When Vancouver turned back the Sikhs
For sixty days in 1914 a shipload of would-be Indian immigrants was held just off shore by an angry province determined to “stay white.” They fought off police, struggled in the courts, gave up when menaced by the navy, but left behind a legacy of death
Eager for a first glimpse of the land where
they sought release from Asia’s hopeless poverty, almost four hundred immigrants from India swarmed the decks of the Japanese tramp S.S. Komagata Maru as she steamed into Vancouver harbor one May morning forty-four years ago. Many waved excitedly to the small band of their countrymen who had gathered on the waterfront to welcome them, while from the bridge a signaller exchanged formal greetings, by semaphore, with those ashore.
All were dressed in their best. The men wore Western-style suits and, but for a handful of Moslems aboard, wore their long, upswept hair swathed in turbans as decreed by the Sikh religion. Physically, at least, they were men of a superior stamp—tall, broad of shoulder, their bronzed faces framed by meticulously groomed beards and their smiles revealing flawless teeth, white and even. They were described even by the hostile Vancouver press as “a handsome lot."
The only two women aboard were clothed in saris of brightly colored silk. The three children, all boys, were neatly clad in knickers and, like their elders, had their heads
bound in turbans. About them, on the landing deck, their luggage was piled high, ready to go ashore.
But their ship was not even allowed to dock and, eventually, they were to face the six-inch guns of a Canadian cruiser, manned by sailors rushed by train all the way from Halifax to back up the local determination to “keep British Columbia a white man’s country.”
Three laws had been passed to prevent immigrants from India entering Canada. These laws were applied to bar the men of the Komagata Maru.
For two months—from May 23 to July 23, 1914 — the Komagata Maru rode at anchor in Burrard Inlet while the Indians, nearly all veterans of the British Army’s famous Sikh regiments, fought for the right to settle in Canada. Most of them were named Singh, meaning “lion,” a name common to the majority of Sikhs since the end of the seventeenth century when, to survive persecution, they transformed themselves from a pacifist sect of Hinduism into a fiercely militant one.
Before them the
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“The Komagata Maru sailed for India. Behind her, six died in an outburst of violence”
city of Vancouver lay like a mirage, and, lured on by the constant sight of it, they endured hunger and humiliation rather than turn back. Seizing control of the Tip from her Japanese crew, the lionhearted Sikhs held out against hopeless odds, and even routed an armed force of police and immigration officers who. in x night raid, attempted to capture the Komagata Maru and force her to sail.
Beaten in the courts, reviled by the people of Vancouver, and intimidated by the cruiser HMCS Rainbow, the Sikhs finally accepted defeat and set out across the Pacific.
When they reached India, where the authorities feared the story of their treatment in Canada would inflame the growing revolt against British rule, the police tried to herd them into a waiting train to be spirited across the country to their former home in the Punjab. The Sikhs resisted. In a clash with police and British troops, twenty Sikhs were slain. Three policemen and three bystanders also died in the riot.
In the wake of the Komagata Maru. a bizarre outburst of violence, including a double killing in the Sikh temple and an assassination in the courthouse, swept through Vancouver’s Sikh community, taking six lives before it spent itself.
While the Komagata Marti lay in Vancouver harbor, the city bristled with hos-* tility toward the men aboard her. The press depicted them not as poor immigrants, which they were, but as forerunners of "hordes of Asiatics" who would ultimately overrun the country if they were allowed to enter.
l et them starve?
Their venture was smeared as a revolutionary plot designed to embarrass British rule in India, and there were fanciful charges that it had been financed and engineered by German agents in a cunning attempt to disrupt Empire unity.
At one stage, when the Sikhs had gone for days without food or water, the Vancouver Province remarked that they couldn’t be allowed to die of starvation or thirst "although public opinion . . . would probably view such a climax without excitement.’’
Everyone from trade unionists to the clergy, with the exception of a small band of socialists, was against them. When one minister softened his opposition by saying, "It is our duty to explain to those men in the harbor that wc do not despise them as dogs,” one of his listeners cried out, "But we do!” Even their socialist friends told them to go home—to “sweep the whites from India.”
Yet that was the one thing the Sikhs would not do—go home—until the Rainbow, actually half of Canada’s two-ship navy of the time, was summoned and cast anchor alongside the immigrant ship.
