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date: 18 October 2019

Komagata Maru 

A Dictionary of Sikh Studies

Pashaura Singh

Early in the twentieth century, to curb the increasing flow of immigration from India the Canadian parliament passed a bill requiring all prospective entrants to come from their own country by means of a ‘continuous journey’. As no shipping line sailed direct from India to Canada without trans-shipping, the ‘continuous journey’ provision worked to serve the purpose of the government. Gurdit Singh, a businessman from Singapore, challenged this law by chartering a ship named the Komagata Maru and sailing it from Calcutta to Vancouver, where it arrived on 23 May 1914. The ship carried 376 passengers from India; all but thirty of them were Sikhs. The immigration authorities refused them permission to land except for twenty-two passengers who were able to prove Canadian domicile. A two-month legal battle ensued. The government of British Columbia was clearly in the wrong, but it held fast to its position. Threatened by a cruiser and with provisions exhausted, Gurdit Singh had to finally sail back to Calcutta. When the Komagata Maru arrived there, the colonial government ordered all its passengers to board a train for the Punjab. Gurdit Singh and his companions refused to obey, carrying the Gurū Granth Sāhib (... ...

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