Kolkata the city long known as Calcutta is the biggest city in India and is the capital city of West Bengal. It is connected by rail, road and air with all important cities of the country. It is also a seaport of great significance being at the Eastern mouth of the the river Ganga (Ganges).
The British were responsible for developing the city of Calcutta long after the time Guru Nanak Dev, who perhaps visited the ancient Hindu temple at Kali Ghat centuries before. Two Sikh Sangats, called Bari Sangat and Chhoti Sangat, have certainly existed for a long time in Calcutta.
In the West one hears of the Black Hole of Calcutta, which was a small dungeon in Fort William where troops of the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj ud-Daulah, held British prisoners of war after the capture of Fort William on June 20, 1756. Most if not all of the prisoners died over night at the fort which was the first defensive building built by the John Company, later to become the East India Company.
It was near here that one of the most notorious incidents in the history of early 20th century exclusion laws of Canada saw its final bloody chapter played out. The Kamagata Maru was a Japanese steam liner which had been chartered by a wealth Sikh business man to sail from China and Japan headed for western Canada in 1914.
The yellow journalism of the day (a name coined during the Spanish-American war at the end of the 19th century) had played the story up with headlines that said, Hundreds of Hindus to Invade Canada. The mostly 'white' Anglo-Saxon Christians citizens of Western Canada and their political leaders, who saw the chance to make their careers, pulled out all stops to stop what was billed as a Hindu invasion. Laws with precise wording had been inacted so that only wealthy Asians could afford to meet the requirements for immigration. Similar laws in America would keep Asian immigration low until well into the 20th century.
Though Hindu was the word used the passenger list consisted of 340 Sikhs, 24 Muslims, and only 12 Hindus, nevermind that they were all British subjects.
Reaching Vancouver the ship was never allowed to land. Feed up and frustrated with months on the boat and with no hope of entering Canada the passengers, on July 19, mounted an attack and took over the ship. The event played straight into the hands of those working against their being allowed to land in Canada. The next day the Vancouver newspaper, The Sun, reported, "Howling masses of Hindus showered policemen with lumps of coal and bricks… it was like standing underneath a coal chute". The ship was pushed out into the Harbor and was finally forced to return to Asia with all but 24 of its passengers. Many of the passengers wanted to debark in Shanghai or Hong Cong, but the British forced the ship to head for Calcutta.
The Komagata Maru arrived in Calcutta on September 26. Upon entry into the harbour, the ship was forced to stop by a British gunboat and not allowed to dock. The passengers were placed under guard. The ship was then diverted approximately 17 miles to Budge Budge, where the British intended to put them on a sealed train bound for Punjab. The passengers wanted to stay in Calcutta, and they managed to march to the city in protest, but they were forced to return to Budge Budge and reboard the ship. The passengers protested, some refusing to reboard, and the police opened fire, killing 20 and wounding nine others. This incident became known as the Budge Budge Riot.
It was five years later at Jallianwalla Bagh on the anniversary of the day that the Khalsa was created that the British would again show the world the value that they placed on the lives of their Indian subjects.
Gurdit Singh the man who had financed the voyage to test the Canadian exclusion laws managed to escape, living in hiding 'til 1922. He was urged by Gandhi ji to give himself up as a true patriot. Doing so he was imprisoned for five years.
Today there is a monument (erected in 1952) by the Indian Government at Budge Budge which commemorates the massacre of that day.
In 2004, Ali Kazimi's feature documentary "Continuous Journey" was released, This is the first in-depth film which examined the events surrounding the turning away of the Komagata Maru. The primary source research done for the film led to the remarkable discovery of rare film footage of the ship in Vancouver harbour. Eight years in the making Continuous Journey has won over ten awards, including the Most Innovative Canadian Documentary at DOXA, Vancouver 2005, and most recently, Golden Conch at the Mumbai International Film Festival, 2006.