"if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen
the side of the oppressor." - Desmond Tutu.

Continuous Journey Law to CAA; Time for another liberation struggle Featured

Sohan Singh Bhakna Sohan Singh Bhakna

 

Gurpreet Singh 

Today marks the 112th year of the passage of a racist law adopted by Canada to discourage permanent settlement of Indian immigrants.

The Continuous Journey Law, as it was called, required immigrants to come to Canada only through direct passage from the country of their birth or citizenship. It was aimed at keeping Canada as a "white man's land" and discourage Indians from making Canada their home. 

The Indians had started migrating to this part of the world for a better livelihood as their home country was under British occupation that had caused many economic hardships. Since BC was part of the British dominion, they came here as British subjects. However, many white workers saw them as a threat to their survival, since most of them worked for lesser wages. Buckling under the pressure of white supremacy, the Canadian government began applying measures to stop the immigration. As a result of this, the Indian immigrants began organizing against racism abroad and foreign occupation back home. The confrontation culminated into the Komagata Maru episode.   

The Japanese vessel carrying more than 300 South Asian passengers from British India arrived at Vancouver on May 23, 1914. Under the Continuous Journey Law, the ship was forced to return after remaining stranded in the waters of Burrard Inlet for two months. This injustice galvanized freedom movement and inspired many to join the struggle. They could see that this was done so blatantly because their homeland was not free and the world saw them as "slaves". 

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

The BJP, which wants to transform India into a majoritarian Hindu state, recently passed a controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that openly discourages Muslims coming to India as refugees from neighbouring countries. Among these are Muslim-dominated Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The act is intended to ensure smooth immigration to India of non-Muslims, especially Hindus. The BJP claims that these groups have been facing religious persecution in these countries, although it 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, besides atheists. How can one deny refuge to them? Today's situation constantly brings climate refugees to India, irrespective of their religious beliefs, which nothing to do with the socio-political environment in these countries. One does not need a PhD to guess what the motivations of this government are. They have clearly picked on countries that are frequently demonized by the BJP government as 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 last 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, had alleged Pakistan-based Islamic extremists were responsible for burning 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 mobs across Gujarat.  

It’s a shame that the Indian officials in Canada continue to celebrate the history of Komagata Maru, and are not 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 for giving space to everyone on the vessel, including Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, to practise their religions. 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. 

Maybe it's time to launch another liberation movement against Modi. It is worth mentioning that the very first rally against CAA in Vancouver was held right outside the Indian Consulate on December 20, the death anniversary of Sohan Singh Bhakna, a towering freedom fighter from Punjab. Bhakna had continued fighting against social injustice even after India became free from British rule in 1947. He was incarcerated for his participation in agitations in the post-British India, which left a bend in his back. He often said that this bend was caused by the native rulers. This shows that the struggle isn't over yet, We need to pursue it to rid India of the fascists. For the record, the founding fathers of BJP had no role in the freedom movement. On the contrary, they compromised with the British and kept a distance from the freedom movement. Their only aim was to create a Hindu state, where everyone except Hindus would be treated as second class citizens , in sharp contrast to the secularist vision of Bhakna and Gurdit Singh.   

It’s also time for Canada to wake up and see what’s going on in India. If Trudeau really cares for the Komagata Maru, he should intervene and let Modi know that this is not going to be tolerated. If Modi doesn’t listen, then Trudeau must think of slapping sanctions against the Indian government. 

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Last modified on Wednesday, 15 January 2020 18:40
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