From The Roots

The History of South Asian Immigration to British Columbia

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From the Roots recognizes the crucial role of knowing our history in defining ourselves as a community living in the West. The work of those who have gone before and those who continue to respect history as a touchstone for their creative endeavours provides a foundation for the South Asian community in the diaspora to continue to evolve. Since its inception, Rungh has been committed to presenting not only contemporary South Asian cultural production, but also the roots from which that production arises. In this special Roots Issue of the magazine, we want to provide the reader with an historical and contemporary framework within which the South Asian community on the West Coast of Canada has evolved and established itself.

The West Coast of Canada represents the ground upon which the first South Asian migrants to Canada and their white counterparts met. The outcome of this meeting represents a paradigm of the unequal power relations which continue to exist in contemporary Canada.

The process of reclaiming history and contextualizing it in the present is a complicated one. We have chosen to start our historical journey by reprinting two articles originally published in the Indo-Canadian (Vol 7, Nos. 3 & 4,1971). The Indo-Canadian was an English language publication produced by a group of concerned Indo-Canadians (as they called themselves) who wanted to represent their communities as they saw them. This approach represents a distinct shift in the coming of age of the South Asian community in Canada. It was an empowering process in which the 'other' decided to construct its own identity, primarily for the consumption of a white audience. The language and tone of the articles must be understood in the context of a multicultural framework which was in its nascent stages.

The articles in the Indo-Canadian prominently featured what is now referred to as the Komagata Maru incident. It is arguable that this incident is the singular most defining moment of the history of the South Asian community in Canada. The Komagata Maru and the treatment of its passengers by white authority structures perfectly encapsulates the British colonial history of oppression, dominance and denial. More importantly, the Komagata Maru Incident represents the resistance, activism and unity of the South Asian community in the face of the brute reality of racism.

We have chosen to represent the history of the Komagata Maru's journey through excerpts from the pages of the Vancouver Province and an editorial from the Hindustanee, an English-language paper sponsored by the United India League, both published during the time of the incident.

Inderjit Kohaly represents, in many ways, a living treasure for the South Asian creative community in Vancouver As an individual, he has dedicated the majority of his life to capture and document the history of his community. One of the founding members of the Indo-Canadian editorial group, Mr. Kohaly is presently engaged in an archival project which deserves far more support and attention than it has received. This labour of love, which reproduces images from the Komagata Maru incident through to images of South Asian families which immigrated to British Columbia up to the 1950s, is Mr. Kohaly's attempt to remind us of our roots and to make sure that we never forget.

The Vancouver Sath collective relies upon the daily lived experience of the South Asian community in Vancouver to inspire its cultural production. Deeply rooted in the labour struggles of South Asians working in the agricultural, resource and service based industries of the West Coast, Vancouver Sath has established itself as the creative voice for the struggles of those who seek meaning in the inhospitable and racist conditions in which they work. The collective has a keen awareness for the history of the South Asian community in British Columbia and uses this history to challenge racism outside the community and patriarchy, sexism, agism and classism within the community.

South Asians, colonized by the British and now living in the West, have a strong, proud history of resistance against oppression. We continue to struggle against the stifling confinement of categories, criteria and quotas to claim our right to live and work where we choose in equality and peace. —Editor.

East Indians in BC (Till 1910)

— by Dr. I. M. Muthanna

The following articles are excerpted with the permission of I. Kohaly from the Indo-Canadian, Volume 7, Number 3 & 4, 1971.

Canada—An East Indian Word?

Many theories have been advanced as to the origin of the name 'Canada'. One of those put forward in the Dictionary of Canadianism on Historical Principles is that the word 'Canada' is just a variation on KANARA on the southwest coast of India, and that it was chosen because the explorers perhaps thought that they had landed in India. This is not unlikely as many of the early explorers who ventured to the Orient did land on the Kanara coast of India. And, of course, as everybody is aware, the natives of North America were called Indians, because Columbus thought that he had reached India.

First Emigration

The actual emigration of working people from India to the United States and Canada began to take place only after 1894, mostly agriculturists with little or no education. They infiltrated at the rate of at least 30 per year, mostly to the United States...a few turbaned men were to be seen here and there in British Columbia.