The Komagata Maru incident was enacted against a background as old as Vancouver itsell. In 1887, even before the city had marked its first anniversary, the importation of a handful of Chinese workers had sparked a race riot. Twenty years later, in 1907, white mobs invaded Chinatown and the Japanese quarter, smashing shop windows and terrorizing the inhabitants. The root of the trouble was economic, the whites fearing they were to be engulfed in a tidal wave of
cheap labor from Asia. Out of this fear sprang blind hatred and contempt for all Asiatics.
Three years before the Komagata Maru's arrival, the 1911 census showed that British Columbia's population of
392.000 included 2.300 Hindus (as immigrants from India were classified), almost twenty thousand Chinese, and roughly nine thousand Japanese.
Various steps were taken by Ottawa to curb immigration from Asia. Natives of
India, though British subjects, were virtually barred from Canada by two ordersin-council passed in 1910. Yet neither order specifically mentioned them by name for fear of causing resentment and further unrest in India.
The key order stipulated that all immigrants must come to Canada by “continuous journey and on through tickets” from their native land, an impossibility for the people of India because there was no direct steamship service between the two countries.
Late in 1913 a Sikh named Narain Singh, who arrived in Vancouver with a party of thirty-five immigrants, challenged these laws in the courts and they were ruled ultra vires, forcing the government to allow him and his countrymen to settle in Canada.
Gathered around the Sikh temples in Hong Kong, Shanghai, and even Japan were many Sikh veterans of the British army who dreamed of emigrating to Canada. Word of Narain Singh's victory reached them and helped to launch the Komagata Maru expedition.
Unknown to them, the Canadian govornment had acted swiftly, in 1914, to erect new barriers by amending the two orders of 1910 and passing a third. The Sikh leader may have learned of this, yet concluded that he could duplicate Narain Singh's legal triumph.
The Komagata Maru venture was organized by a Sikh patriarch named Gurdit Singh, a sensitive yet militant man of distinguished appearance, his dark, handsome face set off by the stark white of both his turban and his long, flowing beard. He had been a small landowner in India, and, in about 1885, had gone to Malaya where he established a contracting business.
“What led me to this work,” he wrote in the ship's log, "is that when I came to Hong Kong in January 1914 I could not
bear the trouble of those who were in the
Gurdwara (Sikh temple) waiting to go to Vancouver. They were waiting there for years . . . How tyrannical and hard was this on our brothers! . . . This affected my mind and I resolved to take them to Vancouver under any circumstances."
And so he chartered the Japanese-owned Komagata Maru, a former German passenger ship of three thousand gross tons, in Hong Kong for a period of six months.
In command of her Japanese master. Captain Yamamoto, the vessel sailed from Hong Kong on April 4, 1914, in spite of attempts by the authorities to halt her, taking on more passengers at Shanghai, Kobe, and Yokohama, so that three hundred and seventy-six were aboard as she set out for Vancouver. Twenty-five were Moslems, the rest Sikhs. Twenty-two men were returning to Vancouver after a visit to India and two of these were accompanied by their wives and children.
When the Komagata Maru put in at the quarantine station off Victoria on May 21, newspapermen went aboard and to them Gurdit Singh declared: “What is done with this shipload of my people will determine whether we shall have peace in all parts of the British Empire.”
“The main object of our coming,” he said, “is to let the British government know how they can maintain their rule in India, as the Indian government is in danger nowadays. We can absolutely state how the British government may be made to last in India.”
Though this statement was largely bluff, it was to be used time and again to prove that the Sikhs’ “main object" in coming was, in fact, to embarrass the British.
As the Komagata Maru sailed on to Vancouver, a Japanese seaman, apparently seeking to enter Canada by avoiding all immigration red-tape, leaped overboard and was drowned.
A special detachment of police patrolled the Vancouver waterfront the morning of May 23 as the immigrant ship slipped through the First Narrows into Burrard Inlet. She was not permitted to dock, but was ordered to drop anchor about two hundred yards offshore. Two guards were placed aboard and an immigration launch began a constant vigil.
Packed and ready to land, the Sikhs were informed, by Malcolm Reid, chief immigration inspector, and his interpreter, William Hopkinson, of the three laws that barred their way. The Sikhs became confident they could upset these laws in the courts, exactly as Narain Singh had done six months before. Their lawyer, J. Edward Bird, said, “There is no question but that they are uncon stitutional.”
Government officials, acting on express orders of the prime minister, Sir Robert Borden, were determined to prevent a test case except on their own terms, for legal procedure would allow the Sikhs seven opportunities to win their case. The government sought to narrow them down to a single try.
