The following are the presentation abstracts for Charting Imperial Itineraries, 1914-2014: Unmooring the Komagata Maru. For a detailed schedule information, please visit:

Schedule

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A PDF version of the Presentation Abstracts is also available here.

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Satwinder Bains

Resistance struggle: Facing lies, deception and racism

This paper will analyze the letters from the passengers of Komagata Maru to the Canadian Government as the ship sat in the harbor. These provide a backdrop to resistance against the active lies, deception and racism that dogged the ship from the moment it entered BC waters. This resistance has become a part of the revolutionary movement of Indian nationals against a colonial power. I will explore the relevance of these letters for understanding the local encounters with colonialism, and broader global imperial connections across geographies.

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Davina Bhandar

Memories, Placement and the Return of the Forever Forgotten: Memorialisation of the Komagata Maru Incident

The Komagata Maru Incident has been the subject of numerous forms of public re-enactment and restaging, including two theatrical productions, a radio play, documentary film, public memorial projects and official government apologies. This incident which took place in 1914 exposed the “continuous journey” provision which prevented the direct passage of immigrants who did not enter Canada directly from their national point of origin. Through the various renditions of engagement with the Komagata Maru Incident, it is experienced as a manifest tale of forgetting and remembering, In each rendition there is an attempt to highlight documentary evidence to engage the viewer or listener as an aspect of a hidden truth.

The idea of the trace of the photograph is compelling when we attempt to map the migrant’s past into a present reality. There remains absent from view the Komagata Maru ship that is being relentlessly searched for by the documentarian -a in the case of Ali Kazimi’s film Continuous Journey – desperate to hold or verify the absence presence, a verification that can only take place through the visual image. The importance of the film footage for the film maker cannot be under valued. Here the trace of the photo or image acts as the proof within this mystery or detective story. The images of the naval ship doing battle with the Komagata Maru, shift the memory or the story telling, the impact is most perceptible in the film. Both in this documentary film, as well as a previously produced radio drama/documentary written and researched by Vera Rosenbluth in 1968, utilize the voice and subject interviews of those whose parents or elder relatives had a direct experience of the Komagata Maru incident. In Rosenbluth’s radio drama/documentary she had interviewed subjects such as the young son of Edward Bird, the lawyer hired to defend the immigrants aboard the ship. In her recorded interview Bird reflects on his memory as a child and the understanding that he has of his father’s role in this historical incident. In the recovery of this past event why is documenting evidence so central to the thematics explored?

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Nandi Bhatia

The Many Meanings of the Komagata Maru Incident

This paper will analyze Sharon Pollock’s play, The Komagata Maru Incident, which premiered in 1976 at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre. Analysis of the play has treated it as “histographic metadrama” with “self-conscious dramatic devices that make the audience aware that the play they are watching is a representation of the past” (Belliveau 96). On the other hand, Erica Kelly sees the play as restaging the “moment of national boundary making,” a moment that “invites audience members to reconsider their seats on the sidelines.” What new meanings and critical knowledge does an analysis of the play yield? And what contributions can it make to the immigration debates of the present? This paper will attempt to answer these questions by revisiting the play in the context of reemerging discussions of The Komagata Maru Incident in the multiple realms of politics, history, literature, and cultural representations.compass

Suchetana Chattopadhyay

The last stretch of the journey: Komagata Maru, war-time political radicalism and migrants from Punjab in Calcutta

This paper examines radical responses to racialised subjecthood, imposed by the colonial state on Punjabi, especially Sikh migrants in war-time Calcutta. The operation of the colonial repressive state apparatus to deal with the passengers of the Komagata Maru and Punjabi migrants influenced the intersections of anti-colonial strands in the city during 1914-15 and shaped the organised transmission of the ship’s memory as a symbol of resistance among the Sikh workers in the industrial centres of South-West Bengal from the 1920s onwards. In the process, certain neglected aspects of the last stretch of the ship’s journey and its immediate and long-term local effect are unraveled.

