The Komagata Maru incident involved the Japanese steamship Komagata Maru , on which a group of people from British India attempted to immigrate to Canada in 1914. Out of Of these 376 passengers, 24 were admitted to Canada who were under the protection of new law , but the other 352 were not allowed to disembark in Canada, and the ship was forced to leave Canadian waters. The ship was escorted by HMCS Rainbow, one of Canada’s first two naval vessels. This was one of several incidents in the early 20th century in which exclusion laws in Canada and the United States were used to exclude immigrants of Asian origin.
In 1908, a series of ordinances were passed by the federal government, by which Indian immigrants entering Canada had to have 200 Canadian dollars which was 20 dolars before . They also had to arrive directly from the area of birth/nationality, even though there was no direct route between India and Canada. These laws were specifically directed at Punjabis and resulted in their population, which had exceeded 5,000 people in 1911, dropping to little more than 2,500.The Immigration Act 1910 came under scrutiny when a party of 39 Indians, mostly Sikhs, arriving on a Japanese ship , succeeded in obtaining habeas corpus against the immigration department . The Canadian Government passed two laws, one providing that an immigrant had to have 200 dollars, a steep increase from the previous requirement of 20 dollars, the other authorizing the Minister of the Interior to prohibit entry into Canada to people not arriving from their birth-country by continuous journey and through tickets purchased before leaving the country of their birth or citizenship
The Canadian Government then passed a law intended to keep laborers and artisans, whether skilled or unskilled, out of Canada by preventing them from landing at any dock in British Columbia. As Canadian immigration became stricter, more Indians, most of them Sikhs, travelled south to the United States of America.
In 1914, Gurdit Singh Sandhu from Sarhali , Amritsar, who was a well-to-do businessman in Singapore and was aware of the problems that Punjabis were facing in entering Canada due to exclusion laws. He initially wanted to circumvent these laws by hiring a boat to sail from Calcutta to Vancouver. His aim was to help his compatriots whose journeys to Canada had been blocked . In order to achieve his goal, Gurdit Singh purchased the Komagata Maru, a Japanese vessel and planned to board Punjabi, including Sikh, Hindus and Muslims to settle them in Canada.
On April 4, 1914 Komagata Maru sailed from British Hong Kong, via Shanghai, China, and Yokohama, Japan, to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, carrying 376 passengers from Punjab province in British India. The passengers comprised 337 Sikhs, 27 Muslims and 12 Hindus, all Punjabis and British subjects. When the ship arrived in Canada, it was not allowed to dock. The Conservative Premier of British Columbia, Richard McBride , issued a categorical statement that the passengers would not be allowed to disembark. Meanwhile, a “Shore Committee” had been formed with the participation of Hussain Rahim and Sohan Lal Pathak. Protest meetings were held in Canada and the USA. At one, held in Dominion Hall, Vancouver, it was resolved that if the passengers were not allowed off, Indo-Canadians should follow them back to India to start a rebellion (or Ghadar). The shore Committee raised $22,000 dollars as an instalment on chartering the ship. They also launched a test case legal battle in the name of Munshi Singh, one of the passengers. Further, the Khalsa Diwan Society (founded 1907 to manage Vancouver’s gurudwara) offered to pay the 200 dollar admittance fee for every passenger, which was denied.
Out of Of these 376 passengers, 24 were admitted to Canada who were under the protection of new law , but the other 352 were not allowed to disembark in Canada, and the ship was forced to leave Canadian waters. The ship was escorted by HMCS Rainbow, one of Canada’s first two naval vessels. This was one of several incidents in the early 20th century in which exclusion laws in Canada and the United States were used to exclude immigrants of Asian origin.
On July 7, the full bench of the Supreme Court gave a unanimous judgment that under new Orders-In-Council it had no authority to interfere with the decisions of the Department of Immigration and Colonization. The Japanese captain was relieved of duty by the angry passengers, but the Canadian government ordered the harbor tug Sea Lion to push the ship out on its homeward journey. On July 19, the angry passengers mounted an attack. Next day the Vancouver newspaper The Sun reported: “Howling masses of Hindus showered policemen with lumps of coal and bricks, it was like standing underneath a coal chut.
The Komagata Maru arrived in Calcutta, India on September 26. Upon entry into the harbor, the ship was forced to stop by a British gunboat and with the passengers subsequently being placed under guard. The ship was then diverted approximately 27 kilometers (17 miles) to Budge Budge, where the British intended to put them on a train bound for Punjab. The passengers wanted to stay in Calcutta, and marched on the city, but were forced to return to Budge Budge and re-board the ship. The passengers protested, some refusing to re-board, and the police opened fire, killing 20 and wounding nine others. This incident became known as the Budge Budge Riot. Gurdit Singh managed to escape and lived in hiding until 1922. He was urged by Mohandas Karmchand Gandhi to give himself up as a true patriot. He was imprisoned for five years.