In Kobe, the Japanese crew began to trouble the passengers. Electricity and water were cut off. The passengers, led by Jawahar Mal, placed their grievances in front of Mr. Y. Sato, the agent of the owners of the ship, and of the British Consul at Kobe. Mr. Sato tried to get the ship vacated but was unable to do so as the date of Charter was to expire only on 3rd October, 1914 and the money for that had already been paid. The passengers were very keen to reach Hong Kong, the place from where they had begun their journey. Their entry being prohibited there, they reluctantly agreed to proceed to Calcutta. This version of Gurdit Singh has not been corroborated by Kuwajima. He cites the Osaka Asahi Shimbum of August 21, 1914 that makes a noncommittal reference to the episode: The Komagata Maru whose passengers, more than three hundred Indians were not allowed to land in Canada, and made trouble at Kobe, left the port in accordance with the British Consul General there. The Governor’s House at Hong Kong did not permit their landing in view of times, and she was forced to leave for Calcutta from Kobe at 4:40 pm on the 3rd. The Komagata Maru affair was settled for the time being. The Komagata Maru was to leave Kobe on 2nd September, 1914 for Calcutta, but the news leaked out that plans were afoot to actually send the ship to Madras. On vehement protest from the passengers, the destination was restored to Calcutta. According to Kuwajima, it was the Governor of Singapore who decided the port of final destination as Calcutta. This was done according to the strong wishes of the committee on board the Komagata Maru. Held virtually prisoners both at Singapore and Kalpi, the ship finally reached Budge-Budge, seventy miles from Calcutta on 27th September, 1914. It was made to anchor there in spite of the protest of Gurdit Singh. All the passengers were hustled on to the railway platform at the point of gun. Gurdit Singh pleaded that at least five of them be allowed to go to Calcutta so that they could carry the Holy Granth Sahib to the Sikh temple and place it there. He also requested for a lawyer to enable them to settle the affairs of Komagata Maru. When all their requests were rejected, Gurdit Singh and members of his committee refused to board trains to be transported to Pubjab at Government expense. Some of the passengers, together with Gurdit Singh, tried to defy police orders and started with the Granth Sahib on foot to Calcutta. They were, however, brought back to the steamer on pain of death. The men returned, placed the book in an open space and began to pray. While the “Ardasa” was being recited, Gurdit Singh was called by a police officer. Gurdit Singh’s reply was that he would first have to finish his prayers. This infuriated the police officer so much that he lashed out with his lathi, and finally the police opened fire. Several people died but Gurdit Singh managed to escape. While he was fleeing, he got news that his nine year old son Balwant Singh who had been with him, was missing. Rs. 2,000 had been offered by the Government as reward for his arrest. His property had been confiscated forcing his aged father to live with his sister at Odiara in Lahore district. Further, Gurdit Singh and his men had been pronounced as non-Sikhs by the Indians themselves to please the Government. Gurdit Singh remained at large till 1921 when he turned himself in. Many of those associated with the immigration struggle and with Komagata Maru were also involved in the revolutionary activities of the Gadar Party.

—The author is Director at the India International Centre, and a former principal of the Hindu College, Delhi. The piece is excerpted from her book, Ongoing Journey—Indian Migration to Canada.

(To be continued)

August 2011

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