There is no evidence of any East Indian visit to the Pacific coast prior to the visit of Captain Vancouver in 1792. Amongst the earliest East India Company vessels to visit the west coast of Canada was a trading boat from Madras, India in the 1790s, but it is not known whether there were any East Indians aboard...

From 1870 to 1905—Indentured Labour

With the abolition of slavery, indentured labourers were utilized in British colonies to fill the gap. Thus, in 1876 alone, about 45,000 people from Calcutta and 15,000 from Madras were transported to the Fiji Islands alone, apart from others shipped to the Caribbean. Hundreds of these labourers were able to slip out and move from place to place and country to country in search of trade or better opportunities. During this process, a number of Hindus were able to infiltrate into North and Central America.

Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee

A number of Sikh troops from the Indian Army contingent that took part during the 1897 Diamond Jubilee celebration in honour of Queen Victoria passed through Canada on their way home. They spread stories in India of Canada as a land of great opportunity that was welcoming immigrants. Some of those who did emigrate to BC were old Sikh soldiers who had taken part in crushing the Boxer Rebellion on demobilisation in China.

Settlers in 1900

However, the actuality of life in BC was not up to the dreams of the East Indian migrants at the turn of the century. They ended up building railway tracks or as labourers in the lumber and logging industries. It is estimated that in 1900 there were no more than a hundred East Indians, mostly Sikhs. They were constantly on the move between Victoria and Vancouver and even south of the border. According to the US census there were 2,050 Hindus in America, including a few hundred on the Pacific coast.

Anti-Asiatic Action

Anti-Asian feelings were first aroused on the west coast in the 1870s in the face of relatively large Japanese and Chinese immigration to California. The US Government was prevailed upon, exactly a century ago, to enact the first restrictive Immigration Act directed against the so-called 'Mongolians'...

In 1900, at a meeting in Vancouver, the unions of fishermen, bakers, clerks and merchants as well as other Associations demanded that Ottawa strictly enforce the restrictive Aliens Act so as to cut off the Asian flood...

At that time, there was only a scattering of East Indians. The BC census of 1904 lists 258 'Hindus', almost all of them Sikhs. Another 45 arrived to join them in 1905. As British Subjects, the Sikhs were less inclined to be less submissive, demanding special rights denied to the Japanese and Chinese.

The Sikhs worked in mines, farms, logging and lumber and some even engaged in laying CPR tracks...

Anti-Asian Riots

The Sikhs were prepared to work at wages offered by the employers. The Provincial Government had authorized them to employ up to 25% of their force at nonunion wages. This sparked anti-Asian riots. The stalwart Sikhs specially stood out with their flowing beards and coloured turbans as a distinctive type. As such, they became the main target of the rioters and suffered a great deal. Simultaneously, pressure built up for the government to enact a minimum wage law.

Growing Influx in 1906

In 1906, the number of Hindus entering BC shot up sharply from 3 00 to 5 0 0, and even more in the following year.

They gradually started to supplant the Chinese and Japanese in the saw mills of BC. The manager of a saw mill at Port Moody 'saw these strapping men move piles of lumber with ease.' Soon other mills started employing them.

One Devichand was reported to be behind the drive to import East Indian labour. As an entrepreneur, he apparently claimed payment from some of the immigrants, and in one instance he was charged with 'obtaining money under false pretences.' During the court proceedings at Vancouver on July 18, 1906, he admitted that it was his mission to help East Indians to come to BC...

'Beaten' by the Cold

About 150 East Indians proceeded to the Interior to work in the Hydraulic Mines of the Cariboo. But they were unprepared for the cold. Shivering, without proper clothing and penniless, many straggled all the way back to Vancouver suffering greatly from the elements. However, about 100 of them remained behind to grimly face the Cariboo winter. According to the miners, 'the Hindus did not prove any too industrious.' No wonder, since most of them had nothing but a very thin blanket to protect from the harsh elements...

Immigration Act of 1906

After prolonged discussions under continual representation by the Whites on the west coast, the Dominion Parliament enacted the Immigration Act of 1906 aimed at controlling the influx of Asians into Canada. It is good to note that even in those days, some liberal spirits in BC joined hands with Asian immigrants to protest the blatantly discriminatory statute.