Calcutta in 1914 was the past capital of the British Empire in India.  During the First World War, repression and scarcity stalked the city. Racist violence, war-induced price rise and the drain of the famished agrarian hinterland bred an atmosphere of increased hostility towards the colonial state.  Militant nationalism had contributed to the shift of colonial headquarters to New Delhi in 1912. While the social base of the Bengal revolutionaries was narrowly Hindu and middle-class, during the early years of the First World War, they tried to establish links with Pan-Islamist and Ghadar activists. This facilitated the entry of a tiny segment of Sikh migrant workers into the urban revolutionary underground. Though quickly suppressed, the transregional and transcontinental militancy which the migrant rebels embodied would expand leftwards in the post-war years and leave its imprint on local labour movements directed against the rule of colonial capital.

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Rita Dhamoon

Unmooring the Komagata Maru: Denaturalizing Settler Colonialism and Cacophonies of Difference

The organizing theme of ‘unmooring the event’ aims to extend existing analyses of the Komagata Maru beyond the primary focus on Canada, beyond 1914, and beyond the singular lens of South Asian exclusion, to the significance of the ships journey in past and present local and global colonial networks. Conventionally the events of the Komagata Maru have been read as a Canadian moment of immigration exclusion and racism. More recently this conventional narrative has been ‘unmoored’ with emerging scholarship that focuses on the global imperial significance of the Komagata Maru. Building on this turn to the examine colonialism across the experiences of differently located people, I want to re-turn to the very making of Canada as a site of what Jodi Byrd calls a cacophony of vertical interactions between the colonizer and colonized and the horizontal differences between minority oppressions within settler colonial landscapes. In particular, I want to read the 1914 ‘event’ of the Komagata Maru and its legacies as part of cacophony of past and present Canadian settler colonial nation-building practices that emerge discordantly through global networks of imperialism, and through hierarchies of Otherness to legitimate the dispossession of Indigenous peoples and their lands. In other words, I seek to ‘unmoor’ the Komagata Maru by locating its passage through past and present colonial cacophonies that constitute Canada as a settler nation, rather than approaching the Komagata Maru as a story of past South Asian exclusion or a historical story of colonialism from afar.compass

 

Enakshi Dua

‘Race’, National Historiographies and Transnationality: The Ghadars and the Writing of Canadian and Indian History

Based on an examination of the place of the Ghadars in the writing of Canadian and Indian labour histories, I propose to illustrate the ways in which naturalized notions of `race’ and nation have shaped the writing of Canadian and Indian labour histories. At the turn of the century a small group of men in India began to migrate to the United States and Canada. These men were mainly employed in working class jobs throughout the West Coast. Their experiences with racism led many of these men to be politised, and in 1913, they formed an anti-imperialist group called the Ghadar Party. Initial the group focused on challenging the white settlement politics of Canada and United States. However, quickly the Ghadars broadened their analysis of racism to an analysis of British imperialism, and of colonialism in India. In 1914, after some of the men returned to India, the Ghadars began to organize against British colonialism. This organizing was to have a profound effect on the Indian anti-colonial movement, as it forced the Indian Nationalist Congress to abandon its moderate position on colonialism.

In this paper, I would like to explore the ways in which the Ghadar Party has been written into national histories. Notably, despite the fact that the Ghadar Party emerged from the experience of `workers’ in Canada, Canadian labour historians make virtually no reference to them. In contrast, Indian historians have written the Ghadars as an `Indian’ anti-colonial movement.  And yet, neither writing is accurate. Rather, the case of the Ghadars demonstrates the ways in which labour and national histories have been the product of economic, social and political forces that transcend space and nation. It point to the importance of exploring transnational approaches to writing national historiescompass

Ian Fletcher

“In Exercise of Their Rights of British Citizenship?”: The Komagata Maru and the Paradox of Imperial Citizenship before the First World War

The Komagata Maru Incident has been the subject of numerous forms of public re-enactment and restaging, including two theatrical productions, a radio play, documentary film, public memorial projects and official government apologies. This incident which took place in 1914 exposed the “continuous journey” provision which prevented the direct passage of immigrants who did not enter Canada directly from their national point of origin. Through the various renditions of engagement with the Komagata Maru Incident, it is experienced as a manifest tale of forgetting and remembering, In each rendition there is an attempt to highlight documentary evidence to engage the viewer or listener as an aspect of a hidden truth.

