THE City of New Westminster has officially declared January 11 as Bhai Mewa Singh Day in commemoration of a Sikh political activist who was hanged in 1915.
Right before the meeting of City Council on Monday evening, Mayor Jonathan Cote read out the proclamation that was later presented to the officials of Sukh Sagar Sahib Gurdwara which has kept the history of Mewa Singh alive. Gurdwara President Harbhajan Singh Atwal presented Cote a sword of honour as a token of gratitude on behalf of the Sikh community. Among those present was Surrey-Green Timbers MLA Rachna Singh whose constituency office had unveiled the portrait of Mewa Singh last year. The members of East India Defence Committee, which has launched a petition asking for the recognition of Mewa Singh as a hero, were also in attendance. Also present was playwright Paneet Singh, who has been raising awareness about Mewa Singh through theatre.
The event followed a brief presentation on the relevance of Mewa Singh by Gurpreet Singh from Radical Desi magazine which had made the request for proclamation to the City Council. Mewa Singh was part of a radical movement that was launched by the Indian immigrants in North America against the British occupation of India and racism abroad.
Singh was a devout Sikh, who had assassinated controversial Immigration Inspector William Hopkinson in Vancouver in 1914. The incident was the culmination of the infamous Komagata Maru episode.
The Japanese vessel carrying 376 South Asian passengers was forced to return under a discriminatory immigration law that was enacted to keep Canada as a “white man’s country”. This had led to bloody clashes between the political activists and the pro-establishment faction of the community. As a result of this, Bela Singh, a mole of the Canadian authorities within the Sikh community went inside a gurdwara and shot to death a revolutionary community leader Bhaag Singh and his associate Badan Singh.
Since Bela Singh was patronized by Hopkinson, who had precipitated the conflict among the local South Asians through his spies, Mewa Singh murdered him and courted arrest soon after. Even otherwise Hopkinson was keeping an eye on the activists and tried to weaken the movement to serve the interests of the British Empire.
Mewa Singh faced the trial with courage and conviction and chanted prayers while being taken to the gallows in New Westminster jail. His testimony establishes that he had taken to such an extreme step in response to racism and sacrilege of the temple.
City councillor Chuck Puchmayr was instrumental behind the proclamation. He had earlier moved a motion, along with Nadine Nakagawa, to remove the statue of the controversial colonial era Justice Mathew Begbie, B.C.’s first chief justice, who had ordered the execution of six Chilcotin Chiefs in 1864 for the murder of 14 white road construction workers who were harassing the indigenous peoples and their women. The councillors had noted that the province of B.C. had apologized for the hangings and exonerated the chiefs.