The Act was not entirely successful in curbing all Asiatic immigration, especially that of the Sikhs. According to available records only 18 East Indians were debarred from landing in BC in 1906 and another 120 the following year as a direct result of this restrictive legislation. Ottawa also took the matter up with the Government of India and received assurances from the Viceroy that "steps would be taken to end the movement of Indians to British Columbia."

It is of interest to record that despite the generally hostile atmosphere, Mr. B. Robertson, the Assistant Immigration Superintendent, paid the following tribute to the East Indians: "They are employed or, if not employed, look after their own people. They have not been a burden on the Government."

1907 - A Turning Point - Thousands Arrive

The heaviest influx of East Indian immigrants, 2,124 in all, came to BC in 1907. They were Hindus, Sikhs, Indian Muslims and Christians...

There were several versions for this sudden influx. The MacKenzie King Royal Commission was of the view that the flood of arrivals was planned rather than spontaneous. The Commission felt that "the aims and methods (for the influx) were anything but imperial and patriotic." King listed the following reasons for people from so far away turning up in BC:

(i) Promotional activities of certain steamship companies in Calcutta, Hong Kong and elsewhere;

(ii) Propaganda pamphlets in Gurmukhi, Punjabi and Bengali painting BC in rosy colours distributed in the villages;

(iii) Activities of individual entrepreneurs like Devichand to supply cheap labour to industries on the west coast.

'The Hindu Shall Not Vote'

The Anti-Asiatic BC Government introduced the 'Election Act' Bill in March 1907 to disenfranchise East Indians from provincial and municipal elections. The main clause read: "The expression 'Hindu' shall mean the native of India—not bom of Anglo-Saxon parents...No Chinese, Japanese or East Indians shall have their names on the register of voters for any electoral district or be entitled to vote at any election."

The inspiration behind this retrograde move was the notorious Natal Act of South Africa which similarly disenfranchised Indians, despite the fact that they were British Subjects...

Thus, taxpaying, law-abiding Asians were not allowed to vote. They were at the same time denied the elementary privileges of entering a profession, serving on juries, obtaining Government contracts and buying land in selected places in the city.

The Asiatic Exclusion League

The BC legislature passed several measures to check East Indian immigration and to prohibit employment in certain industries, although some of these enactments were invalidated by the courts. As mentioned earlier, the provincial and federal government even approached the Government of India to choke off possible emigration at the very source. Such popular sentiment led to the birth on August 12, 1907 of an organization called the Asiatic Exclusion League.

Probably it was sparked by the Anti-Asian Riot that had broken out a month earlier in Vancouver. The main targets were the Chinese and Japanese who suffered up to $40,000 in damage...

The Khalsa Diwan Society

As their numbers neared 3,000, the East Indians became a significant ethnic group in BC. Over 75% of them were Sikhs...

They formed branches (of the Khalsa Diwan Society in Vancouver and) at Victoria, Fraser Mills, New Westminster, Abbotsford, Duncan and Ocean Falls.

Their first projected plan was to erect a temple and they obtained a good response from all Sikhs for this laudable proposal. A total of $7,000 was collected, a huge sum for those days. Construction began in 1907 and the Temple was ready for use during the first half of 1908.

With the new Sikh Temple, the Sikhs earned a status and personality among the scores of immigrant communities on the west coast. Teja Singh said with justifiable pride: "That ought to indicate that we are here to stay. We are law-abiding citizens and we seek to win the goodwill of our white brethren."

1908 - Some Exciting Changes— Restrictive Legislation

MacKenzie King, the Deputy Federal Minister of Labour, had proceeded to England in 19 0 7 to explore ways of discontinuing the flow of Hindus to Canada, since "the native of India is not suited to this country." He returned with a clever formula called direct passage.