The idea of the trace of the photograph is compelling when we attempt to map the migrant’s past into a present reality. There remains absent from view the Komagata Maru ship that is being relentlessly searched for by the documentarian -a in the case of Ali Kazimi’s film Continuous Journey – desperate to hold or verify the absence presence, a verification that can only take place through the visual image. The importance of the film footage for the film maker cannot be under valued. Here the trace of the photo or image acts as the proof within this mystery or detective story. The images of the naval ship doing battle with the Komagata Maru, shift the memory or the story telling, the impact is most perceptible in the film. Both in this documentary film, as well as a previously produced radio drama/documentary written and researched by Vera Rosenbluth in 1968, utilize the voice and subject interviews of those whose parents or elder relatives had a direct experience of the Komagata Maru incident. In Rosenbluth’s radio drama/documentary she had interviewed subjects such as the young son of Edward Bird, the lawyer hired to defend the immigrants aboard the ship. In her recorded interview Bird reflects on his memory as a child and the understanding that he has of his father’s role in this historical incident. In the recovery of this past event why is documenting evidence so central to the thematics explored?

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Ayesha Hameed

Walter Benjamin and the Black Atlantis

There is a story and in that story is the unmaking of a world and the excavation of another. In a storm at sea in 1781 the crew of the English slave ship Zong threw their slaves overboard in a calculus that determined that the insurance money for their death was worth more than the profit gained from selling their lives. From this JMW Turner painted Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, Typhon Coming On, where the limbs and shackles of the dying swirled in the phosphorescence of the crashing waves. Over 200 years later Afrofuturist artists and musicians imagined the dying slaves and imagined another ending where the slaves and their children and their children's children floated down to a land in a sci-fi future called Drexicya, a Black Atlantis under the sea.

This is a hypothesis about time travel that starts with Walter Benjamin trying to understand the fall of Europe to the right in the 1930s. He turns to the decay of the Paris Arcades in the nineteenth century, and in the fissure of time between, he looks for clues to his own time. But what if the tigers' leap of his historical method went further into the past to the origins of modernity, to Drexciya, the Black Atlantis? The leap to Drexciya would be at once into the past and towards a sci-fi future.

This presentation describes the details of two court cases involving slave ships interspersed with images of Drexciya and references to Blake and Benjamin. The court cases involve the jettison of slaves off the English slave ship Zong in 1781 and the commandeering of the American ship Creole to abolitionist shores by insurrecting slaves in 1841. In both cases the owners of the ships filed insurance claims to recoup their losses claiming that the throwing of slaves overboard the Zong and the emancipation of the slaves on the Creole constituted a cas fortuits, an accident of superior force under the 'perils of the sea' clause. Under this clause, human actions have the blind force of nature as arguable acts of god.

The storm that fuels the mythos of the Zong massacre and the storming of the Creole on the surface of the Atlantic ocean is a surface symptom of seismic changes below. It is what Blake calls the shaking of the Altantean hills in his prophecy on America. It is also the storm that Benjamin calls progress, the piling of ruin upon ruin on the surface of the sea that knows no traces but leaves sediments below.

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Rajender Kaur

History, Community, and Diasporic Subnationalisms: The Komagata Maru in Anita Rau Badami’s ‘Can You Hear the Nightbird Call?’

In Anita Rau Badami’s Can You Hear the Nightbird Call?

the diasporic subjectivity of a Sikh Canadian woman, Bibijee, is energized, and indeed structured, by key events that, arguably, have defined the psyche and history of the Sikhs, not just in India, but Canada as well. In choosing Sharanjeet/Bibijee as its protagonist, a transnational subject whose human geography connects Vancouver, Punjab, and New Delhi, across the span of a near century, the text gestures to the little known but long history of Sikh diasporic presence in Canada that dates back to the 1890s.

