SINGH, Gurdit




In 1914, some 376 British subjects, including 340 Sikhs, were stranded offshore for two months in the ship Komagata Maru, as they unsuccessfully challenged B.C. immigration policies in Burrard Inlet. The ship had been chartered for $66,000 by Gurdit Singh Sarhali, a Sikh entrepreneur, as a direct challenge to a restrictive policy that required all would-be immigrants from India to take direct passage to Canada—when no such direct passage from India existed. During the impasse, food and water aboard ship diminished and social unrest among the South Asian community of B.C. increased. An attempt to board the ship by 150 armed men, in support of a Canadian immigration official, was rebuffed. It took the arrival of the federal navy vessel H.M.C.S. Rainbow on July 23, 1914, to force the Komagata Maru to leave the city and return to Calcutta.

The stand-off has been best documented and examined by Hugh Johnston in The Voyage of the Komagata Maru: The Sikh Challenge to Canada’s Colour Bar (1979). The best selection of graphics and photos can be found in Ali Kazim's illustrated history Undesirables: White Canada and the Komagata Maru (D&M 2012). But the original attempt to document the events was made by Gurdit Singh himself when he self-published his account fourteen years after he was forced to go underground to evade arrest and probable hanging in India for his leadership of the Sikhs on board the ship.

BOOKS:

Voyage of the Komagata Maru, or India’s Slavery Abroad (Calcutta: Self-published 1928)

[BCBW 2012] "Sikh"