Now most of the Hindu immigrants had not come to Canada direct from India. They had come largely from England, Hong Kong or Fiji. Therefore, a cooperative Viceroy of India was of limited help in curbing Indians desirous of going to Canada. So, the Canadian government issued an Order-in-Council to supplement the Immigration Act of 1906 as follows:

"All immigrants seeking entry must come to Canada by continuous journey and on through tickets from the country of their birth or nationality or citizenship" ...The main object of this ban on Hindu immigration, since there were no direct ships between India and Canada in those days, was:

(i) To prevent hardships to Hindus themselves due to the severity of the climate;

(ii) To avoid race friction and all its complications;

(iii) To protect Canadian workmen whose standard of life, family duties and civic obligations were of a high order.

Deportation Order

Now that he was armed with discretionary power, Mr. Munro, the Federal Immigration Officer in Vancouver, proceeded to detain batches of East Indians on grounds of 'Poor Health', 'Insufficient Funds', 'No Direct Passage From India'...In all, about 200 Hindus were held for deportation by March, 1908...

Hindus Win in Court

Judge Clements, who tried the case of East Indians awaiting deportation ruled that, "The Governor-General-in-Counsel cannot delegate his powers on immigration to any official..." In other words, Dr. Monroe, who was an Immigration Officer, could not act on behalf of the G-G-in-Counsel. The Vancouver Supreme Court went on to rule that the order in council "was not only defective but never should have been promulgated in Ottawa, particularly against British Subjects." This was a single victory. All of the two hundred Hindus were immediately released with no more inquisitions of "Where did you come from? Did you come by continuous journey?"

Resettlement in British Honduras

The governments of BC and Canada decided to try and get rid of the East Indians of BC by sending them off to British Honduras in Central America. With the full cooperation of India Office, London and the colonial government of the Honduras, the ball was set in motion by first sending a mixed delegation to the Colony to report back on the conditions and opportunities there...

Delegation to the Honduras

The fact finding mission to the British Honduras consisted of JB Harkins of the Federal Ministry of Interior, Hopkinson, the Vancouver Immigration Department (who also acted as the interpreter) and Nagin Singh and Sham Singh representing the East Indians.

On their return, both Nagin and Sham told the East Indians at a gathering at the Sikh Temple that the conditions in British Honduras were very poor indeed. The country was mosquito infested and malaria was rife. People lived miserably, subsisting on a milk and vegetable diet supplemented with cocoanut and cocoa-nut oil. Fresh water was not easily available and the cost of living was very high. East Indians who had spent a lifetime there had nothing to show for it. Every one of them had warned the Hindu delegates not to be a party to the resettlement of the BC East Indians to that place, where they felt almost like convicts in prison.

Nagin Singh and Sham Singh finally told the Temple congregation; "The Hindus will have nothing to do with the proposition to transport them to British Honduras." This motion was unanimously adopted and copies forwarded to Ottawa, London and Calcutta. A like resolution was later adopted by the East Indians in Victoria...

Transfer Proposal Dropped

Matters had officially advanced to the stage when an ordinance was issued in British Honduras authorizing Col. Eric Swaine, the Governor, to enter into negotiations with the Dominion Government of Canada regarding the migration of Hindus en masse to the Colony.

Every labourer was to sign an Agreement before leaving BC and was to be given $12 per month on resettlement in British Honduras.

Fortunately, the Federal and Provincial governments did take note of the unanimous negative resolution of the East Indians in BC. The Federal Department of Interior ruled that: "No official steps will be taken to transport the unemployed Hindus to British Honduras in view of the opposition offered to the proposition."

This was the second great victory for the Hindus in 1908, the first being in the courts on the deportation issued referred to earlier...

1909 to 1910 - Immigration Ceases

During the years 1909-10, there was a sharp decline in immigration. From a peak of 2,623 East Indian arrivals in BC in 1908, only 6 managed to make it in 1909 and 10 in 1910.

The 1908-09 BC census lists 17,229 Chinese, 15,848 Japanese and 5,141 Hindus. About a third of the latter shortly thereafter proceeded south of the border, almost doubling their numbers in the USA to about 3,600 Hindus.

Reasons for Decline

This sudden falling off in immigration can be attributed to a number of factors. Of course, by far the major cause was the well-nigh insuperable 'Direct Passage' barrier, in an era when there were no direct shipping routes between India and Canada. The regulations were made even more stringent under the promulgation of a new Order that specified, "No person of Asiatic origin shall be permitted to enter Canada unless in actual possession of $200 in his or her own right." This Order came into force on May 19, 1910.