As the law stood, any one of the Sikhs, once rejected by an immigration board of inquiry and held for deportation, could claim he was being illegally detained and so-apply to a B. C. supreme-court judge for a writ of habeas corpus. If refused, he could renew his application before each of the other six members of the court, in turn, and, if refused by them all, he could then go to the court of appeal.
Yet, were he to win anywhere along the line, the government could not contest his victory in the court of appeal for, at that time, only the refusal, not
the granting of a writ of habeas corpus, could be appealed.
Four days after the Komagata Maru’s arrival, government lawyers made an offer of a test case whereby the Sikhs would surrender their right to go to one judge after another. Instead, one of them would allow his application for a writ to be dismissed by a judge, whereupon he would appeal to the court of appeal.
When the Sikhs rejected this deal two days later, on May 29, the government countered with a stalling tactic, and there began a legal deadlock that was not to be broken for almost a month.
The immigration board of inquiry gradually admitted the twenty-two men who were returning from visits to India, but as the others appeared their hearings were deliberately prolonged and when concluded, decisions were reserved. As none was formally rejected, no grounds existed for challenging the laws in the courts.
The next few weeks of stalemate were packed with incident as the undaunted Sikhs carried on their sea-going sitdown strike.
By day two armed immigration officers patrolled the decks of the Komagata Maru and. at night, their strength was doubled. Once, as the day guards left the ship, the Sikhs barred the way to the night replacements, threatening to throw them overboard. The guards were all withdrawn.
The newspapers reported that the immigrants had gone on a hunger strike, but Gurdit Singh cabled protests to George V, claiming that some three hundred of the king's subjects were being starved by Inspector Reid, who, he said, would not allow provisions to be put aboard.
In the House of Commons, a cabinet minister replied that the Sikhs had been offered flour, rice, bread, and fruit, but had refused this food unless they were also given ginger, milk, fifty live sheep and goats, one hundred live poultry, and two hundred boxes of cigarettes.
The Sikhs' lawyer, Edward Bird, lodged a protest against what he called the “Russian tyranny” of Inspector Reid in preventing him from boarding the Komagata Maru to confer with his clients. Guards on the ship had threatened to throw him overboard. He and Gurdit Singh were forced to discuss their affairs from two launches as these hovered near one another.
Two Japanese cruisers, Asama and Azuma, were about to arrive on a courtesy visit and the harbor master ordered Captain Yamamoto to move his ship to another anchorage to make way for them. The Sikhs, suspecting a trick, threatened the Japanese crew, prevented them from getting up steam, and established their complete control over the Komagata Maru. She stayed put.
Rumors became as incessant as the waves that lapped the sides of the Komagata Maru . . . The Sikhs were planning to set fire to the vessel and then to leap overboard . . . Another ship, jammed to (he gunwales with Indian immigrants, was on its way from Calcutta, financed by a woman of wealth and mystery . . . When the Japanese cruisers arrived scores of Nipponese sailors would swarm aboard the Komagata Maru to quell the Sikhs and force them to leave . . .
Meanwhile, the Vancouver agent for the ship’s owners repeatedly ordered Gurdit Singh to allow the vessel to sail because the Sikhs had no money to pay the twenty thousand dollars they owed on the charter and for her cargo of coal. Then five hundred Vancouver Sikhs met and donated five thousand dollars in cash and pledged another sixty thousand
dollars’ worth of real estate to carry on the fight. Twenty thousand of this was used to pay off the debts and take over the charter in the name of two Vancouver Sikh leaders, Rahim Singh and Bhag Singh.
A second meeting, attended by a hundred and twenty-five whites as well as four hundred Sikhs, was addressed by Edward Bird, the lawyer, and by the Vancouver socialist leader, H. M. Fitzgerald, who exclaimed: “Up and arm yourselves and fight to regain your liberty! Inspire your countrymen to return
and sweep all of the whites from India!”
"If these people wish to come to this country can we blame them?” asked Bird. “Are not most of the residents of Canada settlers from some other country?" Bird said he had received “piteous” letters from Gurdit Singh stating that the Sikhs “are starving and are cooped up worse than cattle.” The meeting protested to the prime minister that the authorities were preventing the Vancouver Sikhs from provisioning the ship.
Vancouver's white citizens replied with a protest rally of their own. called by
the mayor, and demanded that Ottawa force the Sikhs to leave at once and that all further Asiatic immigration be banned as being “hurtful . . . from the standpoint of citizenship, public morals, and labor conditions.” Fitzgerald and the Sikh leader, Rahim Singh, tried to speak and were dragged down by members of the audience and the police.
