Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Komagata Maru 1914 MV Sun Sea 2010

Has anyone else noticed the eerie similarity of the treatment meted out to the group of Tamil arrivals in 2010 with that of the more than 300 (mostly Sikh) South Asian arrivals in 1914? I am of course referring to the Canadian government’s shameful treatment of the passengers of the Komagata Maru.

In 1982 at a yard sale in Durham county, I bought a book written by Ted Ferguson with a very interesting title: A white man's country: An exercise in Canadian prejudice published (1975.) I could not remember that I had heard of the Komagata Maru before reading Ferguson’s book.

There are some differences in that the passengers of the Komagata Maru had not been labelled terrorists and the Canadian government was very open about their white supremacist culture. Interestingly enough the passengers of the Komagata Maru were British citizens since India like Canada at the time (1914) was part of the British Empire.

Since Freguson’s book was published in 1975 other books have been written about the Komagata Maru incident, including:

Tragedy of the Komagata Maru (1975) by Sohan Singh Josh

The Voyage of the Komagata Maru: the Sikh Challenge to Canada's Colour Bar (1979) by Hugh J. M. Johnston.

White Canada Forever: Popular Attitudes and Public Policy toward Orientals in British Columbia (1990) by W. Peter Ward.

I encourage people who do not know about this bit of Canadian history to check out the similarities and see that the more things supposedly change, the more they remain the same.

It would be interesting to read what white Canadian journalists wrote about the passengers of the Komagata Maru and what they are writing about the passengers of the MV Sun Sea.

There is this well crafted myth about Canada being a multicultural. Welcoming country to all and sundry when in reality if you are a racialized person the welcome mat is either not put out for you or it is whipped out from under your feet. Another well crafted myth is the one about the unbiased reporting of white journalists who write for the major Canadian newspapers. The 2002 published book Discourses of Domination: Racial Bias in the Canadian English-Language Press by Frances Henry and Carol Tator exposes that myth for the myth that it is. Reading various articles written by white journalists about the Tamil refuge seekers could leave you in no doubt about the bias of the writers. There have been ridiculous, unsubstantiated claims about the group of refuge seekers who have risked life and limb fleeing from what none of the writers of those articles have experienced except maybe in their nightmares.

It is indeed heart-rending to know that there are approximately 500 human beings, men, women and children who right now are not sure if they will be sent back to a situation that sent them fleeing from their country of birth. No one leaves their country, uproots their life and flees with whatever they can carry in their hands unless they are desperate. People do not uproot their children from contented, settled lives and take them across oceans thousands of miles from home unless there is a crisis.

The similarity of the treatment of the Tamils who arrived in Canada in August 2010 with the Sikhs who arrived in Canada in 1914 is shocking because Canada can no longer claim to be a “white man’s country” as it did in 1914.

The passengers from India who arrived on the Komagata Maru in August 1914 were refused entry into Canada. They were forced to return to India where some of them were killed by the British authorities who occupied India.

The Canadian government’s first attempt to restrict immigration from India was to pass an order-in-council on January 8, 1908, that prohibited immigration of persons who "in the opinion of the Minister of the Interior" did not "come from the country of their birth or citizenship by a continuous journey and or through tickets purchased before leaving their country of their birth or nationality." In practice this applied only to ships that began their voyage in India, as the distance from Canada usually necessitated a stopover in Japan or Hawaii. This was a deliberate attempt to exclude from Canada, South Asians who were British subjects from the Indian subcontinent. These regulations came at a time when Canada was accepting massive numbers of immigrants (over 400,000 in 1913,) mostly from Europe.

If these 500 refuge seekers were fleeing a home in Europe would they receive the same treatment? Many of the people who seem to be foaming at the mouth (from many of the comments readers have posted in some daily newspapers) would not be here if the First Nations community had refused their ancestors entry on this land.

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