In May 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau formally apologized in the House of Commons for the Komagata Maru incident in 1914, where the Canadian government turned away a ship carrying hundreds of South Asian immigrants. For almost a quarter century, Sahib Thind, founder of Professor Mohan Singh Memorial Foundation, has led the drive for a formal Parliamentary apology for the tragic affair.
The group’s goal has always been to single-mindedly pursue the official Parliamentary apology for the Komagata Maru incident, while advocating for the human rights of the oppressed worldwide. Finally, last year on May 18, the foundation’s hard work bore fruit through Prime Minister Trudeau’s official apology. This could not have been possible without the determination and drive of Thind and his team. He has been an inspiration for a generation of volunteers, and the large team that has helped him achieve his foundation’s goals. It is this inspirational act that makes him one of DARPAN’s 2016 Newsmakers.
Thind states that 2016 has been an incredibly fruitful year for his foundation. “We have succeeded in achieving our primary goal, set out some two decades ago,” he proudly says of the milestone, “The formal (Parliamentary) apology for the Komagata Maru affair was necessary to ensure the words would be written into Hansard – the official record of Parliament – for all future generations to see. Without this, any apology would have been mere words, and often words of ‘political convenience’.”
The path to the apology was not an easy one. Thind led his foundation through 21 years of festivals in Bear Creek Park, Surrey, in order to help bring attention to the cause. The foundation even criss-crossed Canada and travelled abroad to lobby for an official Parliamentary apology in various legislative assemblies (including those in BC and in the Indian State of Punjab).
For his part in this struggle, Thind has been recognized in the Punjab State Legislature in India, and in the Canadian Parliament (Prof. Mohan Singh Memorial Foundation was recognized in Parliament as being the key organization driving for the official apology). “I have dedicated the past decades to this cause [Komagata Maru apology], and the highlights for our foundation are also highlights for me. But, I must add, they are also highlights for our whole community. So many volunteers across Canada, and abroad, helped us in our efforts,” says a humble Thind.
With the successful apology, Thind and his foundation are working towards their next goal – “championing of diversity worldwide.” The founder elaborates, “We have succeeded in convincing many legislators in India of the need to change the names of sites in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands to remove old colonial names. Many Ghadar leaders were imprisoned in the islands, and the names of those sites are still a chilling reminder of colonial atrocities.”
For 2017, the foundation is working hard towards highlighting many of the sudden ‘rash’ of racist incidents occurring in Canada and abroad. “Our foundation will have to ramp up our efforts to point out inequality and discrimination,” says Thind, adding, “Canada is a great nation, and we are a nation of immigrants. There is no place in Canada for racism.”
Define 2016 in one word.
What inspires you to do better each day?
My children are my inspiration. To make a better world for my daughter and son, and really, for all the next generations, is the reason I keep going.
What does success mean to you?
Success, in the end, will mean a world where people are able to get along – an end to the politics of division, sectarianism, fear, and hate. Unfortunately, looking at current political climates in America and across Western Europe, we see that we still have so much work to do before we can claim full success.
What’s your advice for those who wish to follow your path?
A worthy cause will always attract support. The most important piece, however, is to respect everyone, work with all, and to be humble. Too often people are focused on how something will make them ‘look’ to their friends and neighbours and the public at large, rather than the actual selfless giving and sharing. Be happy and at peace with yourself, for doing great things. In the end, that is all that matters.