Meanwhile. Inspector Reid flourished before the board of inquiry an affidavit signed by several "loyal'' Sikhs, charging that Sohan Lal, a Vancouver Sikh who was chief advisor to Bird, had urged the
murder of Reid, his assistant, William Hopkinson, and three Sikhs who were serving the immigration department as informants. The incitement, it was alleged, was contained in a poem Sohan Lai had composed and then recited in the Sikh temple.
By June 20—the Komagata Maru had then been in port almost a month—the board of inquiry, apart from admitting the twenty-two returnees, had heard the cases of only six of the remaining three hundred and fifty-four, and had given a verdict in none though the law required
that immediate decisions be made. Edward Bird began court action, demanding that the board show cause for its failure to give decisions.
Inspector Reid and H. H. Stevens, the Vancouver member of parliament who led the fight to bar the Sikhs, made urgent appeals to Ottawa to force the Komagata Maru to depart before the courts could hear Bird's case. At a public meeting, Stevens declared: “Some say, ‘Why do you not go to the courts?’ and 1 say, ‘We are willing to go to the courts if we can get an honest court tb go to.’ ”
Stevens evolved a plan to shanghai the immigrants. The Empress of India would be brought alongside the Komagata Maru, a boarding party would then seize the Sikhs and transfer them to the CPR liner. He wired Ottawa for approval as well as for eighteen thousand dollars to pay the Sikhs’ fares. He was turned down.
Instead, government lawyers renewed their original offer of a test case and, on June 24, the Sikhs accepted it. They selected Monshi Singh, a farmer, to go before the courts. On July 6, the court of
appeal gave its decision: Monshi Singh had been rightfully barred from entering Canada.
The Sikhs had lost. According to Bird they accepted defeat “quite philosophically’’ and would leave “as soon as the boat is ready to sail.”
Yet now the Sikhs began a last-ditch struggle to force the government to provision their ship and to pay for extension of the ship’s charter or the equivalent of the men’s return fares. Various proposals were made by them, involving sums that ranged from twenty to thirty thousand dollars.
The government was willing to provision the Komagata Maru, though not as liberally as the men insisted, but it was not prepared to grant any money.
Though some food reached them from their friends ashore, the Sikhs went many days with nothing to eat or drink. Once they appealed to Inspector Reid: “Take pity on our wretched condition, otherwise we shall be compelled to get ashore to quench our raging thirst.” When Reid visited the ship they threatened to hold him hostage unless he promised to send food. That night a government launch took them supplies.
The government now decided to bring the whole affair to a climax—by force, if necessary.
On July 17, Gurdit Singh was instructed by the Vancouver agent for the ship’s owners to let the Komagata Maru sail at once. When he rejected this ultimatum, Captain Yamamoto asked for police assistance, the first step in the authorities' plan of action.
At 1.15 a.m. on Sunday, July 19, the tug Sea Lion set out from shore with one hundred and twenty policemen and forty immigration officers. Also aboard was H. H. Stevens, MP. The police were armed with revolvers, the specials with rifles. The plan was for the men to board the Komagata Maru and to quell the Sikhs while the Japanese crew got up steam. The Sea Lion, carrying the armed specials, was then to escort the ship out to sea.
One oversight turned the expedition into a fiasco: the deck of the Komagata Maru towered a good fifteen feet above that of the Sea Lion. From this height the Sikhs rained a fusillade of garbage, dining-room chairs, scrap metal, coal, and driftwood down on the tug. One Sikh leaned over the rail swinging a flat-iron that hung from a piece of wire. A score of policemen were cut and bruised. The Sea Lion scurried for shore where eight of its men, including the chief of police, were hospitalized.
This, jeered an Ottawa newspaper, the Morning Citizen, was “the limit of comicopera government.”
Smarting from this defeat, the government sent for HMCS Rainbow, a decrepit cruiser that had been recently recommissioned at Victoria. Eighty sailors from HMCS Niobe, Canada’s only other warship, had arrived from Halifax to help man her.
In Vancouver, excitement mounted as newsboys hustled extras that told of the preparations being made for battle. Two militia units—a thousand men in all— were being mobilized. The Japanese crew had been removed from the Komagata Maru. Aboard her the Sikhs were building barricades and were armed with clubs fashioned from driftwood. Gurdit Singh declared his men “would sooner die” than submit.
