The SS Komagata Maru was a chartered ship featured in a dramatic challenge to Canada’s former practice of excluding immigrants from India. This challenge took place in the spring and summer of 1914, on the eve of the First World War. This challenge took place in the spring and summer of 1914, on the eve of the First World War. It proved to be a bitter and tragic experience for the passengers, first in an unsuccessful and eventually physical confrontation with officials, police and the military at the Port of Vancouver, and then in a deadly encounter with police and troops near Kolkata on the passengers’ return to India.
The events in Vancouver illustrated the widespread assumption among white Canadians that Canada was “a white man’s country.” The whole story also exposed the fundamental unfairness of British rule in India, then the most prized colonial possession of the British Empire. It was one more proof for many South Asians of their second-class status within the Empire. From this perspective, the fall-out from the Komagata Maru was a noteworthy chapter in the history of the independence struggle in India.
In 1914–15, the immediate impact was to encourage a small band of nationalists in an abortive armed rising against British rule. In the longer term, the Komagata Maru was a factor in turning Indian public opinion against the British.
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