In Its Attitude To Rohingyas, the Modi government is Repeating Komagata Maru: Indian Immigrants Forced Back from Canada, 1914

Written by Gurpreet Singh | Published on: September 23, 2017
What binds Kyi with Modi or US President Donald Trump is that they are all indulging in populist politics that thrives on majoritarianism. In the name of security, all three governments are scapegoating Muslims to polarise Buddhists, Hindus  and Christians against them.

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Sikhs aboard Komagata Maru in Vancouver's Burrard Inlet, 1914     Image: Wikipedia.org

If Trudeau is really sorry for what happened to the passengers of Komagata Maru hundred years ago he should now stand up for Rohingyas as he is the only hope in the International politics that seems to be dominated by extreme right. 

 
If the attitude of the Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government in India toward Rohingya refugees is any indication, it is repeating the history of Komagata Maru. 

The Japanese vessel carrying more than 300 South Asian passengers from India was forced to return by the Canadian government from Vancouver in 1914. The decision was made under a discriminatory immigration law that was passed to keep Canada as white man's country. 

These passengers had come to Canada as British subjects to earn their livelihood. Both India and Canada were British colonies back then. When the ship arrived, there was a wide spread racist backlash from the media and right wing politicians.
Under pressure from the white nationalists, the ship was forcibly returned. When Komagata Maru reached India,  the British Indian police suspected that many of the passengers might have turned into subversives and tried to arrest them upon reaching near Calcutta as a result there was a scuffle between the police and the passengers that led to police firing which left several people dead on September 29, 1914.  

Only last year, the Canadian government formally apologised for the racist episode in the House of Commons. While Komagata Maru tragedy remains etched in the collective memory of the Indo Canadians, the government of India the country many of them were born in is taking the society backward.

Following large scale violence by the Buddhist extremists and Myanmar army targeting Rohingyas mainly Muslims and a very few Hindus, thousands of refugees are now seeking shelter in India on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
The refugee crisis was triggered by army repression following an attack by Rohingya militants seeking autonomy and citizenship rights for their people . But the right wing BJP government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not willing to accept them with open arms.

While some are raising security concerns citing Rohingya militancy that they claim might spill over to India if these refugees were allowed to stay back, the more hawkish BJP supporters have gone to the extent of suggesting that only Hindu refugees be allowed to stay and Muslims be sent back. Such hateful statements are no different from the ones that were directed at Komagata Maru passengers and other South Asian immigrants by the white supremacists who also emphasized that the immigration from  India will create problems. They even threatened Edward Bird, a lawyer who defended the ship passengers much as the BJP supporters are attacking people who are defending Rohingyas on social media. 

Activists for social within the Indo Canadian community cannot overlook this connection. For those who care about the history of the Komagata Maru struggle it has become even more relevant today in the light of Rohingya refugee crisis. Not only the right wing government in India but Canada's Liberal government also need to be made accountable for what is happening in that part of the world where a section of the population has become stateless people.

After all, Canada has given the leader of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi an honorary citizenship for fighting against military regime in the past. As she remains complicit in the crimes against Rohingyas, the Canadian government that claims to be human rights leader in the world should take away her honorary citizenship. 

What binds Kyi with Modi or US President Donald Trump is that they are all indulging in populist politics that thrives on majoritarianism. In the name of security, all three governments are scapegoating Muslims to polarise Buddhists, Hindus  and Christians against them.

If Trudeau is really sorry for what happened to the passengers of Komagata Maru hundred years ago he should now stand up for Rohingyas as he is the only hope in the International politics that seems to be dominated by extreme right.