Can You Hear the Nighbird Call? explores three discrete, yet politically and culturally linked events spanning the 20th century that are inextricably linked to the Sikh Diaspora and the Sikhs in India. Through the subtly nuanced portrayal of Bibijee and her extended family, the text traces key milestones that have defined the Punjabi psyche in general, but more particularly, their diasporic identity in new homelands, particularly, North America. The narrative links the disastrous voyage of the Komagata Maru to Vancouver in 1914, the violence of the Partition of 1947, and the Air India hijacking of 1989 in the wake of the storming of the Golden Temple by Indian Army tanks and the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 in one brilliant arc. The humiliation of the Komagata Maru which was forced to return back, its 376 passengers having been denied entry into Canada after two months of desperate efforts, causes Nimmo’s father (a passenger on the ship) to sink into depression. His melancholia and eventual disappearance link forward to the trauma suffered by Punjab in the bloodbath of Partition. Punjab was amongst the worst affected states of India being the critical border state under contention between India and Pakistan. Individually, the family suffers a blow when Nimmo’s sister becomes a victim of mob rape in the widespread violence that accompanied partition and commits suicide.   The third catalytic event is in two parts, the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, in which Bibiji loses her husband, and the penultimate event, the hijacking and crash of AI flight 182 in 1989 in which her nephew, disaffected by his sudden dislocation to Canada, is involved.

Can You Hear the Nighbird Call? problematizes diasporic subjectivity by linking it to the collective subjectivity of the specific communities and ethnicities the Diaspora diffracts it along. For members of transnational diasporas, subjectivity grows out of the experience of marginalization and unstable relations of difference in the dominant society, both where they currently live, and from the society from which they have come.

The text also raises questions of the violence, both inwardly experienced and outwardly directed, in the forced dislocation of Bibijee’s grandnephew, her own sense of guilt over betraying her sister, festering over decades, and the dangers of diasporic nationalisms that infect community life at home and abroad.

Can you Hear the Nightbird Call? raises questions not just of diasporic individual subjectivity but also of literary history. How do diasporic texts locate themselves between home and the world? The Komagata Maru and the Kanishka hijacking and crash are key moments in Canadian history as well. In narrating two key incidents of exclusion and xenophobia, the text locates itself firmly as a Canadian text itself that ambitiously seeks to move from its eccentric position to the center of debates on Canadian national identity, its vaunted multi-culturalism, to examining issues of diasporic nationalisms nurtured in its bosom, and infected and intensified, so to speak, by the violence of racial discrimination and hostility.

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Tariq Malik

Still Chanting Denied Shore

Today, there are over one billion people on the move across the globe. In order to tell their story I shall modulate the chorus and amplify a solo by framing my narrative on one very personal storyline – mine.

My talk will focus on the discordant encounters with the four languages of my childhood in Pakistan, each with its peculiar ragged past within the post-colonial realities: Punjabi – the mother tongue, in a constant state of siege and obliteration, particularly in western Punjab; Urdu – the second-hand mongrel imposed on the peasants by bureaucrats to demolish all traces of local dialects and unite a country; Arabic – the new language of financial expediency, denounced by modernists and promoted by Islamists; and finally English – Lord Macaulay's insidious gift from the 19th century British India. I shall touch briefly on how one catholic priest was busy sabotaging that mandate late into the 1960s.

Using the Komagata Maru debacle as a touchstone, I shall explore similar frictions within post-colonial cultures; and the unresolved dynamics of push and pull that still continue to ravage thriving indigenous societies, and displace millions.

Using the modern phenomenon of mass migration as a global metaphor for the search for lost homes, I shall vivify the homesickness of displaced people by recreating an afternoon onboard the Komagata Maru as it lay stranded in shallow water. This will also involve an account of the decade of exploring, re-inventing, and promoting the significance of this distant event, as well as trying to publish a work of fiction on this subject.

