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Tracing the Indian Diaspora in Suriname

All about the rich history and evolution of Indian migrants in Suriname

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Image source: in.pinterest.com

By Shubhi Mangla

Suriname a small country, originally called Dutch Guiana, is located on the Atlantic side of South America, just above Brazil. This Dutch colony has a wide range of beautiful flora and fauna. Sugarcane, coffee,and chocolate are leading industries of this plantation-based country. The country owns a good amount of Alumina and Bauxite and also has majority of gold reserves and some crude oil as compared to any another country in Latin America.

Sugarcane plantations in Suriname Image: www.weblogtheworld.com
Sugarcane plantations in Suriname
Image: www.weblogtheworld.com

Initially, Suriname was settled by the British. The Dutch soon exchanged their colony of New Amsterdam with England and acquired Suriname in return. With prosperity in the plantation industry, the country surpassed the wealth of well-known places like Boston, New York and Philadelphia until a banking crisis emerged in Holland in 1773. This lead to a recession in Suriname from which it never recovered. However, the country managed to achieve independence from Holland in 1975.

Suriname today comprises of 37 percent of East Indian origin (Hindustani) population mostly from states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, who traveled as indentured workers to South America in the 19th century.

Indian arrival in Suriname- The Indenture Period

During the 17th and 18th century, most of the plantation work was fueled by slaves from Africa. Throughout the 19th century, the process of abolition of slavery was gaining momentum in the European colonies of West Indies. The Dutch government worried that the slaves would refuse to work once given a choice like it was happening in other places. There worries did come true, slavery was finally abolished in Suriname in 1863. The Dutch government faced shortage of plantation workers and approximately 90 percent of plantations were closed. After much resentment, Britain finally agreed to provide recruitment rights for Indian laborers to Suriname in 1870.  The Dutch government started importing large number of workers from India as contract laborers; they set up recruitment stations in India where workers were interviewed, underwent health checkups and signed the documentations that they were going as per their own will and will wait to be transported back. The workers were brought through ships; each ship had a doctor on board, to make sure that the immigrants look best upon their arrival. The doctors urged them to rub and massage themselves using mustard oil.

Image: www.abc.net.au
Indian indentured workers in Suriname Image: www.abc.net.au

There were some good reasons as to why laborers were recruited from as far as India

  • Firstly, British Indians (India was then a British colony) were increasingly replacing black slaves in Trinidad and Jamaica, as they held a good reputation of being hard-working and good farmers.
  • Secondly, India was a densely populated country comprising of large number of laborers but only little available land.
  • Native jobs were being eliminated due to rapid industrialization. Many people were eager to emigrate due to the prevalent caste system which was imposing restrictions on their activities.
Arrival of Indians in Suriname with the ship 'Lala Rookh' Image: www.pinterest.com
Arrival of Indians in Suriname with the ship ‘Lala Rookh’
Image: www.pinterest.com

On 5 June 1873, the first ship named ‘Lala Rookh’ arrived in Paramaribo, capital of Suriname carrying 452 Indians, most of whom came from eastern parts of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Overall a total of 34,304 Indian contract laborers arrived in Suriname between 1873- 1916. According to indiandiaspora.nic.in, ­­at least some of them seem to had been misled into believing that they were being taken to a place of pilgrimage called “Sri Ram” which turned out to be Suriname!

Evolution of Indian Diaspora

About one third of the workers chose to return to India after they were done with their 5 year contracts. The Dutch government tried to persuade the Indians to stay back by offering settlement rights on state-run plantations and a hundred guilders to those who stay back. Around 23,000 Indians chose to give up their right to a return transition, taking benefit of this offer.  After some time, the workers realized that the agricultural-based jobs were not worth continuing, they started switching over to other profitable areas. Some of them did not wish to end rice cultivation as it was their main occupation, so they started saving and bought small plots of land to cultivate rice. Even today, a number of Indians hold splendorous rice farms in Suriname.

Image source: www.atbc2008.org
Evolution of Indian immigrants Image source: www.atbc2008.org

In the beginning of 20th century, Indians locally known as Hindoestanen in Dutch, started exploring others areas of work, such as in the transport and trading industry. They began considering the importance of western education as a crucial tool to social upliftment through the proselytising practices of the Christian missionaries. They started sending their children to school, thus making the next generation eligible of taking up jobs in civil services. According to Dutch regulations, all people born in this colony as well as the children of Dutch parents were entitled to Dutch citizenship.