When the Rainbow entered the harbor, on July 21, thousands of spectators gathered on the waterfront or perched atop buildings overlooking it. The cruiser dropped anchor two hundred yards from the Komagata Maru and then trained
three powerful fire h^. o:. the immi-
grant ship. (Her guns were not to be used, though the Sikhs were not made aware of this.)
With everything in readiness, Malcolm Reid issued an ultimatum in the name of the government itself (the previous ultimatums all came from the ship's owners). "The government regrets,” it concluded, "that unless you now submit it will be necessary to take steps to enforce the law.”
Replied Gurdit Singh: "We will obey the law if you give us sufficient provisions immediately and provide us with passage (money) across the Pacific.”
The money was sought to reimburse the Vancouver Sikhs who had invested twenty thousand dollars in the ship's charter and cargo of coal. These men contended they had a claim against the government because they had expected to recoup their investment by selling the coal and were prevented, by the government, from unloading it.
A cabinet minister finally broke the deadlock by promising an investigation of the Vancouver Sikhs’ financial claims —if the Komagata Maru sailed at once.
The Sikhs, famished and menaced by the Rainbow, surrendered and accepted this compromise. (Later, a one-man commission ruled that the Vancouver Sikhs were not entitled to compensation because they had acted from seditious motives.) Provisions, ranging from eight hundred sacks of flour to a thousand bottles of hair oil (used by the Sikhs for washing their hair), but not including the hundred goats demanded by the immigrants, were hastily loaded aboard the Komagata Maru.
At dawn on July 23, exactly two months to the hour after she had entered Burrard Inlet, the Komagata Maru headed out to sea, the Rainbow trailing in her wake.
As the steamer slipped through a narrow channel on her way to the open Pacific, a final attempt was made to beat the immigration laws—by two Japanese seamen who leaped overboard and struck out for shore. The crew of the Rainbow plucked them from the water and returned them to the Komagata Maru.
When the Komagata Maru put into Yokohama in mid-August, the British consul told the men they would be forbidden to land in Hong Kong because they “might cause mutiny among the Sikh regiments stationed there,” and so the ship sailed on to India.
Except for brief moments ashore in Japan, the weary Sikhs had been cooped aboard ship for more than five months when the Komagata Maru finally arrived in India on September 26. Now, in their own country, they were harassed by a new wartime law that empowered the government to restrict the liberty of anyone entering India who might threaten the “safety, interest, or tranquility” of the state.
The Komagata Maru was ordered to dock at Budge Budge, fourteen miles from Calcutta, where a special train, guarded by thirty Punjabi police, waited to whisk them off to the Punjab. At first the Sikhs refused to go ashore, but eventually, on September 29, they landed. A few entered the train. The rest, more than three hundred strong, began to march toward Calcutta. At the head of the procession, two men carried the Granth Sahib, the Sikhs’ holy scripture. At the rear strode the Punjabi police.
Reinforcements were summoned and thirty European police and one hundred and fifty men of the Royal Fusiliers sped from Calcutta toward Budge Budge. The Sikhs were intercepted and forced to return to Budge Budge. Those who halted
on the way to seek water were prcù-LL with pointed bamboo sticks.
At Budge Budge they were herded together near the train and Gurdit Singh, who was in the midst of his men, was ordered to come forth. He refused. A police officer went into the crowd to get him. There was a shot and the officer fell dead. The troops attacked. They killed not only twenty of the Sikhs, but, firing indiscriminately, they also killed the leader of the Punjabi police. In all, twenty-six men, including three bystanders, died in the riot.
Even as the Komagata Maru was making her homeward voyage, a violent sequel was being enacted in Vancouver.
The Sikh community seethed with hatred for a man named Bela Singh and his small faction of followers who had acted as government informers. They reported on Sikhs who had entered the country illegally, spied on meetings held in the temple, and gave information concerning those suspected of sympathizing with the Indian independence movement.
Throughout the Komagata Maru affair, Bela Singh maintained that his life
VV..J, ..: . anger. On the other hand, Sohan Lal, a prominent Sikh leader, claimed he had several times been stalked by assassins, henchmen of Bela Singh. Once he had eluded them, he said, by darting into a theatre where, in violation of his religion, he removed his turban so as to be lost in the crowd.
Still this hatred may have been held in check had not everyone hastily concluded that the death of one of the informers, Hainan Singh, was murder. Harnan Singh disappeared on August 17 and two weeks later his body, the throat
sl.: by a razor, was found on a native Indian reservation near the Sikh temple. Later it appeared he had probably taken his own life, but at the time everyone was certain he had been murdered.
