is a drama by the Punjab minister. It is laughable and has no logic," said Chohan.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologised for the Komagata Maru episode at a Punjabi mela in Vancouver in 2008.

But some sections of the Indo-Canadian community and opposition parties have been demanding a formal apology in the country's parliament.
In fact, Jack Layton, leader of the opposition New Democratic Party, has moved a petition in parliament, seeking a formal apology from Canada to the million-strong Indo-Canadian community in this country of 34 million people.

Published 16 July 2010, 08:25 IST

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