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Indian Diaspora in Holland

The many flavours of Hinduism in Holland

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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.

Murugan Temple, Roermond, The Netherlands
Murugan Temple, Roermond, The Netherlands

RELIGION

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.

The Aksa mosque in The Hague, Holland Image: Wikipedia
The Aksa mosque in The Hague, Holland
Image: Wikipedia

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.

CULTURE

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.

Cuisine

Royal Tandoori Indian Restaurant in Amsterdam Image: en.iens.nl
Royal Tandoori Indian Restaurant in Amsterdam
Image: en.iens.nl

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.

Cinema

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.

Festivals

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.

Media

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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  • Anouk

    It really really really annoys me that you first explain the difference between the Netherlands and Holland and afterwards continuously talk about Holland, while it should have been the Netherlands.

    • Shubhi Mangla

      Holland is just a part of Netherlands and the article focuses on Indian diaspora only in Holland.

  • Anouk

    It really really really annoys me that you first explain the difference between the Netherlands and Holland and afterwards continuously talk about Holland, while it should have been the Netherlands.

    • Shubhi Mangla

      Holland is just a part of Netherlands and the article focuses on Indian diaspora only in Holland.

Next Story

Is Chutney out of place in Carnival?

Chutney has been able to resist the domination of calypso as the heartbeat of Carnival music

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Chutney has been able to resist the domination of calypso as the heartbeat of Carnival music. Wikimedia Commons
Chutney has been able to resist the domination of calypso as the heartbeat of Carnival music. Wikimedia Commons
  • Chutney soca music is a crossover style of music incorporating Soca elements
  • The satire on Prime Minister Rowley’s mother has been arguably the most controversial song in the history of calypso, soca and chutney in the country.
  • It is the International Chutney Queen Competition to be held on February 2 at Guaracara Park in San Fernando, the second largest city in the country

By Dr Kumar Mahabir

When people get angry, they tend to speak their mind. Their emotions explode in words that they have been suppressing for some time. Psychologist Dr Jeffrey Huntsinger proved this theory after conducting experiments at Loyala University in Chicago in the USA in 2012.

Chutney Soca promoter George Singh really spoke his mind when he became upset on learning that his 2018 show was not funded by the National Lotteries Control Board (NLCB), an agency of the Afro-dominated Government in multi-ethnic Trinidad and Tobago  (T&T).

At a news conference which he convened, Singh said that “the decision by the Government not to support chutney soca was an insult to the art form” (Express 05/02/17).

George Singh is a Chutney Soca promoter. Wikimedia Commons
George Singh is a Chutney Soca promoter. Wikimedia Commons

Singh raged: “The Government, over the last three years, has consistently reduced funding to Chutney Soca Monarch and various members of the present administration have stated directly to me that chutney soca brings no value to Carnival” (emphasis added).

At the same news conference, Singh said that the Government had approved a budget of TT $146 million to the National Carnival Commission (NCC).

Also Read: When shall we see a Turkey-less Thanksgiving Day?

“I think this administration is hell-bent on seeing that it [chutney soca] has no place in Carnival. It is a slap in the face to Indo-Caribbean entertainment,” he said.

Singh’s outburst was a public exposé of what the Indo-Trinidadian (Indian) community had always known i.e. Indian culture (e.g. chutney, pichakaree ) is given marginal or no space in “national” and regional shows (e.g. CARIFESTA).

Sing’s rant is more revealing since he has admitted that he has “family ties” to Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi (Express 27/12/17).

Carnival in Trinidad has long been the cultural preservation of the Afro-Trinidadian (African) community. Wikimedia Commons
Carnival in Trinidad has long been the cultural preservation of the Afro-Trinidadian (African) community. Wikimedia Commons

In all his anger, Singh was careful not to confirm what almost every Trinidadian suspected i.e. that Government initially denied him funding because he was allowing Massive to perform his hot chutney hit “Rowlee Mudda Count.”

The satire on Prime Minister Rowley’s mother has been arguably the most controversial song in the history of calypso, soca and chutney in the country.

I have always contended that chutney concerts, competitions, tents and fêtes must be recognised as part of Carnival and must be a given an equitable share of culture funds, media space and stage presence.

Also Read: Western intellectuals’ overwhelming love for Sanskrit literature

My argument is contained in detail in a chapter entitled “Chutney Music in Carnival:

Re-defining National Identity in Trinidad and Tobago” in the book Caribbean Dynamics:

Re-configuring Caribbean Culture (2015). The book is edited by Drs Beatrice Boufoy-Bastick Savrina Chinien and published by Ian Randle in Jamaica.

In the chapter, I discussed how Carnival in Trinidad has long been the cultural preservation of the Afro-Trinidadian (African) community. To this day, the major players and champions of calypso, soca, extempo, steelpan and masquerade, whether in Jouvert (“Jour Ouvert”) or Dimanche Gras, remain participants of African descent.

The emergence of chutney music and artists in 1995 – when Basdeo Panday was elected as the first Indian Prime Minister of T&T – was historic. In 1996, the rendition of Sonny Mann’s runaway hit “Lotay La” by DJs in soca parties, and by steel bands as their Road Mach tune during Carnival signalled the advent of chutney into the national urbanized festival/centre.

Chutney is being strongly influenced by calypso and soca rhythms and dance styles. Wikimedia Commons
Chutney is being strongly influenced by calypso and soca rhythms and dance styles. Wikimedia Commons

In the following years, Indians continued to change the ontology of “the national festival” to the extent that Carnival has to be re-defined to include Chutney Monarch, Chutney Brass, Chutney Soca, Chutney Calypso, Chutney Glow and Chutney Mardi Gras.

For the first time this year, a new chutney show is being introduced to the Carnival calendar. It is the International Chutney Queen Competition to be held on February 2 at Guaracara Park in San Fernando, the second largest city in the country. The event is being hosted by Randy Glasgow Productions.

Also Read: Race as a tool to keep people Divided: Will Science break the Shackles?

Chutney is being strongly influenced by calypso and soca rhythms and dance styles, but the genre is also used as an alternative to the Afro-Creole music formats. There have been two institutionalised chutney calypso theatres: “D” Massive Gosine Roving Calypso/Chutney Tent and the National Chutney Calypso Touring Tent.  Now in its eighth year is the National Carnival Schools Intellectual Chutney Soca Monarch Competition held at the Queen’s Park Savannah in Port of Spain.

These chutney competitions cum fêtes allow Indians to gain a sense of inclusion in this grand “national” festival, although on the periphery of the capital city. These cultural incursions also allow Indians to actively participate in Carnival without losing their (sense of) ethnic identity.

Dr Kumar Mahabir is an anthropologist who has published 11 books
Dr Kumar Mahabir is an anthropologist who has published 11 books

In 1998, cultural critic Burton Sankeralli wrote: “Indians are claiming Carnival space as Indians…. [and] … The flagship of this Indocentric presence and contestation for space is chutney …” With the re-creation of chutney, Indian artists are refusing to be subjected to silence and invisibility on mainstream radio, television, newspaper and the stage.

Chutney has been able to resist the domination of calypso as the heartbeat of Carnival music. The subversive spirit of calypso and Carnival is perhaps being re-incarnated in chutney.

(Dr Kumar Mahabir is an anthropologist who has published 11 books)