A book depicting the history of racism and immigration has been simultaneously released in Canada and India.
Authored by a Canada- based journalist Gurpreet Singh, Why Mewa Singh Killed William Hopkinson?; Revisiting the murder of a Canadian Immigration Inspector has been formally released in Ludhiana, India and Delta, BC. The book is based on a research; Gurpreet Singh did for the University of British Columbia.
Published by Chetna Parkashan, the book was released by Prof. Jagmohan Singh, a prominent social justice activist and the nephew of Bhagat Singh, a towering revolutionary of the Indian subcontinent in Ludhiana, and also by the descendants of other revolutionaries and freedom fighters at a separate event in Delta this past Sunday.
Mewa Singh was a political activist, who was associated with the Ghadar Party, a militant group that was formed by the Indian immigrants on the pacific coast of North America in 1913. The group was formed to liberate India from the British occupation. Most of its organizers came to this part of the world as British subjects. They were soon disillusioned as the British consuls did not come to their aid whenever there was a racial violence targeting South Asians. They realized that the root cause of their sufferings was slavery back home. The Ghadar Party not only fought against racism in Canada and US, but also foreign occupation of India.
Mewa Singh murdered Hopkinson in 1914 following the Komagata Maru incident. The Japanese vessel with over 300 Indian passengers aboard was forced to return by the Canadian government under the discriminatory continuous journey law that was enacted to stop the immigration of East Indians in this country. The Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper has already apologized for the episode in 2008. The incident had not only galvanized the Ghadar movement, it also fuelled a bloody conflict within the local South Asian community as a result of which a prominent Sikh leader, Bhag Singh and his associate Badan Singh were shot to death by Hopkinson’s spy, Bela Singh inside the temple in September 1914. Mewa Singh had killed Hopkinson to avenge these murders and was subsequently hanged in 1915. The book tries to situate his action in a broader context of the history of racism and immigration in Canada.
Those who released the book in Delta included the descendants of the Ghadar activists and other freedom fighters. Among them were Harjit Dhillon, whose father Moola Singh was the leader of the Gurdwara Liberation struggle, which was a part of the national movement, Manjit Dhillon, the grandson of a Ghadar activist, Niranajan Singh Pandori, Ajaib Singh Hans, the descendant of another Ghadar activist, Uttam Singh Hans, Jagjit Singh Grewal, the son of a freedom fighter, Harnam Singh Parwana and Jaswinder Singh Toor, the grandson of Puran Singh Janetpura, who was aboard the Komagata Maru ship.
Manjit Dhillon also recited Ghadar poetry on the ocassion.
The leader of the Progressive Intercultural Community Services, Charanpal Gill, whose grandfather Dulla Singh Jalaldiwala was a member of the Ghadar party was also present on the occasion. Likewise, Yodha Mal, the grandson of the Ghadar activist, Manguram Muggowal and Parminder Swaich, the niece of a prominent freedom fighter Karnail Singh Isru were also in attendance.
The event started with traditional songs of the Musqueam tribe by Cecilia Point and her sister Mary, who are the indigenous activists and are in the forefront of the ongoing grassroots level Idle No More movement of the First Nations against racism and occupation. Cecilia also spoke at length about the history of colonialism and racism against the aboriginals in Canada. The Georgia Straight Editor Charlie Smith tried to make a link between the indigenous struggles against occupation and the Ghadar history.
Kimball Cariou, the Editor of People’s Voice, who also edited the book tried to place the story of Mewa Singh in a broader context of the history of resistance by the immigrants in Canada. The former BC Human Rights Commissioner Harinder Mahil spoke about the relevance of the Ghadar history in the contemporary world.
Others who spoke on the occasion included a young researcher Naveen Girn, who was instrumental in identifying the place where the first Vancouver Sikh temple once stood, the New Democratic MP, Jinny Simms, who is also an immigration critic in the shadow cabinet, a prominent social justice activist Harsha Walia, Indo Canadian Workers’ Association President Surinder Sangha, a history researcher from Oregon, Johanna Ogden, the leader of the group of Komagat Maru descendants, Jaswinder Toor and the Komagata Maru Heritage Foundation leader, Harbhajan Gill, a prominent broadcaster Gurwinder Singh Dhaliwal, who had introduced the practice of holding a moment of silence for Mewa Singh on his death anniversary and another prominent community activist Imtiaz Popat.
Among the BC legislators present were Raj Chouhan, Harry Bains and Bruce Ralston besides, former MLA Jagrup Brar. Some other prominent figures present included the World Sikh Organization President Prem Singh Vinning, the Committee of Progressive Pakistani Canadians leader Saif Khalid, Chetna Association leader and a Dalit activist Jai Birdi and Taraksheel Sabha leader Avtar Gill.