Education Minister of Suriname, Minister Ashwin Adhin says, “We have a lot of Hindi schools, the language is taught in the Hindi schools. The government supports the teaching of Hindi by allowing them to use school premises to hold Hindi language classes. Indians speak in Sarnami among themselves”.

Indians soon became visible in professional jobs like medical and law, judiciary, politics, banking, administration and diplomatic services.

Indo-Surinamese culture

By 1975, the younger generation of Hindustani people opted to migrate to Netherlands owing to Dutch citizenship laws and inter-racial tensions in Suriname. Those who stayed back were determined to preserve their Indian culture and traditions. Almost 80% of the Suriname community includes Hindus while Muslims make up 17.5% of the population. Both these communities succeeded in keeping their culture and language alive. They have set up foundations to run schools for their children and also socio-religious organisations such as the Arya Dewakar, Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha and Islamitische Vereniging (Islamic club). Initially, both the Hindu and Muslim communities used Hindu and Urdu languages for socio-religious purposes. Even television and PIO (people of Indian origin) radio operated in these two languages. Sarnami eventually took a toll over Hindu and Urdu as the younger generations war less aware of these two languages whereas Sarnami was understood by all Indians. After the evolution of Indian immigration, indentured laborers spoke Bhojpuri language which is now largely spoken by all the immigrants. The modern day ‘Sarnami’ is a mixture of Bhojpuri and Awadi in addition to Dutch, English and Creole wordings.

Overall, the Indian immigrants have managed to integrate themselves in the Surinamese society. The people follow an ethnic lifestyle and have made visible contribution to the country’s trade, commerce, transport and other sectors.

Indians today

Minister Ashwin Adhin says, “We celebrate Diwali, Holi and Id ul Fitr. For the last three-four years Diwali is celebrated as a national day. We build the biggest earthen diya in the world. It is two-and-a-half meters across and is placed at the Independence Square in Parimariboo. People from across the whole nation participate in this festival. They bring ghee (clarified butter oil) from their homes and pour it into the diya. The diya is lighted on the Saturday before diwali and it continues to burn day and night till the last festivities of Diwali are over”, in an interview conducted by theindiandiaspora.com. There is also an official holiday on Holi Phagwa and Id-ul-Fitr.

Holi Phagwa 2016, Suriname

In Suriname there is a placed named Calcutta. A number of streets are named after Indian workers, their children or Indian politicians in Suriname. Monuments are also there to honor the British-Indian indentured workers.

Image : ushamarhe.wordpress.com
Baba En Mai Image : ushamarhe.wordpress.com

On 5th June every year, Suriname commemorates the arrival of Indians. On this day, the Surinamese government and people of Indian origin pay tribute to statue of Indian ancestors ‘Baba en Mai’ (Father and mother). This statute in located at the place where Indians first arrived in Suriname called the “Coolie Depot”.

Coolie Depot- barababe.wordpress.com
Coolie Depot– barababe.wordpress.com

Shubhi Mangla is a student of Journalism and Mass communication in New Delhi. She is currently working as an intern in Newsgram. Twitter @shubhi_mangla

 

  • Victorius M Remak

    The first picture in this article, is a picture of Indigenous Surinamese people not East Indian descendants

  • चाणक्य my teacher

    good to know

  • It is nice to read about Suriname.

    I love the culture.

    hindisuccess dot com

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Ethnic Indian Jai Sears responds to complaint against the statue of Gandhi in Grenada

Jai Sears wrote in response to a letter on Mahatma Gandhi entitled “Dustbin of history” written by Josiah Rougier

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Gandhi
Mahatama Gandhi, leader of non violence

Jai Sears from Grenada, Caribbean has written a letter to editor in response to complaints against the statue of Gandhi in Grenada. Here is the text:

I write in response to a letter on Mahatma Gandhi entitled “Dustbin of history” written by Josiah Rougier and published in the Grenada newspaper, The New Today (Nov 3, 2017). In his letter, Rougier is asking the Government to remove the bust-statue of Gandhi which overlooks Sauteurs Bay in Grenada where East Indians arrived 160 years ago. Rougier’s opinion is based on the false notion that Gandhi was racist because the Mahatma reportedly considered Indians to be superior to black Africans when he referred to the latter as “kaffirs.”

