There are events in history that tell us much about the era’s social views and prejudices. The Komagata Maru incident is one of those.
One hundred years ago a ship named the Komagata Maru dropped anchor in Vancouver with 376 passengers on board. The majority of these passengers were Indian men and British subjects intending to immigrate to Canada. The journey was a challenge to a Canadian law that prevented immigration aboard ships that had not travelled by ‘continuous journey’ from their country of origin.
The Centre for Indo-Canadian Studies at the University of the Fraser Valley is marking this pivotal moment with a specially commissioned play. “That Land Beyond the Waves” debuts on Saturday, November 1 at the Matsqui Centennial Auditorium, with a matinee performance on November 2.
The play was written by Rajnish Dhawan, an English professor at UFV. It examines the Komagata Maru incident from the perspective of both an Indian immigrant whose sister is on the ship and the European-Canadians he works for in the town of Abbotsford, B.C.
“The main character travels between his world as an immigrant who is separated from his family and lives with other single immigrants, and the world of the family he works for,” notes Dhawan. “I wanted to show how the public responded to this issue. But also I wanted to evoke how it felt for families to be separated. People were awaiting the arrival of their nearest and dearest — there were at least five women and one child on the ship. I have tried to project the pain of having a person you are so fond of so nearby, but you cannot get to them. They are so helpless, but you are unable to provide them with basic amenities.”
Complementing the play is an exhibit, “Challenge and Denial: Komagata Maru 100 Years Later 1914-2014,” on display at the Sikh Heritage Museum at the National Historic Site, Gur Sikh Temple in Abbotsford.
“That Land Beyond the Waves,” Saturday, November 1 at 7:00 p.m. and Sunday, November 2 at 2:00 p.m. | Matsqui Centennial Auditorium. Tickets $15, $10 for students | www.ufv.ca/cis.