Komagata Maru Memorial, Budge Budge, 24 Parganas (South)
Komagata Maru Memorial
Budge Budge, 24 Parganas (South)
Just next to the docks of Budge Budge, about 30 km south of Calcutta (Kolkata), lies a strange memorial. Popularly known as the “Punjabi Monument” it is modelled as the Sikh kirpan (dagger), the white and green cement structure rises in a magnificent arch to touch the sky.
The memorial is dedicated to victims of the notorious Komagata Maru Incident that happened almost a century ago.
“The visions of men are widened by travel and contacts with citizens of a free country will infuse a spirit of independence and foster yearnings for freedom in the minds of the emasculated subjects of alien rule.”
~ Gurdit Singh
In 1914, a wealthy Indian fisherman settled in Singapore, Gurdit Singh Sandhu, did quite the unthinkable. He chartered a Japanese steamship of 3,000-odd gross register tonnage to transport a large number of his Punjabi brethren from India to Canada in a bid to outsmart the tough immigration laws the northern American country had imposed to keep Asians out.
The steam liner, SS Komagata Maru, set sail from Hong Kong in April 1914 and after touching Shanghai and Yokohama, reached Canada’s Burrard Inlet, near Vancouver, on May 23. It had 340 Sikhs, 24 Muslims and 12 Hindus on board, all British subjects. But the ship was not allowed to dock in Canada, leading to impassioned protests among Indians living in that country and in the US.
Various shore comities where formed and long discussion with the Canadian Government let to no result. At one such meeting, the protesters resolved that if the passengers were not allowed in, Indo-Canadians would follow them back to India and start a rebellion, Ghadar.
In July, the Canadian government ordered a tugboat to push Komagata Maru out to the sea and mobilised naval forces to make its stand clear. On July 23, after only 24 passengers were allowed to get off, Komagata Maru was forced to turn around and start its voyage back to Asia.
The vessel reached India on September 27 but a fate far worse awaited the passengers here. Komagata Maru was stopped by a British gunboat and those on board were placed under guard. The British government saw the passengers as “dangerous political agitators”. When the ship docked, the British tried to arrest Baba Gurdit Singh and 20 other “leaders” of the “political agitators”. On September 29, shots rang the air as passengers tried to flee the ship. 19 ( a board in fort of the memorial says 50) were killed. Those who escaped were later imprisoned or traced to their villages and kept under house confinement till World War I ended, but Baba Gurdit Singh went into hiding till 1922 but gave himself up after Mahatma Gandhi urged him to and served a five-year jail term.
In 1952 the Indian Government erected a memorial in memory of the martyrs of Komagata Maru. It was designed by architect Habib Rahaman and was inaugurated by the first Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru.
The Kirpan shaped memorial is today enclosed in a small courtyard, which represents more of a religious shrine than a martyrs memorial and one has to remove his shoes before entering it.
Recent efforts have been made to restore the memorial and the courtyard and glow sign has been put blocking the view of the memorial. The golden coloured plaques at the base of the memorial, showing different incidence of the Komagata Maru incident, have been give a multi coloured face-lift.
The courtyard also marks a spot where a tree was said be planted by Gurdit Singh, but sadly the tree have long vanished. It also contains a list of the martyrs, which far exceeds the official count of 19.
Every year on 29 Sept. Sikhs from all over West Bengal converge the “Punjabi Monument” to pay homage to their forefathers. For the remains 364 days its remain forgotten.
- Ship of Defiance by Samhita Chakraborty Lahiri, The Telegraph dated 26 Sept. 2010.
- Wikipedia entry of Komagata Maru Incident