Puran Singh, Janetpur (1884-1974)

Puran Singh, from the village of Janetpura, near Jagraon, north of Ludhiana, was a passenger on the Komagata Maru and the person responsible for stores during the voyage. In the famous photograph taken aboard the Komagata Maru when it first arrived in Vancouver, he is standing in the front row between Daljit Singh and Gurmukh Singh Lalton. Puran Singh’s father, Gurdit, had made money in business in Malaya; he spoke English fluently, and believed strongly in the value of education, a value passed on to later generations of  the family. His father sent Puran Singh to the English medium high school in Ludhiana where he was a schoolmate with Gurmukh Singh Lalton who also became a passenger on the Komagata Maru. Puran Singh was among the passengers arrested within a few days of the Budge Budge affray, and he was sent back to his village that December and confined to the village for the duration of the First World War. In later life he was respected as a man of knowledge and of deeply religious practice. In the 1950s, when relatives in Canada offered to sponsor him as a quota immigrant, he refused to apply, but two of his grandsons did come a generation later: Raj Singh Toor and his brother Jas Singh Toor in 1976 and 1983. In 2007 Jas Toor wrote to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on behalf of the descendents of the passengers on the Komagata Maru asking for a formal apology and redress for the families and their community. They were present on August 9, 2008 when Prime Minister Harper delivered an apology in Surrey B.C. at the 13th annual Mela Gadri Babian Da event, an occasion that honours Ghadr revolutionaries who opposed British rule in India. The Toor brothers, with a majority of the Indo-Canadians present, were not satisfied with the form or venue of the apology. They wanted an apology delivered in the Canadian Parliament, such as had been given for the immigrant head tax imposed on the Chinese. In 1978, Puran Singh’s own family has honoured his memory by opening in his village a veterinary hospital named for him.

Sources: Hugh Johnston, interviews with Raj Singh and Jas Singh Toor November 2011; Report of the Komagata Maru Committee of Inquiry, (Calcutta, 1914);  Kesar Singh, Canadian Sikhs and the Komagata Maru Massacre (Surrey: Kesar Singh, 1989).