Secondly, MacKenzie King had again travelled all the way to London to make sure that the obliging government of India did clamp down hard on any possible emigres to Canada. Sir Wilfred Laurier, the Canadian Prime Minister, wrote to Lord Minto, Viceroy of India, as follows: "Strange to say, the Hindus are looked upon by our people in BC with still more disfavour than the Chinese. They seem to be less adaptable to our ways and manners than all the other Oriental races that came to us."

Minto was most happy to oblige. He replied: "We have published the conditions imposed by Canada widely with the results that emigration has ceased all together and we consider there is practically no chance of its being re-opened... We raised no objections adopted by Canada and we have no intention of raising any questions regarding them."

Anti-Hindu Feeling

Furthermore, conditions in BC were not inviting enough for new migrants. There had been a number of anti-Hindu riots in BC and just south of the border in Bellingham where "600 lumberjacks herded 200 Hindus out of town with many suffering serious injuries." The Asiatic Exclusion League was at the forefront of these outbursts,

---1909 - The Guru Nanak Mining & Trust Company Shareholder's certificate. The Company, spearheaded by Prof. Teja Singh, was formed to establish a strong South Asian foothold in North America through ownership of land. (Photo Courtesy of I. Kohaly)---

justifying them because allegedly Hindus were willing to work for low wages and were of "filthy and immodest habits". . .The Hindus also suffered from a number of discriminations. For instance, the Royal Columbian Hospital (in) New Westminister (BC) isolated East Indian patients in a separate building, giving as an excuse 'uncleanly habits.'

Racial Journalism

A review of the press since 1900 clearly indicates a profound bias against all Asiatics. There are replete with wanton misstatements and are blatantly unethical. The editors were obviously racialists and took their cue from organizations like the Asiatic Exclusion League, calling all Orientals 'coolies', forgetting that White men did similar labourer's jobs...

Anti-British Developments

There was much unrest in India about this time and terrorists had killed prominent Britishers not only in India but in England as well. As already indicated, Hindus in BC were linked to the supply of the bombs. On June 1, 1910, the local daily reported: "As much as $2,000 has been raised in Vancouver in a single Sunday on a direct appeal to the Hindus employed in and about this city for funds with which to buy rifles, to aid the plots to overthrow the British rule in India."

The funds collected in Vancouver and elsewhere were forwarded to the plotters in London through their secret servicemen. Reportedly, on one occasion, a draft for as much as $20,000 was sent from Vancouver to London...

East Indians in BC (since 1910)

by Homi M. Engineer

In his article on East Indian immigration Dr. Muthanna has covered in detail the history of this movement until 1910. This article aims to review in summary the period from 1911 to date. I propose to dispense with the irritating prefix 'east' when referring to East Indians a la North America.

1911 to 1920

According to the 1911 census, there were only 2,342 Hindu in Canada, nearly all of them concentrated in British Columbia. As already indicated, this was because restrictive legislation had brought Indian immigration almost to a total halt.

A delegation led by Teja Singh left BC for Ottawa to seek redress from the onerous restrictions: the continuous voyage requirements; the $200 minimum asset; the ban on wives and children; and the difficulties encountered by students and tourists hailing from India. They found Ottawa to be sympathetic but unwilling to move in the face of the prevailing hostile White sentiment in BC. The only minor concession made was permission for the wives and children of two resident Sikhs to land. At the same time, the (Canadian) federal government made it clear that this compassionate act was not to be considered as creating a precedent.

In 1911, a society called the Friends of the Hindus was formed in Victoria to protect the rights of immigrant Indians as British Subjects. It sent petitions to the Imperial Conference of 1911 but to no avail. In 1913, a deputation of BC Indians proceeded on a fruitless mission to London and Delhi to seek some amelioration in the conditions of their compatriots in Canada.

It is good to record that even in those 'rough' days several liberal Canadians tried, albeit to little effect, to help and comfort their India brethren. Thus, Isabella Broad made a fervent appeal in her pamphlet entitled, An Appeal for Fair Play for the Sikhs in Canada based on the British tradition of 'fair play' and the Christian teaching of 'brotherly love.'

