Home > Calcutta (Kolkata), Calcutta Heritage, General > Suriname Memorial, Balu Ghat Metiabruz, Kolkata

Suriname Memorial, Balu Ghat Metiabruz, Kolkata

Suriname Memorial

Balu Ghat, Metiabruz, Kolkata

Suriname Memorial, a small non – descriptive memorial, on the banks of Hooghly River in Metiabruz and Garden Reach area was unveiled by the Union External Minister Sushma Swaraj on 7 Oct. 2015.

Suriname Memorial, Balu Ghat, Metiabruz, Kolkata

Suriname Memorial, Balu Ghat, Metiabruz, Kolkata

The Suriname Memorial may be new but India’s relationship with Suriname dates back to over almost 150 years. A joint initiative of India and Suriname government the memorial is built in honour of those Indian contract workers who migrated to Suriname, the small country located on the northeast Atlantic coast of South America, from 1873 to 1916.

Mai Baap Statue, Suriname Memorial, Metiabruz

Mai Baap Statue, Suriname Memorial, Metiabruz

The small and simple memorial represents the statue of Babba and Mai or Mai Baap (Father & Mother).

It depicts a plainly dressed couple, carrying a potli, who had left the Indian coasts to work as labourers in sugarcane plantations in Suriname.

The statue is a replica of the Baba and Mai monument in Parimaribo, Suriname’s capital, which symbolizes the first Indian man and woman to set foot on Suriname.

The statue at Parimaribo, marks the spot where the first Indian laborers entered Suriname on June 5th, 1873, in the ship Lalla Rookh. Today June 5 is celebrated as he Indian Arrival Day in Suriname. 

Lalla Rookh carried had 399 workers on board, consisting of 279 men, 70 women, 32 boys and 18 girls under 10. During the period of 1873 – 1916 a total of 64 ships made it to Suriname from from Kolkata carrying a total of 34.304 contract workers from India.

English Plaque at Suriname Memorial, Kolkata (Click to enlarge)

English Plaque at Suriname Memorial, Kolkata (Click to enlarge)

Over a million Indians migrated as indentured workers to the Caribbean, South Africa, Mauritius and Fiji Islands to work on sugarcane plantations during the colonial period.

The indentured workers were recruited from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and the former Madras Presidency area.

Each colony, whether it was Mauritius, Guyana or Suriname had its depot in Calcutta where the indentured recruits were lodged while they waited for their sailing ship to arrive. From their depots they were taken to jetties or ghats to embark on the ships or the small boats that took them to the large ocean-going ships.

The jetties came to be known by the name of the destination to which the migrants were travelling.  Most of the jetties fell into disuse and were forgotten after the indentured sailings ended in the early 20th century. But the area around Suriname’s jetty is still known as Suriname Ghat but local residents prefer it by the name Balu Ghat.

Suriname Memorial Plaques, Metibruz, Kolkata. L: Hindi, C: Bhojpuri (English Script) and R: Bengali (Click to enlarge)

Suriname Memorial Plaques, Metibruz, Kolkata. L: Hindi, C: Bhojpuri (English Script) and R: Bengali (Click to enlarge)

In 1863 slavery was officially abolished in Suriname but the plantations, of the former Dutch colony, was in need of labour. The Dutch came up with a plan to get other people to replace the African slaves. On September 8, 1870, the Dutch colony on the coast of Guinea was ceded to Great Britain in return for granting Suriname the rights to recruit workers from British India.

The main recruiting happened in the United Provinces, now known as Uttar Pradesh en West-Bihar in the valley of the Ganges in Northern India. The sub-agent received 25 rupees for a male and 35 rupees for a female recruit.

Suriname Memorial, Balu Ghat or Suriname Ghat, Metiabruz, Kolkata

Suriname Memorial, Balu Ghat or Suriname Ghat, Metiabruz, Kolkata

The labourers were first collected in sub-depots of Benares, Allahabad, Basti en Muzzafarpur. From these sub-depots the recruits were transferred by train to the main depot in Calcutta. Upon their arrival, they were given a thali, a lota, a couple of kurtas or saris and dhoti.When there were enough workers assembled they were shipped to Suriname. With a sailing ship the voyage took three months, with a steamboat about 6 to  8 weeks.

Today, unknown to most Calcuttans, the Baba Mai Suriname Memorial stands as a mute tribute to the thousands of Indian labours, who braved the high seas for a life on the other side of the planet.

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  1. Yogi Saraswat
    August 13, 2016 at 11:11 AM

    Historical place . I would love to be there whenever get a chance to be there at Kolkata .

    • August 13, 2016 at 2:59 PM

      Thanks Yogi for the comment. When you are in Kolkata, do visit the place.

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