I shall also briefly highlight the hitherto undocumented account of the five remarkable Komagata Maru, passengers who jumped ship in Yokohama during the return voyage, and then headed back for Vancouver by way of Mexico, California and Calgary.

My presentation will end with an audio visual of an extended poem. Hugging the Shore will hopefully kindle some of the sparks lit by the talk.

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Ashok Mathur

A Maru Mashup: history through a creative looking glass

During the Komagata Maru incident and in the years and decades following, much of the coverage of this point in Canadian history was journalistic and documentary. It was not until 1976 that the first significant creative version of the incident was staged, and since then there have been various attempts to address this moment through poetry, play, film, and literature. I argue that facts and historical data are often insufficient to address the complexities of a community trauma, and that creative lenses provided by artists of various media are often required to lend substance and full-bodiedness to events that are often otherwise relegated to footnotes and archival knowledge.

Because of the substantial visual and aural creative work around this incident – stage plays by Pollock and Rode, film and radio productions by Kazimi, Varughese, and Mehta, poetry and prose by numerous writers, and a significant multi-media project by the Simon Fraser University Library – there is now no shortage of creative material to draw upon, intensifying and amplifyng our multiple ways of seeing the incident from various perspectives.

In this presentation, I will present a mashup of many of these modes of creative representation, sampling and re-presenting them to create a visual and aural collage. Using a multi-media form that is based in a vee-jay club scene, the appeal of this presentation will be to destabilize uniform histories by overwhelming with the abundance of image, sound, and video, creating a cacophony of the Komagata Maru that will re-register our linear, narrative, and otherwise limited approaches to significant moments in our history.

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Renisa Mawani

The (Un)Timely Futures of British Justice

This paper offers a reading of the autobiography of Gurdit Singh, an anti-colonial figure who entered the historical record through his efforts to challenge British imperial rule by defying Canada’s restrictive immigration laws. By the early-twentieth-century, Canada’s Immigration Act effectively barred the entry of British Indians until its repeal post-Indian Independence. In 1914, as a willful act of refusal, Singh chartered a Japanese steamship, the Komagata Maru, to transport 376 Punjabi laborers from Hong Kong to Vancouver. Although the journey was ultimately unsuccessful – the ship was disallowed entry under three newly-enacted orders-in-council, detained in Vancouver Harbor for two months, and eventually deported to India where its arrival precipitated a violent response from British authorities and Bengal police, leaving at least 26 people dead – the Komagata Maru became a significant moment in British Imperial history, a point of common reference in anticolonial sentiments expressed across North America, India, and in Southern Africa. Singh’s autobiography, as he described it, was his personal narration of the ship’s journey, one told through a heterogeneous, dense, lived and experiential time, an evocation that was intended to clear his name and to undermine the putative authenticity of British accounts. Reading Singh’s memoirs through Henri Bergson’s duration, in which Bergson privileges experiential, lived, and changing time, I argue that a synthetic unfolding of past, present, and future, profoundly shaped Singh’s account of law’s mobilities, augmenting his acerbic critique of British imperial rule while concomitantly maintaining his commitment to an ineffable British justice. In Singh’s rendition, the racial violence and coercion of law in the colonial past – expressed through the mobile and interconnected juridical projects of slavery, indenture, and immigration restrictions – that he witnessed in his travels across the British Empire were refracted through and shaped by his imaginings of an (un)timely future, a moment full of possibility, when India would be liberated from British rule through the reimagining of a not yet conceivable British justice.

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Radhika Mongia

Terms of Analysis: Methodological Lessons from the Komogata Maru

In the last two decades we have witnessed a shift from national frameworks to those that emphasize far larger scales, such as transnational, global, and imperial frameworks. This shift (as the workshop description intimates) has also been evident in scholarship on the events surrounding the voyage and the fate of the passengers of the Komagata Maru. A range of recent studies on the Komagata Maru have profitably placed the itinerary of the ship in various relational networks that span different parts of the globe, different political and institutional formations, and different ideological registers. In so doing, they foreground how micro analyses of “small” events, configured around delimited objects like a ship, can speak to transformations in diverse, globe-spanning registers.