Komagata Maru

The next year, 1914, witnessed the now notorious Komagata Maru episode. This chartered ship, carrying 351 Sikhs and 21 Punjabi Muslims, was not allowed to dock in Vancouver harbour. The Khalsa Diwan Society raised the huge sum of $50,000 to help their cause, also fighting restrictive clauses of the Immigration Act in court, but failed to obtain a favourable ruling.

Six weeks of waiting on board let to growing restlessness culminating in a riot with the passengers seizing control of the ship. Orders were issued for the Komagata Maru to leave Vancouver harbour. The joint police and immigration party that tried to board the mutinous ship to enforce the order, was met by a veritable barrage of coal, wood and any moveable items aboard. The party had to beat a hasty retreat to shore.

However, the passengers had ultimately to accept defeat with the arrival of armed troops and the war ship HMCS Rainbow. Thus ended the sad saga of the Komagata Maru after a valiant struggle of two months. One Canadian official was driven to write to Prime Minister Laurier: "By a strange irony, this nucleus of the Canadian Navy was first used to prevent British Subjects from landing on British soil."

Mewa Singh

Three months later, on October 21, 1914, an unhappy Mewa Singh shot Immigration Inspector Hopkinson dead while in court, because he believed the Anglo-Indian official to be unscrupulous and corrupt, and using informers to spy on Indian immigrants. This act was to him in the great Sikh tradition of karbani (self-sacrifice) and Mewa Singh paid the supreme penalty of hanging...

World War I

With the outbreak of the First World War, Indian immigrant problems were pushed into the background. Nevertheless agitation for a better deal for Indians never ceased. This was true also for Eastern Canada, where, in 1916, a group of Indians together with Canadian friends launched the Canada India League in Toronto and did a lot of propaganda work.

There is no doubt that a dent was made in the hostile White thinking because of the gallant efforts of Indian troops, of whom 40% were from the Punjab, during the 1914—18 War. One concession that resulted was to allow Indian veterans the right to vote in elections. Also, in 1919, immigrants were allowed to bring over their wives and children under 18.

A further plus arising from India's war effort was the passing of a resolution at the Imperial War Conference of 1917 to the effect that in the interests of the solidarity of the British Commonwealth it was desirable that the rights of Indians to citizenship should be recognized. Unfortunately, these became empty words once the War was one. No Indian was granted the franchise in British Columbia where 95% of Indian immigrants to Canada had settled down.

The Twenties

The statutory handicaps continued to dog the efforts of would-be immigrants from India throughout the 1920s. It would appear that the number of Indians declined to as low as one thousand by 1921, since many migrated to the United States or returned home to India.

All that this handful could do was to go on agitating for equal status as full-fledged British Subjects...

In fact, during the entire sorry history of the Indian struggle for the vote in British Columbia, is the recurrent passing of the buck between Victoria and Ottawa. There's no reason to doubt that this served a most useful purpose in delaying a firm decision in the matter based on justice and equity.

One would have thought that with the freezing of the Oriental to becoming a very small minority, anti-oriental feelings would gradually subside. Not so. It continued unabated throughout the twenties, and culminated in 1927 with the Vancouver Chapter of the Canadian Knights of the Klu Klux Klan demanding that the entry of all Asiatics be banned, period. It is fitting to recall at this stage the gallant efforts of that fine gentleman, J.S. Woodsworth, the Founder of the old CCF party (now NDP) for the rights of Indians in BC...

The Thirties

With Canada in the throes of the Great Depression, all immigration ceased. Nevertheless, a trickle of East Indians continued to pour in during the thirties, somehow circumventing the contrived barriers...

By 1939, there were 218 Sikhs who were lined up for deportation. Fortunately, Dr. D.P. Pandia, a newly-arrived Indian lawyer, took up their case with the Dominion Cabinet. The latter moved, (a) to suspend deportation proceedings indefinitely... (b) to refund the security bonds that had been furnished.. .and (c) to allow all Indians who had entered Canada illegally to remain, subject to good conduct.

