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Of Immigrants Past and Present

Vijaya Ramaswamy

By Hugh Johnston
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1979, pp. 162, Rs. 55.00

By A.W. Helweg
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1979, pp. 175, Rs. 55.00

VOLUME IV NUMBER 5-6 March-April/May-June 1980

The voyage of the Komagata Maru has its roots in the present as well as in the past. It had its links with the Ghadr party, the most powerful terrorist organization outside India engaged in the anti-imperia­list struggle. But its relevance is no less to the immediate question of the Indian im­migrants everywhere and their prospects and problems. Both aspects have been inter­woven into this account of the Sikh Chal­lenge to Canada's colour bar. Helweg's book takes up the theme of emigration and immigrants within a narrow spatial framework over a long period from 1947 to 1948. On the 4th of April 1914 165 Sikhs led by a businessman, Gurdit Singh em­barked on the Komagata Maru renamed Guru Nanak Jahaz from Hong Kong with British Colombia as their destination. The voyage of the Komagata Maru was far from being the first of its kind. The first Sikhs had arrived in Canada in March 1904. By 1906, there were 2,000 Sikhs in Vancouver and by 1908 their number had swelled to 6,000, working in the saw mills, in the railways and in the cement facto­ries. The Canadian authorities did not view these immigrants with tolerance. The first of the immigration laws aimed at the Indians were passed in 1908. The members of the Indian community were treated as non-citizens and refused the right to vote. The chief instrument of official harassment was Hopkinson. He was employed as an Immigration Inspector and Interpreter for the Canadian Government, but for his service in providing information of Indian activities, he drew, apart from an annual salary from the Canadian government, a stipend and expenses from the India office, and a retainer from the American Immigration service. Hopkinson was backed by his superior Malcolm R.J. Reid, the Vancouver Immigration Agent, a minion of the local Conservative M.P., H.H. Stevens, who was a rabid Indian hater. This powerful combination of official forces failed to check the disembar­king of the passengers of Panama Maru in October 1913 and they chafed against the Indian victory in the law courts. The Sikhs led by certain educated members of their community like Tarak­nath Das, Guran Ditta, Har Dayal Bagh Singh and Rahim, soon came to view the discriminatory policy in Canada as part of an overall imperialist-racist attitude faced by Indians in Natal, Transvaal, Australia and New Zealand. Around 1913 were founded revolutionary organizations­—Madame Cama's Abhinav Bharat Society in Paris ...

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