By Jagpal Singh Tiwana
HALIFAX: The Sikh community of Nova Scotia honoured the heroes of the Komagata Maru ship on its centenary by organizing an exhibition Lions of the Sea here on September 21.
Komagata Maru was a Japanese ship which was hired by Malaysia-based rich Sikh Gurdit Singh to bring 376 Indians, mostly Sikhs, to Canada to challenge the racist laws of the time which barred entry for non-whites. But the ship was forcibly sent back to India after a two-month-long stand-off in Vancouver harbour. Over 20 of those passengers were shot dead by British Indian police when they reached Budge Budge in Calcutta (now Kolkata).
Organized by the Maritime Sikh Society, the exhibition at Halifax’s Olympic Community Centre showcased rare pictures, artefacts and documents relating to the Komagata Maru episode.
Sourced from the Sikh Heritage Museum of Canada in Mississauga, the exhibition also depicted the history of Sikhs as British subjects.
The exhibition opened with ardas (the Sikh prayer) and recitation from the holy Guru Granth. Pardeep Singh Nagra of the Sikh Heritage Museum of Canada enlightened the audience about Sikh settlement in Canada. He also narrated a fact not known to most people – that Prince Victor Duleep Singh, son of Prince Duleep Singh and grandson of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, visited Halifax in 1889 as honorary Aide-de-Camp (ADC) to General Sir John Ross.
The dignitaries who spoke at the inaugural ceremony included Halifax Mayor Mike Savage, Nova Scotia Attorney General and immigration minister Lena Metlege Diab, Culture and Heritage Minister Tony Ince.
Labour and Advanced Education Minister Kelly Regan came dressed in salwar-kameez. Two MPs – Geoff Regan and Megan Lassie – were also present at the inaugural.
Welcoming the dignitaries, Rimple Singh Dhunna, secretary of the Maritime Sikh Society, compared the humane treatment given by the local natives of Shelburne county where a ship from Germany with 174 Sikh refugees from India reached there in July 1987 to the brutal treatment of Komagata passengers in 1914 in Vancouver.
Iqbal Mahal of Toronto, who hosts the popular TV show Visions of Punjab, brought a documentary on Komagata Maru that he produced on the 75th anniversary of the episode.
Two other documentaries on Komagata were also shown on the occasion.
Interestingly, Toronto-based Harminder Singh Mann, who is a descendant of martyr Bhagat Singh from his mother’s side, and Chani Sidhu, whose great grandfather was a passenger on Komagata Maru, joined the Sikhs of Nova Scotia in paying respects to the heroes of 1914.
Jagpal Singh Tiwana of the Maritime Sikh Society thanked all those who made the exhibition a huge success.