The Forties - World War II

Once again, a world conflagration helped Canadians appreciate the valour and help of the Indian troops, especially in North Africa and Burma. For once the Sikhs in BC had a chance to get some of their own back when conscription was introduced in Canada. They blandly pointed out that since they had no vote, they could not be conscripted as full-fledged citizens defending their homeland from attack—also that generous treatment here would alleviate the troubles the British were facing in India during those critical days.

In 1943, for the first time, organized labour switched over to a 'fair play to the Sikh' attitude. The CCF party led the fight for the vote in the BC legislature, but Premier Hart decided against it. In fact, some of the arguments raised in the debate were so odd as to be laughable. Thus, one gentleman loudly declaimed that Sikhs were unworthy of the vote since they had violent tempers and tended to be reckless drivers!


With the end of the war in 1945, the average BC resident became more tolerant in their attitude towards the Indians. In fact, during the twenty-first BC legislature that year, the CCF failed by only 3 votes to get the Indians voting privileges.

This was the era of the Atlantic Charter, the UN Charter, the UN Declaration of Human Rights, etc. and the time was ripe for a breakthrough. Prominent Sikh leaders and Dr. Pandia spearheaded the drive for the franchise for Indians. A new point was injected—that favourable treatment for Indians in Canada would help India decide in favour of remaining in the Commonwealth.

At last, in 1946, the BC Legislature set up the Election Act Committee. A brief was presented to the Committee by a delegation consisting of Kapoor Singh, Kartar Singh, Mayo Singh, Ishar Singh, Gurdit Singh, Naginder Singh and Dr. Pandia. This brief was accepted and the Committee recommended necessary changes in the Act to give the franchise to the Indians. The BC Legislature enacted it into law on April 2, 1947.

At last, the Indian was given the full benefits of Canadian citizenship, including the right to own property and to practise his profession. However, he still lacked the Municipal franchise. This matter was vigorously pursued at the 1947 convention of the Union of BC Municipalities by Messrs. Kapoor Singh, Mayo Singh, Kartar Singh & Dr. Pandia. Their efforts were successful.

With India independent, the Indians in BC gained a new stature and anti-Asiatic feeling as a whole abated considerably by the end of the decade. Indeed, an Indian student, Raghbir Singh Basi was elected as the President of the Alma Mater Society of the UBC something that would have been unheard of only a few years earlier.

The Fifties

With the struggle for the vote brought to a successful conclusion, the struggle for equitable immigration laws for Indians began in right earnest. The first relaxation, albeit a minor one, occurred with the signing of the Canada-India Agreement of 1951. This pact provided for an annual quota of 15 0 sponsored immigrants who were close relatives of those already settled in this country.

Pressure now built up for a relaxation to allow general immigration rights enjoyed by other ethnic groups. This led to an amplification of the Agreement doubling the quota to 300 in 1957. In addition to the 150 who fell under the previous sponsored category or 'preference quota' another 150 were to be admitted by selection. The latter batch provided an opportunity for professional and skilled people from States other than the Punjab to come to Canada purely on merit...

The Sixties

This decade saw the Indian gaining full equality with his White compatriots. The discriminatory treatment in immigration had to be eliminated. The first break was in 1962 scrapping the quota-based India-Canada Agreements of the Fifties in favour of new regulations with emphasis on skills. However, the nominated categories still favoured European, Egyptian, Lebanese, South American and other immigrants. Unlike the Indian, they could sponsor married children and children over 21, as well as stand surety for brothers, sisters and their families.

Indian leaders continued to hammer away at this anomaly till full equality was attained under the new immigration rules. The Point System based on age, education, skills, kinship, knowledge of English, etc. was to apply to all, irrespective of ethnic origin.

There has been a heavy influx of Indians during recent years, and for the first time in large numbers also in Eastern Canada. The exact numbers will be revealed by the 1971 census. However, one can safely say that there are well over 25,000 Indians in BC today, the vast majority of whom are Sikhs.

Indians are now to be found in nearly every walk of life. Today the Canadian Universities are studded with Indian PhDs, and one of them, Dr. Khorana (now in USA) even won the Nobel Prize...

With their long saga of struggle now behind them, the East Indians of BC are ready and able to contribute in ever greater measure toward the future building of this rich, multi-ethnic nation during the second centennial of this beautiful province of ours.

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