"Shocked" is a word that's thrown around a lot in reference to the story of a man urinating on the Komagata Maru memorial. The brazenness of the act in broad daylight and his proclamation to continue his actions, all point to obscene and disturbing behaviour. But many South Asians I've talked to aren't shocked at all. Sad, yes. Disappointed, absolutely. But at the heart of this is the understanding that to be "shocked" means that you're experiencing the unexpected.
The Komagata Maru was introduced to me sandwiched between narratives of the Chinese Head Tax and Japanese Internment. It had no scope to breathe. No room for discussion and further explanation. And it was the only time I remember seeing people that looked like me in my school textbooks. But the Komagata Maru is more elusive. It took me years to unlearn the biases I had built up around the story, hear the voices of the pioneers and understand the history on its own terms.
My ancestry doesn't define what I feel is most important. The essentialist logic that just because I'm South Asian an apology for the Komagata Maru incident is the paramount focus of my political identity -- and that its resolution would sway me to support a particular political party -- is insulting. I, like all Canadians, am more than just one thing.
The Komagata Maru incident occurred during a time in Canadian history where there was a deep-seated prejudice against minorities and immigrants. NDP MP Jasbir Sandhu's motion today urged the Government of Canada to officially apologize in Parliament to the South Asian community in the House of Commons. I commend him.
By blaming the British for the Komagata Maru incident -- which barred 376 Indians from entering Canada -- we make history palatable and excuse the role our country played. A new website funded by the federal government, however, finally aims at unlocking the Komagata Maru incident and its significance in Canadian history.