History


Baba Puran Singh Janetpura

Babat Puran Singh Janetpura on board the Komagata Maru in 1914

My grandfather, Baba Puran Singh Janetpura, studied at an English-language high school in Ludhiana, Punjab, and then studied telecommunications at the University of Amity. He was coming to Canada on board the Komagata Maru to further his education.

After returning back to India, most of the passengers, including my grandfather, joined the freedom movement. The Komagata Maru Incident was a very important event leading up to India’s independence in 1947.  In 1962, my grandfather was recognized by the Punjab, India government for his services and for his active role in the Indian freedom movement. In 1968 my uncle sponsored my grandfather to come to Canada. However, my grandfather refused, saying that he had a painful, bitter memory of Canada. He said that he would not go there, but the South Asian community would go there and would be very successful and live happily and peacefully there. His words came true. Today the South Asian community in Canada is living very successfully, happily, and peacefully. 

My grandfather used to say one day you could be rich, the next day you could be poor. You could lose everything, but the one thing that no one can take away is your education. So give more education to your children. As my grandfather said — the more you educate the community, the less discrimination there will be.

My grandfather passed away in 1974. In 1976 the Punjab government and our family built a hospital in his village Janetpura in his memory. About 6 villages near this hospital use their medical services.

Raj Singh Toor
(Grandson of Baba Puran Singh Janetpura
)


Remembering Komagata Maru

May 21, 2021 Remembering Komagata Maru – a film by Inder Nirwan, and produced by the City of Vancouver and the community. This film is screened each year at Vancouver City Hall between May and July as an educational piece for future school visits and the public

History of the Komagata Maru

(South Asian Canadian Heritage website)

Excellent history of the Komagata Maru on the South Asian Community Heritage (SACH) website
Read the article

Wikipedia Article on the Komagata Maru

Wikipedia article on the Komagata Maru
Read the article

Raj Singh Toor

South Asian Community Heritage website biography of Raj Singh Toor
Read the article

May 18, 2021 – City of Vancouver website coverage of City Council apology
Read the article

May 19, 2021 – Global News coverage of the City of Vancouver apology, with an interview with Raj Toor
Watch the video

July 6, 2019 – Raj Toor describing his grandfather’s journey on the Komagata Maru. This video also covers Raj’s efforts to rename a street in honour of the passengers.
Watch the video

Raj Singh Toor speech at the City of Vancouver June 10, 2020 city council meeting


Hello Respected Mayor and Council City of New Westminster,  

My name is Raj Singh Toor. I am the grandson of one of the passengers on the Komagata Maru, and vice president and spokesperson for the non-profit Descendants of the Komagata Maru Society.  


    I represent the Komagata Maru Society, in which there are 15 families all over Canada who are direct descendants of the passengers (children, grandchildren or great grandchildren). The South Asian community supports us because we are the ones who suffered in losing loved ones and deeply shared the pain of our parents, grandparents, or great grandparents being rejected by Canada in 1914.  

The Komagata Maru arrived in Vancouver on May 23, 1914 with 376 passengers, one of which was my grandfather. His name was Baba Puran Singh Janetpura. The passengers were Sikh, Muslim, and Hindu, and all were British subjects. Their British citizenship made them eligible to enter Canada.  

The welcome received by the passengers of the Komagata Maru was a cold refusal by the government to allow the ship to dock. No food, water or medication was provided, even though it was the government’s discriminatory law that prevented the passengers from disembarking. The local South Asian and First Nations communities provided the passengers with food, water and medication. Furthermore, this help was limited by the Canadian government because it restricted the Canadian South Asian community from accessing the ship. Often the passengers went for 24 hours without food and water, and sometimes 2 or 3 days, or more. Passengers were getting sick.              

            The premier of British Columbia at the time was New Westminster-born Richard McBride. He was quite clear in his declaration that British Columbia should remain white. Those who were not white were not welcome. And people who were not Christian were not welcome. 

            Premier McBride explicitly stated his racist agenda on the night the Komagata Maru reached Vancouver: “To admit Orientals in large numbers would mean the end, the extinction of the white people.” He added, “And we always have in mind the necessity of keeping this a white man’s country.” McBride used this reasoning to justify his stance against allowing the passengers of the Komagata Maru to disembark in Vancouver, further stating, “we stand for a white British Columbia, a white land, and a white Empire.” 

            New Westminster City Council passed a motion on June 22, 1914 stating “That this Council go on record as being opposed to this immigration, and that the Clerk be instructed to urge upon the Premier and the Minister of the Interior at Ottawa to use every effort to prevent admission of these people into the Country.” 

            One week later, on June 29, 1914, New Westminster Mayor A. W. Gray and a majority of City Council attended a community meeting asking “the Federal authorities at Ottawa to invoke the full power of the present statues and if necessary, enact new laws, to effectively deal with the total exclusion of Asiatics from this country.” 

             The Komagata Maru passengers were starving, they were thirsty, and they were getting sick. They had a very painful, hard time. On July 23, 1914, the ship was sent back to India, forcefully, under the shadow of a military ship.    

            The British were ruling India at that time, and when the Komagata Maru arrived in India. British troops shoot the passengers 20 were killed on the spot many were injured rest them were put in jail for a long period of time.   

            Descendants of the Komagata Maru lobbied more than 15 years to hear an apology from the BC governments in BC Legislature and Federal Government in the House of Commons.  

            On a request by the Descendants of the Komagata Maru Society, the BC Government apologized in 2008, and the Government of Canada apologized in 2016 for this act of discrimination. Both governments committed to learn from the mistakes of the past to ensure they would never be repeated. On June 10, 2020, at the request of the Descendants of the Komagata Maru Society, the City of Vancouver apologized for its role in the 1914 Komagata Maru incident.  

            In light of Richard McBride’s active involvement in opposing the Komagata Maru’s docking in Vancouver, the naming of a BC town, parks, roads, and schools in honour of this man are painful reminders to the South Asian community and descendants of the Komagata Maru victims that their suffering is less important than glorifying those who perpetuated racism through discriminatory acts.   

        On October 7, 2019, I approached the council requesting the naming of a park or street or civic asset in memory of the Komagata Maru. The council then passed unanimously a motion “THAT staff report on the connection of New Westminster to the Komagata Maru incident. In particular, the report should provide documentation of the support the New Westminster South Asian community provided to the passengers of the Komagata Maru.” The mover of the motion, Councillor Das advised that the verification of this history could lead to the naming of a city asset after the Komagata Maru.   

            The city of New Westminster now has the report, prepared by Robert McCullough, which recommends the naming the QtoQ Ferry docks in Queensborough and Downtown in commemoration of the Komagata Maru. This report also provides Council with contextual information surrounding City connections to this history and recommends that interpretation of the Komagata Maru history accompany the naming of these civic assets.  

            This report and its recommendations are greatly appreciated by the Descendants of the Komagata Maru Families and the South Asian Community.  Actions such as these go a long way in helping to heal scars of racism that are felt through the generations and through the centuries.   

           Furthermore, this naming process is a great reminder for New Westminster residents about our rich ethnic heritage and how we learn from the past to create a better British Columbia. New Westminster is a very special city as it was BC’s first capital, and by following the recommendations of this report, will live up to its role as a forward-thinking city by bringing British Columbians towards a more peaceful and tolerant tomorrow.  

Thanks,

Raj Singh Toor

https://www.canada.ca/en/public-services-procurement/news/2019/08/government-of-canada-removes-harry-stevens-name-from-building-in-vancouver-bc.html