By Ajit Jain
TORONTO: Interestingly, Canada Post has finally decided to issue the official stamp to commemorate the Komagata Maru tragedy of 1914 that involved forced return of 376 passengers from the Vancouver Harbour to India.
This $2.50 stamp will be formally released in Ottawa by federal Employment and Multicultural Minister Jason Kenney and Canada Post President and CEO Deepak Chopra on May 6.
In their promotional material, Canada Post explains history of the Komagata Maru, saying “the South Asian community is proud that part of its history is being remembered” through Canada Post issuing the Komagata Mary stamp.
It reminds Canadians of the 376 passengers, only 20 were allowed to disembark from the ship that was berthed in the Burrard inlet My 23, 1914. Those 20 passengers were categorized as returning passengers who were earlier in Canada and were coming back from India. Others were forcibly turned back as under ‘the Continuous Journey Act,” only the vessel that sailed directly from the country of origin to Canada, without stopping on its way for whatever be the purpose, would be allowed to disembark its passengers and that, during that period was not possible, as the vessels had to stop on their way for refueling and for supplies.
“The Komagata Maru Foundation has done a good job educating people in the South Asian community, but there are still many Canadians who do not know about the incident,” explains Foundation President Harbhajan Gill.
“We’d love this stamp to prompt questions. This is part of Canadian history.”
Some people said despite this being a historical decision to recount Canadian history, Canada Post is doing a half-hearted job as it’s issuing only $$2.50 Komagata Maru stamp. It means as an international stamp (which’s $2.50 denomination), it will only be used by Canadians for mailing international letters (United States not included). So, Canadians won’t be able to see it while receiving mail or sending mail within the country, says Toronto-based stamp collector Prakash Mody.
Moreover, to his dismay, Canada Post is printing only 250,000 of these stamps and not usual 1.5-million stamps. “If Canada Post wanted to publicize (as they mentioned in their write-up) this historical event, then they could have issued (and should have) issued this stamp of regular Canadian rate (58 cents) and should have printed their normal run of 1.5-million stamps,” he says.
When approached, Canada Post President Chopra said he would make a statement and answer any questions related to this stamp on May 6 when the stamp will be formally released .
“Forced to leave Vancouver on July 23 (1914), the passengers (aboard Komagata Maru) returned to India, where approximately 20 of them were shot and others imprisoned.
“Even though it was a sad event, Canadians should take away a happy message. We’ve learned ferom those mistakes and made positive, inspiring change in 100years,” says Gill. “We’re a new Canada, one that treats everyone as equal.”
Mody has for years been pursuing with Canada Post the idea of a Diwali stamp, as Diwali in Canada and elsewhere is no more deemed only as a Hindu Festival. It has assumed to some extent the same meaning as Christmas. Most Canadians now know what the Festival of Lights is.