A prominent writer and history researcher from Toronto has demanded that Mewa Singh be recognized as Canadian hero for sacrificing his life for the sake of civil rights, equality and diversity. Waryam Singh Sandhu, who was in Greater Vancouver over the past weekend repeated this demand during a series of events organized by different groups to commemorate the 99th death anniversary of Mewa Singh, who was hanged on January 11, 1915 for assassinating a controversial Immigration Inspector William Hopkinson.
Mewa Singh was a political activist, who was close to the Ghadar Party, a group of South Asian radicals that was formed in North America to fight against British occupation in India and racism abroad. Hopkinson was instrumental behind the shooting inside the Vancouver Sikh temple in September 1914 that claimed the lives of two South Asian leaders, including Bhaag Singh who was in the forefront of the struggles against discriminatory immigration policies, such as disfranchisement of the Indian immigrants and bar on bringing their families to Canada. Bhaag Singh was a member of the Ghadar Party that supported the South Asian passengers aboard the Komagata Maru ship which was denied entry under the controversial continuous journey law that was aimed at keeping Canada white. The ship was forced to return following two months standoff on July 23, 1914. The incident led to bloody clashes between the Ghadar Party supporters and toadies which culminated into the assassination of Hopkinson by Mewa Singh.
Since next year will be the centenary of Mewa Singh’s execution, Sandhu called upon the South Asian community to get organized and work together to get Mewa Singh recognized as Canadian hero. He pointed out that that it was due to people like Mewa Singh that the South Asian community got right to vote in this country and bring their families. “Today Canada celebrates its diversity, but do not forget that it wasn’t like this always. The multiculturalism in this country is an outcome of sacrifices made by people like Mewa Singh. If Canada really cherishes such values then what stops it from recognizing him as hero? He should not be treated as criminal anymore. ‘’
Sandhu, who is a diehard secularist, was also critical of the Sikh fundamentalists who are trying to appropriate the Ghadar history. “Mewa Singh and other Ghadar activists shouldn’t be merely portrayed as Sikh heroes. Although his Sikh heritage is undeniable, he actually represented the larger social justice struggle. ’’ Ghadar Party had members from the non Sikh communities as well and the party believed in secularism and social equality that wanted its members to keep religion and politics apart. The Canada based Sikh separatists have been trying to appropriate the Ghadar movement as majority of its supporters from the Sikh community. Mewa Singh was also a practicing Sikh.
Sandhu has authored a book in Punjabi; “Ghadari Babe Kaun San?’’ that directly challenges the propaganda of the Sikh separatists. He had narrowly escaped an attempt on his life years ago from the Sikh militants. He wrote many short stories based on religious violence.
He first spoke at an event organized by the Radical Desi Publications Limited in Surrey; where a moment of silence was observed in memory of Mewa Singh. Others who spoke on the occasion, included Sohan Singh Pooni, who authored a book on Canada based Ghadar activists, Raghbir Singh Sirjana, whose book on the Ghadar history is under production, Jagir Singh Kalhon, a progressive poet from Toronto and Manjit Singh Dhillon whose grandfather Niranjan Singh Pandori was a Ghadar activist. A book on the Ghadar history compiled and published by Desh Bhagat Yaadgar Committee Jalandhar was also released at the event.
On Sunday, Sandhu addressed a congregation at the Ross Street Sikh temple where prayers were held for Mewa Singh. Gurbaksh Singh Sanghera of the Mewa Singh Society announced that they will launch a petition seeking recognition of Mewa Singh as national hero soon. Later that evening Sandhu visited the heritage Sikh temple in Abbotsford which was once a nerve center of the Ghadar activities. He also attended a literary event organized by Punjabi Sahit Sabha Mudhli in memory of Mewa Singh.