Reviewing the scholarship on the Komagata Maru that covers, both, its place within national narratives of Canadian immigration and racial exclusion and the more recent work that has placed the event in a larger spatial scale, my paper will reflect on issues of spatio-temporal scale in historical method. In particular, I will consider the place of microhistories and small, if extraordinary, events in understanding global conjunctures and institutional change. Microhistories are conventionally thought to operate at scales that are spatially and temporally “small”; how, then, can we use them to make sense of events or phenomena that operate on, unfold in, and produce spatial scales of the imperial or global? Approaching the Komagata Maru event as a what Carlo Ginzburg calls a “clue,” my paper will simultaneously speak to the cascading and ripple effects of this event and explore methodological issues of temporality and, particularly, of scale as they relate to microhistory, institutional change, and a renovated understandings of imperial and global histories.

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Kaori Mizukami

The Komagata Maru Incident as Described in Two Japanese Works

The significance of the Japanese dimensions of the Komagata Maru incident have been under-explored. First, after the Komagata Maru left Hong Kong for Vancouver, it called at harbors in Japan, Moji and Yokohama. Having called at Japanese ports had important meaning for passengers of the Komagata Maru because Indian revolutionaries were waiting for them at these ports. This included Maulavi Barkatullah and Bhagwan Singh, who were active revolutionaries working outside India, and who met passengers at Yokohama to encourage them by giving them anti-British speeches. Second, the “Komagata Maru” was a Japanese vessel, and its crew was Japanese. When the incident of the Komagata Maru occurred, the Japanese authorities were concerned about the crew. This paper firstly examines Japanese newspapers reports of the incident, and how, generally, Japanese editors took neutral position. This can be explained because of an Anglo-Japanese Alliance and the relationship between Japan and Canada. Secondly, this paper introduces and analyses a Japanese book titled Komagata Maru Jiken (The Komagata Maru Incident). It was published in 1936, and written based on an interview with Shiozaki Yokichi, who was the owner and also one of the crew members of the Komagata Maru.

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Milan Singh

South Asian women and migration in the early 1900s

In the early 1900s, South Asians were restricted from entering Canada. Scholarship about the Canadian government’s selective migration policy details decisions designed to stop individuals from the Indian subcontinent from coming to Canada, such as adding the “continuous journey” regulation to the Immigration Act in 1908 (Kazimi 2011). This piece of regulation was created, in part, due to the fear of having too many people of Indian origin settling in Canada. While this history is well-documented, references to women regarding migration are limited. This paper attempts to fill this gap. Historical documentation, including newspapers, diaries, and government reports from the early 1990s provide fragmented insight into the complex role of women in terms of how their “admission” would result in South Asians staying in Canada. For example, this is shown in how the federal government monitored and surveyed South Asians along the Pacific coast in Canada and the United States. A telegram sent in 1911 from J. H. MacGill, an immigration agent, to H. H. Stevens, a Member of Parliament who actively worked against Asian migration, provides some insight into how the government managed family reunification. MacGill reports to Stevens that, South Asians “…have now no hope of admission to women…” to Canada (1912). In addition, a passage in the diary of Arjan Singh Chand, secretary of the Vancouver Khalsa Diwan Society, refers to an instance in 1912 when women and children arriving on a boat from [Hong Kong] were placed in detention and unsuccessfully ordered out of Canada (n.d, translated exerpts; Singh). It is these “legal” state processes and mechanisms of surveillance that require further exploration. As such, this paper will attempt to uncover how women were referred to in documents as a way to surface some of the stories that identify intersection points of race, gender and policy, often left out of narratives about the Komagata Maru and early South Asian migration to Canada.compass

