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Komagata Maru 100 years later: Indian government sponsors events

05/25/2015 11:00 EDT | Updated 05/25/2016 05:59 EDT
When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited B.C. in April, he took time alongside Prime Minister Stephen Harper to remember a black mark in Canadian history. In a tweet depicting the two national leaders with a commemorative gift, a messag read "In remembrance of the Komagata Maru incident."

On May 23, 1914 a Japanese steamship called the Komagata Maru carried 376 men from Punjab, India who hoped to start a new life in Vancouver. Instead, the vast majority of them were not allowed to set foot in Canada, and were sent back to India.

Now, more than a hundred years since those events, the Indian government is sponsoring a week's worth of events in Metro Vancouver to commemorate the incident.

"It was a major landmark event in not only Indo-Canadian history, but in the history of the Indian freedom struggle," Ravi Shankar Aisola, the Consul General of India in Vancouver, told the Early Edition's Rick Cluff.

"The incident opened the eyes of many of what colonial rule actually was and was doing to India ... it inspired the revolutionaries and freedom fighters in India"

Aisola will accompany the joint secretary of India's ministry of culture, Pramod Jain, at seven events. He says it's a celebration of the impact the Indo-Canadian community has had on the province since 1914.

Apology seekers still upset

In 2008, at a Punjabi cultural event in Surrey, B.C., Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized for the events surrounding the incident.

"The government of Canada secured passage of the unanimous motion in the House of Commons recognizing the Komagata Maru tragedy and apologizing to those who were directly affected," he said in front of the thousands in attendance.

Immediately following his speech, a number of members of the Punjabi community took to the stage to announce they would not accept the apology due to the fact that it was not given on the floor of the House of Commons.

"An apology made outside of parliament by any political spokesperson, whether they're the Prime Minister or any other Member of Parliament, is a political statement," Amandeep Singh told the CBC. Singh is part of the Professor Mohan Singh Memorial Foundation, the group that arranged the Prime Minister's visit in 2008.

"It's not a statement from the Canadian government or has the same legal effect. What we've been asking for is an official apology given in parliament."

In a conversation with CBC last year, the federal Conservative Minister of Multiculturalism, Tim Uppal, said that as a Sikh, he has accepted the Prime Minister's apology and encourages others within the community to do so as well.

"The Prime Minister of the country has already apologized for this and did it in front of thousands of people," said Uppal.

"Anybody who looks into the House of Commons record will see it's there for generations of people to see."

Consul General Aisola says he's reluctant to comment on the issue.

"It's an internal matter in Canada. I'll leave it to the Indo-Canadian community and the Canadian government to resolve it amongst themselves."

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