Gandhi was only 27 years old when he made that contextual statement. If Rougier had done his research, he would have found that Nelson Mandela said: “Gandhi must be forgiven for these prejudices in the context of the time and the circumstances.” The quote can be found in “Gandhi the Prisoner” by Nelson Mandela published in 1995. Gandhi was a man; he was not god. And even god made mistakes.

In favour of Mahatama Gandhi
Photo of Jai Sears

Rougier must instead focus on the Gandhi’s vision of non-violent protest and his belief in satyagraha which inspired rebels and revolutionaries around the world. Gandhi’s ideas influenced leaders of the African National Congress and the struggle by Indians and blacks against white apartheid rule in South Africa. From as early as 1956 when he was 27 years old, Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to Gandhi as “the guiding light of our technique of nonviolent social change.”

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Following the success of his boycott, King contemplated traveling to India to deepen his understanding of Gandhian principles. The fact is that Gandhi saw people of all races, castes, colours and creeds as equal which led to his assassination by a Hindu fanatic in 1948. So who is this unknown Josiah Rougier? Is he as illustrious as the great Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King? And is he disagreeing with his possible heroes?

A friend to all.
Jai Sears
Grenada, Caribbean

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Recent Trends among the Indian Diaspora and its Increasing Significance

As the Indian diaspora is increasingly organizing itself in the host countries by accumulating the resources, it may have potential impact on the economic, social and political landscape in India.

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Indian Diaspora
Indian Diaspora organizing community identity in the host country

The Indian diaspora is a generic term representing the people who migrated from the Indian territories to the other parts of the world. It includes the descendants of these groups. Today, over twenty million Indians which include Non-Resident Indians and People of Indian Origin are residing outside the Indian territory as Indian diaspora. According to a UN survey report of 2015, India’s diaspora population is the largest in the world. In 2005, Indians formed the world’s third-largest diaspora. The Indians who settled overseas in the 1960s for more developed countries such as US, UK, Canada, Australia and Western Europe formulate the category of the New Diaspora.

What are the popular host countries for the Indian Diaspora:

The 2010 estimates of Census data of US, UK and Canada suggest that Indian diaspora constitutes three million people in US, 1.5 million people in the United Kingdom and one million in Canada. Indians are the fourth largest immigrant group in the United States. Also, five million emigrants from India residing in the Gulf region at present.

The History of Indian Diaspora:

A brief overview of the history of Indian diaspora suggests that the first group of Indians immigrated to Eastern Europe in the 1st century AD from Rajasthan during the reign of Kanishka. Yet another evidence of migration was witnessed in 500 AD when a group immigrated to Southeast Asia as the Cholas extended their empire to Indonesia and Malaysia thereby spreading the Indian culture in these states. Thus the early evidence of the diaspora was found during ancient times. The medieval period witnessed the spread of Hinduism and Buddhism during the Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms. Mughals took Indians as traders, scholars, artists, musicians, and emissaries to the other parts of the country.

Old Diaspora:

The first wave of the Modern Indian Diaspora, also called the Old Diaspora, began in the early 19th century and continued until the end of the British rule. The Dutch and French colonizers followed the suit. Indians were sent in large numbers to become the bonded labourers for sugar and rubber plantation in their colonies.

Indians in Caribbean, Africa, and Asia:

By the end of World War 1, there were 1.5 million Indian laborers in the colonies in the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia. At present, around 60% of Indian diaspora is constituted of this Old Diaspora.

Impact of Immigration policies on Migration from India:

After the Indian independence, a large number of unskilled and some skilled Punjabi male Sikhs migrated to the UK from India due to favorable immigration policies in the United Kingdom. Similarly, the 1990s onwards, due to software boom and its rising economy, H-1B was introduced in the US immigration policy that allowed the entry of highly skilled IT specialists, doctors, scientists and engineers in the US. Further, the 1970s witnessed oil boom in the Middle East that led to significant growth of Indian diaspora in the Gulf region.

