By Shubhi Mangla
The Netherlands is divided into twelve coastal provinces. Two of its provinces namely North and South Holland together make Holland. The country Netherlands as a whole is still called Holland by some people. This is mainly because Holland emerged as the most powerful area of the Dutch Republic in the 17th century and came to be recognized worldwide.
The term ‘Holland’ is known to be derived from the word hol land meaning ‘hollow land’ as much of the land in Netherlands is below sea level. Holland is famous for its tulip fields, cycling paths and windmills. It is an attractive tourist destination, with three largest cities famous for their own reasons: Amsterdam known as the canalside capital is famous for its museums, Rotterdam is known for its architecture and design with a world-class port and The Hague, seat of the Netherlands government.
Today, more than 200,000 Hindus and NRIs have made Netherlands their home. Holland has the highest percentage of the Indian diaspora in the whole of the European continent.
Indian Arrival in Holland
When slavery was abolished in Suriname, the Dutch government recruited approximately 34000 Indian workers to work on the plantations for a period of 5 years on a contractual basis (indentured labor). When the contract ended, one-third of the Indian workers returned to India whereas around 23,000 chose to stay back.
The migration of Indians from Suriname to Holland started in the fifties and gained momentum when Suriname got its independence in 1975. The first migration was of Indian students from Suriname to Holland who came for studies. In the sixties, the economic, social and political conditions in Suriname were worsening which led to a mass migration of Surinamese in just a short span of time; most of them were Indo-Surinamese.
According to indiaempire.com, today, the Surinamese Indian community in the Netherlands, which calls itself the Surinamese Hindustanis, numbers approximately 200,000 while the most recent arrivals from India number around 15,000.
Thus, there exist two Indian communities in Holland- the Indo-Surinamese and recent migrants from India (NRIs). Most of the Indians are concentrated in the city of The Hague with 45000 PIOs followed by other cities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht (ranging from 8000-12000 people).
Also Read:Tracing the Indian Diaspora in Suriname
According to a research by Igor Kotin, Senior researcher at Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, “It is estimated that between two and three thousand Indians in Holland are illegal immigrants”.
Social and Economic condition of Indians
Initially, the Surinamese Indians were descendants of the peasants and factory workers. But today the Indian community has evolved as a community with a good variety of occupations. The NRIs are mostly doctors, businessman, engineers, scientists etc. There is a significant increase in the number of Indian families in Holland. The import of leather, tobacco, textiles and consumer goods has given rise to setting up of trading centers in Holland. There are a number of organizations set up to protect the social interests of the Indian community such as the Netherlands Indian Association which organizes cultural events, Indian Ladies club and Foundation of Critical choices for India that prepares studies on issues important for India.
Even today, Surinamese Indians still speak Sarnami Hindi which is a mixture of Bhojpuri and Awadhi language. The Surinamese Indians have managed to integrate well into the society of Holland and contribute to the country’s social and economic life. A number of schools have been set up that teache Hindi and religious subjects.
In Holland, the majority of Indians are Hindus (80%) and remaining are Muslims (16%) and Christians (4%). There are approximately 2000 Sikhs. A number of Hindu temples have been built by the Surinamese Indians in Holland. The first one was established in The Hague. The biggest Hindu temple is located in Wijchen, a municipality In South Holland. Today there are about 50 mandirs in Holland, a majority of them been set up by Surinamese Indians. Gurdwaras have also come up in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague for Sikhs.
There is a total of 500 mosques in Holland. The first mosque was founded in The Hague. The biggest mosque is also located in Hague. The Dutch government has also allowed religious groups to set up their own schools. Most of them are Christian schools. Surinamese Indians also run exclusive schools for Hindu community which number to around 5. Muslim schools are 45 in number. Yoga and Ayurveda are also widely practiced.
The concept of ‘arranged marriages’ is still prevalent. The 1980s saw a significant number of marriages between Surinamese Hindu women and Indian men. This produced a significant number of children of mixed parentage but with strong Indian links.
The Indian diaspora in Holland takes pride in belonging to one of the ancient civilizations of the world and is conscious of its rich culture and heritage.
Indians in Holland have made great efforts in preserving their ethnic culture and religion.
Dance & Music
Bharatnatyam and Kathak were the first traces of Indian culture brought by the immigrants in Holland. Many dance schools are established across different municipalities in Holland that teach folk dance, classical Indian dances and modern Indian dance styles. According to Sandra Hira, Chief editor of the Global Atlas of the Indian Diaspora, “Interestingly one of the first dance schools was established by a Dutch lady Mrs. Ans Steenhuis (artist name Damayanti) in The Hague. She had learned the dance from teachers from India, and wrote an (unpublished) manuscript in Dutch as a guide to Indian classical dances.” There are many bands that play Bollywood, folk, and Caribbean Creole music. Many Indian musicians sing at marriages, events, birthdays and other ceremonies. Dutch theaters are also providing plenty of chances to Indian musicians and singers to showcase their talent. Many music and dance students visit India to refine their skills.
Many Indian restaurants have come up all around Holland. Eateries offering Rotis are being run by Surinamese Indians and some Dutch people too. The city of Amsterdam has about 40 Indian restaurants. Indian Cooking lessons are also given at several places. All major cities and towns have Indian shops selling Basmati rice, vegetables, fruits, Indian spices, flour and home products.
The Indian cinema is highly popular in Holland. A number of Dutch cable companies offer access to Indian TV channels and movie broadcasts. The public broadcasts often air Indian films. The Indian Surinamese community in 2000 held an Annual Film Festival in The Hague wherein latest Indian movies were premiered and discussions were held regarding Indian cinema. In 2005, Amsterdam also hosted the IIFA Awards (International Indian Film Academy Awards). There are video outlets being owned and managed by Indians that sell and rent DVD and Videos with Indian movies and songs. The Indian cinema is also popular among the Moroccan and Turkish diaspora in Holland.
Indian festivals are celebrated with great zeal and enthusiasm in Holland. Holi and Diwali are two of the biggest festivals for the Indian community. On the day of Holi, people gather at the public square to sprinkle water and colors on each other in spite of the chilly weather. The main water fountain of Rotterdam displays colored water. Dances are performed and music is played. On Diwali, diyas are lit in homes. The Hague city also hosts an annual Milan festival to commemorate the different Diaspora in Holland. July 1 for the Africans when slavery was abolished, June 5 when Indian Arrival day is celebrated and August 8 for the Javanese community for celebrating their immigration day. The Milan festival is attended by many people mostly Indians. Rotterdam city also organizes Ramlila.
There is a publication of magazines geared towards the Indian community. The Surinamese Indians have established their own media network. There are dating sites on the Internet for Indians in Holland. The public network airs weekly programs for the Indian community. Radio stations have also been set up by the Indian community to cater to their own interests. They also serve as a medium for important communication relating to death, birthdays, marriages, events etc.
The Kingdom of Netherlands is harboring a whole new world of Indian culture created by the Indian community. It proves that Indians can win hearts of everyone and every nation. They can paint the whole world with their colors and can never leave behind their culture and traditions.
Shubhi Mangla is an intern at Newsgram and a student of Journalism and Mass Communication in New Delhi. Twitter @shubhi_mangla