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Modi government repeats Komagata Maru history in worst form Featured

 

Gurpreet Singh 

Even as Canada repents the racist Komagata Maru incident of 1914, the right wing Hindu nationalist government of India has taken a leaf from that history to deny refuge to Muslims coming from neighbouring countries.

The Japanese vessel carrying more than 300 South Asian passengers from British India arrived at Vancouver on May 23, 1914. Since British Columbia was part of the British dominion, they had come as British subjects to earn their livelihood in this part of the world. However, under a discriminatory immigration law aimed at keeping Canada as a "white man’s country", the Komagata Maru ship was forced to return after remaining stranded in the waters of Burrard Inlet for two months.

The current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has already apologized for the episode in the House of Commons.  More than a century later, the history is being repeated by the Indian government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).

The BJP, which wants to transform India into a majoritarian Hindu state, recently passed a controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill that openly discourages Muslims coming to India as refugees from neighbouring countries such as Muslim-dominated Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The bill is intended to ensure smooth immigration to India of non-Muslims, especially Hindus from these countries.  The BJP claims that these groups have been facing religious persecution in these countries, but creating such preferences and exclusions goes against the spirit of the Indian constitution, which is based on the principles of secularism and diversity. Being a secular democracy, India cannot discriminate so shamelessly and blatantly against any religious group.

It goes without saying that some Muslim groups, such as Shias, Ahemdiyas or even Mohajirs, face inequality in Pakistan. How can one deny refuge to them? India has growing numbers of climate refugees, irrespective of their religious beliefs, which has nothing to do with the socio-political environment in these countries. One does not need a PhD to guess the motivations of this government. They have clearly picked on countries that are frequently demonized by the BJP government as alleged "exporters of Islamic extremism" to polarize Hindus against Muslims. It is worth mentioning that attacks on Muslims have grown under Modi ever since he became the Prime Minister in 2014, and got re-elected this year with more seats. The state of Gujarat witnessed anti-Muslim pogroms in 2002 under his watch. Modi, who was the Chief Minister of the state back then, alleged that Pakistan-based Islamic extremists had burnt a train carrying Hindu pilgrims. More than 50 people died in the incident, which was instantly blamed on Pakistan following which thousands of Muslims were killed by the mobs across Gujarat.  

It’s a shame that the Indian officials in Canada continue to celebrate the history of Komagata Maru, and aren't shy to stake claims in the story, while in their own home country they raise walls against refugees in the name of religion. Their attitude is no different than the British, who wanted to keep India divided on religious lines to prolong their rule. Ironically, Gurdit Singh, who charted the Komagata Maru, shared in his memoir that the British were partly upset with him for giving space on the vessel for everyone to practise their religions, including Hindus, Muslims and the Sikhs. This shows how the founding fathers of modern India tried to build an inclusive society by taking everyone along in their fight against colonialism and racism, and yet the present day Indian leadership is bent upon destroying that dream.  It’s time for Canada to wake up and see what’s going on in India. If Trudeau really cares for the Komagata Maru, he should let Modi know that this will not be tolerated, and if Modi doesn’t listen, then he must think of slapping sanctions against the Indian government. 

Indians Abroad for Pluralist India has organized a rally against the divisive Citizenship Amendment Bill on Sunday, December 22 at 3 pm at Holland Park in Surrey.

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