While the low skilled and semi-skilled workers are moving to the Gulf region for better economic opportunities, highly skilled labor is moving from India to US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Has Indian Diaspora started impacting the economies and societies:

With the growing rate of international migration since the beginning of millennia, there is a significant impact of diaspora on the economies and societies of the world. In recent years, the diaspora is influencing the economic, political and cultural affairs in their homeland. It is so because the influence of the diaspora communities increases as they organize themselves and accumulate resources in their host countries for several years. The mobilized diaspora are now influencing the affairs of the homeland countries. A common form of exchange is the financial remittances provided to the relatives by the diaspora community. Overseas family networks of the political elites in India are shaping the political landscape as well. Culturally, the diaspora is influencing the music and literature trends in India as the content is consciously structured to cater to the tastes of the diaspora.

What actions have been taken by the government of India to tap the potential of Indian Diaspora:

The first Pravasi Bhartiya Divas was organized in 2003 by the Government of India to expand and reshape the state of India’s economy by the use of the potential human capital which the Indian diaspora reflects. Clearly, Indian diaspora has a larger role to play in the Indian economy over the coming years as the efforts to mobilize them increase in the homeland.

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Are We Hindus If We Live in India? The Answer to Contentious Question is Here

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Hinduism. Pixabay

Oct 06, 2017: Have you ever wondered what being a Hindu means? Or who is actually fit to be called a Hindu? Over centuries, Hindus and Indians alike have asked this question to themselves or their elders at least once in their lifetime.

In the 1995 ruling of the case, “Bramchari Sidheswar Shai and others Versus State of West Bengal” the court identified seven defining characteristics of Hinduism but people are still confused to what exactly defines being a Hindu in the 21st century. It’s staggering how uninformed individuals can be about their own religion; according to a speech by Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya there are various common notions we carry about who a Hindu is:

  • Anyone born in India is automatically a Hindu
  • If your parents are Hindu, you’re are also inevitably a Hindu
  • If you believe in reincarnation, you’re a Hindu
  • If you follow any religion practiced in India, you’re a Hindu
  • And lastly, if you are born in a certain caste, you’re a Hindu

After answering these statements some fail to remove their doubts on who a Hindu is. The question arises when someone is unsure on how to portray themselves in the society, many people follow a set of notions which might/might not be the essence of Hinduism and upon asked why they perform a particular ritual they are clueless. The problem is that the teachings are passed on for generations and the source has been long forgotten, for the source is exactly where the answer lies.

Religion corresponds to scriptural texts

The world is home to many religions and each religion has its own uniqueness portrayed out of the scriptures and teachings which are universally accepted. So to simplify the dilemma one can say that determining whether someone belongs to a particular religion is directly related to whether he/she follows the religious scriptures of the particular religion, and also whether they abide to live by the authority of the scriptural texts.

Christianity emerges from the guidance of the Gospels and Islam from the Quran where Christians believe Jesus died for their sins and Muslims believe there is no God but Allah and Mohammad is his prophet. Similarly, Hinduism emerges from a set of scriptures known as the Vedas and a Hindu is one who lives according to Dharma which is implicated in the divine laws in the Vedic scriptures.By default, the person who follows these set of religious texts is a Hindu.

Also Read: Christianity and Islam don’t have room for a discourse. Hindus must Stop Pleasing their former Christian or Muslim masters, says Maria Wirth 

Vedas distinguishes Hindu from a Non-Hindu

Keeping this definition in mind, all the Hindu thinkers of the traditional schools of Hindu philosophy accept and also insist on accepting the Vedas as a scriptural authority for distinguishing Hindus from Non-Hindus. Further implying the acceptance of the following of Bhagwat Gita, Ramayana, Puranas etc as a determining factor by extension principle as well.

Bottom Line

So, concluding the debate on who is a Hindu we can say that a person who believes in the authority of the Vedas and lives by the Dharmic principles of the Vedas is a Hindu. Also implying that anyone regardless of their nationality i.e. American, French or even Indian can be called a Hindu if they accept the Vedas.

– Prepared by Tanya Kathuria of Newsgram                                                                

(the article was originally written by Shubhamoy Das and published by thoughtco)

One response to “Are We Hindus If We Live in India? The Answer to Contentious Question is Here”

  1. Hindu is a historical name for people living “behind the river Indus”. So, everyone living in India is a Hindu, eventhough he might have a different faith.