Three days later, Argan Singh, another informer, was shot in a rooming house in the Sikh quarter and a man named Ram Singh was charged with his murder. Again a wrong conclusion had been reached, as was to be disclosed at Ram Singh’s trial. Fearing for his own life after the death of the first informer, Argan Singh had bought a gun to protect himself and, while showing it to Ram Singh, it had gone off and killed him.
Convinced that his two friends had been murdered, Bela Singh was panicstricken; he was sure he was to be the next to die. He struck first, two days after Argan Singh's death, by killing two men in the temple where the Sikhs had gathered for a religious service following the cremation of Argan Singh.
At Bela Singh’s two trials for murder, witness after witness was to give this version of what took place;
A hymn was being sung when Bela Singh entered the temple. He came forward, made an obeisance to the sacred Granth Sahib, threw some money into a collection box. and sat down. A prayer followed. Bhag Singh, the priest, was kneeling when Bela Singh rose, drew two revolvers and shot him dead. Then he shot and killed another man, Badan Singh. As the others lied to the exits, Bela Singh kept firing, wounding five of them.
When the police arrived and rushed up the temple steps they were stopped at the door by a Sikh attendant who told them to remove their shoes before entering in accordance with Sikh custom. They brushed him aside and went in, still shod.
The scene of violence was now to shift
to the courthouse where, in late October, Ram Singh and Bela Singh were to stand trial for murder. Ram Singh was quickly acquitted for it was easily proven that Argan Singh had been shot accidentally.
The trial of Bela Singh was to begin the next day, October 21, and his plea of self-defense was expected to rest largely on the testimony of William Hopkinson, an immigration officer, who would contend that Bela Singh’s life had been constantly endangered.
Hopkinson, a thirty-seven-year-old Yorkshireman, had been raised in India where he had become chief constable of the city of Lahore. He spoke fluent Hindustani, and had been Inspector Reid’s interpreter and right-hand man during the Komagata Maru incident. He had also investigated the Sikh community for alleged sedition. Bela Singh even contended that Hopkinson, disguised in a turban, dark glasses, and false beard, had attended meetings in the Sikh temple. I he Sikhs despised him, blaming his intrigues and his recruitment of informers for the dissension within their ranks.
Hopkinson was standing by a courtroom door, waiting for it to be opened and for Bela Singh’s trial to begin, when Mewa Singh, a thirty-four-year-old Sikh, approached him, whipped out two revolvers, and fired five bullets into the Englishman's body. Hopkinson died instantly. A janitor seized Mewa Singh.
Bela Singh's case was set aside while Mewa Singh was rushed to trial, a hearing that lasted less than three hours. Nine days after he had shot Hopkinson, Mewa Singh was sentenced to hang.
"I am guilty,” Mewa Singh told the court. "All this trouble and all this shooting. Mr. Reid and Mr. Hopkinson are responsible for and I shot Mr. Hopkinson out of honor to my fellow men and for
my religion. 1 could not bear to see these troubles going on any longer.”
The killings by Bela Singh had “destroyed the goodness” of the Sikh temple, he said. "Seeing this badness done there, the killing of innocent people, has burned into my heart,” he went on. Hopkinson had “hounded” him for months, he swore, trying to force him to become an informer and ordering him to give evidence in favor of Bela Singh, or “You will go the same road as Bhag and Badan Singh.” These were the men shot by Bela Singh.
The Sikh leader Sohan Lai was charged with inciting Mewa Singh to murder Hopkinson. "I wouldn’t kill a little bird,” Sohan Lai protested at his trial. "It is against my religion to kill any living thing.” He was acquitted.
Early one cold, wet morning in January 1915, five hundred Sikhs gathered outside the prison at New Westminster as Mewa Singh went to the gallows, a Sikh priest standing by him and chanting hymns. The Sikhs claimed his body and, led by men beating drums and clashing cymbals, they marched slowly through New' Westminster to nearby Fraser Mills where cremation was to take place. At the rear of the procession walked Mewa Singh's widow and his small son.
At his trial, Bela Singh claimed that the two men he had killed had attacked him first, Bhag Singh with the temple’s sacred sword, and Badan Singh with a profane revolver. The jury failed to agree on a verdict. He was tried again, and this time was acquitted. Later he returned to India.
The final chapter in the story of the Komagata Maru was recorded in a brief dispatch from India, published in The Vancouver Province in May 1934: the murder of Bela Singh. His enemies, the report said, had “cut off his head, chopped off his legs, and hacked off his arms.” ir