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Harman Kandola: Remembering Mewa Singh's Defiant Statement, A Canadian Sikh Shaheed
January 11 marked a significant day in Canadian Sikh history, but it largely went unnoticed
January 12, 2022 | 2.5 min. read | Opinion
January 11 marked a significant day in Canadian Sikh history, but it largely went unnoticed.
On January 11, 1915, Bhai Mewa Singh Lopoke was executed in British Columbia, Canada, for shooting Punjabi-speaking Anglo-Indian spy and immigration inspector William Hopkinson in Vancouver for his role in the killings of two Sikhs in Khalsa Diwan Society.
He was the first Sikh activist to be hung on Canadian soil.
Bhai Mewa Singh Lopoke challenged a system perpetuated by colonialism to undermine the nascent Canadian Sikh community and undermine the armed struggle against British imperialism.
Bhai Mewa Singh was a devout Sikh who was amongst the approximately 5,000 Punjabis who came to Canada between 1904-1907 and worked in Fraser Mills, New Westminster. He was active in the Khalsa Diwan Society, Vancouver from 1908 and served as a Granthi.
At the time, the community was divided into informants and Ghadar Party activists. By 1910, Hopkinson was actively monitoring and surveilling the revolutionaries in Canada.
During the Komagata Maru incident, Bhai Mewa Singh crossed over to America with other Ghadarites to purchase weapons to give to those aboard the ship. Subsequently, Bhai Mewa Singh was arrested and released in 1914.
In the aftermath of Komagata Maru, the tension between informants and activists increased. This came to a head when Harman Singh Gahal and Arjan Singh, who were Hopkinson informants, died suddenly.
During the funeral of Arjan Singh, another informant, Bela Singh, came into the Gurdwara and shot and killed two people inside, including President Bhag Singh Bhikiwin. Mewa Singh was performing kirtan during this incident. Bela Singh was being abetted by Hopkins in creating fear amongst the activists.
On the day of Bela Singh’s trial, Mewa Singh assassinated Hopkinson by shooting him five times.
Immediately, the trial of Bela Singh was adjourned and Mewa Singh was put on trial. It took an hour and 40 minutes for the court to sentence Mewa Singh to death.
The speed at which the B.C. legal system processed the case of Mewa Singh has no precedent in Canadian history.
Mewa Singh refused to give a defense, called no witnesses, and had no questions in cross-examination of the crown witnesses. But he gave a statement to the court that he wanted to be translated.
He spoke of the actions of Hopkinson and the actions at the Gurdwara coming out of the events of Komagata Maru. Mewa Singh saw Bela Singh’s actions as an unbearable threat to Sikh consciousness.
“…[It] is better for a Sikh to die than to bring such disgrace and ill-treatment in the temple. It is far better to die than to live,” he said
Mewa Singh testified that Hopkins pressured him to give evidence against supporters of the Komagata Maru passengers and that Hopkinson was behind Bela Singh’s murderous rampage at the Gurdwara. The Gurdwara had been desecrated and an innocent individual shot from behind unprovoked.
“I know I have shot Hopkinson and will have to die,” Lopoke said.
“My religion does not teach me to bear enmity with anybody, nor had I any enmity with Mr. Hopkinson. He was oppressing poor people very much. I, being a staunch Sikh, could no longer bear to see the wrong done both to my countrymen and the Dominion of Canada. This is what led me to take Hopkinson’s life and sacrifice my own,” he added.
His statement is defiant, and a testament to the Sikh spirit.
“And I, performing the duty of a true Sikh and remembering the name of God, will proceed towards the scaffold with the same amount of pleasure as a hungry baby goes towards his mother.”
Harman Singh Kandola hails from Edmonton, Canada, and is a litigation lawyer. He has experience as a political organizer at both the provincial and municipal levels. He serves on numerous boards and committees working to building a more inclusive and equitable society. You can follow him on Twitter at @harmankandola
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