Seema Sohi

The Komagata Maru and “The Fate of 330 Million Indians”: Immigrant Exclusion, Anticolonialism, and State Repression across the British Empire

During the spring and summer of 1914, the eyes of Indians across the world turned to the Vancouver harbor in British Columbia, where the battle over the 376 Indian passengers on board the Komagata Maru came to represent a global struggle against discriminatory immigration policies and the injustices of British rule. As one Indian leader in Vancouver stated before a congregation of 700 Indians who had gathered in late May to demand that the ship’s passengers be landed, the Komagata Maru came to represent not only the struggles of the passengers on board the ship, but “the fate of 330 million Indians.” While Indian anticolonialists from British Columbia to California, many of whom had little history of anti-British organizing before arriving in North America during the early twentieth century, linked the fate of the ship’s passengers to a broader movement for self-rule in India, the ship also prompted British, Canadian, and U.S. officials to warn that Indians in North America were dangerous and subversive agitators who were challenging and exploiting restrictive immigration policies to advance radical anticolonial agendas. Detailing how the refusal of the Canadian government to land the Komagata Maru catapulted the ship to global significance and mobilized hundreds of Indians levitra 20mg price uk living and working in North America to return to India at the outbreak of the First World War to overthrow the British Raj, this paper argues that the Komagata Maru had important ramifications for British, Canadian, and American officials as well, who used the ship to justify a series of exclusionary immigration policies and antiradical measures that extended from Canada and the United States to India during the World War I years. Ultimately, as this paper argues, the Komagata Maru had the effect of fueling a radical anticolonial movement on the Pacific Coast that British authorities came to view as the most dangerous threat to their rule in India during the First World War.

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Irina Spector-Marks

Representing the Komagata Maru in Imperial and Indian Print Cultures

The Komagata Maru transgressed national and imperial boundaries, yet discourse about the Komagata Maru moved even more globally than the ship itself. I examine the fraught interaction between the material reality of the ship’s travels and the discursive uses to which it was put by government officials and Indian activists in North America, South Africa, and India. In the case of the Komagata Maru discourse was sometimes separated from material reality, sometimes dependent upon it, and always intent on changing it. For imperial officials, controlling what happened onboard was as important as managing representations of the ship. Controlling information was a way to control Indian bodies out of place in an avowedly “white man’s country.” By contrast, for Indian newspapers across the empire, the details of passengers’ intentions and experiences mattered much less than did the potency of the ship as symbol, a symbol they used to assert imperial citizenship from a range of political perspectives. By focusing on the uses of the Komagata Maru, this paper explores tensions between material conditions on the ship, representations of it, and the communications technologies through which representations were produced and disseminated.compass

Alia Somani

Past Wrongs and the New National Imaginary: Remembering the 1914 Komagata Maru Incident

In 1914, all but twenty-four of the 376 British subjects of South Asian origin aboard a Japanese ship – the Komagata Maru – were denied entry into Canada and forced to return to India. In this paper, I want to trace the representation of the Komagata Maru incident in a selection of canonical Canadian history textbooks from the 1940s to the current era. Since canonical textbooks might be understood as playing a role in the construction of a national imaginary, what they reveal is significant: that there has been a gradual –albeit reluctant – movement towards a remembering of diasporic traumas such as the Komagata Maru incident. Similarly, the textbooks taught in the British Columbia and Ontario school systems, a space where subjectivity might be shaped and the national imaginary potentially reinscribed, suggest that the school tends to engage not in a straightforward exclusion of diasporic traumas, but in a rather more complex process of retention and disavowal, inclusion and exclusion. Thus, I consider the possibility that the nation might be forced to remember diasporic traumas, even though it may not want to. Perhaps more importantly, I suggest that this remembering might be linked to the determined efforts of South Asian Canadian writers, activists, and artists who have consistently sought to map their histories onto the public record, and to reimagine and re-member the Canadian nation as a more tolerant and inclusive space, one that remembers rather than forgets the traumas experienced by minority communities.

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